Crossing Gender: Phenomenology and Speculation in the “Female Husband” Archive

dc.contributorLawlor, Andrea
dc.contributorHwang, Ren-yo
dc.contributor.advisorSinger, Kate
dc.contributor.authorJames-Olson, Lucy
dc.description.abstractWhat are the limits of the archive in representing queer gender in the eighteenth century? This is one question which I seek to explore through the archive of “female husband” narratives—a genre of newspaper stories published in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries about people assigned female at birth who lived as men and legally married women. I engage with Sara Ahmed’s theory of queer phenomenology, which “emphasizes the importance of lived experience, the intentionality of consciousness, the significance of nearness or what is ready-to-hand, and the role of repeated and habitual actions in shaping bodies and worlds” (Queer Phenomenology: Objects, Orientations, Others 1). I consider two methods of queer phenomenology through two narratives of gender crossing from the eighteenth century—a mobility-based approach, and an object-based one—in order to develop a new methodology of phenomenological speculation. Phenomenological speculation acknowledges the inherent speculation involved in asking the phenomenological question what do objects do as well as the speculative elements of stories about gender crossers. This methodology, which is deeply indebted to Saidiya Hartman’s theory of critical fabulation, engages speculative fiction grounded in phenomenological thinking as a valid method of writing (hi)stories. In chapter one, I consider the emergence of a binary sex system during the eighteenth century in order to contextualize my reading of Henry Fielding's 1746 narrative “The Female Husband.” Then, I use queer phenomenology to examine the extreme mobility of Charles Hamilton, the central gender crossing figure of that narrative. In chapter two, I turn to the most popular “female husband” narrative, that of James Howe, originally published in 1766. I adjust my phenomenological method, focusing not on mobility but on two conspicuous objects in the narrative which shaped James Howe’s life. Using these objects, I develop an analysis of the effect of James Howe’s class position and return to womanhood on the public reception and popularity of the narrative about them. I consider the speculative elements of their gender crossing and eventual detransition. In the third chapter, I turn in more detail to the methodology of phenomenological speculation, providing a critique of standard queer historiographical methods and advocating for the use of speculative fiction in writing queer history. To conclude, I discuss Jordy Rosenberg’s speculative historical fiction novel Confessions of the Fox, and José Esteban Muñoz’s Cruising Utopia, which reflect the possibilities of queer history and futurity.en_US
dc.description.sponsorshipCritical Social Thoughten_US
dc.subjectTransgender Studiesen_US
dc.subjectQueer Theoryen_US
dc.subjectQueer Phenomenologyen_US
dc.subjectFemale Husbandsen_US
dc.subjectHenry Fieldingen_US
dc.subjectCharles Hamiltonen_US
dc.subjectJames Hoween_US
dc.subjectQueer Historyen_US
dc.subjectTransgender Historyen_US
dc.subjectSpeculative Fictionen_US
dc.subject18th Centuryen_US
dc.subjectEighteenth Centuryen_US
dc.subjectTrans Studiesen_US
dc.subjectfemale husbandsen_US
dc.titleCrossing Gender: Phenomenology and Speculation in the “Female Husband” Archiveen_US
mhc.institutionMount Holyoke College


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