A trans historian’s reflections on the past and future of trans identity

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Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

February in the United Kingdom marks LGBT+ History Month, a tradition initiated by a Missouri schoolteacher in 1994 and celebrated at different times of the year around the globe.

While gay and lesbian history has become relatively well-known over the past two decades, trans history remains an uneasy addendum to the commemoration merry-go-round. Every year, the effort to foster public awareness of trans history runs into the pervasive belief that trans identity was invented recently by medical quacks and Millennials/Gen Z. Convincing society that the trans past is even real remains an all-consuming preoccupation.

Historians have proposed a number of…


How Nazism nearly destroyed the little Principality — and how it survived

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Nazi sympathisers in Liechtenstein wanted to replace the crown on the country’s flag with a swastika. This mock-up was created by the author.

Friday, 24 March 1939 — Spring had just begun in the Principality of Liechtenstein, a tiny pocket of sovereign land nestled between Austria and Switzerland. The First Austrian Republic, a shadow of a once sprawling Austrian empire, had been absorbed by Adolf Hitler’s Germany just one year prior.

The fall of Austria brought soldiers of the Third Reich to the borders of the defenceless and officially neutral micro-state of Liechtenstein. While fear gripped most Liechtensteiners, die-hard Nazi sympathisers welcomed the potential Anschluss (unification) with Germany. True to Nazi form, they plotted a putsch — a violent takeover of power —…


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Trans Pride, Brighton, 2018. Photo by author.

After more than fifteen years of tireless campaigning and awareness-raising, the British trans rights movement was disappointed in the summer of 2020 to hear the UK Government reject plans for a significant reform of the Gender Recognition Act (2004), which gives trans people limited rights to change their legal gender. They were even more dismayed to hear government ministers justify the decision by referencing the arguments put forward by so-called ‘Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists’.

But what is this controversial brand of feminism, and how did it become so influential in the United Kingdom?

The label ‘Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist’ (TERF)…


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Left: Donald Trump at the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference. From Wikimedia Commons, under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. Right: Rudollah Khomeini in Neauphle-le-Château. From Wikimedia Commons, under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Critics of Donald Trump have been scrambling for the last four years to find appropriate historical comparisons that help us make sense of the sheer awfulness, the cataclysmic incompetence, the undisguised racism, and the antidemocratic impulses of the 45th President.

From other terrible US Presidents like Warren G. Harding and James Buchanan, to nationalist strongmen like Benito Mussolini and Vladimir Putin, to Adolf Hitler himself, exhausted commentators have plumbed the depths of available comparisons.¹ Nothing seems to capture the essence of this deplorable, buffoonish man.

However, there is another, less obvious comparison that may help us understand at least one…


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The Battle of Poltava (1709) by Pierre Denis-Martin. Public domain, from Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Marten%27s_Poltava.jpg.

2021 marks the tricentenary of the collapse of the Swedish Empire, one of the most unusual and unpredictable empires to romp across early-modern Europe. And yet, despite having had all of three centuries to mull it over, historians are still puzzled by Sweden's 'Age of Greatness'.

When it gained independence from Denmark in 1523, the Swedish nation covered a sparsely populated and resource-poor area stretching from the Baltic sea into the Arctic Circle; hardly the foundations on which to build a mighty empire.¹ Over the next two centuries, however, Swedish territory grew at an exponential rate. Much of what is…


Groundbreaking books that will change your perspective on the trans past

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Photo by Tom Hermans on Unsplash

LGBT+ History Month comes around every February to commemorate and celebrate the queer past. Emphasis is usually placed on the history of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people, with the ‘T’ being an afterthought. Some people aren’t even convinced that trans people have much of history, believing that trans identity was invented by liberal busy-bodies and ‘snowflakes’ sometime after the Second World War.

Quite the contrary. Trans history is now a burgeoning field with a growing list of innovative texts for readers to choose from. …


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The Transgender Pride Flag flies on the Foreign Office building in London on Transgender Day of Remembrance, 20 November 2017. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Transgender_Pride_Flag_(37827573944).jpg.

Since the passage of same-sex marriage into law in 2013, proposals to reform the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) 2004 have been at the forefront of the British LGBT+ rights movement. The Act provides a very limited process by which trans people can, through the approval of a panel of medical experts and bureaucrats, attain legal recognition for their gender identity in the form of a Gender Recognition Certificate and an altered birth certificate. …


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Hideki Tojo, prime minister of Japan from 1941 to 1944, takes the stand at the Tokyo Tribunals. Public domain, from the US National Archives.

America has been here before. While the attempted insurrection at the Capitol building on 6 January 2021 was shocking in its display of pure, untempered rage, the United States has dealt with more than its fair share of violent fascists and insurrectionists over the centuries. The American Civil War is the most obvious example, but there are other, more recent cases that provide important lessons for post-Trump America.

American occupation forces governed part of West Germany and all of Japan after the defeat of the Axis Powers in the Second World War. In Japan, the occupation government under General MacArthur…


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An image shared by Trump on Twitter, 20 August 2020. Posted with the text ‘I promise not to do this to Greenland!’

In August 2019, Donald Trump captured global attention by making an offer for the United States to buy Greenland from Denmark.¹ The Danish and Greenlandic governments both dismissed the idea as absurd, pouring icy water on Trump’s media storm. Vague and short-lived, Trump’s ‘Greenland thing’ seemed a microcosm of the scatter-gun approach that he brought to policy-making — silly, weird, unprecedented, pointless, transient.

In reality, however, it represents one of the most historically significant episodes in the Trump administration’s hectic single term. As climate change continues to transform the Arctic, revealing untapped natural resources and opening up new sea lanes…


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Scientology is for an able guy like you or like me … The insane and so forth, somebody else can have them. They’ve already failed.
- L. Ron Hubbard, 1966.¹

The Church of Scientology is obsessed with the concept of 'ability'. In his only public interview to date, David Miscavige, the current leader of the movement, said that the singular goal of Scientology is to ‘help the able become more able,’² and the Church claims to do just that by proselytising the psycho-therapeutic 'technology' invented by its founder, L. Ron Hubbard.

Casual observers of Scientology might notice the near-total absence…

Rebecca Jane Morgan

Historian of modern Britain, popular culture, and queer identities. PhD student, trans activist, and Quaker from South Wales. She/her pronouns.

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