Maria van Antwerpen, a strong wo(men)

If we go through the media regularly, we are not able to past it. Gender diversity as a theme is hot, just think of Bo Van Spilbeeck or the movie ‘Girl.’ by Lukas Dhont. Even though it is ‘hot’ at the moment, transgenderism is certainly not an invention of the 21st century. Throughout history, there have been several cases of women who already behaved like men. Jean D’arc or Hannah Snell easily come to mind.

One of the examples is Maria Van Antwerpen, born in 1719 in Breda. In 1746 she loses her job as a maid and left her hometown. Under the name Jan van Antwerpen she starts a new life as a tailor. Later she also presents herself as a 16-year-old soldier, while Maria is actually 28 years old.

Williamson, Daniel, 1783-1843; Hannah Snell (1723-1792)

The year is 1748 and Jan van Antwerpen marries Johanna Kramers, they move in together. Sexual contact is something Jan tries to avoid. According to sources, his wife did not realize that her husband was actually a woman. In 1751 Jan is recognized as Maria with the consequence that he is banned from the city. Eventually she ends up with Cornelia Swartenberg, who is familiar with Maria’s past as a man. Cornelia convinces Maria to go through life as a tailor / soldier, named Machiel van Antwerpen. However, later on she was again recognized as a woman and another prosecution followed. In that process Maria declares that inside her body she feels like a man but biologically she is a woman. Thanks to this statement, we can assume that Maria van Antwerpen was transgender. But the difference between travesty and transgenderism can cause some confusion.

Dressing up in a different gender is called travesty, but transgenderism goes a step further. The person then completely submerges in the opposite gender. This is because of real transgenderism, in wich a person in question cannot identify with his or her own biological gender. This in contrast to the 17th and 18th century, when taking over another gender was a step towards a better life, especially for the female sex. For example, a woman who’s traveling alone is more vulnerable to danger than a man. Women often pretended to be a male because of the better life it gave them. There are multiple stories about women who went through life as a groomsman, shoemaker or butcher. In short, all professions in which men had acquired a dominant position.

It is important to see that gender identity is not an invention of the 21st century. Throughout history there were many people who doubted their gender. The only difference, nowadays people see it less as a taboo.

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