Warning: Any nasty comments will be deleted and the commenters blacklisted. This ain’t one of your echo chambers and safe spaces on Tumblr. History, like science, only cares about facts, not your feelings and sense of validation.
Dr. James Miranda Steuart Barry, née Margaret Ann Bulkley
ca. 1789–25 July 1865
Another week, another book for the Woke Stasi to burn pre-publication. This time, they’ve set their teeth and claws upon E.J. Levy’s The Cape Doctor, which just sold to Little Brown. This is Ms. Levy’s first novel, coming after the 2012 story collection Love, In Theory. Her new novel is about a pioneering doctor who spent the last 56 years of her life posing as a man.
These zealots once again are behaving like babies throwing a tantrum. Ms. Levy’s crime? Correctly sexing Dr. Barry as a woman and using feminine pronouns. These bullies are screaming “He! He! He! He! He! He! He! Him! Him! His! How dare you misgender him! He was a man! Man! Man! Man! Transphobe! Bigot! I don’t feel safe! You’re committing literal violence! I’m complaining to Little Brown, and I hope they drop your so-called book!”
Dr. Barry was raped as a teenager and bore a child. She declared she’d be a soldier if she were a boy, but was trained as a governess.
Instead, several of her brother James’s progressive, influential friends came up with a plan for her to attend the University of Edinburgh’s med school. In late 1809, she reinvented herself as James Barry, and never lived as Margaret Bulkley again.
She didn’t make a very convincing man, leading many to believe she was prepubescent. The University Senate tried to block her applications for final exams, but powerful friends intervened, and she got her MD in 1812.
Dr. Barry joined the army as a surgeon, and rose to become Inspector General (like a Brigadier General). In 1816, she was posted to Cape Town, South Africa, where she significantly improved quality of life and performed one of the first C-sections where both mother and child survived.
Dr. Barry later worked in Mauritius, Jamaica, St. Helena, the West Indies, Malta, Corfu, the Crimea, and Canada, before retiring to London. Her true sex was only discovered after death. The army sealed all records of her for 100 years.
Many women in history posed as men to do things they were legally, socially, culturally barred from. The only way women could become doctors, serve in the military, travel freely, live independently, attend most universities, etc., was to reinvent themselves as men. They were not transsexuals!
The TRAs piling on Ms. Levy harp on about how Dr. Barry could’ve “easily” been one of the women fighting to become doctors and receive higher education in that era, or go to one of the rare countries where women were allowed to practise medicine, instead of posing as a man. This shows such historical ignorance.
There were NO women’s med schools till 1848, and precious few women legitimately trained as doctors. Those rare few faced lots of discrimination. Also, how would Dr. Barry have financed this trip abroad, where would she have lived, how would she have found employment? Who chooses lifelong exile?
These people have no grasp of just how few rights women had prior to the modern era, and how women who went against the grain were treated. Women who read novels could be arrested if their fathers ordered it! There weren’t even any public ladies’ bathrooms till the late 19th century, and there was enormous opposition, since they enabled women to have lives outside hearth and home.
So of course Dr. Barry kept up the charade the rest of her life. Who invests 50+ years into a deception, only to turn around and unravel everything at the end? Women weren’t allowed to own property, so her will would’ve been null and void if authorities knew her true sex. Anyone with knowledge of her deception would’ve been arrested.
So how dare Woko Haram turn around and accuse Ms. Levy of being the one erasing Dr. Barry’s identity and disrespecting the dead! They’re the ones insisting this incredible woman was really a man!
We can’t apply modern concepts to historical people and situations. Dr. Barry lived as a man to be a doctor, not because she felt “trapped in the wrong body” or believed herself to be a transman.
I’m looking forward to reading The Cape Doctor, and hope Ms. Levy doesn’t roll over and cancel publication like Amélie Wen Zhao did with Blood Heir.
UPDATE: Sadly, they caved to the irrational lynch mob.