Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Mysteries of Sex

There is a fabulous, fabulous book called The Mysteries of Sex: Women Who Posed as Men and Men Who Impersonated Women by C.J.S. Thompson. Though out of print, it is not impossible to find. And if you can get your hands on this book, do so! It's absolutely FABULOUS.

As I cannot possibly give every character in this book (and there are SO many), I will give you one of my favorites. His name was Francois Timolean de Choisy. And yes, you guessed it, the man was French. Though not an aristocrat, his father was the chancellor to the Duke of Orleans and therefore his family mingled with the aristocracy quite frequently.

He was born in Paris, August 16th, 1644. His mother dressed him in female clothing throughout his childhood and up until the age of eighteen, he wore nothing but female clothing. Right down to the stockings and corsets. At 18, he was drawn to the stage and became an actor. Naturally, he was inclined to play a female. And loved it. A bit too much. For five months he wore nothing but tightly laced corsets so as to emphasize his hips and breasts (which he obviously did not have, but you string a corset tight enough, and yes even a man can have breasts). Choisy took care of his appearance so much so that he wrote about it in his memoirs (which by the way, I highly recommend everyone read). "I took care of my neck, rubbing it every night with veal broth and a pomade of sheep's foot oil which makes the skin soft and white." (He failed to mention I'm certain that it also made him stink...)

During the summer he would wear large, decorative masks to cover his face completely, as he believed bonnets never quite kept all the sun out. Choisy was indeed the dandiest of dandies and fops. He merely took it to the next level, so to speak. Interestingly enough, no one seemed to make a fuss about him wearing female clothing and aristocratic women would actually follow his fashion, as he was quite stylish both in his tastes in female clothing and hair. He was popular enough to be invited to all the important balls and suppers dressed as a woman. Most were amused by him and didn't take him seriously. But one woman did.

After meeting him several times, a certain Mademoiselle Charlotte fell madly in love with him and decided there was only one way to win his heart. So she showed up at one of his events dressed as a man. Needless to say, Choisy was rather smitten. He even commissioned a painting of them together. Charlotte dressed as a man and Choisy dressed as a woman. Charlotte, feeling as though their relationship could in fact work, decided to change her name to Monsieur de Maulny and even cut her hair. It worked. Though never officially, they married in a mock ceremony before family and friends. She was the groom and he was the bride.

And though I would like to end it there, sadly, there was no happily ever after for these two. They drifted apart. Charlotte resumed being a woman and married another man. Who wore manly clothes. It must have had some effect on Choisy, for shortly after her marriage to the "man," he opted to dress in male clothing and even took up gambling. Like a real man would. He eventually had to sell off his favorite diamond earrings. When he lost his house, he decided the whole male persona simply wasn't him. And resumed the ways of a woman. But it wouldn't last. Society around him was changing and the idea of a man dressed as a woman, especially a man growing in age, was hardly amusing. So he was forced to resume the life of a man. He grew old donning old finery in the confines of his bedchamber and died at the age of one and eighty in Paris, 1724.

And for those of you who may be wondering, it was never mentioned as to whether or not he was buried in his favorite gown...