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The Virginia Hermaphrodite
(Bennet’s Farm, Jamestowne, 1629)
Your Honors, Gentlemen of the Council,
Ask me– how it is that I am brought here?
Stepping out of church, bothering no one,
I was of a serene and peaceful mind–
When of a sudden– without a whisper–
I’m set on by folks in the neighborhood!
Men and women handle me very rough–
Fall to a malign of my character–
Pulling up my skirts and looking at me–
Outting me in front of gaping strangers!
Keep them off me, no hands on my body–
No rude words– I’ve given them no reason!
This because Great Bess says I pleasured her!
Well, so I did– often– and overmuch!
I lie with the maid– I lie with the man--
I please them both– as Great Bess will have said–
Or some men might– close to hand– who won’t speak!
Am I man or woman? I cannot say.
But I’ll be truthful--since my secret’s out–
Aye, I do wear the skirt– or men’s trouser–
Whichever pleases me at the moment!
Oh, I’ve but little piece of hole, good sirs--
An’ I’m not hung like some big strong stallion–
Yea, I must put on woman’s apparel
– time t’ time– t’ get some’at for my cat!
But am I ever deviant in such?
No, never– for God’s made me what I am!
And will you set your judgement above Him?
I am man and woman in one body–
With some exceptions, for which I’m thankful–
I don’t suffer Mother Eve’s affliction,
Nor have I art to bear and suckle young–
I’m soft of skin, I have but scantest hair–
I am warlike in the masculine way
– makest my water whilst I’m standing up--
Yet still– I’ve the nature of a woman–
In that I am so easy moved to tears!
You, hereabouts, know me as Thomas Hall--
I am christened Thomasine, not Thomas--
For many years, a child at mother’s knee,
Girl-like, I went through Newcastle’s mean streets–
Till full-grown– I found me more man than maid–
So, I donned uniform, went as soldier–
And fought bravely– you shall not doubt me there!
I begged no ground nor quarter-- in that field!
But a soldier’s rough life was not for me–
Home I came, to find the wearing of lace–
No thick cartridge belt– no heavy chain-mail–
– the wrap of a dress– much more to my like!
So it was an’ I shipped for Virginia–
A servant girl seeking for a new life--
Employed as maid in the planter’s household!
Now, I shall question you– in due respect–
Your Honors, what‘s the purpose of this court?
To determine my sex by a hearing?
I think not– since not even God’s wisdom
Has said by what mode of dress I shall go!
Were it in this court’s power to gender
– make me entire as a man or woman–
Then it were greater than God or nature!
You hold me guilty– but guilty of what?
Is there an honest man amongst this crowd,
No matter how masculine– how bearded,
Who has not wondered at the distaff side?
How it means and how it feels to be fair,
What’s it to go forth dressed in women’s clothes–
Enjoying the soft caress-- aye, fond kiss–
And, nay, not to carry the thing forward,
But to give in, surrendering love’s part–
Become the one to whom love’s-act is done!
Likewise, I shall say for the weaker sex
– an' there ever be such an animal!–
What female’s not wanted to wear the pants?
What wife’s not felt an envy of her spouse–
As carries Love’s weapon in front of him?
Is there a woman’s not felt her desire–
Strong as any man’s– an’ maybe warmer–
Then come at it sometimes to ride atop–
Astride like as some ol’ Roman harlot!
Now– your judgement, sirs– is unduly harsh!
How did you arrive at such a sentence?
Is it jealousy makes you punish me?
Of course, I cannot say what you might feel–
But each of us wants what the other’s got–
Since I have both, your pique is natural!
You rule that I must dress in men’s trousers,
Go with my head adorned by woman’s scarf–
And wear an apron tied round my middle!
It’s too much, I tell you– alors, too much!
I’ll be nothing now but a laughingstock!
(Nay– I’ll go off and live with the savage!)
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