erasure of Ancient Egyptian trans history?
May 24, 2020 6:51 PM   Subscribe

Sometime before the pandemic (a couple months maybe?) I read a Twitter thread where someone was talking about a case of erasure of Ancient Egyptian trans history. I'd love to find that thread again.

The story, as well as I remember it, is that in the 1800s a British man "discovered" an ancient Egyptian mummy which appeared biologically male to him. The mummy had been buried as a woman. There was text of the person describing herself as the wife of another mummy which also appeared biologically male to him. The British man decided that the ancient Egyptians must have made a mistake in how they buried the person describing herself as the other person's wife, that the two mummies were both men, and that in life they had been friends. I can't remember if the author of the Twitter thread explicitly made the point about people interpreting according to their own particular biases, but I can't imagine why they wouldn't have.

I'd like to find the names of the people involved and to try to corroborate the story with authoritative sources, especially if the generally accepted view now is that obviously the two people were not male friends while alive, but a transwoman and her husband.

This question isn't purely academic to me: part of my job as a librarian is collection development, including of juvenile nonfiction, and occasionally I get requests for, say, a 30-year-old book about Rome or a 50-year-old book on The Gettysburg Address. Unless the work requested is basically the juvenile nonfiction equivalent of The Origin of Species, I turn them down. (Yes, I'm aware of Texas State Libraries' CREW guidelines, and no, I don't imagine I'll be mentioning Ancient Egyptian trans erasure to someone asking why I turned down a request for a book about the Civil War, but I could see sharing it as an anecdote when talking with staff about the various reasons we don't buy old non-fiction. And yes, I'm also aware of changes to how we view Pluto, how math is taught, phonics vs. sight words, attitudes towards Native American history and Westward Expansion, etc. I just find these sorts of shifts fascinating.)
posted by johnofjack to Society & Culture (4 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Are you thinking of this tumblr thread? See here.
posted by loulou718 at 11:24 PM on May 24

Interesting! I've gone down a really great rabbit hole but haven't found exactly what you describe.

The closest match I found to what you describe is this tweet which is possibly the right timeframe but contains no names and none of the details you remember (in fact the assumed genders are flipped).

I also ran across this recent tweet which contains a link for a (past?) exhibition called A Woman's Afterlife: Gender Transformation in Ancient Egypt at the Brooklyn Museum. No names there either, and again gender-swapped, but seems like it could be a path to more authoritative sources. (Bonus Twitter thread from several years ago with some photos from the exhibition.)

The first thing I hit while searching was a lot of debate over whether Hatshepsut, who was born female and was (at least mostly) referred to with female pronouns, but is sometimes depicted with more masculine attire including the stylized false beard worn by male pharaohs, could be considered as trans. Again, not what you were recalling, but this tweet contains a link to a blog post with some possibly interesting historical commentary.

Also found a couple of probably-too-old tweets on a male mummy in a coffin intended for a woman (but in that case, it looks like a case of corpse swapping, since the body is 300 years older than the coffin) and a coffin with female iconography and female CT scan indications that still gets referred to as a male mummy (probably due to a mistranslation of hieroglyphics, per a response to the thread).

Finally, this tweet is about ancient Rome instead of ancient Egypt, but the thread includes a link to an article about the possibly trans emperor/empress Elagabalus.

Anyway, will be watching to see if you or anybody else finds what you were actually recalling. (On preview, that tumblr thread looks really promising!)
posted by sigmagalator at 11:30 PM on May 24 [1 favorite]

Loulou718, I had remembered reading it as a series of tweets, having to click the link periodically to get X more tweets, etc. That said, the stark refusal to accept the truth of the matter is definitely similar, and there are elements of the rest of what I had remembered in some of the comments (samandriel's comment about Khnumhotep being consistently depicted as female, aeacustero's amazement at someone insisting the ancient Egyptians just made a mistake in their burial [though, to be fair, thatlittleegyptologist points out the various reasons that a mistake in burial is not impossible and shouldn't be rejected out of hand]).

Sigmagalator, thanks. Those links are fascinating and all share elements of what I had remembered. I may have sent you down a rabbit hole but now I feel like it might have been on a wild goose chase. >.<>
At this point I'm wondering if I read a thread on Twitter about some element of this which included a link to the Tumblr post, that I then read the comic and the comments, and that now (several months later) maybe I have just gotten all of that mixed up. Memory is a funny thing.
posted by johnofjack at 7:48 AM on May 25

I doubt this is your answer because it’s a different medium, but the podcast History Is Gay did an episode about gender and sexuality in Ancient Egypt that discussed this same burial. If you’re interested in the topic, you might enjoy the podcast!
posted by daisyk at 3:08 AM on May 26 [1 favorite]

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