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28 May 2012

La Préfecture de Police, Paris, and permissions de travestissement

Following the French Revolution, Louis-Michel le Peletier (1760-93), an aristocrat who had been avocat-general in the previous regime, sided with the new regime.  He was in favour of the trial of Louis XVI Bourbon, and his was a deciding vote for the king's death.  He was assassinated by a royalist on the eve of the king's execution.  In 1791 he presented a new criminal code to the National Assembly.  It contained only 'real crimes' and not 'phoney offenses created by superstition, feudalism, the tax system, and despotism (ces délits factices, créés par la superstition, la féodalité, la fiscalité et le despotisme)" '.  Thus blasphemy, heresy, sacrilege,  witchcraft, sodomy and transvestity were no longer crimes.  This change stood in the Napoleonic Criminal Code of 1810.

However The Paris Préfecture de Police had other ideas about transvestity.  On 16 Brumaire IX (7 November 1800 in the Gregorian calendar) it issued an Ordonnance:

« Le Préfet de Police,
Informé que beaucoup de femmes se travestissent, et persuadé qu'aucune d'elles ne quitte les habits de son sexe que pour cause de santé ;
Considérant que les femmes travesties sont exposées à une infinité de désagréments, et même aux méprises des agents de la police, si elles ne sont pas munies d'une autorisation spéciale qu'elles puissent représenter au besoin ;
Considérant que cette autorisation doit être uniforme, et que, jusqu'à ce jour, des permissions différentes ont été accordées par diverses autorités ;
Considérant, enfin, que toute femme qui, après la publication de la présente ordonnance, s'habillerait en homme, sans avoir rempli les formalités prescrites, donnerait lieu de croire qu'elle aurait l'intention coupable d'abuser de son travestissement,
Ordonne ce qui suit :
1 - Toutes les permissions de travestissement accordées jusqu'à ce jour, par les sous-préfets ou les maires du département de la Seine, et les maires des communes de Saint-Cloud, Sèvres et Meudon, et même celles accordées à la préfecture de police, sont et demeurent annulées.
2 - Toute femme, désirant s'habiller en homme, devra se présenter à la Préfecture de Police pour en obtenir l'autorisation.
3 - Cette autorisation ne sera donnée que sur le certificat d'un officier de santé, dont la signature sera dûment légalisée, et en outre, sur l'attestation des maires ou commissaires de police, portant les nom et prénoms, profession et demeure de la requérante.
4 - Toute femme trouvée travestie, qui ne se sera pas conformée aux dispositions des articles précédents, sera arrêtée et conduite à la préfecture de police.
5 - La présente ordonnance sera imprimée, affichée dans toute l'étendue du département de la Seine et dans les communes de Saint-Cloud, Sèvres et Meudon, et envoyée au général commandant les 15e et 17e divisions militaires, au général commandant d'armes de la place de Paris, aux capitaines de la gendarmerie dans les départements de la Seine et de Seine et Oise, aux maires, aux commissaires de police et aux officiers de paix, pour que chacun, en ce qui le concerne, en assure l'exécution. »
Le Préfet de Police Dubois
"The Prefect of Police,
Informed that many women transvest, and persuaded that none of them abandon the dress of her sex for health reasons;
Whereas women transvestites are exposed to endless inconvenience,  even to the point of police officers' contempt, if they are not equipped with a special authorization that they show when necessary;
Whereas this authorization should be uniform, and that, until now, different permissions were granted by various authorities;
Whereas, finally, that any woman who, after the publication of this order, would dress as a man, without having fulfilled the prescribed formalities, will give reason to believe that she has culpable intent of abusing her transvestment.
Orders as follows:
1 - All permissions of transvestity to this day, issued by sub-prefects and mayors of the Department of the Seine, and the mayors of St. Cloud, Sevres and Meudon, and even by the prefecture of Police are and shall remain cancelled.
2 - Any woman who wishes to dress like a man, must appear at the  Prefecture of Police to get permission.
3 - This authorization will be given only with the certificate of a medical officer, whose signature will be duly acknowledged, moreover, with the certificate of mayors or police commissioners, with the full name, occupation and residence of the applicant.
4 - Any woman found transvesting, who has not complied with the foregoing provisions, shall be arrested and taken to Prefecture of Police.
5 - This Ordinance shall be printed, displayed throughout the extent of the department of Seine and in the communes of Saint-Cloud, Sevres and Meudon, and sent to the commanding general of the 15th and 17th military divisions, commanding general of arms of the Paris area, the captains of the gendarmerie in the departments of Seine and Seine et Oise, mayors, police commissioners and peace officers, so that everyone, will assure compliance. "
The Prefect of Police Dubois

A permit. P81 in Bard's Histoire.

Note that nothing is said about male-bodied transvestites.

The archives of the Prefecture has retained, in a manner of speaking, some of its archive on the subject.  In the series D/B there is a folder numbered 58 and titled “Travestissement”.    Unfortunately only a few applications have been kept.  The file does contain the Ordonnance reproduced above, and newspaper clippings on the subject.

1806.  The oldest application that has survived is that from Mlle Catherine-Marguerite Mayer, dated 17 September, who wished to dress en homme to ride a horse.  Her application is numbered 167.

1830. Mlle Foucaud, daughter of a ruined industrialist, arrived in Paris, acted a little, and worked as a servant.  Then she got a job as a printer at 2.50 francs a day.  However she discovered that men were paid 4 francs.  She asked for the same, and was told that the sexes must not be mixed.  So she quit, dressed as male and was hired a few days later at 4 francs. She continued in male dress for the next fifty years.  Le Vieux Papier told her story in 1911, and also mentioned a prostitute who became a locksmith, a stonemason, and a Celestine R., who was known as the bearded lady, who was fond of her beard and asked for a permit so that it would not be incongruous.

1833.  Another Ordonnance stipulates that balls, dances, concerts, banquets and public festivals can not receive persons who are transvesting.  This ban may be lifted only during carnival with the consent of the Prefecture.

1846. Claude Gilbert, peddler, was accused of public indecency because he had worn female clothing.  The court however was unable to find a law that he had broken, and dismissed the complaint.  At the same time Jacques-Francois Renaudin appeared several times in court charged under Section 259 of the 1810 Penal Code “Anyone who publicly wore a suit, a uniform or a decoration that is not theirs not, shall be punished with imprisonment from six months to two years”, but was released in that such transvestity is a “kind of distortion that is rare”.

1850-60. According to Le Vieux Papier, 1 July 1911, only twelve women were granted a permit.  They were either in occupations usually reserved for men, or so masculine in their gait or had beards that they attracted attention in skirts.

1853.  Article 471, 15 of the French Penal Code of 10 June passed under the Second Empire criminalized transvesting in public spaces and balls.

1862In October Mlle Adèle Sidonie Loüis, 36, artist and musician living in Asnières, applied for a six-month permit for reasons of health.  Her application was numbered 74.

1885. The novelist Rachilde obtained a permit, but is unmentioned in the file.

1886La Ligue de l’affranchissement des femmes and Mme Astié de Valsayre demanded the right to dress in trousers.  The Prefect of Police repeated the orders of 1800: a woman dressed as a man must have a permit, unless it is carnival.

1887.  1 July, Mme Astié de Valsayre wrote to the National Assembly demanding “éliminer la loi routinière, qui interdit aux femmes de porter le costume masculin, tout aussi décent, quoi qu’on en puisse dire, surtout incontestablement plus hygiénique (eliminate routine laws which prohibit women from wearing men's dress, just as decent, whatever one may say, and most definitely more hygienic)”.  Her plea relied on accidental deaths, by fire, shipwreck, and on trams where women were hampered by their clothing.  The House found “nulle loi n’impose aux femmes les vêtements compliqués dont elles se recouvrent (no law imposes on women the complicated clothes that they wear)”.  Mme Valsayre took to dressing as male, as did Mme d’Estoc, a sculptor, who wore short hair and a false beard.

1889. La Petite République française ran a story about dame Libert who ran a printing press in the Latin Quarter.  She was from Strasbourg, and had left her husband in 1878.  The local police commissioner had remonstrated with her several times for wearing men’s clothing, and a tribunal had warned her to return to female clothing.  Le Temps 9 February 1889 reported that following a denunciations Libert found herself at the commissariat accused of impersonating a man for ten years.  She explained that “ le costume d'homme permet aux femmes de se livrer avec plus de liberté aux travaux du commerce (men’s clothing permits women to engage more freely in the work of trade)”, and that up till then no one had discovered her sex.  She asserted her ignorance of the Paris law and agreed to seek a permit.

1890. La Lanterne reported in 1890 that permits had been issued to the exceptional:  the archaeologist Jane Dieulafoy, the painter Rosa Bonheur, a former actress at the Comédie française who wanted to participate in hunting, Marguerite Boullanger mistress of Napoleon III.  Although not mentioned there seems to be no evidence that novelist George Sand, actress Sarah Bernhardt or traveller Isabelle Eberhardt ever applied for a permit.

After 1890, the Prefecture seems to have stopped enforcing the Ordonnance of 1800.

1900. Clementine Delait, bearded lady, did not live in Paris.  She obtained her her permit from the Minister of the Interior.

Madeleine Pelletier wore men’s clothing habitually from 1905-39, and never requested a permit.

1927.  The 1853 anti-transvesting law was re-affirmed in January.

1928The sporting star Violette Morris, who also never obtained a permit, was excluded by the French Women’s Sporting Federation.  At her appeal in 1930, the Federation cited the Ordonnance of 1800 as part of its argument.

1933.  The Ordonnance of 1833 was repeated verbatim.

1949.  The 1853 anti-transvesting law was re-affirmed yet again in February.

1963Paris Press announced that the Prefect of Police had asked the Interior Minister to introduce a bill in the National Assembly to ban transvestity.  This did not happen.

1969.  Dr Bernard Lefay, conseiller de Paris, wrote to the Prefect of Police that it would be unfortunate if the Ordonnance were to enforced against any female persons.  The Prefect replied, 20 June 1969, that they deemed it “sage de ne pas changer des textes auxquels les variations prévisibles ou imprévisibles de la mode peuvent à tout moment rendre leur actualité (wise not to change the text given the predictable and unpredictable changes of fashion)”.

The ordonnance was finally repealed in January 2013.
  • Jann Matlock.  “Masquerading Women, Pathologized Men: Cross-Dressing, Fetishism, and the Theory of Perversion, 1882-1935”.  In Emily S. Apter & William Pietz (ed). Fetishism As Cultural Discourse. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1993: 31-61.
  • Vernon A. Roserio II. “Pointy Penises, Fashion Crimes. and Hysterical Mollies: The Pederasts’ Inversions”. Jeffrey Merrick & Bryant T. Ragan (ed). Homosexuality in Modern France. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996:152,170n40.
  • Christine Bard.  “Le « DB58 » aux Archives de la Préfecture de Police”.  Clio, 10, 1999.
  • Christine Bard. “L’inderdiction de s’habiller en homme (1800)”. Une histoire politique du pantalon. Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 2010.
  • "Parisian women finally 'allowed' to wear trousers". France 24, 04/02/2013.

I have mainly followed Bard’s essay in Clio.  Obviously not all the female-born persons mentioned above should be regarded as trans.  In some cases the issue was dress reform.  We forget that 19th century female dress with corsets, hoops and layers of petticoats could indeed hamper mobility and could result in accidental deaths, by fire, shipwreck, and on trams.  In other cases there was a temptation to transvest to gain higher wages.  Mlle Foucaud increased her pay from 2.50 fr to 4 fr.  On the other hand Foucard continued en homme for 50 years, and Libert had been dressing en homme for ten years and was never questioned.  Surely they were likely trans.

It seems to be a peculiarity of France that apparent trans men do not take a male name – see Jane Dieulafoy, Mathilde de Morney.  In the cases above this may be an artefact of reporting.  Neither the police nor the journalist was willing to record the male name.

We can easily posit three types of transvesting:  dress reform, economic (for higher pay) and a trans identity.  Bard writes mainly from a feminist and dress reform perspective.  Matlock covers many of same examples in a context of psychiatry and the social construction of fetishism.  Interestingly she posits a different three types of what she calls ‘clothing obsessionals’:
  1. those who enter an asylum because of severely agitated behaviour, and are found to have gender identity confusion.
  2. those who have tried to become men.  Some have succeeded, some have been unmasked.  Doctors at that time could not understand why they would want to.
  3. those who find male clothing to be more convenient, and congruent with an easier life.
I cited Roserio for the law of 1853.  Bard and Matlock do not mention it at all.  It was passed in the conservative early days of the Second Empire, but remained as a tool for police repression.   Roserio does not mention the Ordonnance of 1800.

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