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25 August 2012

Marie-Marguerite (1792–18??) farm worker

Marie-Marguerite was raised in , in the then newly created département of Eure-et-Loir, France.

At age 13 she started to suffer from groin hernias on both sides, and consulted a surgeon who prescribed a truss, to no avail. Marie-Marguerite was blonde and attractive, and a good housekeeper, so the son of a neighbouring farmer proposed when she was 16. However this fell through for reasons of family interests. At age 19 another engagement was broken off at the signing of the contract.

Her charm was disappearing, and her clothes no longer seemed to suit her. She expressed a preference for outdoor tasks such as sowing and harrowing, rather than milking cows and nursing chickens.

She consulted Dr Worbe who examined her and concluded that she was male. She shed tears, and exclaimed: : "So I'll never be able to settle down!" It took several months to become used to the idea that he was not a woman. Finally he took the decision ‘to make a solemn proclamation’ that he was male, and obtained a court ruling to that effect. Then he presented himself to the community. As Worbe tells it:
“Making a masculine entrance in the village whose inhabitants had until then only seen him in woman's clothing was extremely embarrassing for Marie; but over-coming any false shame, he went to mass on Sunday, passed through to the choir of the church, and took his place among the men. After this bold and decisive act, protected by one who was not long ago his lover, Marie went to the places frequented by young men of his age, and shared in their entertainments. Marie soon abandoned all feminine habits: an excellent domestic worker, he became a good labourer in very little time.”
  • Worbe. “Sur un individu rendu par jugement á l’état viril, après avoir été vingt-deux ans réputé du sexe féminin; cas médico-légal”. Bulletin de la faculté de médecine de Paris, XI, 4:10, 1815: 479-92.
  • Geertje Mak. Doubting Sex: Inscriptions, Bodies and Selves in Nineteenth-Century Hermaphrodite Case Histories. Manchester University Press, 2012: 51-3.

After his consultation Dr Worbe refers to Marie as ‘he’, which is good, but still calls him Marie!!  It is not known what male name he adopted, although it was probably stated in the court ruling.

It is likely that the groin hernias were likely late-descending testicles.

This account is one of very few from the period which recounts what happened after the patient was told that he was a man.  Typically for the period, Dr Worbe has no interest in and does not ask about whether Marie regards himself as a man.

Marie took the initiative to change gender and to have it legally confirmed.  At this period – before 1870 or so – intersex persons were allowed to choose whether to change or to stay with the gender of rearing. 

For most of his life, up to 1815, France was at war.  Fortunately, becoming a man did not mean joining the army.

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