The fictions of Ernest Hemingway had from way back induced skepticism re his machismo and bravado. This took a more interesting turn in the late 1980s with the posthumous publication of his Garden of Eden in 1986 with its gender play and gender swapping, followed the next year by Paul Hendrickson's article for the Washington Post (which was reprinted in other publications) which interviewed Hemingway’s three sons and how they coped with his image. This was the first time that the reading public became aware that the third child, Gregory was a conflicted trans woman better known as Gloria. In 1988, Kenneth Lynn’s seminal 600-page biography opened up the field with some anecdotes to which the word ‘androgyny’ was applied, but he did not incorporate Hendrickson’s findings.
In the 30+ years since, there has been a slew of books on Hemingway’s life and works with particular attention to sex and gender. Critics and some other readers have found homoeroticism, homophobia, repressed femininity, misogyny, fetishism, sodomy, transvestity and masochism.
The Ken Burns & Lynn Novick 2021 PBS documentary, Hemingway, taken by some as revelatory, actually does not contain anything re sex or gender that was not known in the 1980s and 1990s, but does fill out the images with old newsreels and photographs.
Some comments on aspects of Hemingway’s life that have been proposed by critics as Androgyny or Pseudo-Androgyny.
For the first few years of his life, young Ernest was kept in dresses. This was not unusual for his generation. If this somehow had a lasting impact, we would expect most young men in the 1920s to be closet cross-dressers.
From the 16th century and into the 20th, young boys wore skirts or dresses until roughly the age of reason (seven or so). One reasons given was toilet training. The Breeching, the first wearing of trousers was an important rite of passage, often celebrated with a small party.
Gender swapping with sister
Ernest and his sister Marcelline were 18 months apart. Their mother Grace apparently had a fantasy of having had twins. She paired them. She dressed them alike, and Marcelline was held back a year so she and Ernest could go through school in the same class.
An unusual practice. However there is no indication that this affected Marcelline’s gender identity. She married at age 25 and had three children. She had a career as a lecturer on literature and the theatre, and wrote a book about her family.
The word ‘androgyny’ has been used by several critics in relation to this novel.
Two characters are relevant.
Jake Barnes suffered an unstated injury in WWI and was rendered impotent. So he is a sort of eunuch. There is a traditional attitude which regards eunuchs as somehow androgynous, despite their condition being an involuntary mutilation, despite which the majority remain gynephilic with a male gender identity.
Brett Ashley is more seriously described as ‘androgynous’ although it is still androgyny light. She keeps her hair short in a masculine fashion, and is regarded as having a masculine attitude to sex in casually taking and leaving her male sex partners. She is not lesbian; she does not wear masculine clothes (in 1926 this means that she does not wear trousers). Doing things in masculine fashion was considered feminist at that time and was sometimes regarded as androgynous.
I have written an entry on trans men in the late 1920s. They were all much more androgynous and/or masculine than Brett Ashley.
The Garden of Eden, 1986
The posthumously published novel by Hemingway in which the two protagonists, David and Catherine, get the same short haircut and play games of both being the other gender.
This is apparently based on games that Ernest played with his fourth wife, Mary Welsh. They did this for a while and then desisted. It did not develop into transgender changes for either of them. Such gender play by heterosexual couples is more common than generally admitted.
Father of Gloria
It is now well known that Ernest’s third child transitioned after four wives and eight children and took the name Gloria. There are very few recorded examples of a trans woman having a trans (or trans inclined) father. Virginia Prince and her father Charles Lowman are the best known.
Meyers alone reported in 1999 of Gloria: ‘Transposing his own fantasies onto his father, he claimed that Hemingway couldn’t sleep at night because he dreamed he was a woman”.
Stoller’s concept of a toxic family
Eby draws a parallel between Grace Hemingway and her son, Ernest, and the mother-son dyads discussed in Robert Stoller’s two books called Sex and Gender. In these dyads the son becomes the mother’s “feminized phallus”. Stoller partially based his ideas on the Agnes and the Lance cases, and found a few others who fit his pattern, but they all involved childhood or teenage trans gender expression quite different from what is found in Hemingway. While Eby rewrites the Grace-Ernest dyad to approximate Stoller’s pattern, the gender expression by the boy is missing.
Fantina writes (p76)
“If we can identify Hemingway as heterosexual but not quite straight, we can do worse than refer to him as a queer heterosexual or as transgendered even if he never cared to or dared to admit it himself” and “What Hemingway does in The Garden of Eden and elsewhere is to affirm the patriarchal social mandate while undermining it in sexual relationships. Hemingway’s male characters often engage in subversive sexual practices but they usually reaffirm other patriarchal values and always reject homosexuality. … Hemingway’s ideological identification conforms to the compulsory heterosexuality demanded of men (and women) in twentieth-century America, while his desire integrates more fluid notions of sexuality. While homosexuality can never present a viable option to Hemingway, it is too facile to call his stance a simple denial. Even if Hemingway felt homosexual desires but willed himself straight, we have to accept the results of his own personal project.”
I do not agree with Fantina, or with most of the writers listed below.
Was Hemingway a Dark Dreamer as defined by Jack Molay: “people who have managed to suppress their transgender side completely. They are not even aware of splitting (i.e. a mental compartmentalization of their other side)”. Well, no, because of the queer suggestions that pop up in his fiction. But it is not at all clear that he was a CrossDreamer either because cross-gender dreams were only a sometime focus. We can certainly rule out negative concepts like Autogynephilia which has a historical association with the concept of CrossDreaming but is now quite distinct, in that (despite the title of Eby’s book) there is no record of anything deeper than gender play within heterosexual relationships - nothing that could seriously be designated fetishism (either the psycho-analytical usage or fetish subculture usage).
Charlotte Bach proposed that all persons, cis and trans, gynephilic, androphilic and asexual, feel a pull to be be the other sex, to attain complete individual integrity as a member of the species. This can be denied or, as she put it, asseverated. Hemingway dabbled, he indulged in gender play sometimes, but he never asseverated his potential femininity. More often he denied, and asserted his masculinity, often to the point of bombast.
To dabble is to do something intermittently or superficially, without full commitment. A trans dabbler may transvest once or twice and then desist, or write about it only a bit. Some, but by no means all, dabblers - when presented with the example of a committed trans person - will turn transphobic, as Radclyffe Hall did re Victor Barker.
We should also point out that many cis persons who are not writers will also dabble in gender play as much as Hemingway did, but not being writers do not leave a paper trail. We sometimes know of them via anecdotes and gossip, as we do with Virginia Prince’s father, the renowned orthopedic surgeon Charles Lowman. If we did not have Hemingway’s writings, anecdotes and gossip in other persons’ biographies is all that we would have, and the proposal that he was somehow trans would not have received attention.
We should also mention that trans persons often - especially in earlier years - dabble in gender play attempting either to fit in or to deconstruct the heteronormative sex-gender. Like cis-het persons dabbling in queer play, gay and trans persons do straight gender play but desist, finding that they do not fit in that role.
- Ernest Hemingway. The Sun Also Rises. C. Scribner’s, 1926.
- Henry King (dir). The Sun Also Rises.Scr: Peter Viertel, based on the novel by Ernest Hemingway, with Tyrone Power as Jake Barnes and Ava Gardner as Brett Ashley. US 130 mins 1957.
- Ernest Hemingway. The Garden of Eden. C. Scribner's, 1986.
- Paul Hendrickson. “The Hemingway Heritage: Papa's three sons are still living in conflict with the powerful image of that famous and macho writer” The Washington Post, August 23, 1987.
- Kenneth s Lynn. Hemingway. Fawcett Columbine, 1988.
- Mark Spilka. Hemingway’s Quarrel with Androgyny.University of Nebraska Press, 1990.
- Nancy R Comley & Robert Scholes. Hemingway’s Genders: Rereading the Hemingway Text. Yale University Press, 1994.
- Carl P. Eby. Hemingway’s Fetishism: Psychoanalysis and the Mirror of Manhood.State University of New York Press, 1999.
- Jeffrey Meyers. “The Hemingways: An American Tragedy”. Virginia Quarterly Review, Spring 1999. Online.
- Lynn Conway (ed). "The Strange Saga of Gregory Hemingway", 2003. Online.
- Richard Fantina. Ernest Hemingway: Machismo and Masochism. Palgrave, 2005.
- Mauricio D Aguilera Linde. “Hemingway and Gender: Biography Revisited”. Atlantis, 27,2 December 2005.
- John Hemingway. Strange Tribe: a Family Memoir.The Lyons Press, 2007.
- Jacob Michael Montie. Couples Therapy: Gender and Sexuality in the Sun Also Rises. MA Thesis Portland State University, 2011. Online.
- Paul Hendrickson. Hemingway's Boat: Everything He Loved in Life, and Lost, 1934-1961. Alfred A. Knopf, 2011.
- Zagria, “Gloria Hemingway (1931-2001) writer, doctor”. A Gender Variance Who’s Who, 5 November 2011. Online.
- Philip Kaufman (dir). Hemingway & Gellhorn. Scr: Jerry Stahl & Barbra Turner, with Clive Owen as Ernest Hemingway and Nicole Kidman as Martha Gellhorn. US 155 mins 2012.
- Brittany J Barron. “I’ve Never Felt Such a Bitch”: Lady Brett Ashley’s Trauma and Androgyny in Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises”. Anastamos, April 2019. Online.
- Richard Bradford. The Man Who Wasn't There : A Life of Ernest Hemingway. Tauris Parke, 2020.
- Ken Burns & Lynn Novick (dir). Hemingway. Scr: Geoffrey C Ward. US 320 mins 2021. Webpage.
- Mary Katherine Tramontana. “Ernest Hemingway: The Old Man and the Androgyny”. Esquire, 05/04/2021. Online.
- Jack Molay. “Yes, Ernest Hemingway was Transgender”. CrossDreamers, April 5, 2021. Online.