Andrea Horne on Black Trans History
Long-time San Francisco resident Andrea Horne is a member of our Trans Advisory Committee, and works on community outreach at the Curry Senior Center. She is passionate about Black history. Andrea sees Black History Month as “an opportunity to share a little bit about African American history that has heretofore been denied — not just to Black people, but denied to all Americans.”
Andrea is passionate about the history of Black trans women in particular, and is currently writing a book on the subject. “I just think that the stories of Black trans women need to be highlighted.”
Andrea started searching for images and stories of Black trans women who lived prior to 1980, because she felt that after that point things became a little easier and more accessible for trans people. She was surprised to find material about Black trans women dating back to 1836.
One such woman was Mother George, a midwife who lived in Idaho in the late 1800s. She delivered over 1000 children, including 500 Mormon babies. As she lived her life stealth, with the support of her Native American mother, Mother George’s birth-assigned male sex was not discovered until after her death.
“She was eradicated from Idaho history and American history,” Andrea said. “She and her family were Black pioneers, that came in covered wagons from the East to the West, and she and her family were some of the founders of the state of Idaho!”
Another Black trans woman from that era was Miss Sweets, known as “Sweet Evening Breeze, The Queen of Lexington”. She worked as a nurse at Good Samaritan Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky, and was good friends with artist Henry Faulkner. She became legendary for her performances at speakeasies during the Prohibition era.
Miss Sweets was an orphan, and in the 1920s her home served as a sort of “LGBT Center” for queer runaways from near and far. She helped struggling families with food, rent, and clothes; Lexington locals saw her as a “fairy godmother”.
The Digital Transgender Archive and other sites yielded a treasure trove of Black trans history, as Andrea was a savvy searcher. “You can’t look for transgender, because that word didn’t exist… You have to deep dive using the terms ‘female impersonator’ and ‘feminine homosexual’. Those were the categories up until 1980.” Another term used for trans women in the 1800s was “Chevalier d’Éon”, after an aristocratic French trans woman who acted as a spy during the French Revolution.
Andrea was inspired to find that trans women were an integral part of the Black community in the 19th century. “What we call Black trans women today were always an accepted part of Black American culture, at least for working class Black people, which was about 50% of Black people. They loved the so-called female impersonators, as long as you stayed in your lane.” Reporters were sent to cover balls thrown by Black trans women from the 1880s onward.
Andrea found so many stories and photos that she had to narrow the scope of her project. She is currently focusing on trans women from 1836 to 1936; “That’s going to be Volume 1”. We wish Andrea much success in her project, and eagerly await a multi-volume history of Black trans women!