Writer and podcast host Peyton Thomas stirred online backlash over the holiday weekend by claiming that “Little Women” author Louisa May Alcott may have been a transgendered man in a New York Times guest essay.
In the Saturday guest-essay, Thomas questioned whether the “mother of young adult literature” could actually have identified as the “father.”
“She wrote of herself as the ‘papa’ or ‘father’ of her young nephews. Her father, Bronson, once called Alcott his ‘only son.’ In letters to her close friend Alfie Whitman, Alcott called herself ‘a man of all work’ and ‘a gentleman at large,’” Thomas wrote. “All this leads me to wonder: Is Alcott best understood as a trans man?”
The NYT Opinion shared the article, “The word ‘transgender’ did not exist during the life of ‘Little Women’ author Louisa May Alcott. But @peytonology asks whether it might be the best word to capture the experience of an author who wrote about having a ‘boy’s spirit’ and a ‘man’s soul.’”
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Several outraged Twitter users condemned the piece as “sexist” for claiming that Alcott could have identified as a man simply by not conforming to female traits.
“Rewriting history to be fanfic for sexual fetishes is like an entire academic and journalistic specialty now,” RealClearInvestigations senior writer Mark Hemingway tweeted.
“This is so dumb … and sexist, but mostly dumb,” Townhall.com columnist Scott Morefield commented.
Pluribus editor Jeryl Bier wrote, “It used to be we admired women who yearned to be all they could be and achieved success in a man’s world that often selfishly and wrongly belittled women and their talents. Now we apparently have to say they thought they were *actually men*?”
“This piece is so ridiculous because the author knows the answers to the question already (‘no’) but prattles on anyway to make a political point about ‘book banning.’ Silliness,” The Lafayette Co. president Ellen Carmichael tweeted.
Author Helen Joyce wrote, “’A man’s soul.’ These foul sexists won’t stop until every woman who has ever stepped outside convention is thereby interpreted as a man.”
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Thomas also compared the question of Alcott’s gender to the play “I, Joan,” a play about the life and death of St. Joan of Arc that presented the saint as “non-binary” and “gender non-conforming.” However, the outrage appeared to be dismissed since Alcott was “neither the first…nor the most recent” historical figure to have his or her gender identity questioned.
“Alcott is neither the first historical figure to inspire a debate around identity nor the most recent. Was Einstein autistic, or does the mere suggestion further stigmatize autism? What color was Cleopatra’s skin, and what does the answer mean for modern women of color? Was Ernest Hemingway a raging misogynist or merely an egg? (That is, a transgender woman who never hatched, owing to the strictures of masculinity.) Emotions in these arguments run high. At stake is nothing less than who gets to claim a hero,” Thomas wrote.
Thomas concluded, “In the absence of necromancy to settle the question, we must base our understanding of Alcott’s identity on her writing. ‘I long to be a man,’ she wrote in one journal entry. ‘I was born with a boy’s nature,’ she said in that letter to Whitman, and ‘a boy’s spirit’ and ‘a boy’s wrath.’ As a child, she didn’t ‘care much for girls’ things.’ Recall that as an adult, just a few years from death, she saw herself as ‘a man’s soul, put by some freak of nature into a woman’s body.’ Why not take Lou at his word?”