Charlie here! Here’s a really interesting story in time for pride month, you may not have heard of it! I chose to tell it, because parts of it take place in Sheffield; where we used to be based (we’re not far from it now!)
‘A FEMALE HUSBAND IN MANCHESTER’ ran the headline back in 1838. Ann Stokes was asking the courts for a divorce from her husband, Harry, citing his drunken antics and lack of help with household tasks. She not only wanted advice on how to divorce, but advice of a different kind also. She revealed that Harry was ‘not a man but a woman’. This sent shockwaves across the country at the time, as Victorian society had such a rigid view of gender and identities. How could such a thing happen!?
Harry was born in Doncaster in 1799 and as a teenager, assumed his male identity when he decided to take up a bricklaying apprenticeship. In 1817, he married Ann at Sheffield Cathedral, according to records from the time. After the story broke, many people assumed he would have to become female now his secret was out. But he continued to be a man. He eventually remarried and was generally accepted by the working community of Manchester, where he resided. He died in 1859, after his body was found in the river Irwell following what was presumed as suicide.
Harry’s story resonates now more than ever, as it really does show us that LGBTQ+ people have been with us throughout history and this is not a recent phase. Perhaps Harry could have been a transgender man, or a cross-dressing lesbian; but it would be unfair to apply any of these identities to someone who isn’t around to choose. Whatever Harry would have identified as, by his simple act of living how he pleased has inspired countless LGBTQ+ people - and would eventually help to shift changing understandings of gender identity and sex. Our history will not be erased!