‘came to her Dressed in mans cloaths’: Transgender histories and queer approaches to the family in eighteenth-century Ireland.

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This article engages with queer and trans scholarship to produce a methodological think-piece on how to queer the Irish family. It draws on a case study of alleged crossdressing and attempted intimacy that was recorded in the Kirk Session (church court) minute book of the Irish Presbyterian congregation of Templepatrick, County Antrim. In March 1706, a woman named Margaret McCal appeared before Templepatrick Kirk Session and lodged a complaint against a fellow church member. Margaret alleged that an individual known to her as Elizabeth McIlroy had approached her ‘Dressed in mans cloaths’, called themselves ‘David Campbell’ and ‘pretend[ed] courtship to her’. How do we understand this case? What can Margaret’s story tell us about gender, sex, and relationships in eighteenth century Ireland? Moving beyond a reading of the Templepatrick case as a simple instance of crossdressing, this article opens up new discursive pathways in histories of gender and the Irish family by situating it within a trans historical framework. In response to the calls of trans and queer scholars to ‘denaturalise the cisgender turn’, the article begins by interrogating the Presbyterian archive as a cisnormative and heteronormative construction. Next, it offers a trans reading of the case and situates David Campbell, not simply as a woman dressed in men’s clothing but as an individual who moved through the world at particular points in time as a man. Finally, the article ends by queering our understanding of female desire by unsettling the relationship between sex and gender in the pursuit of its fulfilment. Albeit based on one case-study, the story of David and Margaret captures an extraordinary – yet, as I will argue, very ordinary, intimate encounter that has important implications for our understanding of the family in Ireland.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)109-130
Number of pages22
JournalThe History of the Family
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 28 Feb 2024


  • Transgender
  • Family
  • Ireland
  • Courtship
  • Sex
  • Relationships
  • queer
  • Presbyterian
  • family
  • transgender


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