A Transgender Fairy Tale

Many of the stories we were told as children are built on a foundation of traditional gender roles.  Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White (among others) all need to be rescued by strong, sword-toting young men.  Although they are less well-known, however, there are transgender fairy tales out there.  A perfect example of this is “The Girl Who Pretended to be a Boy,” which can be most easily found in Andrew Lang’s “Violet Fairy Book.”

Since this text is out of print, I’ll summarize. The story starts off a little like “Mulan.” A great emperor takes over a lesser kingdom and offers the king peace on the condition that he send one of his sons in for ten years of service.  The king, however, has three daughters and no sons, so he tests the girls to decide who to send.  Although all three of the daughters try, only the youngest is enough of a “manly” warrior to pass the king’s test.  She goes into the emperor’s service.  After proving her worth to the emperor in many ways, he selects her to go on a difficult quest to bring him the woman of his dreams, the beautiful Iliane.

After being rescued by the disguised princess, however, Iliane falls in love with her.  The princess, who reciprocates these feelings, wishes she was a man.  To make a long story a bit shorter, they eventually run away together.  A hermit who tries to stop them curses the princess, changing her gender.  The princess, however, is glad to finally be the man she wanted to be all along.  The text reads “when the princess suddenly felt she was really the man she had pretended to be, she was delighted.”  Obviously, they get married and live happily ever after.

Although the story is pretty lengthy, I actually find it more engaging than many of the fairy tales I heard as a child.  It certainly beats hearing about helpless heroines.  Maybe, with more publicity and encouragement of tolerance, this tale can find its way back into bedtime stories.


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Angela
    Apr 01, 2011 @ 11:04:03

    Interesting! But is this really a happy ending? Doesn’t it still perpetuate heterosexism? It doesn’t seem like the princess inherently feels like a man, but that she has no other choice, due to the emperor’s sexism, etc. Maybe I have to read the actual story. Or maybe all fairy tales are just equally harmful. =P


    • beanstalk77
      Apr 12, 2011 @ 00:26:24

      I actually don’t think the emperor’s heterosexism had much to do with her gender change; by the time the princess became a man, she was escaping the emperor’s control. After that moment, he never had any more control over the princess’ life, and yet she was still happy to have become the man she felt like all along.


  2. Mike Martinez
    Apr 03, 2011 @ 14:24:38

    This is a great blog. Thanks for sharing! Angela, I think I see your point about heterosexism, I really do, but I think the larger context of the story deals with a much deeper issue. I don’t think the issue is lesbian, or whether a woman can or should love another woman. I think the point is or should be that transgender people don’t feel comfortable in their assigned gender, they actually feel they are trapped in a body that doesn’t belong to them. I don’t the princess wanted, or felt natural, loving as a woman, she wanted to love as a man. This is an internal struggle, not an outward one, that may, to your point, be simply hetrosexism at work. I’m not an authority, nor am I transgender, this is jusst my basic understanding of one of the many issues transgender people face…


  3. April
    Apr 11, 2011 @ 08:40:07

    Angela, is it really so bad that we have a story about trasngender identities without worrying that it’s promoting heterosexism? We’re just trying to live our lives in peace, and having stories that reflect that is important. Trans identities are not secondary to gay identities, and our lives are not dedicated to making some kind of activist point. You shouldn’t get butthurt about this story just because it doesn’t play to your pet cause. It’s attitudes like this that make so many trans people suspicious and wary of the wider queer movement. Instead of recognizing that this is a story about a trans man, you complain that it’s NOT about a lesbian. It’s absurd.


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