Frances Thompson, born in 1840 in Alabama, was a Black woman who devoted her life to advocating for transgender people and women’s lives. Thompson had been enslaved for most of her life, finally living free from slavery at 26 years old. After being freed, she made a living by washing clothes in Memphis, Tennessee.
Living openly as a woman for the first time, Thompson would often express her gender identity through her appearance by wearing dresses and shaving her face. As she began her new life as a free woman, violence and brutality would surround her almost immediately. The Memphis Riots of 1866 subjected Frances Thompson to endure assault, violation of her body, and robbery. These brutal attacks of racism and transphobia led her to join five other Black women to testify before the US Congress about what they had endured. In doing this, she had made history, becoming the first trans woman to testify before a congressional committee.
Ten years later, in 1876, Thompson was arrested and charged with “cross-dressing.” As a result, the previous testimonies of her assault and attacks were discredited, as the public no longer viewed her as a woman. Despite the constant cruelty and brutality that she endured, she had always remained strong in her identity.
Until the end of her life in 1876, Frances Thompson fought for who she was and for other Black and trans women. She is remembered and celebrated today as a strong and determined woman who devoted her life to fighting for women’s rights and trans people’s lives. Frances Thompson’s story shows an incredible display of bravery and strength that remained steadfast even when all the forces in her life were against her.
To celebrate women’s history is to celebrate transgender history. The impact that trans women have made in history has helped create the roots of underrepresented groups that still face prejudice today. With this, their impact is often overlooked or discredited thoroughly. My goal is to bring to light the stories and the lives of these important figures, to show respect for the history of all women, and to support the communities that still face prejudice today. – AA