Transvestism in Walter Scott

If you were a Jacobite, returned to Scotland in secret in 1765; and you had kidnapped your son, who had been brought up by his English mother as a decadent, liberal, English type rather than a hard Scots warrior, a man of Duty and Destiny;

and you sought to transport your son, who might seek to escape, as you crossed the country on horseback, how would you choose to restrain him?

By dressing him as a woman, of course!

Cristal Nixon will act as your valet- I should, perhaps, say your femme de chambre. Your travelling dress you may consider as singular; but it is such as the circumstances require.

The soldier offers no better explanation, and the son does not challenge this. Later, the clothes arrive- a skirt, or upper-petticoat of camlet, like those worn by country ladies of moderate rank when on horseback, with a riding mask. Darsie wonders whether he should co-operate- but if he will not, he will be prisoner in a carriage rather than on horseback, and considered the comparative degree of ease and freedom which I might purchase by wearing the mask and female dress, as easily and advantageously purchased. That is, he has no great objection.

So far Scott has given us Darsie’s journal, but now turns to the third person narrator. Although he did not assume such a disguise without some sensations of shame and degradation, Darsie permitted Cristal Nixon to place over his face one of those silk masks which ladies frequently wore to preserve their complexion. He remonstrated somewhat more vehemently against the long riding-skirt, which converted his person from the waist into the female guise, but was obliged to concede this point also. Scott explains that then women riders wore men’s jackets, ladies’ riding habits not having been conceived, but men’s clothes then had splendid colours, lace and gay embroidery.

Perhaps Scott could not trust himself to explain Darsie’s feelings in the first person. There are other instances of cross-dressing in Scott: in The Monastery, a brother and sister regularly impersonate each other. Cross-dressing men are often attracted to women, and Scott was married- I can’t find a suggestion he was gay- but when I googled the scene I found an essay suggesting Darsie’s relationship with his friend Alan could be read as gay, even if a straight reading considering their love fraternal was also possible. I read all of Scott from Nationalist motives, but Christopher Whyte says the theorist must demolish the Nationalist’s canon. I read him for self-improvement, Whyte reads for pleasure.

When he liberates Darsie from the skirt, Redgauntlet says Do not blush at having worn a disguise to which kings and heroes have been reduced– but readers would recall that the Young Pretender dressed as Flora MacDonald’s maid.

Scots tongue

Scots was one of five dialects of English, spoken in the north, as far north as the Forth and Clyde. David I, who ruled lands as far south as Doncaster, spoke Middle Scots and invited Norman lords from England to rule Scotland, introducing the feudal system which has only been abolished this century. So I am irritated when Scotland is referred to as a Celtic country: it is more complex than that. I identify as a Northumbrian Scot, but probably have some Celtic ancestry. The Scots word for Gaelic, Erse, from Irish, has pejorative connotations.

The Fair Maid of Perth, by Walter Scott, tells of an English-speaking Perth only thirteen miles from Dunkeld, the edge of the Highlands. Gaelic-speaking despised savages threaten the town. As Scott says, Perthshire is Scotland’s most beautiful county: Blairgowrie, east of Dunkeld, lies on the line between the highlands and the flat arable lands to the south and east.

Gaelic is spoken mainly in the Hebrides- not Shetland or Orkney, which were pledged by the King of Norway as a dowry for his daughter, and whose language and ritual still show some Norse influence. But a great deal of Glasgow’s population came from the Highland Clearances, so their ancestors were Gaelic speakers. So my friend, though she and her husband spoke no Gaelic sent her son to a Gaelic-speaking nursery, and even I dabbled a bit, though I got no further than Kimmer a Hahu and Hammy Skee. A man called Domhnull told us to call him Doll: if we tried to mimic the Gaelic pronunciation we only mangled it further.

The driver of my school bus, born about 1919, learned Gaelic at his mother’s knee, but could not speak it when I knew him: it had been beaten out of him in school, where English only was to be spoken. That was a crime.

Looking at the Northern Irish Citizens Advice Bureau website, I see “ceetizens advisement buroo”. Well, in the Good Friday Agreement Irish Gaelic is an official language, so “Lallans” had to be too. Ireland was colonised in the 17th century, by Scots in the North and English in the South- so Dublin is an English city, even if it calls itself Baile Átha Cliath. I wish the Unionist negotiators had chosen a different concession. I do not know how much dialect survives there, as opposed to different pronunciation of words because of accent, and while I would use the phrase “on the broo” to mean claiming Jobseeker’s allowance, I understand the word arose because men looking at the phrase “Employment Bureau” did not know how to pronounce it.

Coming together

“My husband dominated me,” said my friend, simply. “What is it like between two men or two women? Can you tell which is the dominant one, and which is the passive one?”

This is a heterosexual way of looking at it which does not fit all heterosexuals. My friend described how he had relationships in which he was more active, and others in which he was more passive, and he could feel the erogenous zones in his body change as his relationships did. A gay friend has said that some gay men do not particularly like anal intercourse, refuting the dominant/ passive paradigm. And I doubt you could look at a gay couple, judge which of them was more “feminine”, and from that deduce which was more dominant. A wife in “Peveril of the Peak” manages her husband beautifully, always letting him get his own way if he insists in the small things, and always persuading him in the large things.

The same gay man, from his observations, said that when two blokes fancy each other, their eyes meet and they consent together immediately. Whereas two women could dance around each other for months before coming together. Others could see where they were going, perhaps they could too, but they took an unconscionable time.

Transsexual people can form very strong bonds in the difficulty and delight of transition, from an understanding of each other which few others share. To connect with someone who has that understanding is a great blessing.

Sgian dubh

from Wikipedia

In The Two Drovers by Walter Scott, an Englishman thumps a Scot. The Scot’s honour is impugned, so he gets his black knife (so called because it is hidden) and stabs his friend to death. If we all carried knives in our socks, in the six o’clock commute on the Tube, packed like sardines, perhaps no-one would get out alive. Yet in Rob Roy, set in 1715, Scott shows the elaborate courtesy of the Highlanders, necessary in a society where every man carries a blade; and the contempt they have for the lowlanders who have no blades, or fighting skill.

When I presented male, and wore a kilt for country dancing, I carried a sgian dubh with no thought of self-defence, and indeed we have seemed to get this civilisation thing, living together in conurbations of ten million with surprisingly few murders. And yet we still have anger and hatred, which we exorcise vicariously through sporting contests, or by “kicking the cat”, picking on a safe target where the true object of our rage is too frightening to contemplate.

All that energy, dissipated; or turned inwards to self-hatred and depression; or turned outwards, to the effusion of blood. I want to use that energy, constructively, in my own interests (which are pacific- connection, creation, love). A good step forward is seeking not to be so frightened of it.