Jenny: Posed as a woman

How can we talk about trans lives by examining the life of a gender non-conforming woman from the past? This research explores the life of Jenny Moore from the early twentieth century, and focuses on how living outside the law shaped their identity and experience.

What did the project involve? 

This research asked how can we talk about trans lives by exploring the life of Jenny Moore. Jenny lived in the early 1900s, and was an outsider both in terms of gender non-conformity, and the legal system. Jenny’s story was revealed through disrupting archival materials, and explored further through a live theatre performance. The research sought to address the following questions:

  • How did living outside of the law shape the meaning and experience of living outside of conventional gender presentations?
  • How are our understandings of gender diverse people changed/influence by knowing them through their criminal actions?
  • How can we talk about trans lives today by examining a story from over 100 years ago?
  • How can we present a transgressive life as a metaphor – a magpie?

The research team sought to capture the essence of the character of Jennie Moore that the research unveiled through the creation of something otherworldly and to find ways of presenting a transgressive person such as Jenny Moore on stage. Using the ‘bones, flesh, ghosts’ method – inspired by Rebecca Schneider’s performance theory – the research team created a picture of Jennie Moore through asking the questions: What are the bones (the known); what is the flesh (the presumed) and what are the ghosts (missing information).

Who are the team and what do they bring?

  • Josie McLellan (History) has published extensively on queer histories of East Germany and worked with Outstories Bristol to map a collection of oral histories on Bristol’s LGBT+ history. Josie has a great deal of experience working on co-produced and creative history projects.
  • Dr Sarah Jones (History) is a social and cultural historian of modern Britain and America who researches the history of sex radicalism and sexual science. Sarah was part of the team that developed a podcast series called Adventures in Time and Gender – co-produced with young trans and non-binary people, the project explores how ideas formulated a hundred years ago still affect the way trans people are treated by the medical system today.
  • Tom Marshman (Artist) has works across many mediums, including – museum audio-tours, theatre and cabaret. Tom actively encourages dialogue with participants through socially engaged processes that reveal glimpses into everyday life, allowing Tom to tell engaging, poetic and unpretentious stories. An overarching theme of Tom’s work is that of the outsider and their story, particularly regarding the LGBTQ+ experience, stories that been omitted through archival silence.
  • Lois Bibbings (University of Bristol Law School) research is multidisciplinary and has included a focus on gender and sexuality. She mainly researches crime and criminal law both in the present and the past (late nineteenth and early twentieth century). One aspect of her work has looked at the harm done by law with a focus on LGBTQ+ identities as well as on pardoning.
  • Jeanie Sinclair is a feminist art historian whose PhD research uses queer methodologies and gossip in oral histories to disrupt existing narratives of modernism and modernity. She has worked on collaborative co-curated history projects at Tate St Ives and St Ives Archive. She has worked with Tom on previous projects that explore LGBTQ+ histories by performing history and memory to subvert archival power structures and disrupt existing historical narratives.
  • Nic Aaron (University of Bristol Law School) is a trans PhD researcher whose research examines the ways in which people entangled in the criminal punishment system for acts of sexual violence are embodied. They have written about the politics of memorialisation and have a keen interest in trans histories.

What were the results?

The main outcome of this project was a live theatre performance by Tom Marshman. The new show, Jenny Moore (working title) was a performance which incorporated imagined conversations between Tom and Jennie. This allowed key research questions to feed into the show itself. Tom worked with historian Jeanie Sinclair and Criminal Law PhD researcher Nic Aaron to help him disrupt the archives and research the performance.

The piece was shown as a work in progress at the Curious festival and the Gift Festival in Newcastle and premiered in Bristol.

The research team also used Instagram Live to broadcast discussions on their work and the artistic development process.

Find out more about this project on the Arts Matter Blog: Jenny: Posed as a woman. An insight into trans history