14. Chevalier D’Eon: The French spy and soldier who spent the last thirty-three years of his life dressed as a woman and inspired the term “Eonism.”
In 1756, Charles-Genevieve Louis August Timothee D’Eon de Beaumont became a spy when he joined “The King’s Secret,” a clandestine organization answerable only to King Louis XV. D’Eon androgynous appearance made him the perfect candidate for a very particular assignment, and he spent the next few years disguised as a maid of honor in the court of Empress Elizabeth of Russia. In 1760, D’Eon returned to France, ditched his female clothing, and joined the dragoons to fight in the Seven Years War. He distinguished himself, was awarded the title “Chevalier” and, when the hostilities were over, became the French ambassador in London.
However, Louis XV exiled D’Eon after he threatened to expose The King’s Secret. He remained in England until after the death of the King. Then he returned to France- dressed as a woman. D’Eon’s contemporary, Madame Campan claimed this disguise was a condition of D’Eon returning home. However, D’Eon lived the rest of his life as a woman. He even petitioned to be recognized as female, claiming his parents had only registered him as a boy for inheritance purposes. When he died in Southampton in May 1810, doctors found he had “male organs in every respect perfectly formed” but some feminine attributes such as ‘rounded limbs‘ and breasts that were “remarkably full.” D’Eon’s sexual ambiguity coined the phrase “Eonism” which was used for a time to describe those with transgender characteristics.