Irene Clyde: The Trans, Gender Fluid Lawyer From Cumbria Who Shaped Early Gender & Sexuality Theory
Part of the series 'Cumbria’s Hidden LGBTQ+ History'.
Cumbria is a county rich with heritage and history but more often than not queer figures and histories aren’t celebrated or are erased.
So join us this LGBTQ+ history month as we celebrate Cumbria's queer history.
Terminology used: The term ‘deadname’ is used by trans and non-binary people to refer to their birth name. In academia Irene Clyde is most commonly referred to by their deadname.
The Term 'Gender Fluid' is a gender identity derived from the umbrella gender category Non-Binary to describe a non-fixed gender identity that shifts over time or depending on the situation.
In history Irene has been identified as ‘non binary and gender fluid’ so we will be referring to them as the pronouns that align with their gender identity, they/them/their.
Born in the Stanwix district of Carlisle in 1869, Irene Clyde was a Cumbrian writer, activist and lawyer.
Despite losing their father who was a cabinet maker at the age of seven, Irene excelled in school.
Irene was given a scholarship to attend university at the Queens College Oxford in 1892 where they studied the theory and philosophy of law (jurisprudence).
After achieving a BA in jurisprudence, Irene obtained a BCL degree in law in 1894 and became a Doctorate of law in 1901.
They loved studying law so much that they even went on to obtain two more law degrees at Cambridge university. Irene became a lecturer in Law and taught at numerous universities which was followed by a distinguished career in international law.
They published numerous books such as Britain and Sea Law and War: It’s Conduct and Legal Results.
Irene moved to Japan in 1916 to become a legal advisor to the Japanese government.
The 2014 edition of War: It’s Conduct and Legal Results. Image credit: Peter Lo Ricco
Away from their law career, Irene led an alternative lifestyle to their academic career.
In 1993 scholars revealed in a book, Rediscovering Forgotten Radicals: British Women Writers, 1889-1939 that *deadname* had been writing postgender books and articles under the identity Irene Clyde.
One of the many works they’d produced in 1909 was Beatrice the Sixteenth which storyline concerned an imaginary utopia genderless society.
It was described by extrapolation magazine as embodying the idea of defamiliarization:
‘The artistic technique of presenting to audiences common things in an unfamiliar or strange way so they could gain new perspectives and see the world differently, regarding gender roles.’ The book was revolutionary at the time and acted as a vessel for other feminist utopias and modern radical feminist thinking on gender and sexuality.
Academics argue that despite the central character Armeria being genderless, they are more aligned to women’s pronouns.
This is why the book is considered an early example of transgender literature and some suggest that it portrays a lesbian love story.
The tiled sleek new cover of Beatrice the Sixteenth due to be released in the summer this year.
Image credit: mint editions
These academic insights clearly demonstrate Irene’s gender fluidity and how their literature was wholly concerned with sexuality, gender identity and is inherently radically feminist like the underground journal Urania that they wrote for.
Published between 1916 and 1940 Urania was set up by educated lesbian suffragists Esther Roper and Eva Gore-Booth, as well as Clyde who according to Glasgow’s Women's Library writer Niamh Carey: “made it their life’s work to undermine exactly what it was that made them seen as socially ‘rebellious’”.
The journal’s mission statement was that “there are no ‘men’ or ‘women’ in Urania”.
It claimed that equality between the sexes can’t be achieved until the notion of the gender binary is abolished, the suffragist movement at the time didn’t recognise this construct.
Urania was one of the first publications to gather feminist perspectives from around the globe including Japan, Egypt, India and many countries in what we now refer to as the Global South.
This was during a time where the British Empire considered people from those countries as ‘inarticulate’.
It was the first British magazine to produce a cultural and political discourse on gender issues and the demands of non-normative figures or to put it simply the queer community.
The 109th and 110th edition of Urania circulated around 1935.
Irene stayed in Japan for the rest of their life until their death from a cerebral bleed in 1954.
Irene received a eulogy from the PM Shigeru Yoshida and floral tribute from the Emperor of Japan and she was buried in Aoyama Cemetery, Tokyo alongside their beloved sister and doting mother.
Stories like Irene Clyde’s are important for us to remember, to uphold and celebrate gender radical and queer history.
Their story informs us that not only does the gender binary not serve us but we must be inclusive of gender when debating feminist issues in the fourth wave of feminism we are now living in today.
Clyde’s literature shaped much of the UK’s early 20th century history of trans, feminist and gender issues.
Urania only solidified the ideas behind their work and so this article is to commemorate their contributions to queer and feminist history.
In present UK, the government is ruling out changes to the Gender Recognition Act reform that would have made it easier for transgender people to self-identify.
Meanwhile, trans teenagers lose their lives tragically young to hate crime as shown with the case of Brianna Ghey.
This all proves that trans issues still need to be fought for today.
I’m sure if Irene was around they’d be fighting tooth and nail for trans rights.