Portrait Rosa Bonheur von Nana Swinczinsky

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Lili Foltys

Eleno*Elena de Céspedes

* ca. 1545 in Alhama, today Spain

† ? after 1587, unknown

As a child and adolescent, Céspedes lived as a woman under the name of Elena. At 16, Elena de Céspedes married a man. He left her when she fell pregnant. After the birth of her son, Céspedes moved to Granada and learned to sew and weave. Céspedes began to behave in a more “masculine” manner and changed his name to Eleno.

Soon after, Eleno de Céspedes entered the Spanish army and fought as a soldier in many battles. After he left the army he befriended a surgeon who taught him anatomy and surgical techniques. In 1577, he received an official permit allowing him to practise as a surgeon. Although Céspedes declared themselves as intersex, they are still labelled as the first female surgeon in Spain.

In 1586, Céspedes wished to marry Maria del Caño. Since he had no facial hair, there were doubts that he was actually a man. Multiple doctors confirmed finding “male” genitals, although they also noted indications of “female” genitals. A year after their wedding, Céspedes and his wife were accused of sodomy (homosexual acts). Céspedes claimed to be both male and female before the Spanish Inquisition. Since the court was unable to prove he was “female”, he was found guilty of bigamy – he had not presented a document confirming his first husband’s death prior to marrying Maria del Caño. Céspedes was sentenced to receive 200 lashes and ten years’ forced labour as a surgeon.

Céspedes true gender remains unclear in the eyes of science, with discussions as to whether they were intersex, transsexual, or even a cis-gendered lesbian woman. Eleno de Céspedes always referred to himself using male pronouns, however.

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