In 1803 in the colonial South American city of La Plata, Dona Martina Vilvado y Balverde presented herself to church and crown officials to denounce her husband of more than four years, Don Antonio Yta, as a woman in disguise. Forced to submit to a medical inspection that revealed a woman's body, Don Antonio confessed to having been Maria Yta, but continued to assert his maleness and claimed to have a functional member that appeared, he said, when necessary.
Passing to America is at once a historical biography and an in-depth examination of the sex/gender complex in an era before gender had been divorced from sex. The book presents readers with the original court docket, including Don Antonio's extended confession, in which he tells his life story, and the equally extraordinary biographical sketch offered by Felipa Ybanez of her son Maria, both in English translation and the original Spanish. Thomas A. Abercrombie's analysis not only grapples with how to understand the sex/gender system within the Spanish Atlantic empire at the turn of the nineteenth century but also explores what Antonio/Maria and contemporaries can teach us about the complexities of the relationship between sex and gender today.
Passing to America brings to light a previously obscure case of gender transgression and puts Don Antonio's life into its social and historical context in order to explore the meaning of trans identity in Spain and its American colonies. This accessible and intriguing study provides new insight into historical and contemporary gender construction that will interest students and scholars of gender studies and colonial Spanish literature and history.
This book is freely available in an open access edition thanks to TOME (Toward an Open Monograph Ecosystem)-a collaboration of the Association of American Universities, the Association of University Presses and the Association of Research Libraries-and the generous support of New York University. Learn more at the TOME website: openmonographs.org.
Thomas A. Abercrombie
Pennsylvania State University Press
Country of Publication:
09 September 2019
Professional and scholarly
List of Illustrations Preface and Acknowledgments Cast of Characters Yta's Biochronology Introduction: Exposure 1 Confession: Self-Fashioning and the Involuntary Autobiography 2 Habits: Maria's Apprenticeships in a Cross-Dressing Culture 3 Passages: The Passing Privileges of Don Antonio's Sartorial Modernity in America 4 Means and Ends: Zenith and Nadir of a Social Climber 5 Afterlives: Alternative Emplotments of Don Antonio's Literary Lives 6 Truth: True Sex, Passing, and the Consequences of Deception Conclusion: Narrations, Enactments, and Bodily Pleasure Appendix A: The Expediente Appendix B: Auxiliary Documents Glossary Notes References Index
Thomas A. Abercrombie was Associate Professor of Anthropology and Latin American and Caribbean Studies at New York University and the author of Pathways of Memory and Power: Ethnography and History Among an Andean People.
Reviews for Passing to America: Antonio (Nee Maria) Yta's Transgressive, Transatlantic Life in the Twilight of the Spanish Empire
Indeed, Tom's book crosses many disciplinary frontiers, for Passing to America is historical biography at its most intriguing, but also an in-depth look at the sex-gender complex at a time in history when both sex and gender were understood and performed very differently. Tom Abercrombie's extraordinary life work has created its own pathway of memory and knowledge, for which we all can be profoundly grateful. -Brooke Larson, Colonial Latin American Review Thomas Abercrombie's Passing to America is the surprising story of how the materiality of clothing and the deportment associated with status and honor, rather than the body itself, defined sex in the Spanish Monarchy in the Age of Revolutions. Abercrombie brilliantly uses this story of Don Antonio Yta to challenge current interpretations of the primacy of the body in trans-gender identity. -Jorge Canizares-Esguerra, author of How to Write the History of the New World Abercrombie relays the story of Antonio (nee Maria) Yta's movements from Spain to Bolivia, and from seeming woman to apparent man, with remarkable detail and insight gleaned from the twenty years of research whose fruits are so evident in these pages. This book makes a strong contribution to transgender studies historical scholarship, and it supplies the best case study of the complexities of colonial gender in the Americas since the fabled tale of the Lieutenant Nun, Antonio (nee Catalina) de Erauso. -Susan Stryker, author of Transgender History Approaching the story of Don Antonio Yta, and the Maria he was before, is bound to pull us into a thicket of contemporary debates about gender and sexual identities. Thomas Abercrombie is a skillful guide, letting the reader get tangled where necessary by including primary sources and playing in ambiguities but also pointing to ways out. Particularly impressive is how Abercrombie places gender and sexual practices within a context of multiple other factors that impacted the lives of Don Antonio and Maria, from Spanish peninsular class status to immigrant experiences in the New World during the apogee of an Enlightenment science of self and other. -Bianca Premo, author of The Enlightenment on Trial: Ordinary Litigants and Colonialism in the Spanish Empire Abercrombie's thrilling account of the life of Don Antonio Yta follows the surprising twists and turns of a nun in a Spanish convent turned male bishop's page, governor's servant, and town administrator in Italy and the Americas. With depth and meticulousness, Passing to America reveals the possibilities and limitations that race and gender afforded individuals who, like Don Antonio, sought to pass as a gender different from the one assigned to them at birth. -Marta V. Vicente, author of Debating Sex and Gender in Eighteenth-Century Spain