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A character who prompted the first major historical debate on sex and gender. Was he the Chevalier, or was she the Chevalière? This not-so-secret agent spent 49 years dressed as a man, and 33 dressed as a woman. *
* 49 years as a man, but only 33 as a woman. That bloody gender divide strikes again.
In an age where dressing up was all the rage, Charles de Beaumont, chevalier d'Eon, slight of build, made his cross-dressing debut at a costume ball. Louis XV noticed him and realized that a seemingly pretty woman would be much easier to deploy as a spy than a mustachioed hussar. D'Eon was promptly dispatched on a spying mission to Russia equipped with a farthingale and a cascade wig. He listened at doors and stole a few documents with such dexterity that the King decorated him with the Order of Saint-Louis. **
** I long for the days when spying was just wearing a wig and listening at doors.
In July 1789, following the taking of the Bastille, he sent a letter to the French National assembly offering to lead a division of female soldiers, but sadly, nothing came of it. A skilled swordsman, d'Eon regularly challenged fencers to friendly duels, betting them that they would be unable to defeat a woman. This proved to be remunerative.