Toward a Comprehensive History of Gender Fluidity (LS-DI-725)

According to a 2021 study by the Williams Institute, an estimated 1.2 million American adults aged between 18 and 60 identify as non-binary. In a 2021 survey conducted in Europe, two per cent of respondents from 27 countries identified themselves as transgender, non-binary/non-conforming/gender-fluid, or in another way. In Germany and Sweden, around three per cent of the respondents stated to identify themselves with one of the listed genders.

Beyond the figures, there are often difficult personal situations for teenagers who are in search of identity and do not find figures to identify with, nor answers to their questions at school. 


In this learning scenario, students are invited to think about gender fluidity and to discover that it is not a new phenomenon. They will also meet different examples throughout history and realize that some transsexuals and transvestites are not only famous but have also played an important role in culture, politics and religion of different countries. 

First, it is important to be sure that we use the appropriate words to describe what can be sometimes confusing. That is the reason why students are invited to work on the different categories that are linked with trans people such as cross-dressers, intersex people, cisgender, etc.

Then, by creating descriptive cards for a museum exhibition, they discover that non-binary and trans people have always been there, even in ancient and medieval times.

Poster of the exhibition organized by the students in Lesson 2.

In addition, they more specifically study two famous figures who are considered a national heroine in France: Joan of Arc and the Chevalier d’Eon. In teams, students create posters with hexagons in order to summarize their life and the importance of transvestism to explain their role in history.

At the end of this learning scenario, they will discover contemporary examples of transvestites and trans people. For example, a digital escape game is proposed to find out the amazing story of Paul Grappe, a deserter of the First World War. After that, a lesson organized around several trailers allows to meet Bambi, Sacha and April Ashley.

Finally, as a final task, students are invited to create a “Guess Who?” game with the characters we have studied during this learning scenario and with other figures that they can find after some research.

Learning Process

This learning scenario is built on a “flipped learning” strategy. That is to say that the students are invited to study materials before the class with self-corrected questionnaires. But these resources can also be used for informal schooling.

During the class, students use what they have learnt during the prep’ activities to comment on documents from the Europeana Collections. They will for example use images of different characters to illustrate the categories of drag queens, cross-dressers, intersex persons, etc.

Moreover, students are steadily developing their creative and collaborative skills during team activities in which they create posters and oral analyses with documents from the Europeana Collections.

Example of the material given to the students to create a poster about Joan of Arc

For this learning scenario, several kits have been created so that teachers can easily download and take other resources with their students in class.

Students’ Reflections

Students mostly appreciate the fact that they have discovered facts and knowledge that they have never heard before. They were surprised to see that gender fluidity was an ancient phenomenon and that it is possible to study it as a historical object.

I received moving messages from students who were in the midst of serious reflection about their identity and who were grateful for the lines of thought they have found in this chapter.

Would you like to know more about this learning scenario? You can download it below:

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CC BY 4.0: the featured image used to illustrate this article has been found on Europeana and has been provided by the Wellcome Collection.

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