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Archive History Nonfiction Theory

Dressed Like a Man? Of Language, Bodies, and Monsters in the Trial of Enrique/Enriqueta Favez and Its Contemporary Accounts

By Juliana Martínez, 2017

In 1823 one of the most scandalous trials of the nineteenth century took place in Santiago de Cuba. A year earlier a housekeeper named Rosa Suarez walked into the bedroom of her master – a well-known and respected Swiss doctor – in order to help him undress and get into bed because she feared he was too inebriated to do it himself. But what she saw when she opened the door stunned her, drastically changed the life of her master and his wife, and shocked the Catholic Spanish colony. Favez was in bed, passed-out drunk, with his shirt open. As she approached, Suarez saw with horror that instead of the flat – and perhaps hairy – chest she expected, there lay before her the body of a “perfect and whole woman.” Word spread rapidly. On 24 July 1822 Favez’s wife, Juana de León, requested the annulment of her marriage, and in January 1823 she filed a lawsuit demanding that Favez be imprisoned, publicly recognized as a woman, and punished for his conduct. The police acted swiftly. On 7 February Favez was arrested, and the story he told while in prison stunned the general public and the authorities of the conservative island.

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