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Was Louisa May Alcott a Transgender Man?

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  • Brazil’s Insurrection, and Parallels to Jan. 6
  • A Word From a Ghostwriter
  • Law School Rankings
  • Credit for Resisting Temptation

Credit…Illustration by Mel Haasch; photograph by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

To the Editor:

Re “Did the Mother of Young Adult Literature Identify as a Man?,” by Peyton Thomas (Opinion guest essay, nytimes.com, Dec. 24):

Mr. Thomas argues that Louisa May Alcott, the author of “Little Women,” was trans because she expressed dissatisfaction with being a woman, preferred the company of men and used “Lou” as a nickname (very common back then), among other points.

What 19th-century woman with genius and gumption wouldn’t chafe at her restricted life and long for the broad freedoms of manhood? The insipidity, conventionality and powerlessness of Victorian female life drove many a woman insane.

Sigmund Freud thought women envied men because men had penises. Today we understand it was the power and privileges of manhood symbolized by the penis that women envied. It’s sad that we seem to be going backward by seeing women longing for masculine freedoms and advantages as evidence that they are really men!

Katha Pollitt
New York
The writer is a poet, essayist and critic who focuses on political and social issues, including feminism.

To the Editor:

You have to trust Louisa May Alcott, the real-life tomboy Jo March from “Little Women,” in how she understood herself: “I am a man’s soul, put by some freak of nature into a woman’s body.”

That statement in its frank simplicity defines transgenderism. It’s not about sexual orientation: Transgender people can be homosexual or heterosexual. It’s about a spirit of self squeezed into the wrong vessel.

As a transgender acquaintance once said, it’s like wearing shoes on the wrong feet and discovering how much better it feels when you switch the shoes around.

Kathy Groff
Allentown, Pa.

To the Editor:

Louisa May Alcott did say she was “more than half-persuaded” that she was a “man’s soul.” When she was then asked why, her reply was this: “‘Well, for one thing,’ and the blue-gray eyes sparkled with laughter, ‘because I have fallen in love in my life with so many pretty girls, and never once the least little bit with any man.’”

Just before this exchange, she had described how she used to think she had the soul of a horse because “as a long-limbed child,” she liked running through fields. The quote, like other “facts” cited by Peyton Thomas out of context, is unconvincing as a serious expression of gender identity, rather than one about sexuality or sexism.

Unlike James Barry or Albert Cashier, Louisa May Alcott continued to live as a woman when women were not granted basic human rights. This piece perpetuates the pernicious, false idea that supporting trans rights equates to believing that all women naturally “care much for girls’ things.”

Deanna Daly
Somerville, Mass.

To the Editor:

While I have no objection to considering that Louisa May Alcott may have identified as a man, as Peyton Thomas suggests, I think there is another way to interpret her writings.

Alcott lived in a time when only white men were free. Perhaps she was expressing her inability to live the life of a contemporary woman, a life that the other women around her seemed capable of embracing. Perhaps, had women of the time been free to wear pants, travel, smoke, cut their hair, earn a living outside the home, not marry, play sports, drink whiskey, and more, she could have been comfortable being a woman.

As a young girl reading all of the Alcott books in the 1960s and ’70s, I remember identifying with Alcott’s sentiments and wishing I were a boy. But that was not a wish to become a man, but to have the man’s freedom. Maybe Alcott wanted to be a man, or maybe being a man was the only way to get what she really wanted: freedom to be herself.

Roxana Witter
Denver

Brazil’s Insurrection, and Parallels to Jan. 6

Credit…Sergio Lima/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

To the Editor:

Re “In Brazil Capital, a Frenzied Mob Storms Congress” (front page, Jan. 9):

If anyone needed further evidence that the dangerous, misguided claims of rigged elections by former President Donald Trump had horrific domestic and international implications, they need look no further than the insurrection that recently took place at Brazil’s government offices.

The parallels to the awful events that occurred on Jan. 6 two years ago are unmistakable. Both featured a democratically ousted president unwilling to accept his loss and a subsequent insurrection.

One of the hallmarks of the United States’ democracy is the peaceful transition of power between presidents. What happened on Jan. 6 was terrible and should be called out in no subtle terms.

The insurrection that took place at Brazil’s government offices proved that former President Trump’s dangerous strategy of denying democratic elections lives on and poses a danger to our democracy’s survival.

And if we want to save democracy not only in the United States but also across the world, we must reject and call out any election denying before it is too late.

Kiran Bhatia
Brookline, Mass.

A Word From a Ghostwriter

Credit…Kathleen Fu

To the Editor:

Re “The Ghosts in the Prose” (Weekend Arts, Jan. 6):

As the co-author of 10 books — for authors ranging from famous folks to unknown heroes — I think your article about ghostwriting misses an important point.

There’s a good reason that co-writers should have their names on the covers. As everyone with a byline in today’s paper knows, having your name on something you’ve written offers more than ego gratification and something for your mom to clip out. It also conveys responsibility.

If your name is on it and something is wrong, it’s you who gets the blame — a fear that keeps you honest and careful.

When celebrities pretend they’ve written their stories without help they may be perpetrating the smallest of lies. But I like to think that when authors are honest and up front about having co-authors, it allows the reader a little more faith in the rest of the stories that they, and we, are telling.

Ghosts can’t be seen. Writers should be.

Philip Lerman
Madrid

Law School Rankings

Harvard Law School announced it would not be participating in the rankings late last year.Credit…Vanessa Leroy for The New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “After Law Schools Boycott, U.S. News Will Change Its Influential Ranking System” (news article, Jan. 3):

Many years ago when I coached a college mock trial team, a coach from another college asked me where I had gone to law school. I told him the name of the school (now known as U.C. College of the Law, San Francisco) and he remarked that, like his own school (U.C.L.A.), it was one of the 50 or so law schools in the nation’s top 20.

His comment underscored the fact that the U.S. News & World Report law schools ranking system hadn’t yet cemented itself into the public’s consciousness as the arbiter of law schools’ worth.

The recent decision by the “top” law schools to deny U.S. News access to data is a positive move and hopefully portends a future in which applicants to law schools rely on their own judgment to pick a school to attend, rather than rely on a phony ranking system.

Patrick Mattimore
Pattaya, Thailand

Credit for Resisting Temptation

Credit…Milagros Pico

To the Editor:

“Give Me Credit for All the Bad Things I Didn’t Do,” by Crispin Sartwell (Opinion guest essay, Dec. 31), makes me wish my scale would take this advice. Why can’t I lose a pound for every dessert I forgo?

Felicia Nimue Ackerman
Providence, R.I.

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