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The Sun King, gender benders and feathers

By Zhao Xu in New York | China Daily | Updated: 2019-06-15 10:18
High-fashion accessories have overtaken the center of the exhibition hall.[Photo by Gao Tianpei/China Daily]

In their remarkable lives, both men had embraced contradiction. Open about his homosexuality, Philippe married twice and fathered seven children who were future kings and queens, a fact that led him to be called "the grandfather of Europe". Moreover, acting effeminately did not stop him from establishing himself as a successful military commander during the War of Devolution in 1667 and the Battle of Cassel in 1677. (After Philippe died, his great grandson sold his Saint Cloud estate to Marie Antoinette, the hapless last queen of France before the French Revolution and the queen of camp thanks to Sofia Coppola's 2006 namesake movie.)

A master fencer, d'Eon, whose name was given to the coinage of the word eonism, also volunteered for the battleground even as a "female", asking to lead a division of female soldiers against the Habsburgs in 1672.

Put simply, both men were androgynous. Sontag, in her 1964 article, wrote about the androgyne as "one of the greatest images of camp sensibilities". "Camp taste draws on a mostly unacknowledged truth of taste: the most refined form of sexual attractiveness (as well as the most refined form of sexual pleasure) consists in going against the grain of one's sex," she wrote. "What is most beautiful in virile men is something feminine; what is most beautiful in feminine women is something masculine."

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