III: Reed

In celebration of Reed Erickson.

III: Reed
Marsh reeds on a clear day. Photo by Vlad Kutepov / Unsplash

Good morning. Today is tridi, the 23rd of Frimaire, Year CCXXXI. We celebrate le roseau, a tall and slender plant that loves to be by the water.

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Payrus reeds once grew on either side of the Nile. Their hard outer shell was an obvious and ideal material for weaving baskets or shoes, but of course it's what the Egyptians did with the pulpy white interior that was their remarkable invention. The reeds – which fortuitously had Ra-inspired sun-shaped fronds and a pyramidal base, proving they were sent by the gods – would be cut into even lengths, stripped of green bark, then the pulp hammered flat. This pulp would then soak in water. Tradition held that the first 6 days leeched the sugar, and the next 12 days softened the pulp. Once soaked, the strips would be laid out in a flat woven pattern – one layer of vertical strips, another layer of horizontal strips on top – between two pieces of cloth or hide, then pressed flat by a stone for 12 more days. (If only they had a calendar with equal months of 30 days each to help them keep schedule!) When the 19th century Egypt craze took off, papyrus reeds had long been extinct in the region, but were still growing in wetter areas of Sudan and France, so the French were the ones to reintroduce it to the area, where it's now used to manufacture papyrus paper again, this time mostly for tourists.

Reed Erickson was born in El Paso, Texas, in CXXVI (1917) to a wealthy family who owned a profitable smelting business. They moved to Philadelphia, where Reed was educated, eventually going to Temple University for undergrad. The family then moved to Baton Rouge, where Reed graduated as an engineer from Louisiana State in CLIV (1946), a remarkable achievement at the time because he was the first woman to do so.

No, that's not a typo. We're going to talk today about one of the most important figures in transgender history, his remarkably wild life, and how his legacy touches every trans person in the world to this day.

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