The story of Gallus Mag

As my friends know, one of my particular bugbears is the transphobic radfem blog called GenderTrender and run by someone who goes – as she is perfectly entitled to do – by the pseudonym Gallus Mag. As often happens when someone particularly irritates me, I do a little bit of research and came up with the origin of her name.

Wikipedia states :’Gallus Mag (real name unknown) was a 6-foot-tall female bouncer at a New York City Water St. bar called The Hole in the Wall in the early 19th century, who figures prominently in New York City folklore. Herbert Asbury’s book The Gangs of New York thus describes her:

“It was her custom, after she’d felled an obstreperous customer with her club, to clutch his ear between her teeth and so drag him to the door, amid the frenzied cheers of the onlookers. If her victim protested she bit his ear off, and having cast the fellow into the street she carefully deposited the detached member in a jar of alcohol behind the bar…. She was one of the most feared denizens on the waterfront and the police of the period shudderingly described her as the most savage female they’d ever encountered.” [1]

A composite female street gangster character based on her, Sadie the Goat, and Hellcat Maggie, is played by Cara Seymour in the Martin Scorsese film Gangs of New York.’

It is, of course, interesting that the original went by the cognomen Gallus, given that the Galli were the cross-dressed self-castrated priests of Cybele in Classical Rome. (Roman citizens were originally forbidden to become Galli, but it was legalized under Claudius.) There is a poem by Catullus on this theme, and the legend of Attis, which I really must translate sometime.

(It’s also interesting that Gallus is also the word for a cockerel, and that the goddess Bahuchara Mata, worshipped by many self-castrated woman-identified hijra in South Asia, rides on a cockerel. But heaven forfend that anyone suggest that it is not only in C21 that trans people have had an international culture.)

Anyway, I find myself speculating that the Hole in the Wall’s Gallus was a trans woman – six foot is a very great height for a cis woman in the early C19 – and it would explain the possible classical reference of her name, wouldn’t it? An educated trans woman reduced to being a bouncer in a bar by bigotry and finding in the criminal underworld the acceptance denied her elsewhere in mid-C19 society. And yes, this is something I shall probably write a long narrative poem about at some point.

In the mean time, I think it desperately funny to speculate that through sheer cluelessness and failure of imagination, a major transphobe is unironically dressing herself up in a trans woman’s name. Poor silly person.

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About rozkaveney

Middleaged, trans, novelist, poet, activist
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18 Responses to The story of Gallus Mag

  1. feorag says:

    I think it’s “gallus” in the Scots sense of the word, and Mag does sound like a bit of a gallus bissum.

  2. cakmpls says:

    Love your research! It makes sense as well as being elegant.

  3. jessie_c says:

    …a major transphobe is unironically dressing herself up in a trans woman’s name.

    It could just as easily be a deliberate erasure by a cis person, assimilating a trans person’t identity and overwriting it in her transphbic image. I’m cynical enough to believe that.

  4. Gallus Mag appears in Barbara Ewing’s The Circus of Dreams, as well, though there’s never any indication in it that she may be trans, just that she’s a large and aggressive woman.

    ‘Gallus’ means cheeky or daring in Scots dialect.

  5. cangetmad says:

    “Gallus” is also a Scots word for bold, daring or cheeky, though. I’ve always assumed the online Gallus Mag was a Scottish transphobe called Margaret.

  6. rozkaveney says:

    But of course, in all such matters, it is not what is ultimately true that matters, since we cannot prove it either way, it is what is elegant and funny.

    Like LBJ said about the opponent against whom he spread a rumour of unnatural congress with pigs – ‘It’ll be fun to hear her deny it.’

    • supergee says:

      That was a favorite joke of LBJ’s that seems likely to go down in history as an actual occurrence from his career. As in your following comment.

    • deliasherman says:

      You especially can’t prove anything in The Gangs of New York, since Herbert Asbury made up a great deal of what he wrote. It’s like the ultimate Urban Legend joke–everybody’s heard the stories, but it always happened to someone else.

      My guess is that Gallus was Asbury’s idea of somebody who should have existed, kind of a Paulette Bunyon of Five Points, who had to be bigger and meaner and more colorful than anybody who actually existed in that rather squalid and sad portion of life and history. In any case, your point is still well-taken.

      • rozkaveney says:

        I suspect she will find her way either into the novel, or into one of the linked short stories I plan to write. (One comes out in an anthology ahead ofthe first volume of the book.) Because all the possible meanings make as much sense stuck together as they do individually.

        Which of course is also – returning to my original point – a useful rebuke to the sad transphobe who writes GenderTrender because the real weakness of her sort of radical feminism is that all things can only mean one thing, forever.

      • Just checked and the source for Barbara Ewing’s use of Gallus Mag is also Ashbury. Damn.

  7. rozkaveney says:

    Or as they say in The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance print the legend.

  8. hamsterine says:

    That’s certainly an interesting little morsel of history.

  9. drjon says:

    I remember reading about Gallus Mag in GoNY. Very impressed, I was. She reminded me of an old love of mine (not trans, as best I know), so I had a soft spot for her.

    I think your thesis is worthy of development. ;})>

  10. crazycrone says:

    I’d actually never heard of Gallus Mag. Thanks!

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