Big Dreams, answered by Maria van Antwerpen
My partner and I are thinking of dropping our comfortable lives in one of the world's most desirable cities and moving across the ocean without jobs or enough money to get us through a whole year. Is this a good idea?
Dear Big Dreams,
What do you mean by a good idea? Is it the safest idea? No. But the future is not a horse to be corralled and broken. It is wind and wave, powerful and unpredictable. All we can do is set our sails in our best direction and hope we can ride it out.
My father was a solid, respectable man who worked at his brewery while my mother ran the house. They were decent people who believed that hard work paid for a secure future, just as good deeds paid for a comfortable eternity. They had no expectation of dying early and leaving a brood of young orphans, but I still found myself a servant alone at the age of 13.
I tried to follow the path they had laid for me. Even then, I knew there was something out of tune. I felt that to fit into the role assigned to me was to amputate some essential part of me. But it’s hard to worry about your soul when you're afraid your body will starve. I kept my head down and tried to fit in, but I think the families must have seen something in me. Something they abhorred. I moved from job to job until I was cast out. They were a prosperous comfortable family and I was a poor awkward child, but all their moralizing didn’t keep them from kicking me into the cold of a winter’s night.
I need to tell you about how we lived so you will understand what I risked. We were a land that lived by our communities. Working together, we recovered fertile land from the sea, dammed the water, and harnessed the wind. We idolized our collective vision and if you were someone who fit into your assigned role, there was great safety and even freedom in that group. But to transgress against the place society gave you was heresy, both religious and social. Earth and Heaven would turn their back on you.
It was only through fear and need that I dressed as a man to become a soldier, but I knew immediately that I finally fit. Every note that clanged for Maria of Antwerp sang for Jan of Arnhem. I knew what would happen if I was caught, but somehow I didn’t feel fear. I felt only relief that I had finally found the missing part of myself, the way for me to be in the world.
A risk is worth taking not only because of the possible reward, but the danger of staying put. Only you can evaluate both. What would you gain by the move if the best were to happen? What do you lose if the worst happens in your move? How do these outcomes compare to what you will encounter if you stay in your comfortable lives?
Whichever course you set, do it boldly and do not allow yourself to wonder about the person who followed the other path. A life divided against yourself is a life lived by halves.
Maria van Antwerpen, aka Jan van Ant, aka Machiel van Hantwerpen
Born on January 17, 1719 in Breda to brewer Johannes and his wife Johanna. Died on January 16, 1781 in Breda of causes unknown and buried in a poor grave in Markendaalsekerk. When they was abruptly dismissed from service in 1746, they assumed the name Jan van Ant and enlisted as a soldier. They mostly lived as a soldier, first as Jan, then as Michael, and married a woman under each name. In both identities, they was eventually caught, tried, and exiled. During the second trial they declared: “ik ben in de natuur een manspersoon, maar uiterlijk een vrouwspersoon”, which roughly translates to “I am by nature a man, only outwardly a woman.”
Office of Badassery note: As previously discussed, it is difficult to assign modern ideas of transgender identity to times in which women did not have the same freedom of action that men did. The above statement, however, does seem to resonate with our current understanding of transgender. We have used the name “Maria van Antwerpen” because that is the name by which they is known to history and “they” as a gender-neutral, singular pronoun.