Aubrey Moog-Ayers was outside of an apothecary shop a few years ago, working as an orientation interpreter at Colonial Williamsburg, when two men pulled her aside.
The men, who said they were partners, asked her questions that stayed with her years later: What did she know about queer people in 18th-century America? Did anyone ever cross dress?
Moog-Ayers, who identifies as queer, told them about her own research — about gathering places for gay men in 18th-century England, known as “molly houses,” and about a Virginia colonist who dressed as a man and as a woman.
But stories about what today would be considered the LGBTQ community have never been a formal part of the programming at Colonial Williamsburg. For the past four years, Moog-Ayers has been encouraging the living-history museum to fill this void.
“I’m queer, and I wanted to see if that was something that existed, if I could see myself in the past,” said Moog-Ayers, now an apprentice weaver at Colonial Williamsburg.
This year, Moog-Ayers and other front-line staff members signed a petition calling for a push to study queer history at the popular tourist attraction, with the aim of telling a more complete story about those who lived in early America.
The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation agreed and recently launched a committee to research the history of gender and sexually nonconforming people. The group plans to create a source book for interpreters and guides to use while interacting with the half a million people who visit the historical site every year.