Brigitte Macron, the wife of Emmanuel, France’s president, has said that she will sue in retaliation for false rumours that she is a transgender woman.
Since September, whispers that Macron was born Jean-Michel Trogneux have been circulating in conspiracist publications and forums (Trogneux is Macron’s maiden name). In mid-December, the hashtag #JeanMichelTrogneux became one of the most widely shared on French Twitter.
The unfounded rumour appears to have originated with a September issue of Faits et Documents (facts and documents), a far-right newsletter known for spreading anti-Semitism and conspiracy theories. Its pages, which do not draw heavily on either facts or documents, include one section on “lobbies”, which criticises the supposed influence of various interest groups, such as Jews, Freemasons and homosexuals.
Natacha Rey, a journalist who claims to have been investigating Macron, gave an interview to a YouTube medium in which she claimed that her evidence of the first lady’s transition is in “a sealed envelope deposited with a lawyer whose name is well known”, and would be made public “the day vaccines are made obligatory”. The video was viewed hundreds of thousands of times before being deleted.
Since then, the claims have been repeated tens of thousands of times on Twitter, prompting Macron’s lawyer to say that she was preparing legal action against those responsible for spreading the rumours. Quite who would be sued and on what grounds was not specified.
The claims against Macron are baseless. However, since her husband came to power in 2017, Macron has regularly dealt with sexist attacks, largely concerning the 24-year age difference between her and her husband. The new transphobic allegations illustrate the degree to which the very existence of trans people is rejected and ridiculed in far-right circles, wrote the publication Numerama.
The attacks against Macron echo similar conspiracy theories favoured on the American far right. Michelle Obama, wife of the former US president Barack Obama, was regularly accused of being a transgender woman during her husband’s time in office by conspiracists such as the talk show host Alex Jones.
“Since the early days of the Obama administration, citizens across the board have studied videos and photos of Michelle Obama and said that she is a man,” Jones claimed in 2017. “Michelle appears in photos and videos to have a very large penis in her pants, her shoulders are wide, her face is very, very masculine.”
Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand, has also been accused of concealing her identity as a transgender woman. That all three people targeted by these rumours are women is not a coincidence. Women in public life face stigmatisation, on the most spurious of grounds, which their male equivalents simply do not. Those attacks can be even more virulent if the public figures in question are also the targets of other forms of bigotry, for instance because they are the older wife of a younger man or African American.