After his death, historians and biographers have fixated on this information, and for the most part have portrayed him solely as “a woman who dressed like a man” to pursue a medical career. However, it is likely (as we cannot sadly ask James himself) that he was in fact a trans man. His life, and the case of his representation in history, is important to the history of queer and trans stories throughout history, particularly in the history of western sciences.
An article in the Journal of Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh confirms through forensic analysis of letters many details of James Barry’s earlier life. He was born under the name Margaret Bulkley in Cork, in 1789 and the first records of James going by his new and permanent name was in late November 1809, at 20 years old. This was when he travelled to Edinburgh with his mother, who he generally referred to as his aunt, to begin medical studies. He never used the name Margaret Bulkley again, except in a few early letters to seemingly remind a few close family friends who knew of his name and gender change, who he was. One such letter was signed “James Barry” but with Miss Bulkley on the envelope.