Category Archives: Transgender

Hildegonde of Neuss 20/04

(Also spelt Hildegund) She was born at Neuss, near Cologne. After the death of her mother, at age 12, she went with her father, a knight, on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. For her safety, during the trip, she was dressed as a boy and called “Joseph” for her protection.
While returning from the Holy Land Hildegund’s father died, but she was able to make her own way home and maintained her disguise first as a boy and then as a man. Later, she made a pilgrimage to Rome, during which she had several adventures.
On one of them, she was condemned to be hanged as a robber and escaped only when a friend of the real robber cut her down from the gallows.
After that, she returned to Germany and was accepted into the Cistercian monastery at Shönau, near Heidelberg, concealing her gender, and to her death she was believed to be a man. Her true sex went undiscovered until her death in 1188.
A few years later, abbot Engelhartof Langheim wrote her biography. She is considered saint, even though her cult is not approved by the Roman Catholic Church.

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Marina/Marinos of Alexandria 12/02

Marinos was one of a group of saints we might describe as transmen, biologically female but who lived as male monks in men’s monasteries. Some of these are known only by name, some of the stories may be variations of the same person’s story under different names, but that of Mary / Marinos, also known as Pelagia, is one of the most completely  known.
The story as we have it, is that Mary was an only child from the north of Lebanon, raised after her father’s death by her widowed father, Eugene. Once Mary had grown up, Eugene told her that he would pass over to her all his possessions, as he wished to enter a monastery, for the sake of his soul. Mary was not happy with this, as she too was concerned for her own soul. So they agreed that Mary would cut her hair and adopt male clothing, so that she could pass as male, and enter the monastery together with her father. This they did, joining a monastery in Alexandria, Egypt, from which she takes her name. Inside the monastery, where the two shared a cell, the other monks noticed the higher pitched voice and smooth skin of their new brother (now known as Marinos), but assumed that either he was a eunuch, or that this was a special mark of the holiness they all saw in him.
Marina (in red) being brought to a monastery by her father Eugenius.
(14th century French manuscript).
In time, Marinos’ father died, and he responded by increasing still further his ascetic manner of life. The abbot called him one day, and referring to his great holiness, sent him out in the company of a few others on monastic business, where they needed to spend one night in a public inn. The innkeeper had a daughter who set her sights on seducing the attractive Marinos, without success. She had however already been made pregnant by another (either one of the monks, or by a passing soldier – the sources diverge). When she realized she was with child, to protect herself she accused the innocent Marinos.

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Joseph and His Fabulous Queer Technicolour Dreamcoat.

Sometimes, stories and images are so familiar to us, that we completely fail to see their significance. The story of Joseph and his coat is familiar to us all from childhood Bible stories – and even more familiar as Lloyd-Webber’s Joseph and His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. Ignore the main story for now, and just focus on that coat of many colours.
In the modern world, colour is everywhere, so much so that we hardy notice it unless it is used particularly well, or until it is unexpectedly absent. It was not always so. In the Biblical world, clothing was mostly drab: dyes of all kinds were costly , brightly coloured cloth of any kind was an expensive luxury. It is not surprising that Joseph’s brothers would have been jealous of the special favour shown by their father, and wished to sell him into slavery.

But there could be more to the story than first appears: this was not just a coloured coat, but a very specific type – a coat of many colours, in stripes. Just such a coat was typically worn by a specific group of people – a distinctly queer group.
Consider this extract from “Coming Out Spiritually“, in which he draws on Conner, ” Blossom of Bone“:
These were the qedeshim, who served as priests to the Canaanite goddess Athirat. They were responsible for the upkeep of her temples, and also engaged in ritual temple prostitution, engaging in sex with the devotees of the goddess to achieve enhanced states of consciousness. (It is possible that several of the biblical texts of terror that are used to condemn sex between men were in fact referring specifically to these temple prostitutes – and so were directed at idolatry, rather than at homoerotic activity itself).
Connor notes an interesting connection between the multicolour garments of the qedishim and Joseph’s “coat of many colours”, which, at least based on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s portrayal, was “fabulous”. Although Connor’s mission is not to “out” Joseph, he presents other clues which make one wonder, such as the fact that Potiphar, the man who bought Joseph from his brothers and brought him to Egypt as his servant, was actually a eunuch priest of a pagan goddess.  Furthermore, the interpretation of dreams was one of the qualities for which the qedishim were known; and indeed, biblical writings reflect that prophetic dreams were commonplace with Joseph.
This needs some fact-checking: most obviously, Potiphar did not buy Joseph directly from his brothers, but from a band of Ishmaelites who were the original purchasers. It is certainly true though that male temple prostitution was commonplace in the Mediterranean world, including in the land of  Canaan, and that in cultures all around the world, men who were attracted to men or to female gender roles were often regarded as possessing special spiritual gifts – including the prophetic interpretation of dreams.
Books:

Related Posts

David the Prophet and Jonathan, His Lover (Queer Saints and Martyrs)
Daniel in the Lion’s Den (Queer Saints and Martyrs)
Ruth and Naomi (Queer Saints and Martyrs)

Apollinaria/Dorotheos 5/01

According to the LGBT Catholic Handbook, this week sees the feast day of St.  Apollinaria /Dorotheos of Egypt (5th, 6th January). She is said to have been one of a group of transvestite saints – women who took on men’s clothing  in order to live as monks.
For the specific story of Apollinaria, we turn to the Orthodox church, who take these female monks rather more serioulsy than the western church.

This is from the Orthodox website, “God is Wonderful in His Saints”

She was a maiden of high rank, the daughter of a magistrate named Anthimus in the city of Rome. Filled with love for Christ, she prevailed on her parents to allow her to travel on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. In Jerusalem she dismissed most of her attendants, gave her jewels, fine clothes and money to the poor, and went on to Egypt accompanied only by two trusted servants. Near Alexandria she slipped away from them and fled to a forest, where she lived in ascesis for many years. She then made her way to Sketis, the famous desert monastic colony, and presented herself as a eunuch named Dorotheos. In this guise she was accepted as a monk.
Anthimus, having lost his elder daughter, was visited with another grief: his younger daughter was afflicted by a demon. He sent this daughter to Sketis, asking the holy fathers there to aid her by their prayers. They put her under the care of “Dorotheos”, who after days of constant prayer effected the complete cure of her (unknowing) sister. When the girl got back home it was discovered that she was pregnant, and Anthimus angrily ordered that the monk who had cared for her be sent to him. He was astonished to find that “Dorotheos” was his own daughter Apollinaria, whom he had abandoned hope of seeing again. After some days the holy woman returned to Sketis, still keeping her identity secret from her fellow-monks. Only at her death was her true story discovered.

The Handbook lists some scholarly references in support, while a look at some orthodox websites corroborates the story and confirms her feast on 5th January.  The Advent Catholic Encyclopedia. however,  dismisses the tale as ‘hagiographic fiction.’

Apollinaria’s story and motives are remote from our time, and ‘transvestite’ is not to be confused with ‘transgendered’. (UPDATE: After I first described this group of women as “transvestite”, I was taken to task by a reader, who pointed out that these days, “cross-dressing” is more appropriate terminology). Still, whatever the full historic truth of Apollinaria/ Dorotheos specifically, it seems to me this is a useful story to hold on to as a reminder of the important place of the transgendered, and differently gendered,  in our midst.
Many of us will remember how difficult and challenging was the process of recognising, and then confronting, our identities as lesbian or gay, particularly in the context of a hostile church. However difficult and challenging we may have found the process of honestly confronting  our sexual identities,  consider how much more challenging must  be the process of confronting and negotiating honestly a full gender identity crisis.

Let us acknowledge the courage of those who have done it, and pray for those who are preparing to do so.

Related articles

 

Anson, J., “”, Viator 5 (1974), 1-32

Bennasser, Khalifa Abubakr, Gender and Sanctity in Early Byzantine Monasticism: A Study of the Phenomenon of Female Ascetics in Male Monastic Habit with a Translation of the Life of St. Matrona, [Rutgers Ph.D Dissertation 1984; UMI 8424085]

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Eugenia /Eugenios of Alexandria, 24th December


24th December is the day the Eastern Orthodox Church remembers St Eugenia / Eugenios of Alexandria, another of the group of female saints in the early church who dressed as men to be admitted to all-male monasteries.

Holy Virgin and Martyr Eugenia and her companions (~190)

“This Martyr was the daughter of most distinguished and noble parents named Philip and Claudia. Philip, a Prefect of Rome, moved to Alexandria with his family. In Alexandria, Eugenia had the occasion to learn the Christian Faith, in particular when she encountered the Epistles of Saint Paul, the reading of which filled her with compunction and showed her clearly the vanity of the world. Secretly taking two of her servants, Protas and Hyacinth, she departed from Alexandria by night. Disguised as a man, she called herself Eugene [Eugenios -ed.] while pretending to be a eunuch, and departed with her servants and took up the monastic life in a monastery of men. Her parents mourned for her, but could not find her. After Saint Eugenia had laboured for some time in the monastic life, a certain woman named Melanthia, thinking Eugene to be a monk, conceived lust and constrained Eugenia to comply with her desire; when Eugenia refused, Melanthia slandered Eugenia to the Prefect as having done insult to her honour. Eugenia was brought before the Prefect, her own father Philip, and revealed to him both that she was innocent of the accusations, and that she was his own daughter. Through this, Philip became a Christian; he was afterwards beheaded at Alexandria. Eugenia was taken back to Rome with Protas and Hyacinth. All three of them ended their life in martyrdom in the years of Commodus, who reigned from 180 to 192.” (Great Horologion)


(For some general observation on the full group, have a look at “Transvestite Saints?”

See also:

Anson, J., “The Female Transvestite in Early Monasticism: the Origin and Development of a Motif”, Viator 5 (1974), 1-32
Bennasser, Khalifa Abubakr: Gender and Sanctity in Early Byzantine Monasticism: A Study of the Phenomenon of Female Ascetics in Male Monastic Habit with a Translation of the Life of St. Matrona, [Rutgers Ph.D Dissertation 1984; UMI 8424085]

 

Delcourt, Marie: “Le complexe de Diane dans l’hagiographie chretienne”, Revue de l’Histoire des Religions 153 (January-March 1958), 1-33

 

Patlagean, Evelyne: “L’histoire de la femme déguise en moine et l’evolution de la sainteté feminine à Byzance”, Studi Medievali ser. 3 17 (1976), 597-625, repr. in Structure sociale, famille, chretienté à Byzance IVe-XIe siècle, (London: Variorum, 1981), XI

 

Marina Warner, St. Joan of Arc: The Image of Female Heroism, (London: 1981, pb. Penguin, 1985), esp 149-63

 

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Three Young Men in the Burning Fiery Furnace: Dec 17th

Today, the church celebrates the feast of three young men, Shadrack, Mesach and Abednego, the companions of Daniel the prophet: they are important for highlighting a much neglected group in the church – the transgendered.

We are probably all familiar with the stories of Daniel in the lion’s den, and of his three companions in the burning fiery furnace. What they don’t tell us in Sunday School, is that as slaves captured and taken to service in the king’s court in Babylon they were almost certainly eunuchs – castrated males. This was the standard fate of slaves in the royal court, as Kathryn Ringrose has shown, and as anticipated by Isaiah:

And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.

-Isaiah 39:7
If there is any group more likely to have the bible-pumping conservatives frothing at the mouth more than gay and lesbian Christians, perhaps it is the trans community. Yet this is entirely misplaced, as Isaiah makes clear elsewhere:

4For this is what the LORD says:

“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose what pleases me
and hold fast to my covenant—
5 to them I will give within my temple and its walls
a memorial and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that will endure forever.

-Isaiah 56: 4- 5
The three young men, forcibly castrated as slaves, are clearly not directly comparable to the modern trans community, but there are nevertheless lessons to be learnt, from them and from others in Christian (and non-Christian) history. In the Gospel of Matthew, we read

But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

The Babylonian slaves were clearly among those who have been made so by others. Those who made themselves so for the sake of the kingdom of heaven may be a reference to the common religious practice in the societies surrounding the Jews of men who castrated themselves to serve as priests, especially in the cult of Cybele , and also in some other religions. (Some commentators believe that is this practice of castration that is meant by the words mistranslated in some of the clobber texts as “homosexuals”, lines which more accurately refer to castrated gentile priests. In this view, it is the association with pagan idolatry, not the sexual practices themselves, which made them taboo). The idea of making oneself a eunuch for the kingdom of God later led some early Christians to adopt the practice, notably the early theologian Origen, who castrated himself in. Metaphorically, it is the same idea of emasculation which underlies the Catholic church’s insistence on compulsory celibacy for priests in the Roman rite.
Modern trans people are also not directly comparable to this third group – but they are arguably included in the first group:  made so by birth. Less directly, some scholars argue that the biblical term “eunuch” is the closest parallel in biblical language to the modern term “homosexual”, and so the welcome promised by Isaiah may be said to apply to all who are queer in church –

a memorial and a name
better than sons and daughters; 

I will give them an everlasting name
that will endure forever

Even if we reject this connection, there remains a fundamentally important lesson for us all in the story of the three young men, a story that has relevance and resonance for us today that goes way beyond the children’s illustrated Bible pictures of men who could not be burned by the flames. To see this, remember why it is that they are commemorated. They were commanded by the king to eat the forbidden meat – to conform. It was for their refusal to knuckle under and give in to the pressure to abandon their fundamental religious identity that they were sentenced to death by burning.
But in their faith and loyalty, they were protected from the flames. Centuries later, it was the Christian Church that again turned to burning as a punishment for those who refused to conform, either to orthodox religious belief, or to heteronormative sexual standards. We continue to live with the legacy of that prejudice, which masquerades as religious obligation. Like the three men in the Babylonian fire, we too must stand firm in our commitment to the truth. In our steadfastness, the flames of prejudice and religious bigotry will likewise be unable to destroy our queer Christian community.
(The image used is a window by John Piper as a memorial to Benjamin Britten, whose “Burning Fiery Furnace” told the story of the three young men as one of his three “parables for church performance” – one act operas, although Britten himself avoided the term).

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Who are the “Queer Saints and Martyrs”?

I have been rather neglecting this site for a while, partly by circumstance, and partly for some reflection and reconsideration of its essential nature. When I first started learning about the “gay saints” of the Church, the matter of definition seemed fairly clear.As time has moved on, and I have learned and thought a little more, I have realised that this view is simplistic. One comment at the site, referring specifically to trans saints, is also more broadly relevant to the entire project.

No MTF saints can be found among those who actually got canonized — but we all know, you don’t have to actually be canonized to be a saint. Surely there’s got to be some MTF saints who *aren’t* canonized! Problem is — not only such saints aren’t canonized – but a MTF saint would probably have so little written about her, that it would be unlikely that we’d even know about her at all! So, maybe it’s time that we start *investigating* the possibility? Coz let’s face it — the Vatican aint going to do this investigation for us. Information may be scant – but at least we can start looking! 

So – it’s time to start looking. Here is my current thinking, and the revised concept for the site.

Byzantine icon of “All Saints”

 

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