I picked this session for the “transvestite saint” paper, given my own interests in the how that topic intersects my interests. (Also, given the intersection with my own ‘zoo paper a couple years ago on gender-disguise narratives.) The other papers are less directly interesting to me, so I’ll probably be multi-tasking during them.
Revisiting the "Transvestite" Saint - C. Libby, Pennsylvania State University
References Bullough’s work on changing the paradigm when considering TS (transvestite saints), moving away from the “pathologizing” narrative driven by early 20th century social dynamics. This leads to a current transgender framing.
Brief review of the genre and the stated motifs/motives within the narratives. Example: St. Eugenius/Eugenia. [Note: LHMP entries tagged with St. Eugenia]
While disguise is clearly an element of the saints’ lives (as opposed to gender change), post-sexological analysis of these texts emphasized the disguise/deception theme and connected them with contemporary attitudes toward transvestism, applying a pathologizing lens. Themes from psychology were retrospectively applied to the interpretation of early hagiography, viewing the TS as undergoing a rejection of the feminine and desire for the masculine as a sign of pathology and trauma, while also focusing on the male monastic response as a key theme. [Note that Anson, who is covered in the LHMP, is one of the authors referenced as engaging in this approach.] But Bullough continues the interpretation of TS through a modern lens, projecting the misogynistic asymmetric view of female and male transvestism (status gain versus status loss) onto the past, without placing it in the historic context of non-religious cross-dressing.
More recent work breaks away from the focus on gender “disguise” and points to how the focus on deception encourages and maintains hostile responses to cross-gender performance. Discussion of the Rykener case and how Karras is revisiting that data in light of transgender studies. [Note: see LHMP entries mentioning Rykener.] But Libby notes that even Karras & Linkenen’s more recent work is rooted in binary models. (Lots of references to researchers and publications in this field that I can’t catch.)
Jesus in Furs: Masochism and Queer Bodies in The Book of Margery Kempe - Megan Vinson, Indiana University
[Note: OK, I’m just not going to be able to follow this one because it’s being presented in the context of theoretical frameworks and technical vocabulary that I’m not fluent in. Sorry.]
Performance and Disruption: A Late Antique Ascetic Experiment in Gender as Assemblage - Dr. Katie Kleinkopf, University of Louisville
Looks at how Byzantine ascetics manipulated gender as a way of getting closer to God, but also at how scholars have approached the ascetic movement in ways that deployed their own gender ideologies. (Makes an interesting connection between the physical isolation of ascetics, and how it allowed them to step outside gender binaries, with the way that contemporary virtual spaces allow one to step outside embodied binary gender.)
A brief review of hierarchical (although not necessarily binary) categorical gendered expectations in late antiquity. Various examples of how physically isolated ascetics were pursued by their contemporaries who wanted to claim knowledge of their embodiment (including gender) with an almost fanatic curiosity. Isolation allowed ascetics to remove themselves from the established gender expectations and to construct their own identities at will, accepting and rejecting various gendered attributes. (Lots of specific examples from ascetics’ lives, illustrating ascetic refusal to become legible to others in terms of gender.)
Respondant – Roberta Magnani
Magnani provided commentary and responses to the papers, but I needed to step away for a bit so I haven’t tried to capture them.