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Saint Euphrosyne

5th century Egyptian saint who cross-dressed to enter a monastic life under the name Smaragdus.

LHMP entry

This is an examination of gender and sexuality in a “transvestite saint” legend from France. Saint Euphrosine wanted to remain a virgin and so ran away from home. To help avoid being tracked down by her father, rather than entering a convent, she disguised herself as a man and claimed to be a eunuch to enter a monastery. Sight of her inflames the lusts of the monks such that the head of the monastery requires her to live secluded to prevent sexual temptation.

This is an extensive survey of early saints’ lives that involve the motif of a woman crossdressing and passing as a man, generally in order to participate in a monastic community at a time when there were no women’s communities available. Given that the context is hagiographical, this activity is framed positively, not only in pragmatic terms (it enables the woman to do something holy) but due to the greater value placed on men, especially in the context of religious practice.

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