Skip to content Skip to navigation


Saturday, May 11, 2019 - 07:00

Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 34b - Interview with Molly Tanzer - transcript pending

(Originally aired 2019/05/11 - listen here)


  • Finding inspiration in 18-19th century literature
  • Queer themes in historic literature and how they are erased
  • Exploring the decadent movement and gender-flipping The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  • The complexities of signaling queer content in mainstream books--are queer relationships spoilers?
  • Cultural intersections in Vermillion and why there aren’t any sequels at this point
  • Shifts in the social landscape in how authors approach gender, sexuality, and cultural background
  • Molly’s attraction to 18th century settings, being inspired by historic aesthetics and artistic movements
  • Conversations that manifest in artistic output
  • The roots of the modern novel in women’s literature of the 18th century
  • Trying to write in the current political climate

Molly’s Books

Other books mentioned

Social Media

Major category: 
Saturday, May 11, 2019 - 06:55

Saturday 8:30 (Plenary Session)

Bonnie Wheeler, Southern Methodist Univ.

[This is going to be very stream of consciousness.]

Begins with an overview of her experiences with the medieval congress and recognizing how it has changed and continued to work on inclusivity. The need for change and open minds. Kalamazoo as a community and enjoyable experience. Moving on to the paper topic...

A look at how men deal with harmful words and humiliation. In modern culture, we often deal with this only in connection with other cultures. (Political references from current events.) Medieval scholars often posit a contrast between honor and shame, but she suggests that honor is dependent on the experience of shame and humiliation. Overcoming and mastering humiliation is essential for creating literature about masculine power. Chivalric literature is rife with anxiety about masculine humiliation. Understanding masculine humiliation--and how it can be erased--is essential for understanding medieval literary themes.  (A moment to recognize the work of many historians on the topic of emotion and affect in medieval texts.)

These historic literatures were adopted in the 19th century as “national literatures” that were considered to reflect essential character. The focus will be on Arthurian literature, esp. Mallory. “Humiliation” is the public face of shame, the way of experiencing the opposite of worship. But these experiences--honor and shame--exist outside a strict binary. Emotions are themselves culturally constructed experiences, but this position is not uncontested, with the other pole being that emotions are abstract bodily experiences that have objective meaning and reality.

She focuses on the management of humiliation in literary contexts. Example: the unwanted dinner invitation in Norse literature and how cultures are maintained across time by characteristic experiences of envy, shame, etc. Example: gifts create debts, a gift can be seen as an attack. in an honor-based system. In Egil’s saga, Egil wants to manage his own reputation without reliance on external factors such as what others say or do with regard to you. Examples given of creative insults within Old Norse society and how they constructed standards of masculinity. Such taunts and insults require response--in the sagas, this will be violent. Although not all scholars have recognized it overtly, shame is almost always about gender. About the loss of masculinity and feminization. But how do you recuperate from this type of shame/humiliation in literature?

Example: Peter Abelard - Abelard’s social power was largely through eloquent language. The social consequences of his persuasion of Heloise was castration, the ultimate masculine humiliation. How does Abelard recover his reputation from this? In his autobiography, he claims to ahve mastered desire and pride via his castration, thus that his alleged humiliation made him a “better man” by enabling him to resist temptation and sin. He uses rhetorical strategies to side-step the overt meaning of castration and reframe it as positive.

Imaginative literature creates a context for imagining a variety of scenarios of male humiliation and thus to provide a context for examining recuperative strategies. Examples from the Iliad. Humiliation is responded to by prowess--either in deeds or words--but prowess is not a stable feature. Comparison of Roland in the Charlemagne epic with Achilles in the Iliad - both are doomed young heroes whose lives revolve around the maintenance of masculine honor. Example: El Cid, how does a shamed vassal recuperate his reputation? The audience is, throughout aligned to El Cid as the sympathetic character. His accomplishments are enumerated in a way that the reader/listener can recognize. Even though his lord is unworthy, El Cid’s honor is redeemed apart from the worthiness of the one he acts to redeem it from. He gathers lands, goods, allies, and power. Through ritualized acts of public submission, he regains his lord’s approval. Self-abasement is a hyper-masculine weapon against undeserved humiliation. Comparison to the trials of Job. The lesson is how to be “good servants” of power, regardless if power deserves our service.

Example: Yvaine’s failure to keep his vow to this lady must be redeemed by repeated acts of prowess, but his male comrades never participates in voicing his shame, the struggle is internal, balancing the external masculine honor with the internal gender-reversed structures of the chivalric lover. Fear of humiliation drives chivalric valor.  Success for one requires failure for another.

Example: Sir Palomedes who functions as the foil to  the “winners” who have been chosen to be the heroes. Palomedes is good, but his abilities exist to be the loser so others may win, and this is shown to be a humiliation for him. He represents male fear of loss and lack.

Example: 14th c English legal case, plaintiff defends himself by saying he never did anything only said something. Loss was intangible. Earliest know case of defamation. What is “loss of a good name”? How can it be redressed? Is it even a crime? The history of slander law gives us a history of how words were understood as causing harm. Reputation is public property, not a personal attribute. One can lose fame not only by one’s own actions, but on what others say about one. In chivalric culture, the ultimate shame is to be feminized and have it stand uncontested.  Lists of “best knights” contributed to the reputation of the characters. Identity and reputation must be unitary, reciprocal, and public. See e.g., how Lancelot is the constant subject of gossip and rumor. If you’re already the best, how do you maintain that reputation? Lancelot can only address slander by prowess in battle. But his success in battle is not capable of stopping further gossip, and is therefore inadequate to maintain or recover reputation.

The era of the rise of chivalric literature also sees the decline of legal “proof by ordeal”. At the same time, the details of slander law show the instability of licit vs illicit speech.  Church law supports excommunication for slanderers (though a defense was that the subject of the speech was a person of ill fame). Under defamation law, the harm to a person’s reputation might be considered more important than the harm of the actions described by the speech. This could be true even if the slander was true. The intent of the speech was itself a crime. This legal principle was not shifted until after the medieval period.

How do characters like Gawain and Lancelot manage their humiliation? Lancelot’s reputation requires that he be talked about (well) but that same speech is what he is most vulnerable to. Speech and physical prowess are in conflict. He is the best of knights but that is insufficient to counter speech.  Only by speech can speech be countered.

Example of Arthur as a nexus of humiliation and recuperation.

Major category: 
Friday, May 10, 2019 - 13:47

[I apologize for not catching some of the key names and texts referenced. Often in specialized sessions, there’s an assumption that the audience shares a fairly elaborate body of background knowledge and I, alas, am often deficient. No blogging of the earlier Friday sessions because I was busy book shopping at all the academic press booths. Will blog about books later.]

Friday 13:30

Sponsor: Research Group on Manuscript Evidence; Societas Magica

Scriptural Dreaming: Revisiting the Exstacy Defense

Claire Fanger, Rice Univ.

Examines how the Ars Notoria [not sure if I’ve heard that right -- the Ars Notoria seems to be part of the “Key of Solomon”] was reinterpreted and embedded in orthodox devotional texts, such as the “Flowers [... not sure what the rest of the title is], and there is mixed evidence that it was considered an acceptable understanding. Connections are made between dreams and visions, and the use of visions offered ex post facto as a defense against charges of heresy. Rupert of Deutz [] wrote extensively on his visions and his interpretation of them to claim special understanding of scripture. The dreams/visions often have erotic elements, envisioning the dreamer’s soul as a young woman awaiting marriage. Another 13th c. writer [John ...something?] writes how his own visions must be considered “apocrypha” even how he describes them in detail, until approved by authorities. In both cases, these visions are embedded in existing traditions of practice and text that give them an orthodox context and increasing the chance of acceptance.

Scriptural References as Legitimation Strategy in Late Medieval German Magical Formulas

Chiara Benati, Univ. degli Studi di Genova

Late medieval and early modern German manuscripts are more likely to have deleted and censored charms than the earlier texts due to an increased concern over superstition. Originally applied to elite magic but then extended to folk magic such as spells and charms. Theological debate focused on distinguishing between licit and illicit magical practices. Seen, for example, in 15th c. legal action against the performance of healing formulas.  But this increased scrutiny did not result in a decrease in the inclusion of charms and blessings in manuscripts, though some writers may have been more careful about their implications and used strategies to legitimate them, such as including scriptural references in the text--either to “hide” them or to mitigate the negative effects on readers.  An example is given of a magical charm for retrieving stolen property. Various scriptural phrases in Latin are included and there is an instruction to recite a Pater and Ave as part of the charm. This 15th c 4-stage charm is reminiscent of a 2-stage charm for similar purpose found in Old English, Dutch, and other sources. The operator goes behind an altar or to a crossroads and speaks a formula to know where the thief has gone, then addresses the four compass directions demanding that the stolen goods be returned.  To this, the 15th c. charm adds the repetition of standard prayers and additional directional repetitions. Another example, in a wound blessing: adding language from the apostolic creed, and references to the Gospel, taking up more than half the text in which the healing charm is embedded: “may these wounds be protected against wind, water and pain”. Speculation that this language was added by the writer to protect against the impression that the formula represented illicit magic. But in the 1405 trial against Werner of Friedberg for the use of healing charms, the very use of these formulas was seen as suspect.

Not Underground: Learned Lapidaries and the Reformation of Ritual Magic

Vajra Regan

Discusses belief in Albertus Magnus et al. that the magical power of precious stones surpasses the power of herbs, and even words for effectiveness. “Lapidaries” (catalogs of the properties of stones) were a widespread genre and the contents were often functionally identical to similar content in magical texts. But the learned lapidaries were rarely condemned as the magical texts were, falling between the categories of purely supernatural writings and purely scientific ones. But this paper points out that content overlap--that learned lapidaries may have functioned as an important conduit for occult knowledge due to their “legitimate” status. Distinction between descriptive content versus texts that discuss how to create and imbue amulets with magical properties. In format, these have the elements  considered characteristic of demonic or talismanic magic. Comparisons are made between the corresponding texts in Bartholomeus de Ripa Romea’s De lapidibus and Marbode of Rennes De lapidibus, between the same and Techel’s Liber sigillorum, although the latter dodges the suggestion that the user will be creating magical talismans as opposed to happening upon stones with the relevant characteristics and properties. The paper looks in detail at Bartholomeus de Ripa Romea’s work.  Discussion of an amulet called the “zona Veneris” (strap/band of Venus) that uses a stone called adamas that causes impotence. In the “sigil” portion of the books of Bartholomeus and Techel, there are key distinctions where Techel edits out references to pagan deities or the deliberate engraving of images on stones, and only describes their properties. In Bartholomeus this is followed by a discussion of how to consecrate stones (adopting a prior text that invoked Solomon and demons, but rearranging the elements to distract from the connection). Lapidary texts held a contested place with regard to orthodoxy, but the careful manipulation of overtly magical elements could be used to make them more acceptable.

In Plain Sight: The Promotion of Astrology and Magic at Royal Courts in the Thirteenth Century in Transcultural Perspective: A Response: Michael A. Conrad, Kunsthistorisches Institut, Univ. Zürich

Discusses the official employment of astrologers at royal courts in Iberia, initially by Islamic rulers but later by Christian courts. The astrologers were commonly, though not exclusively Jewish. The desire to know the future through divination was both approved and considered potentially dangerous. This danger could be managed through official regulation and licensing. Alfonso X (13th c.) was particularly obsessed with using astrological guidance in government, even to the point of using it to set the price of bread. But other contemporaries of his similarly employed court astrologers. This interest in technological knowledge as essential to good government extended to supporting many other fields, such as clock making. It was only later that Alfonso’s interest in astrology was viewed negatively and as superstition. Alfonso’s official interest in magical activities was ambiguous, recognizing both prohibited practices with ill intent and approved ones.

Major category: 
Thursday, May 9, 2019 - 13:53

Thursday 3:30

Sponsor: DISTAFF (Discussion, Interpretation, and Study of Textile Arts, Fabrics, and Fashion)

Motivations for French and Mediterranean Royal Sumptuary Laws: Translations of the Lives of the Caesars

Sarah-Grace Heller, Ohio State Univ.

Discussion of purposes of sumptuary laws and whether they really fit under the category “law”. Paper will look at 13th c sumptuary laws and ancient works that discuss sumptuary laws and their dissemination. Suetonius cites the imposition of early Roman laws against excess luxury as a sign of good government. The term ‘sumptuary law” did not come in until the Renaissance. So what were they called in the middle ages?   13th c. texts such as those discussing Phillip Augustus use “statuta.” The application of “Augustus” was part of an echo back to the Roman empire.  13th c. Spanish “proclamations” have similar effect.. “Establissement” is also used. These texts cover not only clothing and other consumption, but behavior, including arrangements for transportation.  Some elements were universal but many are stratified based on class and income. Charles II of Anjou, king of Sicily makes reference to legis (laws) of the paste but calls his own rules statutes. Implication that they were not intended to be as durable and fixed as “laws”, but perhaps temporary restrictions.  Compare 13th c. editions of Gellius on Roman frugality requirements, which in his own time were considered “something our forefathers implemented that have now been forgotten.” Also medieval editions of Suitonius, similarly talking about restrictions by the Caesars on consumption and display. When Philips’s “establissementz” of 1294 restricted similar lists of items, were these items truly a living issue in the 13th century or were they included in imitation of the Caesars?

Getting to the Point: Testing Protective Qualities of Fabric Armors

Robert Charrette, Independent Scholar

The author has requested that his paper not be blogged.

Quilting Cotton into Shape: Experimental Quilting Methods and Treatments to Achieve Fashionable Form

Jessica Finley, Independent Scholar

Description of methods and equipment to process cotton from the field to workable fiber. After being compressed for shipment, beating serves to separate the fibers and increase volume. Next stage uses a bow to further beat the fibers using a vibrating string. As each cotton fiber is a single-celled hollow tube, wetting it changes the behavior as it re-absorbs water. Once wetted, the cotton fibers can be compressed and will not re-expand until dry again.  In cotton-quilted fabric armor, a typical structure is 5 layers, two pairs of cloth (linen & silk) and an inner layer of cotton fiber. The quilting goes through all layers, including the cotton.  Difficulties include how to perform the quilting stitches through all the layers, and how to pattern around the interior padding. To improve stitching techniques, used long vice to clamp the layers and sail-maker’s tools for sewing heavy fabric. The garment is painted with linseed oil and carbon and this can be done before or after the sewing constructions, with “before” having technical advantages. Quilt individual pieces separately and then assemble into garment. In order to more easily quilt through the cotton batting, quilt a partially stuffed layer, then wet and add more batting stuffed into the channels, which will expand when dry to a density closer to the original model. Alternate method, with cotton rolled into tubes and placed between the stitching, not quilting through the batting itself.  Construct with linen+batting+linen, then add silk exterior fabric after initial quilting. Quilting stiffens the resulting garment, but the manipulation of straight-grain and bias in the fabric also affects shaping. Additional padding in key areas, also provide shaping.  Overall, different techniques are required to achieve different effects and functions in the finished garment.

Major category: 
Thursday, May 9, 2019 - 13:52

Thursday 1:30

Sponsor: DISTAFF (Discussion, Interpretation, and Study of Textile Arts, Fabrics, and Fashion)

No notes on this session as I was presenting.

Swaddled Child or Shrouded Body? Textile Evidence from an Anglo-Saxon Boxwood Carving

Sarah M. Anderson, Princeton Univ.

Material Transformations and Sartorial Ambiguity: Dress in Chrétien de Troyes’s Conte du Graal

Monica L. Wright, Univ. of Louisiana–Lafayette

Passing and Failing: The Role of Clothing in Gender-Disguise Narratives

Heather Rose Jones, Independent Scholar

Major category: 
Thursday, May 9, 2019 - 08:22

Thursday 10:00

Sponsor: DISTAFF (Discussion, Interpretation, and Study of Textile Arts, Fabrics, and Fashion)

Dress and Textiles for an Unlikely Saint: Edward the Confessor

Gale R. Owen-Crocker, Univ. of Manchester

A brief background on Edward’s life and how he was reframed as a “saintly” king.  He left a wealth of textile evidence for his reign, both textual descriptions and fragments surviving in his tomb.  References to Queen Edith embroidering his clothes herself, or designing the embroideries, added to his vita in the 12th century. Contrast of descriptions of sumptuous clothing with claims that he was modest and unpretentious (but this framing is more reflective of the later medieval attitudes). The depiction of Edward in the Bayeux Tapestry is consistent with the description of his garments as sumptuously embroidered. Always depicted in long garments.  Silk fragments are preserved from the 19th century opening of Edward’s tomb. In design, the silk is similar to contemporary garments of Pope Clement II and others.  Edward’s tomb was opened on multiple occasions over the centuries for transfer to new locations, and typically the existing shroud was removed and replaced with a new cloth. The removed cloths were then distributed to other locations as relics. Edward’s image then appears on later textiles, especially opus Anglicanum embroideries, with the surviving examples being church vestments. He was depicted as the builder of Westminster Abbey (holding a model of the building) or with imagery relating to his miracles, such as giving a ring to a beggar who turns out to be St. John the Evangelist. These embroideries were distributed internationally and helped maintain his cult. 14th century and later depictions show him in sumptuous garments, but those of the era of the work, not historic representations. Just as Edward’s life was reimagined as holy, his image was continually reimagined according to the fashions of the times.

Thread and Blood: Christ’s Woven Body in John Lydgate’s Life of Our Lady

Anna McKay, Univ. of Edinburgh

Images of the virgin as a textile worker establish textile work as a metaphor of the production of Jesus. Paper looks at the image of the Virgin as weaver in John Lydgate.  Protevangelium of James (2nd century) establishes a tradition of Mary as weaver of the temple veil. It is in the context of spinning thread for the holy purpose that she receives the annunciation. The fabric is scarlet and purple, representing blood (incarnation) and imperial rank. This motif is taken up in other texts, depicting Mary as fleece to be turned into woolen cloth to clothe the shepherd, (Proclus of Constantinople)., Mary as weaver in the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew. Lydgate’s The Life of Our Lady (ca. 1416) depicts Mary working with gold, silk, and wool as a parallel with prayer. There is an extensive description of how her work with purple silk is because it is appropriate for a king, showing her worthiness to be mother of Christ. The text follows with an explicit description of Christ as a woven purple cloth. The image of Mary taking materials provided by God and using them to weave Christ reverses the Aristotelian theory of procreation, which viewed the mother as providing raw matter and the father as providing the creative shaping force.

Sinners in Fancy Dress: Christ’s Tormentors in English Medieval Alabasters

Susan L. Ward, Rhode Island School of Design

Alabaster relief carvings of Christ’s passion often juxtapose the simply clad Christ (in only a loincloth) with fashionably dressed tormenters. The fashions depicted in this genre of carvings reflect contemporary styles and thus can be used to date the carvings. A brief historic context of the production of alabaster religious carvings. The large number of these genre scenes produced in 15th century England provide a statistically useful sample for analysis. [Much of the discussion relies on images presented as a slide show.] The fashions in the alabasters are compared to manuscript images of fashionable clothing, discussing many details that are characteristic of specific date ranges. Alabaster carvings were originally painted in polychrome style, and in a very few cases where traces of paint remain, the tormenters are painted to have darker skin than the Christ figure. The “soldiers” in these scenes wear garments that are more sumptuous than their occupations would imply.  Suggestion that the garments may be intended to indicate livery, suggesting they are part of a noble household (Pilate). Another theory is that the high-fashion outfits are intended to indicate foreign status, as elaborate clothing is sometimes used in art to indicate foreign origin. Alternately the elaborate clothing may be intended to represent their identity as Jews, although there are no specific symbolic indicators of this identity. But in counter-argument, alabaster genre scenes of the adoration of the Magi depict the Magi (and often the Virgin as well) in elaborately fashionable clothing. So fashion was not universally a negative signifier. This makes the depiction of the tormenters more ambiguous. Final conclusion: fashionable clothing more likely to be sign of contemporaneity rather than any value judgment.

Fashion and Folly in the Table of the Seven Deadly Sins

John Block Friedman, Ohio State Univ.; Melanie Schuessler Bond, Eastern Michigan Univ.

The painting on the table top is from the school of Hieronymous Bosch, ca. 1505, and depicts religious topics in the characteristic style of his allegorical paintings and depictions of everyday activities. There is doubt that Bosch himself painted the work. The sings are depicted through fashion and accessories and shown as having social consequences rather than relying on stereotypical hellfire. The talk focuses on how the clothing and accessories are used to create the symbolic imagery for each sin. For example, in “envy” the subject of the envy is depicted as an idle fashionable man carrying a falcon, a common symbol of leisure, with another pair of figures showing a young man courting an obviously married woman. “Pride” shows a woman arranging her headdress in front of a mirror held by a devil who wears the same style. The furnishings include expensive glass, ceramic, and jeweled objects. But the headdress itself reflects a somewhat outdated fashion, as does the expensive gown. She is mocked as being proud while lacking the substance to be genuinely proud of. “Lust” is depicted with two pairs of lovers in a pavilion one couple wearing slightly outdated fashions and engaging in a chin-chuck interaction, the other reclining and sharing a drink. The woman’s headdress suggests she is married (implying adultery) and the man’s lack of an over-garment suggests slight undress. The scene is completed with the figure of a fool as counterpoint representing crude sexuality and folly. The combination of a fool watching a pair of (copulating) lovers is found in other contemporary art. Overall, the use of opulent and fashionable --but somewhat outdated--details mocks the participants engaging in the sins.

Major category: 
Thursday, May 9, 2019 - 07:00

[This is additional textual source material as background for my paper "Passing and Failing: The Role of Clothing in Gender Disguise Narratives".]

Legendary Saints

Legenda Aurea (English from Caxton) - early Christian era but specific dating uncertain


Marina virgo unica erat patri suo : cum autem pater quoddam monasterium intrasset, mutavit habitum filiae suae, ut non femina, sed masculus videretur

Marine was a noble virgin and was one only daughter to her father without brother or sister, and after the death of her mother, her father entered into a monastery of religion, and changed the habit of his daughter so that she seemed and was taken for his son and not a woman.


dum quadam die vir suus abesset , comam suam praecidit, vestimenta viri assumens ad quoddara monasterium monachorum, quod per octo milliaria distabat, festinabat et, ut ibidem cum monachis reciperetur, petiit et, quod petiit, impetravit. Interrogata de nomine dixit , se Theodorum nuncupari;

And on a day when her husband was out, she cut off her hair, and clad her with the clothes of her husband, and went to a monastery of monks which was eighteen miles thence, and hied her, and there required that she might be received with the monks. She was demanded of her name, and she said she was named Theodorus.


tonsis crinibus in virili habitu clam aufugit

cut off her hair, and clad her in the habit of a man


Post aliquot autem dies cunctis ignorantibus Pelagia inde noctu aufugit et in monte oliveti devenit, ubi habitum eremitae accipicns in parva cella

And a little while after she fled away by night,without knowledge of any person, and took the habit of a hermit and set herself in a little cell,

Obenaus 2008

Pope Joan

This is an assortment of citations from various sources. Not systematic. No primary text as this is a legend.

Martinus Polonus (1278) "Hic, ut asseritur, femina fuit, et in puellari aetate Athenis ducta a quodam amasio suo in habitu virili" (This, it is assured, was a woman, who in youth was taken to Athens by her lover in a man's clothing.)

Stainhöwel's 1473 German translation of Giovanni Boccaccio's De claris mulieribus) "[she flees from her father's house with a lover] mit verwandelten claidern und namen, wann in jünglings gewand behielt sie den namen Johannes" (with changed clothing and name, when in a youth's garment she took the name Johannes) "[after her lover dies] in staeter uebung der künsten in mannes klaidung belyben und nit ain wyb bekennet werden" (instead studying the arts remaining in men's clothing and not being known as a woman)

Etienne de Bourbon, Tractatus de diversibus materialibus praedicabilibus (1261) "assumpto virili habitu" (assumed a man's clothing)

Acta Sanctorum

Angela of Bohemia (12th c, Bohemia)

at Angela noctu se amiciens amictu virili , rejecto habitu byssino, majusculo charactere [chirographum] scripsit in hunc modum : Ego Angela assumo mihi vestes tuas, et togam meam admodum pretiosam tibi pro eisdem relinquo. Hanc vendes, ut tibi pro ea alias vestes compares.

[my translation] At night, Angela putting on masculine clothing, wrote in this way in majuscule characters, "I reject your linen dress. I, Angela, take for myself your clothes, and relinquish my gown with costly ornaments to you. Sell it, for another garment appears for you.

Agnes of Monçada (15th c, Spain)

Agnes Virgo Hispana è Moncada vico, Valientia S. Vincentij Ferrerij concione ad amorem castitatis excitata, ne, quod parentes moliebantur, sponso invita traderetur, habitu virili induta profuga; a man's garment...

Schwartzer 1881

Hildegund von Schönau (12th c, Germany)

"Brother Joseph" at death, tells "his" story to the abbot and promises that after his death he will see that God worked a wonder. The story is of adventures, misfortunes, and travels as Joseph was taken by his widowed father to Jerusalem, but then the father died leaving him in the hands of an untrustworthy man. Many adventures. Ends up at the monastery to die. After death, when being undressed and washed for burial, they discover Joseph is a woman. No clothing references.

Talbot 1998

Christina of Markyate (12th c, England)

Sumptisque clanculo vestimentis virilibus que preparverat sibi et eludens in sexum virilem vestita cappa talari exivit foras…Et dum iret ecce una de manicis fustanii quod occulte sub cappa gerebat cecidit in terram … Et baiulavit illi bombicinum clasvesque patris

And secretly taking masculine garb which she had got ready beforehand in order to disguise herself as a man, she went out swathed in a long cloak that reached to her heels. … [her sister Mathilda] recognized her from her clothes … one of the sleeves of the man’s garment which she was hiding beneath her cloak slipped to the ground … [her sister asks what it is and Christina asks her to take it back to the house because it’s getting in her way] And she handed over to her a veil and her father’s keys

Heroic Fiction

Saxo Grammaticus (legendary figures, date uncertain, Scandinavia/Germany)


in quem filia solidum opcionis arbitrium contulisset. Cumque sola puelle mater proci uotum difficulter exciperet, mentem filie secreto perlustrat alloquio. Qua procum impensius ob uirtutem laudante, conuiciis eam acrius lacerat, quod elisis pudicitie neruis specierum illecebra caperetur, omissaque uirtutis censura adulantibus forme blandiciis lasciue mentis intuitum exhiberet. Ita Aluilda ad Danici iuuenis contemptum adducta, uirili ueste femineam permutauit, atque ex pudica ad modum puella ferocem piratam agere cepit. ...Cuius comes Borcarus, decussa Aluilde galea , mentique eius le|nitate conspecta, animaduertit, osculis, non armis agendum esse, telorumque rigore deposito, blandioribus hostem officiis attrectandam. Igitur Alf, quam terra marique, tot obstantibus periculis, indefesso labore quesierat , supra spem offerri gauisus, cupidius apprehensam, uirilem cultum in muliebrem conuertere coegit; ex qua post modum filiam Guritham procreauit.

The daughter warmly praised her suitor for his valour ; whereon the mother upbraided her sharply, that her chastity should be unstrung, and she captivated by charming looks ; and because, forgetting to judge his virtue, she cast the gaze of a [229] wanton mind upon the flattering lures of beauty. Thus Alfhild was led to despise the young Dane ; whereupon she exchanged woman's for man's attire, and, no longer the most modest of maidens, began the life of a warlike rover. ...[by chance, Alfhild and her band of war-maidens comes into battle with her suitor Alf] His comrade Borgar struck off Alfhild's helmet, and, seeing the smoothness of her chin, saw that he must fight with kisses and not with [230] arms ; that the cruel spears must be put away, and the enemy handled with gentler dealings. So Alf rejoiced that the woman whom he had sought over land and sea in the face of so many dangers was now beyond all expectation in his power; whereupon he took hold of her eagerly, and made her change her man's apparel for a woman's;


Inter quas affuit et Lathgertha, perita bellandi femina, que, uirilem in uirgine animum gerens, immisso humeris capillicio, prima inter promptissimos dimicabat. Cuius incomparabilem operam ammirantibus cunctis, (quippe cesaries tergo inuolare conspecta feminam esse prodebat,)

Among them was Ladgerda, a skilled amazon, who, though a maiden, had the courage of a man, and fought in front among the bravest with her hair loose over her shoulders. All marvelled at her matchless deeds, for her locks flying down her back betrayed that she was a woman.

Tolkien 1960


Skal Skjótliga
um skǫr búa
blæju líni,
áðr braut fari;
mikit býr í því,
er á morgin skal
skera bæði mér
skyrtu ok ólpu.
Bú þú mik at ǫllu
sem  þú bráðast kunnir
sem þú son mundir;

[Hervör has grown up "as strong as a man" who "trained herself more with bow and shield and sword than with needlework and embroidery" but does not put on male garments until she learns of her father's identity and death and decides to avenge him]

"I will wrap swiftly around my hair [or: from off my hair]
a linen headgear
ere I hasten away;
much rests on it,
that when morning comes
cloak and kirtle be cut for me

[to her mother]

As quick as you can
equip me in all ways
as you would your son
taking the gear and weapons of a man

[later she is evidently being taken for a man, for someone remarks] "it is my guess that he is a woman"

Medieval Romance

Roche-Mahdi 1999

Silence (13th c, France)

(2055) Devant le ferai estalcier,
Fende ses dras, braies calcier.

(2359) Quant li enfes pot dras user,
Por se nature refuser
L'ont tres bien vestu a fuer d'ome
A sa mesure, c'est la some.

(2480) Il est desos les dras mescine.

(2558) A us de feme me tenrai,
Jo ne voel pas moi estalcier,
Fendre mes dras, braies calcier,
Ne mais vivre a fuer de garçon.

(2829) Mais el a sos la vesteüre
Ki do tolt cho n'a mie cure.

(6534) Silences ra moi escarni
En wallés das, c'est vertés fine,
Si est desos les dras meschine,
La vesteüre, ele est de malle.

(6664) SIlence atornent come feme.

(2055) We will have her hair cut short in front,
have her wear garments split at the sides and dress her in breeches.

(2359) When the child was of an age to wear clothing,
in order to deny her nature,
they took care to dress her in male clothing
made to her measure.

(2480) the he's a she beneath the clothes

(2558) I will keep to women's ways.
I won't cut my hair short any more,
wear slit garments and breeches
and live like a boy

(2829) But what that boy has under his clothes
has nothing to do with being male!

(6534) Silence, on the other hand, tricked me
by dressing like a young man: in truth,
he is a girl beneath his clothes,
Only the clothing is masculine.

(6664) The dressed Silence as a woman.

Abbouchi 2018

Yde (France 13th c, Yde et Olive)

Et la pucelle est fors du baing salie.
Dras d’omme vest, de riens ne s’i detrie;
En guize d’omme s’est bien aparillie.

Vestus avoit dras d’omme pour paour.

9: 365
Bien est vestue a guize de garchon:
Accaté ot cauces et caperon,
Braies de lin si beles ne vit on;
Espee ot chainte, et si porte .i. baston.

Damoisielle Yde est montee a ceval,
Qui a loi d’omme molt bien s’aparilla.

[Verse 7 Extensive description of her as a beautiful young woman, mentions that her breasts were not developed]

Whereupon the young woman hurried out of the bath; She quickly put on some men’s clothing, And so disguised,

Dressed in men’s clothing out of fear.

9: 365
She was well disguised as a boy
And had bought hose and hood
And the finest linen breeches.
She wore her sword at her side, and also carried a rod.

The lady Yde rode with them,
She who was dressed after the fashion of men.

Sinclair 1971

Blanchandine (France 14th c, Tristan de Nanteuil)

“Vistir vous convendra d’une robe partie,
A loy de chevalier armee et abillie,
Sy commans a chascun qui est de no mesgnye,
D’ores mes en avant soiés par gaberie
Appellés Blanchandin de vostre compaignye”

…a divided garment…armed like a knight…


Zinevra (Italy 14th c, Decameron)

[040] che tu prenda questi miei panni e donimi solamente il tuo farsetto e un cappuccio, e con essi torni al mio e tuo signore e dichi che tu m'abbi uccisa

[041] e datole un suo farsettaccio e un cappuccio

[042] La donna, rimasa sola e sconsolata, come la notte fu venuta, contraffatta il piú che poté n'andò a una villetta ivi vicina; e quivi da una vecchia procacciato quello che le bisognava, racconciò il farsetto a suo dosso, e fattol corto e fattosi della sua camiscia un paio di pannilini e i capelli tondutisi e trasformatasi tutta in forma d'un marinaro

[040] take, then, these clothes of mine and give me in exchange just thy doublet and a hood; and carry the clothes with thee to my lord and thine, and tell him that thou hast slain me;

[041] and gave her one of his worser doublets and a hood

[042] Alone and disconsolate, the lady, as night fell, disguised herself as best she could, and hied her to a neighbouring village, where, having procured what was needful from an old woman, she shortened the doublet and fitted it to her figure, converted her chemise into a pair of breeches, cut her hair close, and, in short, completely disguised herself as a sailor.

Fiction - Other (15-16th c)

Dugaw 1989

Mary Ambree

She clothed herselfe from the top to the toe
In buffe of the bravest, most seemelye to showe;
A faire shirt of male then slipped on shee:
Was not this a brave bonny lasse, Mary Ambree?

A helmett of proofe shee strait did provide,
A stronge arminge-sword shee girt by her side,
On her hand a goodly faire gauntlett put shee:
Was not this a brave bonny lasse, Mary Ambree?


Britomart (England 16th c, The Faerie Queen)

And eke that straunger knight emongst the rest;
Was for like need enforst to disaray:
Tho whenas vailed was her loftie crest,
Her golden locks, that were in tramels gay
Vpbounden, did them selues adowne display,
And reached vnto her heeles; like sunny beames,
That in a cloud their light did long time stay,
Their vapour faded, shew their golden gleames,
And through the persant aire shoote forth their azure streames.

She also dofte her heauy haberieon,
Which the faire feature of her limbs did hyde,
And her well plighted frock, which she did won
To tucke about her short, when she did ryde,
She low let fall, that flowd from her lanck syde
Downe to her foot, with carelesse modestee.
Then of them all she plainly was espyde,
To be a woman wight, vnwist to bee,
The fairest woman wight, that euer eye did see.

Casella 1913

Bradamante (Italy 16th c, Orlando Furioso by Giovanni Ariosto)

Accadde a questi di, che pei vicini
Boschi Passando la sorella mia,
Ferita da uno stuol di Saracini
Che enza l'elmo la trovar per via,
Fu di scorciarsi astretta i lunghi crini,
Se sanar volve d'una piaga ria
Ch'avea con gran periglio ne la testa;
E cosi scorcia erro per la foresta.

Errando giunse ad una ombrosa fonte
E perche afflitta e stanca ritrovosse,
Dal destrier scese, e disarmo la fronte,
E su le tenere erbe addormentosse.
Io non credo che favola si conte,
Che piu di questa istoria bella fosse.
Fiordispina di Spagna sprarriva,
Che per cacciar nel boseo ne veniva.

E quando tirtovo la mia sirocchia
Tutta coperta d'arme, eccetto il viso,
Ch'avea la spada in luogo di conocchia,
Le fu vedere un cavalliero avviso.
La faccia e le viril fattezze adocchia
Tanto, che se ne sente il cor conquiso.
La invita a caccia, e tra l'ombrose fronde
Lunge dagli altri al fin seco s'asconde

[Note: English version is not a literal translation]

And thus he did: "My sister, not long since,
Was riding through these woods, unhelmeted:
And, overtaken by some Saracens,
By one of them was wounded in the head.
A passing hermit, using his good sense,
Observing how extensively she bled,
Cut off her golden hair; then on she rode,
Close-cropped as any man, about the wood.

"Thus wandering, she reached a shady fount.
Her wound had weakened her, so she drew rein,
And when she had descended from her mount
She pulled her helmet off and on the green
Young grass soon fell asleep. I'll now recount
The most delightful tale that's ever been:
Out hunting with her friends that very day,
Fair Fiordispina chanced to pass that way.

"She saw my sister as she rested there,
In armour fully clad, save for her face;
A sword was at her side, where women wear
A distaff; as she views the manly grace
Of one she takes to be a cavalier,
Her heart is vanquished, and to join the chase
She first invites her, then contrives ere long
To separate her from the merry throng.

Lyly 1592

Gallathea and Phillida (England 1592, Gallathea)

"take the attire of men"

"In mans apparel."

"I shall be ashamed of my long hose and short coat"

[stage direction] "Enter Phillida in mans attire."

Galathea: "having put on the apparel of a boy"

Phillida: "in the habit of a boy"

Phillida: "in the attire of a boy"

[They both joke about the likelihood that their feminine behavior will give away their actual gender.]

Greene 1598

Dorothea (England 1598, James IV)

"[garments] Such as may make you seeme a proper man."

"Dor. What shall I iet in breeches like a squire?"

"[reply] Tut, go me thus, your cloake before your face,
Your sword vpreard with queint & comely grace,
If any come and question what you bee,
Say you a man, and call for witnesse mee."

"Hence will I flie disguised like a squire"

"Enter ... Dorothea, in mans apparell."

Middleton & Dekker 1608

Moll Cutpurse/Mary Frith (England 1608, The Roaring Girl)

[a character describes Moll in male disguise as compared to her everyday clothing] “her black safeguard is turned into a deep slop, the holes of her upper bodice to button-holes, her waistcoat to a doublet, her placket to the ancient seat of a cod-piece, and you shall take 'em both with standing collars.”

[stage directions for Moll in everyday clothing] “Enter Moll, in a frieze jerkin and a black safeguard.”

[stage direction - Moll is taken for a man] “Enter Moll, dressed as a man.”

Greg 1913

Neronis (England 16th c, Clyomon and Clamydes)

Enter Neronis in the Forrest, in mans apparell.

"...Neronis, ah who knoweth her, in painful Pages show?
But no good Lady wil me blame, which of my case doth know
But rather when they heare the truth, wherefore I am disguised,
Thaile say it is an honest shift, the which I have devised;..."

[she explains why she fled in this guise]

"...And having libertie, I wrought by such a secret flight,
That in this tyre like to a page, I scapt away by night..."

[a different scene]

Enter Neronis like a Sheepheards boy.


Enter Neronis like the Page

Historic - Chronicles and Accounts

Knighton 1995

Group of unnamed women (England 14th c)

The full text and translation of this item can be found here:

Shank 1987

Unnamed student at Krakow University (Poland 15th c)

The full text and translation of this item can be found here:

Montaigne 1906

Unnamed group of women (France 1580)

L'autre, que depuis peu de jours il avoit esté pendu à un lieu nommé Montirandet, voisin de là, pour telle occasion: Sept ou huit filles d'autour de Chaumont en Bassigni complottarent, il y a quelques années, de se vestir en masles, et continuer ainsi leur vie par le monde. Entre les autres, l'une vint en ce lieu de Vitry soubs le nom de Mary, guaignant sa vie à estre tisseran, jeune homme bien conditionné et qui se rendoit à un chacun amy. Il fiança audit Vitry, une femme qui est encor vivante; mais pour quelque desacord qui survint entre eux, leur marché ne passa plus outre. Depuis estant allé audit Montirandet, guaignant tousjours sa vie audit mestier, il devint amoureux d'une famé laquelle il avoit épousée, et vescut quatre ou cinq mois avecque elle avec son contentement, à ce qu'on dit; mais ayant esté reconnu par quelcun dudit Chaumont, et la chose mise en avant à la justisse, elle avoit esté condamnée à estre pendue: ce qu'elle disoit aymer mieux souffrir que de se remettre en estât de fille, et fut pendue pour des inventions illicites à supplir au défaut de son sexe.

Several years before, seven or eight girls around Chaumont-en-Bassigni plotted amonst themselves to dress as males and continue their lives in the world accordingly. [marries a woman] ... But, having been recognized by someone from Chaumont... [condemned to hang] which she said she'd rather suffer than return to a girl's state"

Estienne 1735

Unnamed woman (France 16th c)

Ie vien de reciter vn forfaict merueilleusement estrange: mais i’en vay reciter vn autre qui l’est encore d’auantage, (non pas toutesfois si vilain) aduenu auffi de nostre temps , il y a enuiron trent’ans. C’eft qu’vne fille natiue de Fontaines , qui eft entre Blois & Rommorantin , s’estant desguisee en homme , seruit de valet d’estable enuiron sept ans en vne hostelerie du faux - bourg du Foye , puis se maria à vne fille du lieu, auec laquelle elle fut enuiron deux ans , exerceant le mestier de vigneron. Apres lequel temps estant descouuerte la meschanceté de laquelle elle vsoit pour contrefaire l’office de mari , fut prise , & ayant confessé fut là brulee toute viue. Voici comment nostre siecle se peut vanter qu’outre toutes les meschancetez des precedens , il en ha qui luy sont propres & peculieres. Car cest acte n’ha rien de commun avec celuy de quelques vilaines qu’on appeloit anciennement tribades.

"a maid born at Fountaines (between Blois and Rommarantin) , who having disguised herself like a man served as an hostler at an Inn in the suburbs of Foy for the space of seven years, and afterwards married a maid of the town, with who she companied for the space of two years or thereabout, attempting much, but effecting nothing. After which time her cousinage and knavery in counterfeiting the office of a husband being discovered, she was apprehended..."

History - Fictionalized Memoirs

Scott 1999

Catalina de Erauso (Spain 17th c)

"Allí acogíme y estuve tres días trazando, acomodando y cortando de vestir. Híceme, de una basquiña de paño azul con que me hallaba, unos calzones, y de un faldellín verde de perpetuán que traía debajo, una ropilla y polainas: el hábito me lo dejé por allí, por no saber qué hacer con él. Cortéme el pelo, que tiré, ...",

"...Su Santidad...con afabilidat me concedió licencia para proseguir mi vida en hábito de hombre..."

[Catalina sneaks out of the convent] "There, I holed up for three days, planning and re-planning and cutting myself out a suit of clothes. With the blue woolen bodice I had I made a pair of breeches, and with the green petticoat I wore underneath, a doublet and hose--my nun's habit was useless and I threw it away, I cut my hair and threw it away..."

[After disclosing her sex in the New World, while Catalina is traveling from Spain to Rome, she is robbed--including of her clothing--at least twice, but no mention is made of whether she is wearing mens or womens garments. From context, she appears to be traveling in men's garments as she is interacted with as a man. On meeting the Pope and telling her story] "His Holiness...graciously gave me leave to pursue my life in men's clothing"

Todd & Spearing 1994 (memoir), Ungerer 2000 (associated other records)

Mary Frith / Moll Cutpurse (England 17th c, see also Middleton & Dekker 1608)

[Todd & Sperling]

“a doublet and petticoat” [changing her doublet] “for a waistcoat and her petticoats for a winding sheet.”

[for a wager] "Among other fantastic discourse, one day he would needs engage me in a frolic upon a wager of 20 pounds which was that I should ride from Charing Cross to Shoreditch a-straddle on horseback in breeches and doublet, boots and spurs, all like a man cap a pie.  ... none suspecting me ... I proceeded in this manner undiscovered ... "


1611 appeared on stage "in mans apparell & in her bootes & with a sword by her syde"...

1611 arrested "with her peticoate tucked up about her in the fashion of a man with a mans cloake on her" ...

1612 "Mall Cut-purse a notorious bagage that used to go in mans apparell..."

Historic - Legal Records

Puff 2000

Katherina Hetzeldorfer (Germany 15th c)

[fol. 14r] "sie von der, de uf dem thorn lyt, die eynn mann sin soll" … [fol. 13r] "sie nit anders gewist, dan daz sie eynn man gewest vnd mit jr zum drytten mall die bubery geupt hat"

[no reference to clothing, only to sexual activity] [fol. 14r] "she who stands in the dock and who is supposed to be a man" ... [fol. 13r] "she insisted that she did not know anything other than that she [i.e., Hetzeldorfer] was a man and committed an act of knavery with her three times"

Champion 1920 / Hobbins 2005

Jeanne d’Arc (France 15th c)

[This is not an exhaustive selection, but was all the references identified in Hobbins in Chapter 1: Preparatory Trial. Page numbers are from Hobbins.]

p.33 “wore the disgraceful clothing of men” “deformes habitus virili sexui congruos”

p.55 “began wearing men’s clothing ... exchange her clothes for men’s” “cepit habitum virilem ... mutare habitum suum in habitum virilem”

p.66 “to take men’s attire” “de assumendo vestem virilem”

p.79 “where I took up men’s clothing ... taken men’s clothing ... set aside her men’s garments” “ubi ego ceperam istum habitum virilem ... ceperat illum habitum ... quod habitum virilem deponeret”

p.79 “change her clothing to men’s clothing” “mutaret habitum suum in habitum virilem”

p.93-4 “that she took men’s clothes ... to take men’s garb ... taking men’s garb ... dressed in men’s clothing ” “quod ipsa cepit habitum virilem ... quod acceperet habitum virilem ... capiendo habitum virilem ... in isto habitu virili”

p.103 “she is wearing men’s clothes” “portat habitum virilem”

p.104 “regarding the men’s clothing” “de portando habitum virilem”

p.105 [if she goes to Mass wouldn’t it be more decent] “to put on women’s clothing ... to wear women’s clothing ... or stay in men’s clothing ... wear women’s clothes ... if you wear women’s clothing” “deferre habitum muliebrem ... capere habitum muliebrem ... manere in habitu virili ... in habitu muliebri”

p.105 [implication that the following is a hybrid garment, neither male nor female?] “make me a long robe that touches the ground, with no train” “faciatis mihi habere tunicam longam usque ad terram, sine cauda”

p.106 [specifying a feminine garment that she would be willing to wear] “Give me a garment befitting a citizen’s daughter--that is, a long greatcoat “Tradatis mihi habitum sicut uni filiæ burgensis, videlicet unam houpelandam longam”

p.111 [if she is brought to judgment and stripped she asks for] “a woman’s gown and a hood for her head” “de habendo unam camisiam muliebrem et unum capitegium in capite suo”

p.111 [asked why she now asks for] “a woman’s gown” [ she answers] “it only needs to be long” “camisiam muliebrem ... Sufficit mihi quod sit longa”

p.111 [she would take] “women’s clothing” [if they let her go but would then immediately return to] “men’s clothes” “habitu muliebri ... habitum virilem”

p.116 [if she goes to her mother’s house she asks for] “a woman’s robe” “unam tunicam muliebrem”

p.117 [if she would] “abandon her men’s clothes and take women’s, such as she used to wear in her region and as the women there normally wear” “dimittere habitum virilem at recipere habitum muliebrem, prout consueverat in loco nativitatis suæ, et prout mulieres sui loci consueverunt deferre.”

p.117 “in her men’s clothes ... set aside men’s clothes ... nor could she wear women’s garments” “in habitu virili ... dimittere habitum virilem ... nec poterat adhuc recipire dictum habitum”

p.117 [take counsel with her saints] “about wearing women’s clothes” “utrum reciperet habitum muliebrem”

p.117 “take clothing appropriate to her sex” “capere habitum suo sexui congruentem”

p.117 “women’s clothing ... into women’s clothes ... men’s clothes” “habitum muliebrem ... habitum suum in muliebrem ... habitu virili”


  • habitus virili (18)
  • vestem virilem (1)
  • habitum muliebrem (8 but not tracked exhaustively)

Description of acceptably female garments:

  • tunicam longam usque ad terram sine cauda [possibly hybrid garment?]
  • habitum sicut uni fili burgensis, videlicet unam houpelandam longam
  • unam camisiam muliebrem et unum capitegium in capite suo [implication of “undress”]
  • camisiam muliebrem ... longa
  • unam tunicam muliebrem

Bennett & McSheffrey 2014 - Note: all the items from Bennett & McSheffrey are English, so only the date is given

Margaret Cotton (1454)

...dressed in a man’s gown (in una toga virili). She hired (conduxit) the gown from a tailor (surnamed Pycard, no forename given) in St Martin le Grand,  and she got her hat (caleptrum) from a servant of her husband.

Unnamed woman #4 (1471)

in vestibus virilibus

Unnamed woman #5 (1471)

in habitu virili ... doploidem de serico (in male clothing…a silk doublet)

Trude Garard (1473)

in a mans aray and clothyng

Joan White (1486

wont to daunce & make revells in hir maisters hous, som tyme in mannys clothing and somtyme naked

concubine of Thomasina (1493)

adduxit concubinam ad cameram suam in veste virili et ibidem eam tenuit

Thomasina, a corseweaver, led a cross-dressed concubine to her room and held her in the same place

Alice Street (1495)

in vestibus virilibus

Elizabeth Chekyn (1516)

in a preestes goun ... in a preestes array & clothyng

Margery Brett, Margery Smyth, Margery Tyler, and Elizabeth Thomson (1519)

cut their here like unto mennys hedes to thentent to goo in mennes clothing at tymes

Alice Wolfe (1534)

a [w]oman aparylyd lyck a man

Agnes Hopton (1537)

apparaylled yn a mannys rayment ... yn mannes rayment

Unnamed women #17 (1539)

two...women in men's clothing

Unnamed woman #19 (1554)

cut her hair and put on a man's cape and cloak and had prepared for her men's hose and a doublet

Joan Goodman (1569)

Joan Goodman, with her husband’s assistance, wore soldier’s clothes and weapons and went about the City as a lackey.

Magdalene Gawyn (1575)

dressed in men’s clothing to meet her lover

Margaret Bolton & daughter (1575)

said to have gone abroad in men’s apparel

Dorothy Clayton (1576)

wore men's clothes

Alice Young (1576)

lewdly disguised herself in men’s apparel

Jane Trosse (1577)

in apparel ‘more manlike than womanlike’

Jane Ludlow (1579)

went in a man’s gown and hat to meet her lover

Katherine Cuffe (1599, additional text from Ungerer 2000)

in boyes apparell...he would not haue her come in her owne apparrell least that she should be espyed...came once in boyes apparrell hauing a doblett and hose and a cloke and a hatt.

Margaret Wakeley (1600)

went about in men's apparel

Helen Balsen alias Hudson (1601)

known to be a notorious whore, put on man’s apparel [at the instigation of a client]

Elizabeth Griffin alias Partridge (1601)

going about in man’s apparel

Rose Davies (1602)

Rose Davies and John Littlewood, two vagrants, were taken in men’s and women’s apparel respectively.

Burshatin 1996

Elena/Eleno de Céspedes

No clothing references. For detailed discussion, see:

Brown 1995

Thomas(ine) Hall (England / Virginia 1629)

[to enter military life] Cut of his heire and Changed his apparell into the fashion of man" ... [on returning to civilian life] "changed himself into woeman's apparell" ... [to emigrate to Virginia] "changed again his apparell into the habit of a man" ... [why the wearing of women's clothes] "I goe in weomans aparell to gett a bitt for my Catt" ... [sentenced to wear male clothing with the addition of female accessories] "a Coyfe and Croscloth with an Apron before him."

Crawford & Mendelson 1995

Amy Poulter (England 1680) - I ended up omitting this from the paper due to the later date

" see [Arabella] married to a person who went along with them, and was then in man's apparel, but this deponent had before that several times seen the said person in woman's apparel at ... Mrs. Hunt's ... going by the name of Madam Poulter, but pretending that to be only a disguise, and that he was a man"

Sources for the primary texts

Abbouchi, Mounawar. 2018. "Yde and Olive" in Medieval Feminist Forum: A Journal of Gender and Sexuality. Vol. 8. (available online at

Acta Sanctorum Online (accessed via via the index at Acta Sanctorum Online

Bennett, Judith  and Shannon McSheffrey. 2014. “Early, Exotic and Alien: Women Dressed as Men in Late Medieval London” in History Workshop Journal. 77 (1): 1-25.

Boccaccion, Giovanni. Decameron. (Accessed via The Decameron Web, a project of the Italian Studies Department's Virtual Humanities Lab at Brown University.

Brown, Kathleen. 1995. “’Changed...into the Fashion of a Man’: The Politics of Sexual Difference in a Seventeenth-Century Anglo-American Settlement” in Journal of the History of Sexuality 6:2 pp.171-193.

Burshatin, Israel. “Elena Alias Eleno: Genders, Sexualities, and ‘Race’ in the Mirror of Natural History in Sixteenth-Century Spain” in Ramet, Sabrina Petra (ed). 1996. Gender Reversals and Gender Cultures: Anthropological and Historical Perspectives. Routledge, London. ISBN 0-415-11483-7

Casella, Giacinto (ed.). 1913. L'Orlando Furioso di Lodovico Ariosto. Firenze: G. Barbèra, Editore.

Caxton, William. 1483. (text by Jacobus de Voragine) The Golden Legend. (accessed via

Champion, Pierre. 1920-21. Procès de condamnation de Jeanne d’Arc: Texte, traduction et notes. Paris.

Crawford, Patricia & Sara Mendelson. 1995. "Sexual Identities in Early Modern England: The Marriage of Two Women in 1680" in Gender and History vol 7, no 3: 362-377.

Dugaw, Dianne. 1989. Warrior Women and Popular Balladry 1650-1850. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago. ISBN 0-226-16916-2

Estienne, Henri. 1735. Apologie pour Herodote. Ou traite de la conformite des merveilles anciennes avec les modernes. (accessed via

Greene, Robert. 1598. The Scottish History of James the Fourth. (The Malone Society Reprints, 1921) (accessed from Gutenberg,org

Greg, W. W. 1913. Clyomon and Clamydes (1599). London: Oxford University Press. (accessed via

Hic Mulier: or, the man-woman and HAEC-vir: or the womanish-man. 1973. The Scolar Press. (accessed via

Knighton, Henry. 1995. Knighton’s Chronicle 1337-1396. Edited and translated by G.H. Martin. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-820-503-1

Legenda Aurea (accessed via see Caxton for English text

Lyly, John. 1592. Gallathea. London. (accessed via

Martin von Leibnitz. Senatorium sive dialogus historicus Martini abbatis Scotorum Viennae Austriae. In: Hieronymous Pez (HG): Scriptores Rerum Austriacarum II (Leipsiz 1725) Sp. 625-674.

Middleton & Dekker 1608. The Roaring Girl. (accessed via

de Montaigne, Michel Eyquem. 1906. Journal de Voyage. Paris. (accesed via

Obenaus, Michael. 2008. Hure und Heilige: Verhandlungen über die Päpstin zwischen spätem Mittelalter und früher Neuzeit. Hamburg: Verlag Dr. Kovac.

Puff, Helmut. 2000. "Female Sodomy: The Trial of Katherina Hetzeldorfer (1477)" in Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies: 30:1, 41-61.

Roche-Mahdi, Sarah. 1999. Silence. Michigan State University Press, Lansing. ISBN 0-87013-543-0

Saxo Grammaticus. 1880. Saxonis Grammatici Gesta Danorvm. Strassburg. (accessed via

Schwarzer, Joseph. 1881. Neues Archiv der Gesellschaft für ältere deutsche Geschichtskunde. Hannover. (accessed viaür_ältere_deutsche_Geschichtskunde and

Scott, Nina M. (ed). 1999. "Vida i sucesos de la monja alférez" in Madres del Verbo/Mothers of the Word: Early Spanish-American Women Writers, a Bilingual Anthology. University of New Mexico Press.

Shank, Michael H. 1987. "A Female University Student in Late Medieval Krakow" in Signs: A Journal of Women in Culture and Society: 12:373-380.

Sinclair, K.V.1971. Tristan de Nanteuil: chanson de geste inédite. Assen: Van Gorcum & Comp.

Spenser, Edmund. The Fairie Queen. (I didn’t note which edition I pulled this from)

Stubbes, Philip. The Anatomie of Abuses. (accessed via

Talbot, C.H. 1998. The Life of Christina of Markyate: A Twelfth Century Recluse. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Todd, Janet & Elizabeeth Spearing ed. 1994. Counterfeit Ladies: The Life and Death of Mary Frith, Case of Mary Carleton. William Pickering, London. ISBN 1-85196-087-2

Tolkien, Christopher trans.  1960.  Saga Heidreks Kunungs ins Vitra.  Thomas Nelson & Sons Ltd, London.

Ungerer, Gustav. 2000. “Mary Frith, Alias Moll Cutpurse, in Life and Literature” in Shakespeare Studies 28: 42-84.

Secondary Sources and Translations

Anson, John. 1974. “The Female Transvestite in Early Monasticism: The Origin and Development of a Motif” in Viator, 5: 1-32.

Borris, Kenneth (ed). 2004. Same-Sex Desire in the English Renaissance: A Sourcebook of Texts, 1470-1650. Routledge, New York. ISBN 978-1-138-87953-9 (used as a source for several of the translations)

Bullough, Vern L. 1974. “Transvestites in the Middle Ages” in American Journal of Sociology 79/6: 1381-1394

Bullough, Vern. 1996. “Cross Dressing and Gender Role Change in the Middle Ages” in Handbook of Medieval Sexuality, ed. Vern L. Bullough and James A. Brundage Garland Publishing, New York. ISBN 0-8153-3662-4

Clover, Carol J. 1995. "Maiden Warriors and Other Sons" in Robert R. Edwards & Vickie Ziegler (eds). Matrons and Marginal Women in Medieval Society. The Boydell Press, Woodbridge.

Crane, Susan. 1996. “Clothing and Gender Definition: Joan of Arc,” in Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 26:2 : 297-320.

Dekker, Rudolf M. and van de Pol, Lotte C. 1989. The Tradition of Female Transvestism in Early Modern Europe. Macmillan, London. ISBN 0-333-41253-2

Elton, Oliver (trans). 1804. The First Nine Books of the Danish History of Saxo Grammaticus. London. (accessed via

Hobbins, Daniel. 2005. The Trial of Joan of Arc. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Hotchkiss, Valerie R. 1996. Clothes Make the Man: Female Cross Dressing in Medieval Europe. Garland Publishing, Inc., New York. ISBN 0-8153-3771-x

Karras, Ruth Mazo & David Lorenzo Boyd. 1996. “’Ut cum Muliere’ - A Male Transvestite Prostitute in Fourteenth-Century London” in Premodern Sexualities ed. by Louise Fradenburg & Carla Freccero. Routledge, New York. ISBN 0-415-91258-X

Krimmer, Elisabeth. 2004. In the Company of Men: Cross-Dressed Women Around 1800. Wayne State University Press, Detroit. ISBN 0-8143-3145-9

Perret, Michèle. 1985. "Travesties et Transsexuelles: Yde, Silence, Grisandole, Blanchandine" in Romance Notes Vol. 25, No. 3, pp.328-340.

Rigg, J.M. (trans). 1921. The Decameron of Giovanni Boccaccio. London. (accessed via

Sautman, Francesca Canadé. 2001. “What Can They Possibly Do Together? Queer Epic Performances in Tristan de Nanteuil” in Same Sex Love and Desire Among Women in the Middle Ages, ed. Francesca Canadé Sautman & Pamela Sheingorn. Palgrave, New York.

Stepto, Michele & Gabriel Stepto (translators). Catalina de Erauso. Lieutenant Nun -- Memoir of a Basque Transvestite in the New World. Boston: Beacon Press, 1996. ISBN 0-8070-7073-4

Velasco, Sherry. 2011. Lesbians in Early Modern Spain. Vanderbilt University Press, Nashville. ISBN 978-0-8265-1750-0

Welch, J.L. “Cross-Dressing and Cross-Purposes: Gender Possibilities in the Acts of Thecla” in Ramet, Sabrina Petra (ed). 1996. Gender Reversals and Gender Cultures: Anthropological and Historical Perspectives. Routledge, London. ISBN 0-415-11483-7

Walen, Denise A. 2005. Constructions of Female Homoeroticism in Early Modern Drama. New York: Palgrave MacMillan. ISBN 978-1-4039-6875-3

Major category: 
Monday, May 6, 2019 - 07:00

Although this article only briefly notes the same-sex examples of Egyptian love magic that suggested potential relevance, it's an example of how the specific anecdotes and texts discussed in articles that focus on sexuality need further elaboration to be used effectively in building stories. Brooten's focus is on how same-sex desire was a recognized part of the social landscape in Roman-era Egypt, with the magical texts being used as evidence. This is useful as fictional inspiration, in and of itself. But if one were to plan a story set in that time and place that actually employed a magical working within the plot, then a greater depth of knowledge about the mechanics and social context of those practices is desireable. In general, I might have passed over this article as insufficiently relevant to the Project, but since I actually do have a file folder for a historic romance novel set in the Roman era and involving a character of Egyptian origin... Well, it doesn't hurt to take notes.

Major category: 
Full citation: 

Frankfurter, David. 2001. “The Perils of Love: Magic and Countermagic in Coptic Egypt” in Journal of the History of Sexuality vol.10 no. 3/4 480-500.

This article is interesting for the context it provides for Brooten’s (1997) discussion of Coptic Egyptian love magic directed from one woman to another. Although there is only a passing mention of Brooten’s work and of same-sex love magic, the background understanding is useful.

One particular story of a love magic is used as a lens to examine the larger topic: the legend of how the thaumaturge Macarius of Egypt removed a love spell from a young woman that had transformed her into a horse. Frankfurter asks, why a horse? What purpose was the spell meant to serve? What was the social context that made such a spell desirable? And how does this particular story fit into the context of Egyptian and Greco-Roman magic?

Egyptian magical spells typically use the language of binding and constraint, either to do or be unable to do something. Love magic in particular typically takes the form of disrupting an existing relationship (and thus making the person available to another) or imposing overwhelming desire for the person working the spell. The horse-transformation spell would appear superficially to be a disruptive one--making the woman unavailable to her existing husband/love due to the animal form. But as Frankfurter later demonstrates, the horse form is more likely to be a stranded remnant of a typical desire-inducing spell.

Interestingly, Macarius focuses his counter-magic (framed as Christian ritual) on reversing the transformation but does not engage directly with the sorcerer who imposed it. This isn’t uncommon in stories of magical conflicts. The use of magic by enemies or rivals to achieve their purposes was treated as normal and expected. What was important was to counter it and restore the original state.

These types of binding spells acted not only in the realm of erotic interest, but against athletes, business rivals, lawsuits, and politics. There was an entire industry of Coptic magic that has left many specific examples as well as generic templates to be filled in as needed. Examples in the context of relationships might include a mother cursing a woman “who has separated my son from me,” or one woman desiring another woman to be disfigured before her marriage takes place, or the breaking up of a marriage (to make one partner available). One generic template includes a long list of bodily organs that are to be filled with “burning desire and hot longing” until the target comes to the user to seek sexual relief. The language is often filled with violent and coercive imagery. Frankfurter suggests that this may represent the internal emotional state of the person using the magic--a way to express the frustration of thwarted desires.

The cultural context of Egyptian love-magic in the Roman era involves complex strong family bonds that are typically viewed as being a barrier to the desired relationship. To achieve the desired relationship, the spell user must disrupt an existing marriage, or remove the target from a protective family environment, or at least inspire them to remove themselves from it willingly. While women were frequent targets, men could be targeted as well and, as seen in Brooten, same-sex desire could be the context as well as heterosexual desire.

The question of “why a horse” is explored in terms of the Greco-Roman use of non-human animals’ sexuality to represent erotic desire unconstrained by rationality. Such representations often worked through long lists of animal couples, with both the male and female being framed as desiring participants. But the underlying purpose of the image metaphor was to invoke a state of overwhelming erotic desire and dependency, similar to that observed in animals in heat. Horses and asses were considered epitomes of sexual desire in Roman tradition. But while animal sexuality was a strong motif in Egyptian traditions (including symbolic meanings for human-animal copulation, whether in ritual contexts or as dream imagery), Egyptians tended to associate the horse with the foreign (Greco-Roman) ruling aristocracy and with military, rather than sexual prowess.

In the Macarius story, the woman who has been transformed into a horse is not depicted as acting in a state of arousal, rather the transformation represents her unavailability as a human lover and a cause for wasting away due to being unable to live successfully in either the equine or human contexts. This seems, in part, to be due to the somewhat different image of the horse in Egyptian contexts. But it may also be due to the way the Macarius story focuses on the monk as a counter-magician, as a defeater of sorcerers, rather than on the mechanics of love spells. Frankfurter notes that in the hagiography of early saints, extended intense magical duels with the local sorcerer were a standard motif. (Though the Christian figures in these stories typically use practices that are every bit as magical as their opponents’.) Thus the problem to be solved is the horse-woman’s unavailability to her husband, not the desired purpose of the spell placed on her, with its implications of animalistic desire.

Saturday, May 4, 2019 - 07:00

Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 34a - On the Shelf for May 2019 - Transcript

(Originally aired 2019/05/04 - listen here)

Welcome to On the Shelf for May 2019.

May is always a very busy month for me--busy enough that even though my birthday falls in May, I generally wait to have a party in June. Though I always joke that the annual medieval conference in Kalamazoo is just one big birthday party for me, since that’s usually where I am when it happens.

This year I’m presenting a paper at Kalamazoo that comes directly out of my research for the Lesbian Historic Motif Project, although it isn’t specifically about sexuality. The paper is titled “Passing and Failing: the Role of Clothing in Gender-Disguise Narratives.” I’m looking, not so much at the social context of records and stories of women disguised as men, but specifically at whether and how clothing is mentioned in those texts. Is it as simple as saying that a person “put on men’s clothing” or are specific garments mentioned? If the gender disguise fails, does clothing play a part in that? And are there distinctions in how clothing is discussed between disguise narratives and incidents of gender transgression? If, by some chance, any of my listeners will be at Kalamazoo this year, be sure to say hi, even if you aren’t able to get to my paper.


This past month I finally did something I’ve been dithering about for a couple of years. The Lesbian Historic Motif Project now has a Patreon so people can sign up to support the show. It's a bit of an impulse thing. Evidently Patreon is changing it's contract structure this month to something a bit less beneficial to users, but people with an account set up prior to that are locked in to the current structure. Since I'd been toying with the idea of a Patreon for a while, this information made me think it might make sense to set up an account, even if I didn't seriously intend to push it.

You see, I feel a bit weird about soliciting financial support through venues like Patreon because I don't need the money. Even with the added expenses of the audio fiction series, what with royalties and narration fees, and the expense of commissioning podcast transcripts, I'm quite capable of funding the thing out of pocket. But on the other hand, having a Patreon gives people an opportunity to make a concrete statement that they find what I'm doing valuable and worth supporting. And since I've currently set up only a single support tier (at $1 per month) with no benefits other than good will and thanks, it's not like I'm going around begging people for more than a token statement.

In theory, between the fiction series and commissioning transcripts of the interview shows, I'm out of pocket about $150 per month. This doesn't count general overhead for the blog. I certainly wouldn't ask people to underwrite my rather extravagant book-buying habits. And the podcast hosting is currently covered by The Lesbian Talk Show which has it's own Patreon. If you’re interested in supporting the podcast, I’d urge you to begin with the Lesbian Talk Show Patreon which supports the whole group of shows.

I'm not asking people to support the LHMP Patreon because I'm in financial need, or because the blog and podcast won't continue without the support. Trust me, they'll keep going as long as it makes me happy to do them. But if you support things on Patreon already, and you find the LHMP (and especially the podcast) of value to you, and you wanted a concrete and low-effort way to give me that feedback. Then pledging a dollar a month on Patreon is one way to send me that message. The message that you find what I do valuable is far more important to me than the money.

If you have any ideas for Patreon benefits for higher support tiers (that wouldn't involve significantly more time for me), feel fee to suggest them. The Patreon account is “LHMP” and you can find a link in the show notes.

Fiction Series

Believe it or not, it’s almost time for me to start talking about next year’s fiction series. Several people have suggested that one reason for the low number of submissions this year may have been that I didn’t talk it up enough in advance. There’s a fine balance between “enough publicity” and “publicity fatigue”. So maybe this year I’ll try erring on the side of too much. Keep your ears open and start thinking about what sorts of historical lesbian short stories you might be interested in trying.

Publications on the Blog

The blog is winding up our long series of articles taken from the Journal of the History of Sexuality with several articles looking back on Carolyn Dinshaw’s Getting Medieval: Sexualities and Communities, Pre- and Postmodern, a look at the medieval church-state interface around accusations of sodomy among religious personnel, and odd topics like love magic in early Egypt and formal cross-gender roles in the Balkans. I haven’t lined anything up for the last couple weeks in May, so it’ll be a surprise--maybe even a surprise to me!

Book Shopping!

But I’ve been picking up several new publications that will make their way onto the blog at some point. The first is:

Precious and Adored: The Love Letters of Rose Cleveland and Evangeline Simpson Whipple, 1890–1918 edited by Lizzie Ehrenhalt & Tilly Laskey, which I’ll also be reviewing for The Lesbian Review. Here’s the cover copy:

"You are mine, and I am yours, and we are one, and our lives are one henceforth, please God, who can alone separate us. I am bold to say this, to pray and to live by it."—Rose Cleveland to Evangeline Simpson, May 6, 1890. In 1890, Rose Cleveland, sister of President Grover Cleveland, began writing to Evangeline Simpson, a wealthy widow who would become the second wife of Henry Whipple, Minnesota's Episcopal bishop. The women corresponded across states and continents, discussing their advocacy and humanitarian work—and demonstrating their sexual attraction, romance, and partnership. In 1910, after Evangeline Whipple was again widowed, the two women sailed to Italy and began a life together. The letters, most written in Cleveland's dramatic, quirky style, guide readers through new love, heartbreak, and the rekindling of a committed relationship. Additional correspondence by the women's friends and relatives supplies valuable perspectives. An introduction and annotations by editors Lizzie Ehrenhalt and Tilly Laskey provide the context for same-sex relationships at the time, discuss the women's social and political circles, and explain references to friends, family, and historical events. After Rose Cleveland's death, Evangeline Whipple described her as "my precious and adored life-long friend." This collection, rare in its portrayal of LGBTQ nineteenth-century history, brings their poignant story back to life.

The other two new acquisitions are both electronic texts freely available online. There is finally a edition and translation available of the medieval romance of Yde and Olive. This is only one of the three versions of the story that appear with slight differences in the plot, but it’s the primary text, part of the extended medieval genealogical romance of Huon of Bordeaux. The translation is by Mounawar Abbouchi, published by the Medieval Feminist Forum in 2018. The entire work is available for free online and I’ll have a link in the show notes.

The other text is a little less accessible! While working on the script for last month’s essay, I discovered that the primary source for the trial records of Anne Grandjean is available through Google Books. It is, of course, in 18th century French. It’s short enough (and very long out of copyright, of course) that I hope to be able to post the original text and translation as a blog entry at some point. Again, I’ve put a link to the downloadable file in the show notes.

Author Guest

I totally screwed up last month when I announced that the April interview would be with Molly Tanzer. I’d intended to organize the interviews around the special episode 100 show, so in April I needed someone who’d done the regular interview and not the book appreciation show. So the April guest was actually Zen Cho, talking about her wonderful new historic fantasy, The True Queen, set in early 19th century Malaysia and England. And Molly Tanzer will be this month’s guest, really truly. But of course, you come to listen to all my wonderful author guests, no matter who they are, right?


So what’s this month’s essay going to be? OK, I confess, I have no idea at this point! I’ve been scrambling to meet deadlines so much that I haven’t had a chance to think about it. And if the month goes on as it currently does, I may end up pulling another of the early podcasts to reprise.

Recent Lesbian Historical Fiction

Time for recent, new, and forthcoming books! Not quite as long a list as last month’s marathon. They all take place in what might be called the long 19th century and all set in either England or the USA. Half of the books feature women of color as protagonists, which adds some longed-for diversity to the lesbian historical fiction field.

We start off with Penny Mickelbury’s Two Wings to Fly Away from Bywater Books. I’m really looking forward to reading this book.

In 1856 Philadelphia, runaway slave Genie Oliver uses her dress shop as a front for her work with the Underground Railroad; and reluctant heiress Abby Read runs a rooming house not just because she hates the life of the idle rich society woman, but because she has no intention of ever marrying a man. When the daughter of Abby's free black servant is grabbed by rogue slave catchers, an unlikely group of people come together, first out of necessity, and then, gradually, in friendship. And in the case of Abby and Genie, something much more.

The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins from Harper Collins gives us a murder mystery with a touch of horror.

All of London is abuzz with the scandalous case of Frannie Langton, accused of the brutal double murder of her employers, renowned scientist George Benham and his eccentric French wife, Marguerite. Crowds pack the courtroom, eagerly following every twist, while the newspapers print lurid theories about the killings and the mysterious woman being tried at the Old Bailey. The testimonies against Frannie are damning. She is a seductress, a witch, a master manipulator, a whore. But Frannie claims she cannot recall what happened that fateful evening, even if remembering could save her life. She doesn’t know how she came to be covered in the victims’ blood. But she does have a tale to tell: a story of her childhood on a Jamaican plantation, her apprenticeship under a debauched scientist who stretched all bounds of ethics, and the events that brought her into the Benhams’ London home—and into a passionate and forbidden relationship. Though her testimony may seal her conviction, the truth will unmask the perpetrators of crimes far beyond murder and indict the whole of English society itself. The Confessions of Frannie Langton is a breathtaking debut: a murder mystery that travels across the Atlantic and through the darkest channels of history. A brilliant, searing depiction of race, class, and oppression that penetrates the skin and sears the soul, it is the story of a woman of her own making in a world that would see her unmade.

Popular author of gay male historicals, K.J. Charles gives us a spin-off from one of her existing series featuring a female couple in Proper English, which is self-published.

A shooting party at the Earl of Witton’s remote country house is a high treat for champion shot Patricia Merton—until unexpected guests turn the social atmosphere dangerously sour. That’s not Pat’s biggest problem. She’s visiting her old friend, the Earl’s heir Jimmy Yoxall—but she wants to spend a lot more time with Jimmy’s fiancée. The irrepressible Miss Fenella Carruth, with her laughing eyes and lush curves, is the most glorious woman Pat’s ever met, and it quickly becomes impossible to remember why she needs to stay at arm’s length. But while the women’s attraction grows, the tensions at Rodington Court get worse. Affairs, secrets, betrayals, and blackmail come to light. And when a body is discovered with a knife between the shoulder blades, it’s going to take Pat and Fen’s combined talents to prevent the murderer destroying all their lives.

The Railroad of Threads self-published by Riva Zmajoki comes back to the topic of slavery in America and women coming together to take action. [Note: after the podcast aired, the author let me know that the title has been changed to Darkest Pattern: The Door.]

Belva is a runaway criminal running from justice. In colonial America, her face is light enough not to be seen as a slave at first glance. She uses this advantage to help slaves escape on the railroad to freedom. Josephine is a bored wealthy widow who's playing a hostess to equally bored young ladies. When two of them meet their lives will change revealing hidden adversaries. Their lives were plagued by misery. The question is, is there freedom, or love, for them down the road.

This next book is from a publisher named Illustrated Romance which looks like it’s an erotica publisher that includes photography alongside the text. The book is The Lady and Her Secret Lover: a Lords of Time story by Jenn LeBlanc.

Much to her father’s dismay Lady Louisa Kathryn Alice Present is quite solidly on the shelf. She shows no interest in finding a husband after three long seasons of, well, not particularly trying. She begins this season anew, somewhat jaded and uninterested in yet another season and the annoyance she’ll certainly face from her family when she remains with them, yet again.  But a single glance from one of the new set has her reeling— straight back into a potted palm.  Maitland Alice Elliot-Rigsby has trained to be the wife of a Duke... Or perhaps a Viscount, an Earl at the very least. She has only her training — and a rather healthy dowry — to recommend her. So when she catches the eye of a viscounts daughter her own mother is thrilled at the prospect.  Louisa hasn't ever trusted anyone the way she trusts Maitland and it frightens her, but how will they survive a world in which the both of them must marry?

[There is a content warning for sexual assault. And advance reviews suggest unexpected sexual elements. Part of a series that appears to be primarily male-female.]

The last of the May books is the non-fiction work Precious and Adored mentioned under the blog acquisitions above.

What Am I Reading?

So what have I been reading recently in the world of lesbian-relevant historical fiction? Given that it’s been a shorter time than usual between scripting up last month’s On the Shelf and writing this one (and my fiction reading time has been curtailed this month because: reasons) I’m just finishing up Zen Cho’s The True Queen. It’s a delightful historic fantasy with a largely female cast.

[Sponsor Break]

Ask Sappho

For this month’s Ask Sappho segment, I’m going to answer an anonymous question that fits in with last week’s essay on gender and sexuality categories. It’s a topic that might be worth an entire essay on its own, but I’m not sure that I’m the right person to tackle it. The question is: “The Lesbian Historic Motif Project blog and podcast spends a lot of time talking about the historic figures who could be interpreted either as cross-dressing women in lesbian relationships, or as trans men in straight relationships. But I’ve never heard you talk about historic examples of trans women in lesbian relationships. Why is that?”

The simple answer is that in the pre-20th century period that I’m focused on, examples of trans lesbians are extremely difficult to find. And the historic motifs that most closely resemble that identity pretty much all turn out to be examples of “a straight cis man disguises himself as a woman to gain access to a women-only space in order to pursue a romantic or sexual relationship with an otherwise inaccessible woman.” You can understand why I’m not exactly excited about dwelling on this pernicious trope. I touched on it a little in my podcast about the Greek myth of Callisto and Diana.

But--you ask--surely there were trans women throughout history (or at least people who would have identified as trans women if the concept were available to them), and surely at least some of them had same-gender desires. So how is it possible that we have no records of them?

My answer (as usual) is going to be drawn primarily from western history and culture, largely because I don’t have the knowledge and resources to discuss other contexts in an appropriate fashion. In cultures that had socially recognized “third gender” roles for people assigned male at birth, it’s quite likely that examples could be found. So preface all the following generalizations with “in the context of western culture, especially Europe.”

To answer this question seriously and sensitively, it’s important to consider two major issues. The first is the different practicalities in a pre-modern world for trans men versus trans women to live unquestioned lives. I invite correction and elaboration on this point from those more knowledgeable than me, but in a context where hormonal treatments haven’t yet been invented, it is more difficult for a trans woman to be accepted on a long-term, unquestioned basis than for a trans man to do so. There was, of course, a rather drastic surgical option available for suppressing testosterone. I’ve seen some discussion that in certain historic contexts, persons who were assigned male at birth may have voluntarily chosen castration as a means of gender re-assignment, though it appears that this would most often be re-assignment to a culturally accepted “third sex”--as with classical Roman devotees of Cybele, or with India’s hijras. That “third sex” category might be considered female-coded in certain ways, but usually in a cultural context where the gender binary was constructed as “male and not-male” and anyone in a “not-male” category was classified as feminine to some degree.

This brings us to the second important consideration. The deep-rooted misogyny in western society (and here I’m not going to restrict it to “ in historical western society”) means that cultural attitudes toward trans men versus trans women had very little in common before the 20th century. When a society is structured around the idea that men are better than women in deeply essential qualitative and quantitative ways, there’s a big difference in how that society views people who move from “lower” to “higher” versus people who move from “higher” to “lower” on that social scale.

When pre-modern medical and philosophical writers discussed the possibility of spontaneous change of physical sex, they asserted that it could only happen that a female body could change to a male one because, to quote Pliny, “Nature always goes from the imperfect to the more perfect, but not basely from the more perfect to the imperfect.”.

A person assigned female at birth who was discovered to be presenting or living as male tended to provoke two reactions: admiration for aspiring to be a more perfect (that is, male) being, and disapproval for claiming higher status and privileges than they were entitled to. There were ways in which it was viewed as transgressing class barriers just as much as transgressing gender barriers.

In contrast, for someone who was assigned male at birth to choose to present or live as female was almost incomprehensible within official philosophical frameworks. Why would someone choose to become a lesser being, that is, a woman? And on a less philosophical level, why would someone who had access to the legal and economic advantages of being male in a horrifically patriarchal and misogynistic society choose to abandon those advantages. (Of course, there are ways in which this question still holds true today, to which the answer is that it’s a testimony to the position that it isn’t a choice. But I’m talking about the reactions of the society, not the motivations of the individual.)

A third factor, which I discussed extensively in last week’s show, is that classical, medieval, and to a lesser extent, early modern European society had such a hard time conceiving of same-sex desire as a possible thing, that the expression of same-sex desire was considered all by itself to be a basis for challenging someone’s gender assignment.

So now imagine yourself in the position of a pre-modern person in western society who was assigned male at birth, has an internal gender identity that aligns more with femininity, but also experiences romantic or sexual desire for women.  There are significant practical barriers to changing your public gender expression and maintaining a female life on a long-term basis. Those barriers are not only psychological, but economic and legal, due to men’s greater privilege. Successfully changing your gender category will have massive implications for your position in society, your physical and legal safety, and the ability to maintain an economic standing to achieve your other social goals. If you make the transition, you will have moved from a gender category where your desire for a female partner can be easily realized and creates a recognized and stable social and economic unit, to a category where your relationship with a female partner will have no official status and where you two will have significant economic and legal disadvantages as a couple.

Such a life is certainly possible. It involves building blocks that can individually be documented and justified. And if someone wanted to write a work of historical fiction involving a person with that life story--and did it well--I would find it plausible. But it may be no wonder that it’s hard to find actual historic examples.

To be clear, there are plenty of historic examples of people in western history who can be very approximately categorized as trans women. But overwhelmingly, they are expressing that gender in the context of sexual relationships with men. There are also a significant number of examples--both literary and historical--of people assigned male at birth who pursue romantic or sexual relationships with women while presenting as female. And almost universally they are depicted as engaging in deception to gain sexual access to a woman in a gender-segregated society. That is, they’re the historic equivalent of the accusation that straight cis men will pretend to be trans women for sexual access. Literary examples include the myth of Callisto, the figure of Zelmane the “amazon” in Phillip Sidney’s Arcadia, or the 18th century novel The Reformed Coquette by Mary Davys.

But there are a very few possible exceptions. One interesting literary example is the 18th century novel Anecdotes of a Convent by Helen Williams, in which a girl at an all-girls convent school forms a deeply romantic and erotic (though not sexual) bond with a fellow student. Their relationship is depicted within the framework of intense romantic friendships between women. Except it turns out that the other student is a boy who has been raised as a girl. Voila! Now his “true” gender is revealed. It turns out their love is just the same as before but now they can get married. I don’t know how the novel depicts the character’s internal gender identity but as far as I can tell from summaries the situation is depicted in reasonably positive terms.

The closest I’ve come to a historic example is the case of John or Eleanor Rykener from 14th century England. Rykener was a sex worker who presented as female for male clients but also had sexual encounters with women while presenting as male. (It isn’t clear whether Rykener’s relationships with women were professional or personal.) Interestingly, the law appears to have treated Rykener as at least a part-time trans woman in terms of considering their legal offense to be prostitution rather than sodomy. But as Rykener’s relationships with women involved a male presentation, they don’t precisely fit the category of trans lesbian.

If anyone knows of any historic or literary cases that better fit the category of trans lesbian, I’d love to get leads on looking into them more closely.

* * *

Books Mentioned


Major category: 
Tuesday, April 30, 2019 - 07:26

When writing a series, there's always the tricky question of how to bring readers up to speed on the characters' back-stories without brining the narrative to a screeching halt for an info-dump. But when writing a book that's meant to be able to stand alone but exists within a series, the issue of back-story becomes even trickier. You need to provide readers enough information so they understand why these minor characters are wandering in and out of the book, but without setting up expectations that they will be important to this particular story. One failure mode is "egregious fan service" where back-story is included primarily for the eyes of readers of the full series. Another failure mode is misdirection, where people and events are referenced in an intriguing way but not followed up on. A third failure mode is "orphan characters" where references to people or events are just dropped in without clear connection to the current narrative.

It was a very deliberate choice to set Rozild up in a context where the central events and characters of the previous books would be relatively peripheral to her life...for all that she'll be employed by Margerit Sovitre and spending much of the book in her household. Some of the previous viewpoint characters will intersect her life briefly--perhaps in a single scene--others, not at all. Luzie Valorin is never mentioned by name. Antuniet appears in a single scene, though she is mentioned a couple times prior to that so that we'll know who she is. Jeanne pops into the dress shop and chats with Roz on one occasion...before which Roz had no idea that Jeanne had been her benefactor.

But since Roz is working in Tiporsel House, and will be interacting significantly with a few of the other inhabitants, I needed to dump some info on the reader in a concentrated way while signalling that it wasn't crucially important. Fortunately, when someone starts a new job, it feels natural for them to spend a few moments mentally sorting through the players on the stage...

* * *

Then it was up and down stairs again following Ailis to find all the folk who did for the family and let them know what I was to look to. I tried to remember all the names and hoped Ailis would help me sort them out later.

A stern older woman gave me a small bundle, saying with a sniff, “There’s Maisetra Pertinek’s caps. Get them as white as you can and don’t tear the lace!”

Next a younger woman with a country accent—not like from Sain-Pol but more eastern—looked me over and said she’d wait and see if I was good enough to wash her mistress’s things, but she gave me a man’s shirt with a rip in the sleeve. “The Mesnera tore that during her sword-practice, mind you do it up strong so it doesn’t tear again, but it needn’t be pretty.” She said it as if it were an everyday matter for a lady to go off in shirt and breeches to a fencing salle.

I worked out the family from bits and pieces like that. At the Fillerts it had only been Maistir and Maisetra Fillert and their daughters, and a guest or two sometimes. But old households like this one were filled with relatives and people with odd connections, like a little village under one roof. There was Maisetra Sovitre. I figured the house must be hers because she’d hired me. The man of the house was Mesner Pertinek, and I knew he couldn’t be the maisetra’s father because he was noble. But “the mesnera” wasn’t Mesnera Pertinek. She was only Maisetra Pertinek because he’d married beneath him. Even though she was Maisetra Sovitre’s aunt, she was more like a lady’s companion, like rich old widows sometimes had. The mesnera was a baroness—and didn’t that make me stare! To think I was serving in a house that had a baroness. But it wasn’t Baroness Saveze’s house either? Ailis gave me a strange look when I asked about that, like I was stupid. She explained that before she was a baroness, she was Maisetra Sovitre’s armin, to protect her because she was rich. There was some long story about that. But when she found out she was a baroness they were fast friends and Maisetra Sovitre invited her to stay on as a guest but more like a sister. I figured I’d work it out in time but my head was spinning too much to remember it all at once.

Major category: 


Subscribe to Alpennia Blog