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transgender identity

I’ve used this tag to indicate entries where there is clear evidence suggesting a transgender identity or, in fantastic literature, where an actual physical sexual transformation takes place as the resolution to an apparent same-sex bond.

LHMP entry

One of the most commonly-cited cases of medieval women openly dressing in male clothing is Joan of Arc, not only because of her prominent place in general history, but because both her practices and her reasoning are unusually well documented, not only by her contemporaries, but in her own words from the trial transcripts. She wore male clothing almost continually from the time of her first attempts to contact the Dauphin throughout most of her trial.

This article concerns an individual who may more properly be interpreted as transgender, however as noted a number of times before, in a historic context where heteronormativity is so strong as to impede the ability to self-define as a woman-oriented woman, interpretation can be ambiguous.

I’ve been hoping to track down this article since it first came to my attention, and the historic individual documented here is even more intersectionally mind-blowing than I knew. If I had to sum up the story in click-bait style, it would be: “Sixteenth-century Spanish bi-racial ex-slave transman becomes classically trained surgeon and marries happily.” Alas, the ending isn’t quite as happy, though far from tragic.

Early modern Europe had quite a fondness for encyclopedic works that defined and classified the entire known world (and much that was imaginary). Theodor Zwinger (1533-1588) wrote Theatrum vitae humane (Theater of Human Life) in something of a biographical dictionary form, in groupings according to the characteristic that provided their fame. Under the section “Tribades” he notes “Here we say nothing which has not been said before, and collect only a few items.

Renaissance philosophy tackled the question of friendship: who is an appropriate friend, what behavior should a friend exhibit, what is the relationship between the love of friends and sexual desire? Given the times, the majority of texts addressing this topic were concerned with friendships between men, though a nod was often given to Sappho as a proponent of female friendships, or to the possibility of “Platonic love” between women, which is given explicit license in the Symposium as well as by Renaissance writers commenting on it, as Agnolo Firenzuola did.

The introduction notes the extreme variation in how female same-sex relationships were treated, in terms of penalties, liability, and the means and extent of enforcement, including differing legal theories of whether the term “sodomy” could apply. As a generalization, consensual same-sex behavior was least prosecuted in England, while Florence may have regularly prosecuted relations between men but the penalties were relatively light, while in Spain penalties were regularly quite severe including execution, and similarly severe were those recorded in Geneva.

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