Guest Post by Blake Gutt - Medieval Trans Lives in Anamorphosis: A Pregnant Male Saint and Backward Birth

In a Medieval, She Wrote first, it's my great pleasure to introduce a guest post by Blake Gutt, a final-year PhD student at King’s College, Cambridge. His doctoral thesis, entitled ‘Rhizomes, Parasites, Folds and Trees, is an investigation of conceptual networks and the ways in which they underlie both text and its mise en page across a range of thirteenth- and fourteenth-century literary works in French and Catalan. The project explores the resonances of twentieth- and twenty-first-century theorisation of systems with medieval texts which include saints’ lives, encyclopedic works, and texts featuring characters who can be read as transgender. Blake's work, an article entitled ‘Transgender Genealogy in Tristan de Nanteuil’, will be published in Exemplaria in summer 2018. Without further ado, it's over to Blake!

On July 6th 2017 I will be presenting a paper at the International Medieval Congress, in Leeds (UK). The paper is entitled 'Medieval Trans Lives in Anamorphosis: A Pregnant Male Saint and Backward Birth', and it will be part of a panel called 'Hagiography Beyond Gender Essentialism I: Trans and Genderqueer Sanctity - Rethinking the Status Quo', organised and chaired by Alicia Spencer-Hall, with sponsorship by the Hagiography Society. Alicia has kindly allowed me to publish the slides I will be using for this paper here, for consultation by attendees during the paper, or for anyone who can't make it to the session.

In this paper, I argue for the validity and the importance of transgender readings of medieval texts in general, and medieval hagiography in particular. I employ two theoretical perspectives which demonstrate the power of retrospection, and how looking back allows us to see differently; these are anamorphosis, as presented by Jacques Lacan, and Kathryn Bond Stockton’s concept of the queer child’s ‘backward birth’. I explore these perspectives with reference to an early-thirteenth-century French hagiographic romance, Le Roman de Saint Fanuel, whose eponymous protagonist is a male saint who becomes pregnant and gives birth. Furthermore, Fanuel’s daughter is Saint Anne, the mother of the Virgin Mary; the text thus grafts a transgender branch onto the holy family tree. Through my analysis of the narrative, I demonstrate both the personal and the political uses of medieval hagiography for modern trans people. If you would like to read more - and in more detail - about these topics, keep an eye out for my forthcoming article in Medieval Feminist Forum, entitled 'Medieval Trans Lives in Anamorphosis: Looking Back and Seeing Differently (Pregnant Men and Backward Birth)'.

Medieval Saints and Modern Screens - Out this October

The Amsterdam University Press (AUP) catalogue has just arrived, featuring books that will appear this autumn, Most thrillingly, my book (mah booke) is nestled in the catalogue pages - just check out p. 12, I write nonchalantly. The catalogue is stuffed with so many gems, it's rather dizzying to be in such fine company.  And it's immensely satisfying to see that my first book is not just a figment of my fevered imagination, but is in fact really real and will be a tangible (stroke-able) book object in just a few months' time. This October, then, will be the end of an era. I first started work on stuff that's ended up in the book way back in 2010, at the start of my PhD. Seven years' thinking, give or take, have coalesced into the niftily portable format of an academic monograph. At some point, I will probably post a precis of the book, a summary of my key arguments or such like. But until then, I am basking in the glorious fact of its done-ness, and simply sharing the first proof of the endeavour with the AUP catalogue below. Enjoy!

CfP: Sponsored Panel on "Trans and Genderqueer Sanctity" at International Medieval Congress, Leeds (UK), 2017

With apologies for cross-posting! Please feel free to share this CfP with all relevant parties.

"Joan of Arc, light alteration" by Anne Petersen (2008). Via  Flickr .

"Joan of Arc, light alteration" by Anne Petersen (2008). Via Flickr.

Panel title: “Hagiography Beyond Gender Essentialism: Trans and Genderqueer Sanctity”

Sponsored by: Hagiography Society

Conference: International Medieval Congress, Leeds (UK), 3-6 July 2017

 

Far too often, modern cultural commentators – and unabashed misogynists –  refer to the medieval era as a nostalgic time of ossified gender roles. That was when “men were men, women were women, and everyone knew their place”, after all. Medievalists have long fought back against this cliché, including undertaking important work in contextualising pre-modern hagiography in terms of gender and sexuality. 

Hagiography is all too often assumed to be a place where gender essentialism festers, complete with claustrophobic gender roles. See, for example, the importance of virginity for holy women; (avoidance of) rape as a central motif for female martyrs; the male power-base of the Church; God and His son as exemplars of male superiority; etc. Yet, in the early 1980s, Caroline Walker Bynum showed that Jesus was, in fact, “mother” in much medieval spiritual thought. Numerous other scholars have since shown that saints routinely challenged, more or less explicitly, the options offered to them by the gender binary. 

"Joan of Arc at the coronation of King Charles VII at Reims cathedral" by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1854). Via  Wikimedia Commons

"Joan of Arc at the coronation of King Charles VII at Reims cathedral" by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1854). Via Wikimedia Commons

Saints could, and did, cross-dress; live as a gender other to which they were assigned at birth; and modulate their identity by blending traits traditionally coded as male and female. Despite their potentially transgressive behaviours, not all of these saints have been shoved into the historical dustbin of obscurity. Transgender activist Leslie Feinberg, for instance, called upon Joan of Arc as a powerful example of historical transgendered experience with the publication of Transgender Warriors in the mid-1990s. This panel seeks to develop the important work of these scholarly forebears, directly responding to the vital discussion of “Otherness” which is the special topic strand of the International Medieval Congress 2017.

Relevant questions for this session include: 
•    What do narratives of holy men and women blurring – or outright challenging – the notion of a stable gender binary show us about pre-modern sanctity? What do such narratives contribute to the ongoing cultural conversations about modern non-binary identities? And the battle being waged for human rights for all individuals, no matter their gender identity? Can pre-modern hagiography be a potent political instrument to combat modern transphobia?
•    What kind of reception did transgender and/or genderqueer holy individuals and their texts receive – theologically, practically, and in contemporary devotion? 
•    Is gender subsidiary to holiness as a category of difference for saintly individuals? 
•    As scholars, is our focus on gender(s) and binary gendered difference the most useful hermeneutic for productive interrogations of hagiography? 
•    Can we even meaningfully apply our modern categorisations of gendered experience to the pre-modern era?

 

If you’re interested in speaking on this panel, please submit an abstract of roughly 250-300 words to the panel organiser, Alicia Spencer-Hall (a.spencer-hall [at] qmul.ac.uk), by 1 August 2016.


N.B. Conference regulations stipulate that speakers may only present on one panel each year at Leeds. As such, we cannot consider papers from individuals who have already submitted abstract proposals to other sessions at the conference.

CfP: Panel on "Holy Celebrity" at International Congress on Medieval Studies, Kalamazoo (USA), 2016

With apologies for cross-posting! Please feel free to share this CfP with all relevant parties.

Panel title: “Holy Celebrity: Saints and/as Social and Economic Capital” – sponsored by the International Hagiography Society

Conference: International Congress on Medieval Studies, Kalamazoo (USA), 12-16 May 2016

Organisers: Alicia Spencer-Hall (Queen Mary, University of London) and Barbara E Zimbalist (University of Texas at El Paso)

"La última cena" by Juan Felipe Rubio. Via  Flickr

"La última cena" by Juan Felipe Rubio. Via Flickr

Scholars have often commented on the link between sanctity and celebrity. Both the saint and the celebrity are elevated above the everyday, with identities carefully crafted by cultural producers to respond to the needs and desires of an audience, region, or temporality. Sacralisation/celebrification entails a series of processes which (re)formulate a subject into a product fit for social, political, and economic consumption. Yet sanctity/celebrity is not simply exploitative, but  enjoyable and perhaps even empowering. What does it really mean to be a medieval celebrity? How does celebrity intersect with sanctity? What does such a categorization add to the study of hagiography? Can fame resonate on both a social and spiritual level, and how does the medieval idea of fame generate, overlap with, and inform contemporary discourses of fame, celebrity, and sanctity?

Relevant topics for this session include:

  • Saints as commercial products and/or economic agents
  • The construction of Sanctity and Communal Identity
  • Audience reaction(s) to a saint and textual reception
  • Power dynamics between celebrity/saint and star-maker/confessor or hagiographer/cleric/scribe
  • The social function of celebrity/sanctity
  • Film theory’s contribution to the study of sanctity more generally


If you’re interested in speaking on this panel, please submit an abstract of roughly 250-300 words and a Participant Information Form (PIF), which can be found at http://www.wmich.edu/medieval/congress/submissions/index.html#PIF.  

Deadline for submissions: 1 September 2015. Please email your abstract and PIF to the panel organisers, Alicia Spencer-Hall (aspencerhall [at] gmail.com) and Barbara E. Zimbalist (bezimbalist [at] utep.edu).