Category Archives: Transgender

Apollinaria/Dorotheos 5/01

According to the LGBT Catholic Handbook, this week sees the feast day of St.  Apollinaria /Dorotheos of Egypt (5th, 6th January). She is said to have been one of a group of transvestite saints – women who took on men’s clothing  in order to live as monks.
For the specific story of Apollinaria, we turn to the Orthodox church, who take these female monks rather more serioulsy than the western church.

This is from the Orthodox website, “God is Wonderful in His Saints”

She was a maiden of high rank, the daughter of a magistrate named Anthimus in the city of Rome. Filled with love for Christ, she prevailed on her parents to allow her to travel on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. In Jerusalem she dismissed most of her attendants, gave her jewels, fine clothes and money to the poor, and went on to Egypt accompanied only by two trusted servants. Near Alexandria she slipped away from them and fled to a forest, where she lived in ascesis for many years. She then made her way to Sketis, the famous desert monastic colony, and presented herself as a eunuch named Dorotheos. In this guise she was accepted as a monk.
Anthimus, having lost his elder daughter, was visited with another grief: his younger daughter was afflicted by a demon. He sent this daughter to Sketis, asking the holy fathers there to aid her by their prayers. They put her under the care of “Dorotheos”, who after days of constant prayer effected the complete cure of her (unknowing) sister. When the girl got back home it was discovered that she was pregnant, and Anthimus angrily ordered that the monk who had cared for her be sent to him. He was astonished to find that “Dorotheos” was his own daughter Apollinaria, whom he had abandoned hope of seeing again. After some days the holy woman returned to Sketis, still keeping her identity secret from her fellow-monks. Only at her death was her true story discovered.

The Handbook lists some scholarly references in support, while a look at some orthodox websites corroborates the story and confirms her feast on 5th January.  The Advent Catholic Encyclopedia. however,  dismisses the tale as ‘hagiographic fiction.’

Apollinaria’s story and motives are remote from our time, and ‘transvestite’ is not to be confused with ‘transgendered’. (UPDATE: After I first described this group of women as “transvestite”, I was taken to task by a reader, who pointed out that these days, “cross-dressing” is more appropriate terminology). Still, whatever the full historic truth of Apollinaria/ Dorotheos specifically, it seems to me this is a useful story to hold on to as a reminder of the important place of the transgendered, and differently gendered,  in our midst.
Many of us will remember how difficult and challenging was the process of recognising, and then confronting, our identities as lesbian or gay, particularly in the context of a hostile church. However difficult and challenging we may have found the process of honestly confronting  our sexual identities,  consider how much more challenging must  be the process of confronting and negotiating honestly a full gender identity crisis.

Let us acknowledge the courage of those who have done it, and pray for those who are preparing to do so.

Related articles

 

Anson, J., “”, Viator 5 (1974), 1-32

Bennasser, Khalifa Abubakr, Gender and Sanctity in Early Byzantine Monasticism: A Study of the Phenomenon of Female Ascetics in Male Monastic Habit with a Translation of the Life of St. Matrona, [Rutgers Ph.D Dissertation 1984; UMI 8424085]

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Eugenia /Eugenios of Alexandria, 24th December


24th December is the day the Eastern Orthodox Church remembers St Eugenia / Eugenios of Alexandria, another of the group of female saints in the early church who dressed as men to be admitted to all-male monasteries.

Holy Virgin and Martyr Eugenia and her companions (~190)

“This Martyr was the daughter of most distinguished and noble parents named Philip and Claudia. Philip, a Prefect of Rome, moved to Alexandria with his family. In Alexandria, Eugenia had the occasion to learn the Christian Faith, in particular when she encountered the Epistles of Saint Paul, the reading of which filled her with compunction and showed her clearly the vanity of the world. Secretly taking two of her servants, Protas and Hyacinth, she departed from Alexandria by night. Disguised as a man, she called herself Eugene [Eugenios -ed.] while pretending to be a eunuch, and departed with her servants and took up the monastic life in a monastery of men. Her parents mourned for her, but could not find her. After Saint Eugenia had laboured for some time in the monastic life, a certain woman named Melanthia, thinking Eugene to be a monk, conceived lust and constrained Eugenia to comply with her desire; when Eugenia refused, Melanthia slandered Eugenia to the Prefect as having done insult to her honour. Eugenia was brought before the Prefect, her own father Philip, and revealed to him both that she was innocent of the accusations, and that she was his own daughter. Through this, Philip became a Christian; he was afterwards beheaded at Alexandria. Eugenia was taken back to Rome with Protas and Hyacinth. All three of them ended their life in martyrdom in the years of Commodus, who reigned from 180 to 192.” (Great Horologion)


(For some general observation on the full group, have a look at “Transvestite Saints?”

See also:

Anson, J., “The Female Transvestite in Early Monasticism: the Origin and Development of a Motif”, Viator 5 (1974), 1-32
Bennasser, Khalifa Abubakr: Gender and Sanctity in Early Byzantine Monasticism: A Study of the Phenomenon of Female Ascetics in Male Monastic Habit with a Translation of the Life of St. Matrona, [Rutgers Ph.D Dissertation 1984; UMI 8424085]

 

Delcourt, Marie: “Le complexe de Diane dans l’hagiographie chretienne”, Revue de l’Histoire des Religions 153 (January-March 1958), 1-33

 

Patlagean, Evelyne: “L’histoire de la femme déguise en moine et l’evolution de la sainteté feminine à Byzance”, Studi Medievali ser. 3 17 (1976), 597-625, repr. in Structure sociale, famille, chretienté à Byzance IVe-XIe siècle, (London: Variorum, 1981), XI

 

Marina Warner, St. Joan of Arc: The Image of Female Heroism, (London: 1981, pb. Penguin, 1985), esp 149-63

 

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Three Young Men in the Burning Fiery Furnace: Dec 17th

Today, the church celebrates the feast of three young men, Shadrack, Mesach and Abednego, the companions of Daniel the prophet: they are important for highlighting a much neglected group in the church – the transgendered.

We are probably all familiar with the stories of Daniel in the lion’s den, and of his three companions in the burning fiery furnace. What they don’t tell us in Sunday School, is that as slaves captured and taken to service in the king’s court in Babylon they were almost certainly eunuchs – castrated males. This was the standard fate of slaves in the royal court, as Kathryn Ringrose has shown, and as anticipated by Isaiah:

And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.

-Isaiah 39:7
If there is any group more likely to have the bible-pumping conservatives frothing at the mouth more than gay and lesbian Christians, perhaps it is the trans community. Yet this is entirely misplaced, as Isaiah makes clear elsewhere:

4For this is what the LORD says:

“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose what pleases me
and hold fast to my covenant—
5 to them I will give within my temple and its walls
a memorial and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that will endure forever.

-Isaiah 56: 4- 5
The three young men, forcibly castrated as slaves, are clearly not directly comparable to the modern trans community, but there are nevertheless lessons to be learnt, from them and from others in Christian (and non-Christian) history. In the Gospel of Matthew, we read

But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

The Babylonian slaves were clearly among those who have been made so by others. Those who made themselves so for the sake of the kingdom of heaven may be a reference to the common religious practice in the societies surrounding the Jews of men who castrated themselves to serve as priests, especially in the cult of Cybele , and also in some other religions. (Some commentators believe that is this practice of castration that is meant by the words mistranslated in some of the clobber texts as “homosexuals”, lines which more accurately refer to castrated gentile priests. In this view, it is the association with pagan idolatry, not the sexual practices themselves, which made them taboo). The idea of making oneself a eunuch for the kingdom of God later led some early Christians to adopt the practice, notably the early theologian Origen, who castrated himself in. Metaphorically, it is the same idea of emasculation which underlies the Catholic church’s insistence on compulsory celibacy for priests in the Roman rite.
Modern trans people are also not directly comparable to this third group – but they are arguably included in the first group:  made so by birth. Less directly, some scholars argue that the biblical term “eunuch” is the closest parallel in biblical language to the modern term “homosexual”, and so the welcome promised by Isaiah may be said to apply to all who are queer in church –

a memorial and a name
better than sons and daughters; 

I will give them an everlasting name
that will endure forever

Even if we reject this connection, there remains a fundamentally important lesson for us all in the story of the three young men, a story that has relevance and resonance for us today that goes way beyond the children’s illustrated Bible pictures of men who could not be burned by the flames. To see this, remember why it is that they are commemorated. They were commanded by the king to eat the forbidden meat – to conform. It was for their refusal to knuckle under and give in to the pressure to abandon their fundamental religious identity that they were sentenced to death by burning.
But in their faith and loyalty, they were protected from the flames. Centuries later, it was the Christian Church that again turned to burning as a punishment for those who refused to conform, either to orthodox religious belief, or to heteronormative sexual standards. We continue to live with the legacy of that prejudice, which masquerades as religious obligation. Like the three men in the Babylonian fire, we too must stand firm in our commitment to the truth. In our steadfastness, the flames of prejudice and religious bigotry will likewise be unable to destroy our queer Christian community.
(The image used is a window by John Piper as a memorial to Benjamin Britten, whose “Burning Fiery Furnace” told the story of the three young men as one of his three “parables for church performance” – one act operas, although Britten himself avoided the term).

Related articles

Who are the "Queer Saints and Martyrs"?

I have been rather neglecting this site for a while, partly by circumstance, and partly for some reflection and reconsideration of its essential nature. When I first started learning about the “gay saints” of the Church, the matter of definition seemed fairly clear.As time has moved on, and I have learned and thought a little more, I have realised that this view is simplistic. One comment at the site, referring specifically to trans saints, is also more broadly relevant to the entire project.

No MTF saints can be found among those who actually got canonized — but we all know, you don’t have to actually be canonized to be a saint. Surely there’s got to be some MTF saints who *aren’t* canonized! Problem is — not only such saints aren’t canonized – but a MTF saint would probably have so little written about her, that it would be unlikely that we’d even know about her at all! So, maybe it’s time that we start *investigating* the possibility? Coz let’s face it — the Vatican aint going to do this investigation for us. Information may be scant – but at least we can start looking! 

So – it’s time to start looking. Here is my current thinking, and the revised concept for the site.

Byzantine icon of “All Saints”

 

Read more »

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Seven Trans Gifts For the Church

In Trans/formations (Scm Controversies in Contexual Theology Series), Virginia Ramy Mollenkott reflects on the gifts of the three magi who brought their gifts to the infant Jesus, and recalls Nancy Wilson’s thesis that they were more likely to have been women or eunuchs. (Mollenkott’s own guess is that they were people who would no be called transwomen). She goes on to describe the seven spiritual gifts that modern transgendered people similarly bring to the Church today.

These are:

  • Any faith-congregation that honours the bible should also homour transgender people because both the Hebrew and Chrstian Scriptures are extraordinarily transgender friendly. The gift here is that congregations will be empowered to see the Bible with a whole new perspective.
  • Transpeople will assist congregations in transcending gender stereotypes that alienate men from women and their bodies, and poppress women and girls all over the world.
  • The transgender presence is a constant reminder of human diversity and hence of the much-needed diversity in religious language about God, the divine mystery that is beyond human imaginings and limitations.
  • Until our recent cultural blindness, transpeople were always recognized as being specially gifted at building bridges between the seen and the unseen worlds, time and eternity; and many still carry that ability
  • Transpeople have by hte circumstances of our lives been forced to become specialists in the connections between gender, sexualitym spirituality and justice, and many congregations are iun desperaate need of our assistance in making those connections.
  • Because we embody the “forgotten middle – ground” or “ambiguity”, transpeople can help to heal religious addictions to certainty – addictions that are threatening the survival of our planet.
  • Transpeople incarnate the concept that jsut as all races are “one blood”, all genders and sexualities are one continuun” – and that one blood and one continuumare sacred, made in the holy, divine image.
Books:
Althaus-Reid, Marcella and Isherwood, Lisa: Trans/formations
Mollenkott, Virginia: Transgender Journeys
Mollenkott, Virginia: Sensuous Spirituality
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Transgendered in Faith: A Review of Progress

I am astonished that much as the religious right waxes apoplectic at the idea of lesbian or gay inclusion in church, or secular equality in marriage, family or employment law, what really gets them going is the notion of the trans community being met with basic human dignity. Their pretence that this is based on “religious” principle is beyond my comprehension: from the story of Philip the Ethiopian eunuch in the Acts of the Apostles, the lesson is unambiguous and explicit: for the Christian, “All are welcome”. 
My post last week on Genesis emphasised that a primary point of the Creation story is a celebration of diversity, which includes gender, sexual and orientation diversity. By grand serendipity (I didn’t plan it that way), today marks the start of Transgendered in Faith Awareness Week. to mark this week, I will continue reflecting on the celebration of gender diversity, with reposts of some previously published material, and fresh thoughts, on some transsexual and transgender surprises in the animal kingdom, a look at some books, trans themes in Scripture, and some personal stories. 
To start the week, I simply draw your attention to a Guardian report by Becky Garrison which says that

Trans clergy are finally gaining greater acceptance

Last week, the Rev Dr Christina Beardsley, vice-chair of Changing Attitude, a network of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and heterosexual members of the Church of England, was one of the voices featured on 4Thought.tv‘s week of short films featuring trans people and faith.
While the US Episcopal church developed a maverick reputation within the Anglican communion for blessing same sex marriages and ordaining gay and lesbian clergy, the House of Bishops of the General Synod of the Church of England’s report Some Issues in Human Sexuality, issued in 2003, contained a chapter titled “Transsexualism”. Currently, one can find about a half dozen trans clergy in the UK and US. These numbers are imprecise, as some clergy do not wish to go public beyond the scope of their individual parish or diocese – a concern that’s understandable given that the trans community seldom receives even the legal protections afforded gays and lesbians .
Beardsley, who was ordained for 23 years prior to her transition in 2001, observes that “some within the Church of England feel the issue of trans clergy has been settled” by citing such cases as the Rev Carol Stone and the Rev Sarah Jones. However, she says: “Not all trans clergy have been supported by their bishop, as these two priests were, and some have been excluded from full-time ministry because of Church of England opt-outs from UK equality legislation.”
During the 2008 Lambeth conference, a decennial gathering of Anglican bishops, Beardsley organised a panel titled “Listening to Trans People”. While only four bishops attended this gathering, it represented the highest number of bishops to participate in an Inclusive Network to date. Also, this panel helped consolidate Changing Attitude’s networking with Sibyls, a UK-based Christian spirituality group for trans people, and the US-based online community TransEpsicopal.
The Rev Dr Cameron Partridge, interim Episcopal chaplain and lecturer at Harvard University, served on this panel as the sole US representative. He transitioned in 2002 during his ordination process and has been an instrumental player in guiding the passage of four resolutions supporting trans rights during the US Episcopal church’s 2009 general convention.
(Continue reading at The Guardian)

Books

Cahill, Lisa & Althaus-Reid, MarcellaTrans/formations
Mollenkott, Virginia RameyOmnigender: A Trans-religious Approach

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