Tag Archives: trans

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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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).

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Beyond Male and Female: Gender Trouble, Biology Trouble

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

– Galatians 3:28
In the context of religion, we are familiar with the quotation from Galatians, even if in the Catholic Church we are unwilling to take the words literally, and apply them to ordination. From the world of science though, it is becoming clear that there is a truth in the words that goes way beyond a theological concept, and is instead, a substantial measure of quite literal truth. It may well be that there really is “neither male nor female”, at least not in the absolute binary sense that modern Western culture assumes. This has major implications for Christian sexual and gender theology.”
Judith Butler’s “Gender Trouble” was a seminal work in the early development of feminism and queer theory, and later of queer theology. Butler’s central achievement was to demonstrate the fluidity of gender, which she described as “performance”. The fluidity of gender however, also extends to biology. Far from a simple binary world composed of biological males and females, with perhaps a smattering of people with indeterminate gender (once described as hermaphrodites), modern science has shown that there are a far greater range of conditions that may be loosely described as “intersex” than previously realized – and that there are a surprising number of these people, some of whom will not even know of their true sex until they meet a need for some kind of medical testing (as with the case of the South African athlete Caster Semenya, who had no idea she was not fully female until she won a medal at the Beijing Olympics, competing as a woman). The same problems beset Sally Gross, who was raised as a male and ordained a Catholic priest, until the discovery that biologically she was in fact primarily female.
 
What is a Male?
To illustrate some of the complexities around biological sex, I want to share with you some extracts from two books that I have found helpful in extending my own understanding, Brian McNaught’s “Sex Camp”“, and Virginia Mollenkott’s Omnigender.
-read the full article at Queering the Church

Sister Mary Elizabeth Clark, transsexual nun.

The world’s first transsexual nun also deserves a mention in military history. She served twice, once as a man and once as a woman, before being honourably discharged (for the second time).

It was then that she entered religious life as an Episcopal nun.

From Matt & Andrej Koymasky:


Born in Pontiac, Michigan, Clark was christened Michael by his parents. But he soon realized nature had made a horrid mistake.

“From the time I was 3, I felt that I was different from other boys. I felt more comfortable in the company of girls. I tried to talk and act like a girl instead of a boy. I believed I was one of them – even though I knew I had a male anatomy. When I started going to elementary school, the other boys called me a sissy because I walked without ‘macho’ stride and carried my schoolbooks like a girl.”

When he reached junior high school, Michael tried to talk to his parents about his mental torment. It didn’t work. After finishing high school in 1957, Clark went on active duty with the Naval Reserve. Two years later he entered the regular Navy. Within a few months he took my greatest step to show everyone he was ‘normal.’ and got marreied. The marriage was very painful for both because he couldn’t satisfy her needs and desires. It was further complicated by the fact that they had a son.
During this disastrous marriage he threw himself into Navy career, serving in Hawaii and Vietnam as an instructor in anti-submarine warfare, scuba diving and sea survival. In 1972, after 11 frustrating years together, Clark and his wife divorced. He hasn’t seen his son since. After the divorce he married again. He was still desparately trying to be ‘normal’.
“My new wife was a girl that I really intensely loved as a person. I still lover her today. We liked the same things – hiking, concerts. But she needed more from me than I could give. And she started having a guilt trip over our situation, thinking she was at fault. Finally I said to myself: ‘My God, I’m reining this beautiful woman’s life by keeping my secret from her.’ So I broke down and told her I was a transsexual – a woman trapped in a man’s body. Instead of making me feel ashamed, she talked about what we had to do.”
She convinced Clark to tell his parents. Incredibly, they understood – a vast relief for him because he’d feared rejection. Then, with the encouragement of his wife and parents, Clark underwent psychological evaluation. It showed he realy was a woman inside. When the Navy found out about the evaluation, Clark was discharged. He had been an enlisted sailor in the U.S. Navy for 17 years, and rose to Chief Petty Officer. The discharge, though honorable, left him “angry and bitter” because he’d often been commended for outstanding service, he said. 
Clark underwent hormone therapy, and then, in June of 1975, had a sex change operation – emerging as Joanna Michelle Clark. Joanna divorced her wife moved in with her parents in San Jaun Capistrano, California, and began a new life as a clerk-typist. But in August of 1975 a Reserve recuiter visited her office and urged her to enlist again. She revealed to him that she was a transsexual, but he said he didn’t think it would be a problem. And is wasn’t. She was accepted, becoming a supplys clerk as a Sargent First Class in the WACs…. but 18 months later she was booted out of the Army Reserve. 
Ms. Clark fought the charges and discharge. The case was eventually settled out of court with a stipulation that the details of the settlement not be discussed. However, she received an honorable discharge, with credit for time served in the Reserve. The Army had capitualated on its charges… however, Ms. Clark had won a battle but lost the war. It remains unlawful for transsexuals to enlist in the services to this day, inspite of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
As Joanna Clark she lobbied successfully in 1977 for a law that allowed replacement birth certificates in the state of California. She later wrote Legal Aspects of Transsexualism, an important early document on the subject, still referenced twenty years later. She founded the ACLU Transsexual Rights Committee, serving as chair for several years, seemingly tirelessly working to improve the legal status of TS persons. Joanna served with Jude Patton as a TS advisor with a Gender Identity Clinic during the early ’80s. 
She decided to become a nun; the world’s first transsexual Episcopal nun, founder and sole member of the Community of St. Elizabeth, a nonprofit religious organization. She took her vows at St. Clement’s by the Sea Episcopal Church in San Clemente in 1988. She transferred to the Order of St. Michael in 1997. 
In 1990, as Sister Mary Elizabeth, she founded and continues to operate the largest AIDS and HIV online information BBS and website – ÆGiS (AIDS Education Global Information System; www.aegis.com), a definitive and comprehensive web-based reference for HIV/AIDS-related information, to meet the need for access to up-to-date HIV/AIDS information by people in isolated areas.
“Of all the things I’ve done in my life, military-wise, or working with children, I don’t think I’ve had anything in my life that I’ve had more passion for. I really can’t put it into words. When you see letters from people and you know that you’re helping them, that’s what it’s all about.”