Tuesday, June 10, 2003

I just noticed a post of Niki's that I hadn't completely read before, on transvestite women in the Middle Ages. Of the list she gave, the only figure I am familiar with is that of Christina of Markyate, an English saint who had to go through all kinds of troubles and travails in order to maintain her chastity before she finally found safety in the cloister she founded.

Caveat here: information about Christina (and, I'll bet, all the other women you mentioned) comes from her hagiographies. A hagiography is a description of a saint's life. In the course of the text, it tells of miracles the saint performed in the course of his/her life and after death. Some features of any hagiography tell less about the figure represented and more about the traditional idea of what a saint should be. Other features, unique or uncommon, give us our real evidence about the figures in question.

A woman who is strong enough to maintain her chastity in the Middle Ages sometimes loses the identification of "woman" and becomes virilis, manly, in her strength. By dressing as men and serving their God as men, Christina and her cohorts become men, and eventually rise to the heaven where, according to Augustine, everyone is asexual.

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