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Transgender Themes in the Covered Publications

This is an extended version of the link-post previously published previously which went up through entry #73. This brings it up to date through entry #104. New material is interleaved as the entries appear in bibliographic order.

One of the aspects of the Lesbian Historic Motif Project that I’ve tried to emphasize clearly is that the “lesbian” aspect of the project derives entirely from my own purposes and primary intended audience, and not necessarily from the objective nature of the historic data itself. In fact, a significant fraction of the publications and data that the Project covers would be equally useful to someone interested in transgender themes and characters (especially FTM). One of the recurring concerns in studying historic sexuality is the difficulty (and often impossibility) of determining how specific historic individuals understood how their own desires and activities related to the categories of “male” and “female” and where the dividing lines might be between behavior and identity. And just as the LHMP does not require me to come to any conclusions about whether specific historic data “counts as lesbian” for me to identify it as useful in the context of this project, the fact of inclusion doesn’t detract from the usefulness of that same data to other compatible framings of gender or sexuality. In that context, it seems worthwhile to provide a brief list of covered publications that have particular relevance to transgender themes. (Obviously this only includes material covered so far. I will try to remember to update this periodically.)

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Amer, Sahar. 2008. Crossing Borders: Love Between Women in Medieval French and Arabic Literatures. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia. ISBN 978-0-8122-4087-0

Especially chapter 3 focusing specifically on the story of Yde and Olive.

Anson, John. 1974. “The Female Transvestite in Early Monasticism: The Origin and Development of a Motif” in Viator, 5: 1-32.

The entire genre of “female transvestite saints” falls considerably more comfortably under transgender rather than lesbian themes.

Benkov, Edith. “The Erased Lesbian: Sodomy and the Legal Tradition in Medieval Europe” in Same Sex Love and Desire Among Women in the Middle Ages. ed. by Francesca Canadé Sautman & Pamela Sheingorn. Palgrave, New York, 2001.

Specific case studies, especially that of Katharina Hetzeldorfer, raise significant questions regarding how the individual in question understood their own gender.

Braunschneider, Theresa. 2010. “Reforming the Coquette: Poly, Homo, Hetero in The Reform’d Coquet and The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless” in Lesbian Dames: Sapphism in the Long Eighteenth Century. Beynon, John C. & Caroline Gonda eds. Ashgate, Farnham. ISBN 978-0-7546-7335-4

There is an episode of MTF gender disguise in one of the stories being analyzed, but not what I’d consider a solid transgender theme.

Bullough, Vern L. 1974. “Transvestites in the Middle Ages” in American Journal of Sociology 79/6: 1381-1394

A rather badly dated article. My summary covers FTM themes but the article itself is broader in coverage.

Bullough, Vern. 1996. “Cross Dressing and Gender Role Change in the Middle Ages” in Handbook of Medieval Sexuality, ed. Vern L. Bullough and James A. Brundage Garland Publishing, New York. ISBN 0-8153-3662-4

This article primarily concerns temporary, situational cross-dressing and gender play rather than issues of identity and long-term expression.

Chesser, Lucy. 1998. "A Woman Who Married Three Wives: Management of Disruptive Knowledge in the 1879 Australian Case of Edward De Lacy Evans" in Journal of Women's History vol 9 no 4: 53-77.

Detailed testimony and evidence for a case that leans much more strongly toward a transgender interpretation than a lesbian one.

Clark, Robert L. A. & Claire Sponsler. 1997. "Queer Play: The Cultural Work of Crossdressing in Medieval Drama" in New Literary History, 28:219-344.

A look at cross-dressing and cross-gender performance in the context of the medieval stage. The ambiguously transgender nature of the characters drives sexual plot conflicts in plays based on the legend of Saint Theodora and one version of the Yde and Olive story. 

Clover, Carol J. 1995. "Maiden Warriors and Other Sons" in Robert R. Edwards & Vickie Ziegler (eds), Matrons and Marginal Women in Medieval Society. The Boydell Press, Woodbridge.

Clover’s thesis addresses the “maiden warrior” motif as a culturally sanctioned (though often temporary) cross-gender role and reviews similar themes in both literary and historic cultures.

Crawford, Patricia & Sara Mendelson. 1995. "Sexual Identities in Early Modern England: The Marriage of Two Women in 1680" in Gender and History vol 7, no 3: 362-377.

Within the context of the 17th century, there was significant overlap in popular understanding of transgender and intersex categories. The cross-dressing, male-presenting individual in the cited marriage maintained in her court testimony that she was unambiguously a woman and had indulged in the masquerade as something of a prank (but with an underlying implication that the two had been genuinely romantically and sexually attracted to each other). The accusation made in court, however, was that she was "of a double gender" and had been understood by the other as being male. The complex circumstances under which the case and testimony were recorded point out the difficulty in determining the "truth" of individual identities, given the stakes to legal and personal well-being.

Cressy, David. 1996. “Gender Trouble and Cross-Dressing in Early Modern England” in Journal of British Studies 35/4: 438-465.

A broad survey of cross-gender expression for many different purposes.

Dekker, Rudolf M. and van de Pol, Lotte C. 1989. The Tradition of Female Transvestism in Early Modern Europe. Macmillan, London. ISBN 0-333-41253-2 (Link is to Part 1 - see also Parts 2 & 3)

There are a great many case studies included here that are ambiguous in terms of how the individuals understood their own identities (especially given that their personal testimony was typically given in the context of trials when answers may have been tailored for personal safety).

Dickemann, Mildred. 1997. “The Balkan Sworn Virgin: A Cross-Gendered Female Role” in Islamic Homosexualities - Culture, History, and Literature, ed. by Stephen O. Murray & Will Roscoe. New York University Press, New York. ISBN 0-8147-7468-7

As I note in my summary, this article and topic fit far more comfortably within a cross-gender analysis, though still relevant to my core project.

Donoghue, Emma. 1995. Passions Between Women. Harper Perennial, New York. ISBN 0-06-017261-4

Chapter 1 includes references to folk theories of sex change as they applied to either the motivations or end results of sexual activity between women. Chapter 2 covers the motifs of gender disguise and "female husbands", many of which are ambiguous between lesbian and transgender identity. Chapter 3 covers gender disguise not involving marriage, with many of the same ambiguities. The remaining chapters are not particularly relevant to the present theme.

Donoghue, Emma. 2010. Inseparable: Desire Between Women in Literature. Alfred A. Knopf, New York. ISBN 978-0-307-27094-8

Chapter 1 (Travesties) covers themes of cross-gender expression that create ambiguous contexts for erotic desire.

Dugaw, Dianne. 1989. Warrior Women and Popular Balladry 1650-1850. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago. ISBN 0-226-16916-2 (Link is to Part 1, see also Part 2)

A great deal of information on cross-gender performance in popular culture, though primarily covering individuals who appear to understand themselves as female.

Gonda, Caroline. 2010. “The Odd Women: Charlotte Charke, Sarah Scott and the Metamorphoses of Sex” in Lesbian Dames: Sapphism in the Long Eighteenth Century. Beynon, John C. & Caroline Gonda eds. Ashgate, Farnham. ISBN 978-0-7546-7335-4

Actress Charlotte Charke not only was famed for her “trouser roles” but engaged in cross-gender performance in her personal life, including presenting herself as husband to her female romantic partner.

Haley, Shelley P. “Lucian’s ‘Leaena and Clonarium’: Voyeurism or a Challenge to Assumptions?” in Rabinowitz, Nancy Sorkin & Lisa Auanger eds. 2002. Among Women: From the Homosocial to the Homoerotic in the Ancient World. University of Texas Press, Austin. ISBN 0-292-77113-4

An in-depth and theory-oriented look at Lucian's Dialogues of the Courtesans and particularly the character of Megilla/Megillus who can be read either as extremely butch or as transgender. The article considers the literary context of the Dialogues and the problems of determining whether Lucian was writing representations of contemporary women or using stereotypes that existed only in the male imagination.

Hotchkiss, Valerie R. 1996. Clothes Make the Man: Female Cross Dressing in Medieval Europe. Garland Publishing, Inc., New York. ISBN 0-8153-3771-x

A broad survey of themes and motifs.

Krimmer, Elisabeth. 2004. In the Company of Men: Cross-Dressed Women Around 1800. Wayne State University Press, Detroit. ISBN 0-8143-3145-9

A study focusing on 18th century German literature, but with significant coverage of real life cases and the German and French historic context of the works. Both the literature and its authors involve significant transgender themes, and I was privileged to have Rose Fox contribute most of the commentary on this publication with special attention to those themes.

Lanser, Susan S. 2014. The Sexuality of History: Modernity and the Sapphic, 1565-1830. ISBN 978-0-226-18773-0

This is primarily a study of how "sapphic" themes were treated in public discourse, often for social/political purposes. One of the themes that appears is what Lanser calls the "metamorphic strategy" in diverting the disruptive potential of desire between women, by interpreting one of the participants as either physiologically or psychologically transgender. I've listed only the chapters where this motif is discussed.

Merrick, Jeffrey & Bryant T. Ragan, Jr. 2001. Homosexuality in Early Modern France: A Documentary Collection. Oxford University Press, New York. ISBN 0-19-510257-6

Although my summary only covers the material involving individuals born female, the male material is more extensive. Case studies and literary examples include cross-gender performance and identity.

Michelsen, Jakob. 1996. “Von Kaufleuten, Waisenknaben und Frauen in Männerkleidern: Sodomie im Hamburg des 18. Jahrhunderts” in Zeitschrift für Sexualforschung 9: 226-27.

A violent and tragic legal case falling in the passing-woman/female-husband category. As is typical in these cases, the nature of the historic evidence makes it impossible to distinguish between a lesbian-identified or transgender individual.

Rictor Norton (Ed.), Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook. Updated 7 September 2014 . (Accessed 2014/09/13)

A wide variety of relevant material. Go to the original web site to side-step the filtering I did for my own summary.

Pintabone, Diane T. “Ovid’s Iphis and Ianthe: When Girls Won’t Be Girls” in Rabinowitz, Nancy Sorkin & Lisa Auanger eds. 2002. Among Women: From the Homosocial to the Homoerotic in the Ancient World. University of Texas Press, Austin. ISBN 0-292-77113-4

Ovid's story of Iphis and Ianthe is widely open to interpretation either as a lesbian or a transgender story. This article looks at the work in depth, particularly in the context of Roman views on sex and gender roles and the category oftribas. In many ways, the characters fail to align with Roman ideas about the inherent "masculinity" of women who actively desire other women. But conversely, the transformation that resolves the story is unambiguously transgender.

Puff, Helmut. 2000. "Female Sodomy: The Trial of Katherina Hetzeldorfer (1477)" in Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies: 30:1, 41-61.

Detailed account of an individual whose life could be viewed equally as cross-gender or lesbian.

Roche-Mahdi, Sarah. 1999. Silence. Michigan State University Press, Lansing. ISBN 0-87013-543-0

I included this on the general theme of cross-dressing and the “nature versus nurture” debate. Despite the romance’s resolution with Silence taking up a female role, the character’s life has very strong transgender themes.

Sautman, Francesca Canadé. “What Can They Possibly Do Together? Queer Epic Performances in Tristan de Nanteuil” inSame Sex Love and Desire Among Women in the Middle Ages (ed. By Francesca Canadé Sautman & Pamela Sheingorn), Palgrave, New York, 2001.

As with Silence, the motifs of gender transformation in this medieval romance have significant transgender relevance.

Sears, Clare. 2015. Arresting Dress: Cross-Dresing, Law, and Fascination in Nineteenth-Century San Francisco. Durham: Duke University Press. ISBN 978-0-8223-5758-2

The motivations and contexts for cross-dressing discussed in this book are varied and only a few specifically touch on transgender issues. I've included the most relevant chapters here.

Shank, Michael H. 1987. "A Female University Student in Late Medieval Krakow" in Signs: A Journal of Women in Culture and Society: 12:373-380.

Another case study of a cross-dressing/passing individual with multiple possible interpretations.

Watt, Diane 1998. "Behaving like a man? Incest, Lesbian desire, and gender play in 'Yde et Olive' and its adaptations",Comparative Literature, 50, 4 (Fall 1998): 265-85.

As one of the "magical sex change" stories, the tale of Yde and Olive is ripe for transgender interpretation. Watt's take, however, emphasizes the absence of evidence that Yde identifies as male (except to the extent that "heroic & noble" was coded as masculine), and points out that the objections raised to the specter of a marriage between women do not seem to have been based on the transgressive elements, but on the purely practical inability of the couple to produce heirs. The entire genre of heroic literature in which the story occurs is largely one of genealogy with adventures appended to it. In this context, Yde's acceptance of the magical sex change can be understood not as a physiological alignment with internal gender, but as a prioritization of the genealogical imperative over any other personal desires.

Westphal-Hellbusch, Sigrid (trans. Bradley Rose). 1997. “Institutionalized Gender-Crossing in Southern Iraq” in Islamic Homosexualities - Culture, History, and Literature, ed. by Stephen O. Murray & Will Roscoe. New York University Press, New York. ISBN 0-8147-7468-7

As I note in my summary, an article I’d approach with suspicion, but useful as a pointer to research possibilities.

Whitbread, Helena ed. 1992. I Know My Own Heart: The Diaries of Anne Lister 1791-1840. New York University Press, New York. ISBN 0-8147-9249-9 (Link is to introduction, see also the various entries by year.)

Anne Lister was interpreted by some of her contemporaries as coding male in dress and behavior, although there is no indication I can find of actual cross-dressing. There are also significant themes concerning to what extent loving women requires one to identify as male.

Woodward, Carolyn. 1993. “’My Heart So Wrapt’: Lesbian Disruptions in Eighteenth-Century British Fiction” in Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 18:838-865.

The two protagonists discussed here enjoy extended travels and adventures presenting as male, including interacting romantically with women as such. The novel includes significant internal debate regarding whether one must be male to love and engage in a romantic relationship with a woman.