Cross-Dressing Monks

The “LGBT Catholic Handbook lists an intriguing group of transvestite saints – women who took on men’s clothing in order to live as monks. The Handbook lists some scholarly references in support, but the Advent Catholic Encyclopaedia however, dismisses the tales as ‘hagiographic fiction.’ The stories and motives of these women are remote from our time, and ‘transvestite’ is not to be confused with ‘transgendered’. Still, whatever the full historic truth, it seems to me these are useful stories to hold on to as reminders 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.
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“I have treated these saints as a group as their stories are often similar. These are the large number of saints who were famous for their holy cross-dressing. All of these were women, and the stories, largely but not exclusively fictional, generally have them escaping marriage or some other dreaded end by dressing as monks. This is no short term ploy, however. The women then live their lives as men (in direct contradiction to the Levitical Law which calls cross-dressing an “abomination”), some of them becoming abbots of monasteries. In such positions it is hard to imagine that they would not perform roles such as confessor. Their biological sex is only discovered after they die. It is sometimes argued that these transvestite saints did not cross-dress because they wanted to but because they had to, and so calling them “transvestites” is wrong. It is true that we know nothing of the psychology of these women, but when they dressed as man for 20 years and became abbots of monasteries, it is hard to know in what way they were being “forced” to cross-dress. These women chose to live their Christian lives as members of the opposite biological sex – it is fair to see them as “transgendered”. There are no male saints, it seems, who dressed as women (with the possible exception of Sergius and Bacchus, who were forcibly paraded through the streets in women’s clothes). At work here is an old notion that women are saved in so far as they have “male souls”, a repeated term of praise in lives of female saints. These women’s lives do show that the Levitical Law was not determinative in Christian estimations of holiness, and that modern rigid gender categories had much less role in earlier epochs of Christianity than nowadays. These saints found a place in both Orthodox and Roman calendars.
  • St. Anastasia the Patrician (or “of Constantinople”) March 10th ORC/ORTH
  • St. Anna/Euphemianos of Constantinople Oct 29 ORTH
  • St. Apollinaria/Dorotheos Jan 5, 6 ORTH
  • St. Athanasia of Antioch Oct 9 ORTH
  • St. Eugenia/Eugenios of Alexandria Dec 24th ORTH
  • St. Euphrosyne/Smaragdus Feb 11th ORC (Sept 25 ORTH)
  • St. Marina of Sicily July 20th ORTH
  • St. Marina/Marinos of Antioch July 17th ORTH (July 20th ORC – as St. Margaret)
  • St. Mary/Marinos of Alexandria Feb 12th ORTH
  • St. Matrona/Babylas of Perge Nov 9 ORTH
  • St. Pelagia/Pelagios June 9 ORC (Oct 8 ORTH)
  • St. Theodora/Theodorus of Alexandria Sept 11 ORTH
  • St. Thekla of Iconium Sept 23 ORC (Sept 24 ORTH) See also
  • St. Hildegonde of Neuss near Cologne April 20th ORC d. 1188 OE: A nun who lived under the name “Brother Joseph” in the Cistercian monastery of Schoenau near Heidelberg.
  • St. Uncumber [or ] July 20th ORC A bearded woman saint, also known as St. Liverade (France), Liberata (Italy), Liberada (Spain), Debarras (Beauvais), Ohnkummer (Germany), and Ontcommere (Flanders) She was represented as a bearded women on a cross.
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4 thoughts on “Cross-Dressing Monks

  1. Thank you for the link to the LGBT Catholic Handbook & for the complete list of the cross-dressing female born monks. Unfortunately, we do not have so many examples (if at all) of cross-dressing/transgender sisters troughout the history of the church…

  2. Thanks, Alexandra – but I don;t think the list is by any means complete. I'm still working on it, and in particular, attempting to find more specific bio details for each of them.There's a simple reason why we have FTM examples, but no MTF: the much higher esteem that was given to men, which created an incentive for women to pass themselves off as men, but not the other way around. I don;t yet known of any MTF examples among the recognized saints, but I do have one from the ranks of the clergy. have been aiming to write up a full post, but have been struggling to squeeze in the time to do a proper job, and locate more info than I have at present.In the meantime, you might like to do some net searches on the name "François-Timoléon de Choisy", who was a notable cross-dressing French abbé and priest.

  3. Okay – 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 ti me 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!For example — obviously, just being a victim of a hate crime doesn't make anyone a saint – not by a longshot. However — we should still investigate these victims anyway.For example —- what if there's someone among these victims who could have kicked her assailant in the nut-sack and possibly gotten away — but instead, chose to pray for him? And what if this happened after she had been living a holy and Christian life (even if not in the same gender-role that the doctors identified her at birth)? If we could find a victim of hate-crimes who fit this profile — I'm sure a good case could be made for regarding her as a martyr – even if the Pope never will in our lifetime on Earth.

  4. Agreed,Sophia. Agreed, agreed 0 – on several counts.It's absolutely NOT necessary to stick with the sanitized, authorized list of officially designated saints. The modern business of approval for canonization is just that – an astonishingly complex business, with big money involved, and has nothing to do with the original institution of recognizing saints by acclamation. As you correctly say, the chances are nil that the Vatican will officially approve any MTF (or FTM) or other distinctly queer saints – not for a long time to come. The story of Mychal Judge, whom we will be remembering next week, makes that clear. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, there were numerous calls for this priest to be canonized for his heroic self-sacrifice – but these calls dried up the instant it became public knowledge that he was gay.So, we must find and name our own. It would be good to find someone fitting the description you suggest, but I don't think we need to go even that far. Not every victim of a hate crime murder merits the description of "saint" – but in my view, they most certainly warrant being designated "martyr". The word is usually applied to those who have been killed in witness to their Christian faith, but we now recognize Joan of Arc as a martyr: martyred not for the church, but by the church.Somewhere in all the hate crime murders, lies an hostility promoted and fostered by the church's disordered teaching on sexuality. Every single hate crime victim can thus be seen as (indirectly) martyred by the church.I've been rather neglecting this site recently, but have been wanting to give it more attention. I like your suggestion of doing some digging to make our own saints. I will do my part by posting material on a wide range of MTF or FTM "martyrs". My readers can help by suggesting any additional material they are aware of, that might justify seeing them as not only martyred, but saintly.

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