Tag Archives: Trans saints

Trans Martyrs

Today, November 20th, is the 9th annual day of Remembrance, a day set aside in memory of trans people who have been murdered for their honest expression of their gender identity. (Thanks, here, to Kittredge Cheery, who alerted me to this at Jesus in Love blog). I am certain that there will be other bloggers out there in the wider queer community who will be writing about the well-known examples, most of whom are modern Americans. I will leave these to the other writers, who for many reasons are closer to the subject than I. Instead, I want to look at the memory of trans saints in Catholic and Orthodox tradition. By definition, those who die for their faith are known as “martyrs”, from the Greek for “to bear witness”. In this extended sense, one can give witness, and thus be a “martyr” without undergoing actual death – but given the courage it must take to live publicly a trans identity, I suggest that all openly trans people, of whatever form, are constantly giving witness, and are in a sense living martyrs, so we should also recognise and honour the living, courageous trans people around us, and in he wider world.
I start with Joan of Arc, visionary, cross-dressing military hero, burned as a heretic, and now a recognized martyr and canonized saint, who is remembered annually on My 30th. (note that although burned as a “heretic”, the words for heresy and sodomy were often used interchangeably at that time. Some scholars believe that the specific heresy for which she was accused and sentenced was precisely her cross-dressing.

Then there are a lengthy list of cross-dressing women .saints, who passed as men in order to be admitted to male monasteries. Their stories are eclectic not always agreed. Some are accepted by the Eastern Orthodox church, but no the Western Romans, some are frankly fanciful, with little relation tot eh historical record. I have no desire here to encourage any kind of cult of the saints, with invocations to saints as some kind of pseudo-magical ritual to guarantee the granting of wishes. Some of them too, have become cross-dressers not out of some deep-seated gender conflict that needed to be resolved, but simply to gain access to institutions that would otherwise have rejected them. Why then, do I suggest we pay them any attention at all? Simply because, in the very presence in church records, they show that in times past the church was willing to recognise and pay honour to a group of people who set aside standard gender expectations to live a life of their own choosing. There is also a lesson here for the rest of us: when these people recognised that as women they were seen as second class-citizens in the eyes of the chruch, they indulged in a little trickery to claim a place that they saw as rightfully theirs. For us today, as queer Catholics or other Christians, we too are often seen as second class, not to be properly accepted in the main body of the Church. Perhaps, as Virginia Mollenkott recommends, we also need to becomes God’s Tricksters.
Here are some of the monastic transvestites:

St Apollinaria / Dorotheos, Jan 5th /6th (4th?)
icon-of-appolinaria
St Mary /Marinos the monk.
“She was the daughter of a wealthy Christian, Paphnutius, who with his wife brought up Euphrosyne in piety. Not wishing to marry, she secretly fled her home and its wealth, dressed herself in men’s clothing and entered a monastery using the name of Smaragdus. There she lived in asceticism for thirty-eight years. She only revealed her identity on her death bed. Her father Paphnutius became a monk in the same monastery, and entered into repose ten years after his daughter. “
St Theodora / Theodorus of Alexandria Sep 11th
“While a young married woman, she committed adultery with another man. Seized by remorse, she fled her husband’s house, dressed herself as a man, renamed herself Theodore, and entered a men’s monastery, pretending to be a eunuch. “Theodore”‘s fasts, prayers, vigils and tears amazed “his” brethren. Her secret was only discovered after her death. She had spent nine full years devoting her life to repentance for one sin. During her life she showed herself to be a wonderworker, taming wild beasts and healing sicknesses. Her husband came to her funeral, then lived until his death in the cell of his former wife.”
St Eugenia / Eugenios of Alexandria Dec 24th
“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.”
( Remember also Protus & Hyacinthus, eunuch slaves of Eugenia, who were martyred alongside her.)
“She was from Perga in Pamphylia, and married very young, to a youth named Domitian, to whom she bore a daughter. The couple settled in Constantinople. Matrona became so constant in attending all-night vigils in the city’s many churches that her husband suspected her of infidelity and forbade her to go out. This was unbearable to Matrona, who fled the house with her daughter. Determined to embrace monastic life, she gave her daughter into the care of a nun named Susanna, disguised herself as a eunuch, and entered the monastery of St Bassian (October 10) under the name of Babylas.”
(Later, she was found to be female, and was forced to leave the monastery – but instead was helped to form a women’s counterpart, and founded a strong community of monastic women
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
This one, to be fair, has limited historical validity, but is fun to remember all the same. The legend ahs it that she was a woman, sworn to holy virginity, who grew a beard to avoid being forced into the marriage her father had arranged for her. Furious, he had her killed, so that she is remembered as the crucified bearded lady. History suggests, however, that the legend is based on some very simple errors of interpretation.
And Others:
  • St Mary / Marinos of Alexandria Feb 12th
  • St Hildegonde of Neuss near Cologne April 20th, A nun who lived under the name “Brother Joseph” in the Cistercian monastery of Schoenau near Heidelberg
  • St. Anastasia the Patrician (or “of Constantinople”) , May 10th
  • St Pelagia / Pelagios June 9
  • St Marina /Marinos of Antioch, July 17th
  • St Marina of Sicily July 20th
  • St Thekla of Iconium Sept 23rd
  • St Athanasia of Antioch Oct 9th
  • St. Anna/Euphemianos of Constantinople, , Oct 29th
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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.
icon-of-appoliarios1
“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.