Harvard Class On Byzantine Empire To Study “Trans Monks” And “Genderless Angels”


Harvard Class On Byzantine Empire To Study “Trans Monks” And “Genderless Angels”

By Emma Dayton of CampusReform

A Harvard University course this fall semester will study “trans monks,” cross-dressing, “genderless angels,” and intersectionality in the Byzantine Empire (also known as the Eastern Roman Empire). 

The course, “Gender in Byzantium,” focuses “on the entire spectrum of binary and non-binary conceptualizations, representations and performances of gender in Byzantium by exploring textual and visual material alongside recent scholarship on gender and sexuality.”

“Topics for discussion include: normative concepts and representations of masculinity and femininity; asceticism and the gendered body; emotions and gender; same-sex desire and relationships (homosociality); cross-dressing (trans monks?); intersectionality (gender, race and class); authorial (cis- and trans-) gender performance; eunuchs (a ‘third gender’?); incorporeal/genderless angels,” the course description continues. 

One course text, “Byzantine Intersectionality,” labels the terms “transvestite” and “cross-dressing” as “problematic.” Referring to women who pretended to be male eunuchs in order to live as monks, the text adds: “[S]cholars repeatedly have shied away from referring to these figures as ‘transgender,’ instead calling them ‘transvestite nuns,’ ‘cross-dressing’ saints, or women in ‘disguise.’ These pejorative terms, which are pervasive throughout the historiography, negate these subjects’ identification as transgender persons.”

The text gives the example of Marinos, a woman–whom the text consistently refers to as “he” and “him”–who snuck her way into a monastery and successfully passed herself off as a man in order to become a monk. The text also refers to her life as “a typical narrative for a transgender monk.”

Another course text, “Women, Men, and Gender in Christianity,” claims that the Gospels “enshrine” anti-Semitic rhetoric, and that “Gender has been an idea of considerable fluidity throughout history, and throughout Christian history as well.”

“[S]ociety in our current moment is struggling in very literal terms with gender ambiguity—an ambiguity that has always been part of Christian rhetoric,” the text continues. 

Another text, “Byzantine Gender,” states: “The stock [gender] roles do not seem to have been straightjackets but rather a wide repertoire of behaviours that people could mimic or embody in order to craft the responses others would have to them. . . . Gender, like much of social interaction, seems thus to have been highly performative.” 

Harvard offers various other courses focusing on gender and sexuality, such as “Feminism in the Age of Empire,” “Gender & Sexuality in Korean Pop Culture,” “Psychology of the Gendered Body,” and “Power to the People: Black Power, Radial Feminism, and Gay Liberation.”

Tyler Durden
Wed, 07/10/2024 – 12:25