Saint Apollinaria, Cross-Dressing Monk and Saint

According to the LGBT Catholic Handbook, this week sees the feast day of St.  Apollinaria /Dorotheos of Egypt (5th, 6th January). She is said to have been one of a group of transvestite saints – women who took on men’s clothing  in order to live as monks.

For the specific story of Apollinaria, we turn to the Orthodox church, who take these female monks rather more serioulsy than the western church.  From the Orthodox website, “God is Wonderful in His Saints”

She was a maiden of high rank, the daughter of a magistrate named Anthimus in the city of Rome. Filled with love for Christ, she prevailed on her parents to allow her to travel on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. In Jerusalem she dismissed most of her attendants, gave her jewels, fine clothes and money to the poor, and went on to Egypt accompanied only by two trusted servants. Near Alexandria she slipped away from them and fled to a forest, where she lived in ascesis for many years. She then made her way to Sketis, the famous desert monastic colony, and presented herself as a eunuch named Dorotheos. In this guise she was accepted as a monk.

Anthimus, having lost his elder daughter, was visited with another grief: his younger daughter was afflicted by a demon. He sent this daughter to Sketis, asking the holy fathers there to aid her by their prayers. They put her under the care of “Dorotheos”, who after days of constant prayer effected the complete cure of her (unknowing) sister. When the girl got back home it was discovered that she was pregnant, and Anthimus angrily ordered that the monk who had cared for her be sent to him. He was astonished to find that “Dorotheos” was his own daughter Apollinaria, whom he had abandoned hope of seeing again. After some days the holy woman returned to Sketis, still keeping her identity secret from her fellow-monks. Only at her death was her true story discovered.

The Handbook lists some scholarly references in support, while a look at some orthodox websites corroborates the story and confirms her feast on 5th January.  The Advent Catholic Encyclopedia. however,  dismisses the tale as ‘hagiographic fiction.’

Apollinaria’s story and motives are remote from our time, and ‘transvestite’ is not to be confused with ‘transgendered’. (UPDATE: After I first described this group of women as “transvestite”, I was taken to task by a reader, who pointed out that these days, “cross-dressing” is more appropriate terminology). Still, whatever the full historic truth of Apollinaria/ Dorotheos specifically, it seems to me this is a useful story to hold on to as a reminder 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.

Let us acknowledge the courage of those who have done it, and pray for those who are preparing to do so.

Related articles

DADT, and Trans in the Military

As DADT repeal continues its labyrinthine path through the US Congress, it is once again worth noting how far ahead other countries are. The DADT proposals are for inclusion of gay men and lesbians only, and make no provision for trans people in the services. In marked contrast, both South Africa and Australia have not only welcomed trans members, but have also provided extensive medical, surgical and psychiatric support for the transition process to  service people who have begun their journey while already members of the armed forces.

The National Post reports that Canada also “helps” one or two troops through sex change a year, but does not detail the extent of this support. Now, the Canadian Forces have prepared guidelines on how transsexual and transgendered troops should be accommodated. On the one hand, troops have a right to privacy and respect for their decision. On the other, they have an obligation to conform to the dress code of  their target gender.

Read the rest of this entry »

Military Transitions: Australia Supports Transitioning Soldier

While the US continues to dither over DADT, its military allies have moved way beyond lesbian and gay inclusion, to providing also for transgender service – and full support during the transitioning process.  News from Australia is that military authorities there will not only allow a transitioning soldier to continue to serve after transitioning, they will provide full support during the process (including state funding for the surgery). I known of at least one similar case from South Africa – I am certain there are others elsewhere.

Somewhere along the line of modern history, the myth arose that only hetero males could make good soldiers – completely overlooking the evidence from around the world that in some societies, women, gay men, and transgender people have frequently served with distinction.  Classical Greek history and literature are littered with pairs of military lovers, including the renowned Sacred band of Thebes, which was exclusively composed of such pairs. Similarly, the famed Japanese Samurai mentored younger men who served also as sexual partners. Many African societies had entire regiments of fighting women, including the Amazons of Dahomey and Shaka’s Zulus in Southern Africa. In North America, the widespread institution of the berdache included many instances where biological males adopted female dress and roles – but also fought with distinction in military battles. It is good to see how so many countries in the modern world are putting historic myths and prejudices aside, to focus only on service members’ abilities, and not their genital or psychosexual characteristics.

When with the US finally follow suit?

Tammy (left) and Bridget Clinch.

From the Australia Herald Sun:

Sex-change case through Defence

DEFENCE force chiefs will pay for the sex change operation of a soldier who wants to return to work.

Army Captain Matthew Clinch, who served twice in East Timor, will become Bridget Clinch after gender reassignment-realignment surgery, funded by taxpayers.

Victorian RSL president Maj-Gen David McLachlan said he was surprised the Army was picking up the tab.

“It seems a little odd that they would allow such an abnormal situation get this far,” Maj-Gen McLachlan said. “The soldier involved would be putting themselves in a situation where they would be subjected to all sorts of peer pressure.”

Asked if paying for the surgery was a good use of defence funds, he said: “It’s unusual.”

Capt Clinch is in Brisbane with partner Tammy and two daughters on extended sick leave from her job as second-in-command of the army’s Adventurous Training Wing based at Wagga in southern NSW, but wants her former job back.

Appearing on Seven’s Sunday Night last night the decorated East Timor veteran, who did two tours of duty with the Townsville-based 1st Battalion, said she’d always felt like a woman locked in a man’s body. “There is no difference between what I can do and what any other female can do once I’ve finished all of my treatment,” Capt Clinch said. Tammy, who also trained as an army officer and describes Capt Clinch as her “knight in shining armour”, is angry the military took so long to agree to fund the treatment.

“Matt was a good army officer, I think that Bridget will make a better army officer, they just need to realise it.

“I saw my partner suffering really badly and I helped him. It was hard though because I was helping destroy the outside bit of the man I loved.”

Read the full report

Recommended Books

Naphy, William: Born to be Gay: A History of Homosexuality

Roughgarder, Joan: Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People

Transgender Shabbat!

Queer in faith- a Jewish example:

Last night I had 26 people join me for shabbat dinner. Not just any Shabbat… but a Transgender Shabbat. Not that Shabbat itself was trans (perhaps we welcomed a Sabbath Husband?), but we specifically invited the transgender community and their friends to join JQ International’s Trans Inclusion Committee for a potluck and icebreaker discussion of the intersection between Judaism and gender identity.

Rabbi Julie Pelc-Adler led the group in a discussion about terms for gender diversity used in classical Jewish texts including:

Part of the discussion was about some specific Hebrew words concerned with gender issues. As my own knowledge of Hebrew us virtually non-existent, I offer this extract with no comment, except to say that I share the sense of amazement expressed by the participants:

Angrogynous: A person who has both “male” and “female” sexual characteristics. 149 references (WOW!!!!) in Mishna and Talmud (1st-8th Centuries CE); 350 in classical midrash and Jewish law codes (2nd-16th Centuries CE).

Tumtum: A person whose sexual characteristics are indeterminate or obscured. 181 references in Mishna and Talmud; 335 in classical midrash and Jewish law codes.

All of these references within the text seemed to liberate a room full of people that have been told repeatedly that their identity was an obstacle for connection and home within the Jewish religion. The very fact that multiple Jewish authority figures consider the first human creation of G-d to be one of mixed or indeterminate gender seemed to show us all that in fact, the transgender Jew might have been THE first Jew. How fantastic!!! We were each asked to then by Trans Inclusion Committee member Kadin Henningsen to share “How does the idea that you were specifically created by G-d as you are (with both male and female characteristics) make you feel?”

As we dined together we shared together. A common theme of “freedom” was tied to many of our answers – that it was liberating to think that it wasn’t an accident.

“the transgender Jew might have been THE first Jew”.

That would certainly be a new idea to me, and puts the religious right argument from one man and one woman in a completely new light. Ia anyone with knowledge of Hebrew and Jewish Scriptures able to comment?

Read the full discussion at Jewish Journal.com, OY GAY

 

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LGBT History Month

I am embarrassed to admit that even with my declared interest in LGBT and Church history, and in queer history within the church, some other concerns have clouded my vision so that I almost missed the fact that here in the UK, it has been LGBT history month. I do have a few posts of history I’ve been working on but struggling to get right: one on the Japanese gay culture among the samurai, for instance, and on Chinese “traditional marriage”.  There could also be something on the progress made in (some of) the churches over the past fifteen years:  we need something cheering, I think, to move away from the downbeat tone produced by the Irish sexual abuse stories, and memory of the burnt sodomites. So let us remember – “We are made in all shapes and sizes”.

To get us going, though, I thought I’d share something on a person I had never heard of, but sounds like she’s worth taking seriously. From the UK LGBT History Month website, I give you the world’s first openly trans mayor, and then the first openly trans Member of Parliament:

Georgina Beyer MP 1957 –

“It is important to allow people who want to be positive contributors of our society regardless of sex, race, creed and gender to reach their human potential. We need all human potential to make our communities thrive, to make them more vital, the very centre of our reason for being and living. The most important thing at the end of the day is about people, people and people!”

Georgina Beyer

No matter which way you look at it, Georgina Beyer is an exceptional survivor and achiever.

Born with a boy’s genital anatomy into the New Zealand Māori culture, and obliged to work in the sex trade for a period in order to survive, she underwent Gender Reassignment surgery in 1984 and then worked variously as an actor, publicist and broadcaster before being first elected to her local council in a largely white rural community in 1993. Two years later Georgina became the world’s first transsexual Mayor and then, in 1999, the world’s first transsexual Member of Parliament – a distinction she still holds, unchallenged, whilst continually strengthening her electoral majority.

(Read  the full profile)

“Third Gender” to Get Legal Recognition in Pakistan

Last month Indian authorities agreed to list eunuchs and transgender people by using the term “others”, on official documents. I would have liked to draw attention to it then, but did not. Now, having missed the opportunity once, I get a second chance to take note of a major legal breakthrough for trans and other gendered people in Asia, as Pakistan is now headed in a similar direction, this time by court decision. In both India and Pakistan, the “Hijras” represent a distinct social group, but this will have significance and run-on effects beyond just these two countries.

 

 

Hijra Protest, Islamabad

From BBC News:

Pakistani eunuchs to have distinct gender

Pakistan’s Supreme Court says eunuchs must be allowed to identify themselves as a distinct gender in order to ensure their rights.

The eunuchs, known as “hijras” in Pakistan, are men castrated at an early age for medical or social reasons. The court said they should be issued with national identity cards showing their distinct gender. The government has also been ordered to take steps to ensure they are entitled to inherit property.

‘Respect and identity’

There are estimated to be about 300,000 hijras in Pakistan and they are generally shunned by the largely Muslim conservative society. They tend to live together in slum communities, surviving through begging and by dancing at weddings and carnivals. A hijra association has welcomed the order, saying it is “a major step giving respect and identity in society”. Indian authorities last month agreed to list eunuchs and transgender people by using the term “others”, distinct from males and females, on electoral rolls and voter identity cards, after a long-running campaign by the members of the community.