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 Encyclopedia 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 storyies 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.
From the LGBT Catholic Handbook, Calendar of Lesbian, Gay Bisexual and Transgender Saints:
“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.