Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Imitatio Transvesti: Margery Kempe as a Transgender Saint


"Why gost thu in white? 
Art thu a mayden?"

Book of Margery Kempe
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Vs. the Vicar of Norwich

Between 1415 and 1418, the trans virgin encounters regular conflicts on account of living out the Imago Transvesti, resulting in a series of struggles that offer a model of life for Christians and those called to live Imitatio Transvesti. Whereas the trans saint is lives in relative peace while abroad, where she is a stranger in a stranger land, once she returns to her home country of England, where knows the language, she begins to teach and debate. Abroad, people may merely observe her. At home, people hear her preaching the virtues of her Imitatio Transvesti and causing others to follow it. She moves beyond a wonder to be observed to a social revolution to be reckoned. Three episodes make up the primary contest between the trans virgin and local authorities, collectively producing a drama in the hagiography as the way of the world, the Imitatio Mundi, and the way of the trans saint, Imitatio Transvesti, are brought into contrast and conflict. The first event occurs in late 1415 in Norwich with a Vicar. The second event occurs in 1417 with the Mayor of Leicester. The third event occurs in late 1417 with the Archbishop of York. Through these conflicts, the Imitatio Transvesti of the Book of Margery Kempe follows in the late medieval scholastic tradition of dialectic argument. Whereas Marinos’s tale is more passive in its resistance to Imago Mundi, the model Kempe provides shows a more active way of living Imago Transvesti. Centuries later, whereas the passive trans monk is accepted as an official saint, the active trans virgin remains contentious. Yet too few medievalists know about Marinos, Kempe maintains a more active fame or infamy. The active Imitatio Transvesti refuses to go away, even by being quietly tolerated and integrated. In this way, Kempe’s model insists that even if society does not like who she is and what she does, it will have to deal with transvestism as a part of the world.

Arriving in Norwich in May 1415, Kempe visits the vicar of St. Stephan's Church, Richard Caister, who interrogates her on her trans identification as a virgin. The Vicar begins their relation combatively, asking, "wher sche had don hir chylde the whech was begotyn and born whil sche was owte, as he had herd seyde" (where she had her child, the one she had conceived and given birth to while she was away, as he had heard). [1] Inverting assumptions, the Vicar suggests that far from being a virgin, she has conceived a child while away. Above all, she is not what she says. Thus, he concludes, she should not present herself as a virgin or face further slander.[2] Ever Slander and scandal remains the cutting edge of the world's threat against trans saints. If she will not return to the gender norms asserted by the Imago Mundi, worse assignment will be made for her. Returning to England, Kempe is better prepared for the wonder of those living under other images of Creation than her Imago Dei. Openly reaffirming her testimony, "sche had in hym how it was owr Lordys wyl that sche schulde be clad in white clothyng" (she showed him how it was our Lord willed that she should be clad in white clothing), and says, “Ser, I make no fors so that God be plesyd therwyth” ('Sir, I make no falsehood and God is pleased with me).[3] Imago Dei may seem false to a world asserting contrary rules, yet the trans virgin commits no lie, laying out her history and revelations for all to see. When ever then the Vicar does not consent but asks for a fellow clergyman to asses her, she at last rejects their authority under the command from God, "I wil not that thu be governyd be hym" (I will not have you be governed by him).[4] A woman once with divided loyalty now affirms she is on the Imago Dei even if the world is not.

Indeed, in the years following her return to England, the trans virgin demonstrates her willingness to undergo struggles to inspire others to join in the Imitatio Transvesti. On Good Friday, 1415, Kempe prays to be vindicated and revived publicly. She asks that if it is God’s will that she be clad in white, that God should grant her a sign of lightning, thunder, and rain, "so that it hyndir ne noy no thyng that I unworthy may the rathyr fulfillyn thy wil" (so that no one can say nothing about me being unworthy, but rather that I fulfill your will).[5] God receives her prayer and confirms that it will be fulfilled on the third day. And so it was. On the next Friday, early in the morning, as she lay in her bed, she saw great lightning, she heard great thunder, and great rain following, and just as quickly it went away again. Kempe recieves this as a sign to once again take on her white clothes, "sche purposyd hir fullych to weryn white clothis," (she intended to fulfill wearing white clothes).[6] Eventually, Kempe keeps this promise. As with the show of the storm, the white clothes again attract attention. The Book accounts, "sche was howselyd al in white, and sithen hath sche sufferyd meche despyte and meche schame in many dyvers cuntreys, cyteys, and townys, thankyd be God of alle" (she was all in white, and suffered much despisement and shame in many counties, cities, and towns, thanks to the God of all).[7] Becoming sainted means to be set apart, a living image of God's diverse creation that inspires others into action. Yet this Imago Dei often contradicts the rules of the Imago Mundi. People have negative reactions causing her to become a target time and again. This is all a part of the imitation of Christ, who also suffered. In this way, the Imitatio Transvesti follows the Imitatio Christi, that by suffering may a saint face the persecution of the world in the name of grace.

The trans saint as an imitation of Christ draws others to follow likewise to see and enact such an image. Once she committed to wearing white in Norwich, the problem arouse that she had no money to buy clothes.[8] God promises to provide. Shortly, Kempe meets a good man of Norwich that welcomed her gladly and sat listening to her stories. Kempe shares with him her need for a loan to buy white clothes.[9] Not only does he offer financial assistance, he directly labors to make her Imago Transvesti materially possible. The Book accounts that this good man bought white clothe and from it made her a gown and a hood, a girdle, and a cloak.[10] By her contingent neediness, being marginalized by her poverty, the trans saint brings others along with her on her way. By his work, the man not only assists in Kempe's embodiment of the Imago Dei, he participates in it. When he arrives with the clothing, Kempe and the man share a revelry in the Imago Transvesti, "he browt hir this clothyng and gaf it hir for Goddys lofe, and meche mor goodnes dede to hir for owr Lordys lofe" (He brought her this clothing and gave it to her for God's life, and much more goodness did for her on behalf of our Lord's life).[11] By returning to the Imitatio Transvesti, the trans saints brings another to the Imitatio Christi. Both revel in God through the shared work of embodying Imago Transvesti. With Kempe and Marinos, Aristotle’s definition of tragedy succinctly describes how public contests of the Imitatio Transvesti inspire public resistance, “an imitation not only of a complete action, but of events inspiring fear or pity.”[12] Through the series of legal contest, the Imitatio Transvesti occurs to bring justice for the trans community and to liberate the cis community from destructive divisions and limits. 

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Vs. the Mayor of Leicester

A significant example of this occurs in the summer of 1417, when Kemp'e encounter with the Mayor of Leicester. Having witnessed the trans virgin in her white clothes, the Major begs her to tell him, "why thow gost in white clothys, for I trowe thow art comyn hedyr to han awey owr wyvys fro us and ledyn hem wyth the" (why you go about in white clothes, because I have truly heard that you come here to take away out wives from us and lead them with you).[13] The Imitatio Transvesti destablizes the rules asserted by the Imago Mundi, including the role of wives. If a wife can assert her identity as a virgin and liberate herself of her husband, others may follow. The danger she poses does not go unnoticed by those who hold privileged positions in the Imago Mundi and want society to continue to imitate its gender norms. As a result, the trans virgin begins to become the target for a wide variety of attacks. Because of the religious nature of her Imago Dei, Kempe refuses to divulge her story to a secular leader, even a patriarchy like the Mayor. Perhaps as the daughter of a prominent Mayor in Lynn may have made Kempe wary of the man's attempts to manage her. The trans virgin deflects the Major's moves by insisting that she would only share her Imago Transvesti with religious authorities. "Syr," she says, "ye schal not wetyn of my mowth why I go in white clothys; ye arn not worthy to wetyn it. But, ser, I wil tellyn it to thes worthy clerkys wyth good wil be the maner of confessyon " (Sir, you will not learn from my mouth why I go about in white clothes; you are not worthy to hear it. But, sir, I will tell it to these worthy clergymen in the manner of a confession).[14] By pivoting from a worldly to a religious authority, Kempe proves that she has nothing to hide nor is she afraid of speaking truth to the patriarchy.

The trans virgin is careful however to maintain the religious blessing over her mission as protection from secular threats. The story the trans saint tells is the same hagiography of the white clothes the Book describes. Kempe tells an Abbot, a Friar, a Clerk, and others about her transition while on pilgrimage, "how owr Lord be revelacyon warnyd hir and bad hir weryn white clothys er sche cam at Jerusalem" (how our Lord by revelation warned her and bade her to wear white clothes before she came to Jerusalem).[15] By couching the story of her transition within the physical journey of a pilgrimage, Kempe makes the embodiment of the Imago Dei easier to process. Furthermore, even if the clergy are not aware yet that Kempe (and her Book) are telling a hagiography, they will understand the religious narrative of pilgrimage.

By getting the clergy to hear her story and repeat it to others, the trans virgin not only authorizes herself within the Church against allegations from secular threats but trains members of the Church to imitate her storytelling. To be a trans virgin saint , Kempe not only needs to tell her own story, performing herself publically Imitatio Transvesti, but to get others to tell her story. This is what comes of the clergy hearing her tale of transition. Before the clergy, Kempe instructs, "therfor, serys, yyf the meyr wil wetyn why I go in whyte, ye may seye, yyf yow likyth, that my gostly faderys byddyn me gon so, and than schal ye make no lesynggys ne he schal not knowe the trewth" (therefore, sirs, if the Major will learn why I go in white, you may say, if you like, that my clergy bid me to go in such a way, and then shall you make no lies nor shall hide the truth).[16] By first embodying her Imitatio Transvesti, Kempe has elicited an audience of storytellers that might repeat (in imitation of her performance narration) the truths of her Imago Transvesti. Thus, the invisible revelation of the Image Dei will be repeatedly performed in imitated by others. By confirming the clergy as her apostles, like Christ sending his followers to tell the Good News, Kempe is no longer alone in an invisible truth or visible marginalization but has her sainthood affirmed by a multitude of sources. "So the clerkys clepyd up agen the meyr and teldyn hym in cownsel that hir gostly faderys had chargyd hir to weryn white clothis and sche had bowndyn hir to her obediens" recounts the Book (so the clerks went to the Mayor and told him in consul how the clergy had charged her to wear white clothes and that she should be obedient to her mission).[17] Once abandoned, Kempe is no longer on her own. Set apart by society, trans saints nonetheless can regain community through imitators, allies and storytellers.

With the clergy behind her, Kempe is able to assert the validity of her Imago Transvesti from God, telling anyone who questions, "thei han chargyd me that I schulde gon thus, for thei dar not don ageyn my felyngys for dred of God" (they have charged me that I should go thus, for they dare not go against my feelings of dread of God).[18] In the end, the Imago Dei validates the trans virgin not only as one set apart from the Imago Mundi but sainted so as to offer a unique a Imitatio Transvesti for others to follow. The conscience of Kempe is proven clean. She has told no lie, although she contradicts the known truth of the city and reveals more to God's creation. In response to overwhelming support, the Major is forced to concede his Imago Mundi to Kempe's Imago Transvesti. In reconciliation, the Mayor meets with Kempe once again. During the meeting, he offers her a hug. Then he offers her some words of comfort. From this time and for a while, the Mayor proves to be a good friend to the trans virgin.
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Vs. the Archbishop of York

The biggest test of the trans virgin comes in York, where Kempe call on allies who have shared in her story and may rehearse its validity. In late 1417, as Kempe was weeping in Church, the Archbishop of York, Henry Bowet inquires who she is. "Why gost thu in white? Art thu a mayden?" asks the Archbishop. [19] Kempe replies tactfully, "Nay, ser, I am no mayden; I am a wife." The Archbishop jumps to condemn her as a liar, ordering her to be taken away by his men to be manacled, "for sche was a fals heretyke" (for she was a false heretic)[20]. At this point, Kempe resists, "I am non heretyke, ne ye schal non preve me" (I am no heretic, nor will you prove me one). While in white, living as a virgin, she nonetheless answers truthfully about her history as a mother. This seeming contradiction is not the same as a lie. She is open and direct on the complexity of her life. She gave birth to children. She was a mother. These are facts of life that other virgins do not share; distinguishing how a trans virgin's life may differ from other virgins.  As a protector of the Imago Mundi, the Archbishop fears that allowing the trans virgin to move and speak freely in York will destabilize gender roles in medieval society. The Archbishop and his consul agree she must leave, "for the pepil hath gret feyth in hir dalyawnce, and peraventur sche myth pervertyn summe of hem" (for the people have great faith in her visions and by adventure she might pervert some of them).[21] They command that she swear on the Bible that she will leave and never return to York. Kempe refuses and insists on the freedom to travel freely to be among the people. Again, the danger of the trans virgin is not only that she embodies an Imago Transvesti outside the control of the Imago Mundi, but that she might inspire an Imitatio Transvesti thus creating more in the image of the trans saint.

In order to discredit the Imitatio Transvesti, the Archbishop summons a host of agents to imitate his version of the truth. Clerks as well as a monk and a doctor arrive. The doctor had examined Kempe before and knew her bodily state. With a party of authorities following the Archbishop’s Imitatio Mundi, York was sent into uproar against the woman in white. The Book accounts, "Sum of the pepil askyd whedyr sche wer a Cristen woman er a Jewe; sum seyd sche was a good woman, and sum seyd nay" (Some of the people asked whether she was a Christian or a Jew; some said she was a good woman and some said not).[22] The couple of lines here mirror one another, underlining the suspicion that she is a Jew with her being bad. The general effect was that Kempe became the subject of marvel and alien to the community. The force of Imago Mundi was forcing Kempe toward the margins, as a woman set apart not by grace but by exclusion.  To counter this, Kempe asked for permission to raise her own witnesses for her defense. When the Archbishop remains intrenched, she asks him to give some time in the city to collect evidence to support her, "for I must teryin and spekyn wyth good men er I go, and I must, ser, wyth yowr leve, gon to Brydlyngton and spekyn wyth my confessor, a good man, the whech was the good priowrys confessor that is now canonysed" (For I must go and speak with good men and I must, sir, with your leave, go to Brydlyngton and speak with my confessor, a good man, who recently became a Canon).[23] Kempe is successful in this request and is able to block some of the slander by mounting her own society of defense, including a letter from her old confessor validating the revelation of the Imago Transvesti and her living out the Imitatio Transvesti. Credits procured, Kempe is once again free to move about York. Trans saints inspire imitation in allies, who enact Mimesis by fighting “as if” the attack were on them.[24] As with Marinos, Augustine’s words reflect how the Imitatio Transvesti in the Book of Margery Kempe, “Let them be an example unto the faithful by living before them and stirring them up to imitation.”[25]

Thus, if the Archbishop cannot get rid of her, he moves to stop Kempe from telling her story, "ne techyn ne chalengyn the pepil" (not to teach nor to challenge the people).[26] Kempe flatly refuses. "Nay, syr, I schal not sweryn," she saus, "for I schal spekyn of God and undirnemyn hem that sweryn gret othys whersoevyr I go " (No sir, I shall no swear, for I shall speak of God and in His name sway others wherever I go).[27] Kempe then adds that scripture attests that women were allowed to hear Christ, follow Christ, speak of Christ, and Christ blessed them. Then the Clerks began attacking her on the grounds of her preaching the Word of God, citing letters from Saint Paul that forbids women to act as a priest, that no woman should preach.[28]  To this Kempe replied that she was not guilty of preaching because preaching is defined as reading from scripture and she was illiterate, unable to read. "I preche not, ser," she says, "I come in no pulpytt. I use but comownycacyon and good wordys, and that wil I do whil I leve" (I preach not sir, I came in no pulpit. I use but common knowledge and good words, as I am allowed).[29] Unable to read, Kempe’s mode of learning and teaching is through imitation. This truth confirms Kempe's previous statements when she was interrogated on the doctrines of faith and answered readily, "wythowtyn any gret stody so that he myth not blamyn hir" (without any great study so that he might not blame her).[30] Kempe's replies were unstudied. Rather, all her knowledge of scripture comes either from listening to clergy, especially her confessors, or by revelation. Indeed, time and again, Kempe's Imitatio Transvesti aims at justifying itself not by written authority but by embodied and experienced truths.

Through repeated performance and the imitation of allies, the trans saint wears down the Imago Mundi. After hearing her defense time and again, as well as the words of allies who authorize and repeat her story, at last the Archbishop surrenders his assault and gives her some money for her troubles.[31] Struggle after struggle, Kempe both imitates previous trans saints and creates a model of imitation. Over the centuries, readers continue to read trans hagiographies and become trans saints because of ongoing problems in the world’s limited definitions of gender, as well as through the continuation of a tradition of reclaiming the image and mode of life through the transitioning of gender identity and expression. This is especially true in the late Middle Ages, as women such as Margery Kempe look back to older stories in order to find alternatives to unlivable conditions. Indeed, by modeling itself on the trans hagiographies of the early Christian period, the Book of the Margery Kempe adapted an image and a model for later generations. “Such efforts to mold herself on the examples of holy women anticipate a practice that would become more common by the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries…” writes Verini. “Such acts suggest that Margery’s imitation of female exemplars was the forerunner of a practice of female imitation that adumbrated a larger web of female interconnections.”[32] Yet this interconnection goes beyond femaleness, existing in the space between and across. The trans monk and the trans virgin share commonalities, even similar genitalia, but what bonds them is a shared struggle, a mutual liberation, and a continuing narrative that builds on those that have come before and lay the seeds for future transitions.

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Notes

[1] BMK 2419-21.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid. 2427-9.
[4] Ibid. 2430-1.
[5] Ibid. 2433-4.
[6] Ibid. 2436-41.
[7] Ibid. 2453-6.
[8] Ibid. 2433-56.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid. 2447-56.
[12] Aristotle Poetics. I.xi.
[13] BMK 2727-28
[14] Ibid. 2720-31.
[15] Ibid. 2732-5.
[16] Ibid. 2737-40.
[17] Ibid. 2740-2.
[18] Ibid. 2735-40.
[19] Ibid. 2923-4
[20] Ibid.
[21] Ibid. 3023
[22] Ibid. 2934.
[23] Ibid. 2960-3.
[24] Gebauer and Christoph Wulf 1.
[25] Augustine. Confessions. XXI.xiii
[26] BMK 2963-4.
[27] Ibid. 2964-72.
[28] Ibid. 2972-3031.
[29] Ibid. 2975-7.
[30] Ibid. 2943-9.
[31] Ibid. 3023-3028.
[32] Verini 384.
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Lynn Festival Fringe Production
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Imago Transvesti: Margery Kempe as a Transgender Saint


"Ser, I have non hows to put hir 
inne les than I putte hir among men. "

Book of Margery Kempe

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As a genre of embodiment and literature, hagiography creates continuity through diversity. Evident generic features exist across time but are embodied in uniquely and personally. Each saints make be said to be set apart Imago Dei but each image is distinct. Likewise, the Imago Mundi that the saint turns away from changes over time. Each saint may be models for Imitatio Christi yet lived in different ways and circumstances. Thus, while lives and stories may be composed in association with trans hagiographic texts, the process and ends of each may be unique. Thus, whether or not Margery Kempe is recognized as a saint by the Catholic or Orthodox churches, nonetheless her Book constructs a hagiography that clearly models Kempe according to saints and sections of the narrative according to saints’ lives, following in the tradition of Imago Transvesti and Imitatio Transvesti as modeled by “the Life of St. Marinos the Monk.” Between 1413 and 1415, Kempe is traveling through the Holy Land and Rome, during which time she is given a persistent Imago Transvesti. In a vision, she is living as a trans virgin, transforming the image of herself from a mother (as the world has assigned her to be) to a virgin (as God commanded). The transition from mother to virgin is embodied not only by exchange of clothing, dark colors for whites, but from the locomotion of the travel. Quite literally, on the road she is more free and boundaries of identity more fluid. Also, Jerusalem and Rome, the centers of Christian world, function to re-center the trans saint. In England, often shown on the margins of the medieval Mappa Mundi, Kempe is marginalized for her revelations from God and later for her trans virginity. Moving from the margins to the center coincides with her movement from the Imago Mundi, the image of her worldly self, to the Imago Dei, God’s image of her.

Around the summer of 1413, the Imago Transvesti is given to Kempe in a vision, wherein God commands her to go on pilgrimage, promising her freedom and protection if she will mark herself as an Imago Dei by wearing white clothes. God commands, "dowtyr, I sey to the I wyl that thu were clothys of whyte and non other colowr, for thu schal ben arayd aftyr my wyl" (Daughter, I say to you that I will that you be in clothes of white and no other color, for you will be arrayed after my will).[1] White clothes on a woman are a medieval signifier of virginity. Kempe worries over her embodiment; marked by years of childbearing. While Genesis 1.27 asserts that God creates humanity in a divine image, including gender, "creavit Deus hominem ad imaginem suam ad imaginem Dei creavit illum masculum et feminam creavit eos" (God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them), the medieval Imago Dei must combat the Imago Mundi and the gender culture assigns.[2] Wearing white, Kempe would be insisting that the Imago Dei that God has set in her heart (virginity) is more true than the truth assigned to her body (motherhood). The motherhood may have been the will of her husband and the world, but the virginity is the will of God. The radicalness of this supernatural command is evident in the phrase, "whyte and non other colowr." God is clarifying that Kempe would be taking on the identity of a virgin and rejecting her identity as a mother. The color of the one identity will not be seen in the other. The function of clothes is to assert identity markers in ways that usually hide or overrule the body. The body may be suggested but not seen when clothes is covering it. No word is given from God that her body will be changed but rather its meaning will be reassigned and overruled by the clothing.

The Imago Transvesti often contradicts the assigned genders of the world. For fear of embodying this contradiction and the battles her body would have to suffer as a result, Kempe pleads to God, "A, der Lord, yf I go arayd on other maner than other chast women don, I drede that the pepyl wyl slawndyr me. Thei wyl sey I am an ypocryt and wondryn upon me" (Dear Lord, if I go arrayed as a virgin, I dread people will slander me. They will say I am a hypocrite and stare at me).[3] A medieval woman, Kempe is aware of how clothing signifies distinct gender identities, between men and women, as well as between women. Virgins wear certain clothes to identify themselves, wives others clothes. To wear white clothes would be to declare that she is a virgin. One may transition from the identity of virgin to mother but not from mother to virgin.
Kempe fears the scorn that comes from such a transition, particularly being a hypocrite. A hypocrite is one who says they are one way and behaves in another way. If Kempe says she is a virgin but has given birth to children, others will say that she is this special kind of liar. Yet this is what God commands in showing her this vision. "Ya, dowtyr," God says, "the mor wondryng that thow hast for my lofe, the mor thu plesyst me" (Yes, daughter, the more they wonder at you as you live the life I command, the more you please me).[4] God is showing her a true revelation of herself as a virgin. So far, this Imago Dei is only visible to her. To embody this Imago Tranvesti, like other trans saints, she would be taking a risk of becoming a target. Yet by embodying the invisible truth of the Imago Transvesti, set apart as a trans saint, Kempe is making the Imago Dei visible to the world. She will be revealing the Imago Transvesti to others as God has revealed it to her and make the world consider the diversity in God's creation.

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Wanting to test the truth of the Imago Transvesti as Imago Dei, Kempe delays for a time until she can get validation of her revelation from the Church. Around 1413, she seeks Bishop Repingdon to affirm the command for her transition. Hearing her plea to wear white as a virgin, the Bishop gives her a discouraging response, " I have take my cownsel, and my cownsel wyl not gyf me to professe yow in so synguler a clothyng wythowtyn bettyr avysement" (I have considered with consul, and my consul will not allow me to affirm that you should wear such clothing without better advisement).[5] The repetition of the word "consul" affirms how Kempe's Imago Dei is elided, marginalized, and bound by the discourse of the world. Society affirms that she is a wife and mother. Social norms are that mothers do not wear white. The Bishop is not willing to take a risk on an Imago Transvesti that he cannot see and contradict the Imago Mundi he can see. Where the Bishop keeps the question open is in allowing Kempe to go on the commanded pilgrimage that she might prove the truth of her Imago Dei by living it. The Bishop allows, "ye sey be the grace of God ye wyl go to Jerusalem. Therfor prayth to God that it may abyden tyl ye come fro Jerusalem that ye be bettyr prevyd and knowyn" (You see by the grace of God that you will go to Jerusalem. Therefore pray to God that you may abide until you come back from Jerusalem with better proof and knowledge).[6] Pilgrimages by their difficulty were used as tests of unseen graces. Like how many trans persons describe transition as a journey, the work of turning the invisible Imago Dei into a visible embodiment takes time and effort. In other words, the Bishop insists that he will only believe what he can see. If Kempe embodies and lives the narrative of trans virginity on pilgrimage, the Imago Transvesti will be given a form the Bishop cannot deny.

The vision of the Imago Transvesti can be revealed, transitions are often not a smooth process full of starts, stops, and set-backs. Kempe does set off on pilgrimage, yet not until the summer of 1414. Rejected by fellow pilgrims, Kempe prays to for help. In reply, God again gives her a command and a vision of herself as a virgin, " I schal ordeyn for the ryth wel and bryng the in safté to Rome and hom ageyn into Inglond wythowtyn ony velany of thi body yyf thow wilt be clad in white clothys and weryn hem as I seyd to the whil thu wer in Inglond" (I will ordain your wellness and bring you safely to Rome and home to England without any violence, if you will wear the white clothes I instructed of you while you were in England).[7] As is common in saint's lives, Imago Dei arrive when saints are at their most vulnerable. Rather than being a threat to her wellness, the Imago Transvesti becomes the mode by which her wellness is ordained and assured.  The trans saint of this hagiography, Kempe accepts the invisible truth of the Imago Transvesti, although she fears she will now be called a liar and hypocrite. To this worry, God assures, "I am the spirit of God... Thu fondist me nevyr deceyvabyl, ne I bid the no thyng do but that whech is worshep to God and profyte to thy sowle yyf thu wilt do theraftyr" (I am the spirit of God... you found me never deceptive, now I bid you nothing but what is good to God and profitable to your soul if you will follow me hereafter).[8] Often trans persons are accused of being in disguise, yet their insistence of demonstrates authenticity over time. Saints are called hypocrites for contradicting the way of the world, but are vindicated by the end of their stories. Marinos is rejected by his community on charges of hypocrisy, yet he is vindicated in the end by God. Marking Kempe as such a saint, God promises Kempe that her story will follow likewise.

There is a critical difference between the truth of Imago Mundi that it is made and reasoned from other true things while Imago Dei are revealed by the Creator of Logos. If as Augustine writes in "De Trinitatae”, “in the soul of man… [is] that image of the Creator,” then the truth of the Imago Dei within Kempe is true although it is not yet seen. [9]If she embodies the Imago Transvesti, the charges of inconstancy will fall before the constant image of truth God makes of her. The promises of God and creature found in the Imago Transvesti prove true over the course of the pilgrimage from Jerusalem to Rome. Shortly after praying and receiving the revelation of the Imago Dei once again, Kempe discovers an Irishman with a bent back who speaks English named Richard. Although he is uncertain of the truth and wisdom of the Image she shares with him of their journey, Kempe is able to convince him through her persistence and insistence of God's truth.
Occurring in private revelation remains consistent, yet delayed until Kempe changes enough in person and circumstance to be able to transition. To the surprise of many, including Richard and the group of pilgrims who had abandoned her in Jerusalem, Kempe and her friend arrives safely in Rome. There, Kempe commits to being constant to her word as well and makes moves to transition. When in Rome, Kempe ordered white clothes and wore them "as sche was comawndyd for to do yerys beforn in hir sowle be revelacyon, and now it was fulfilt in effect” (as it was commanded years before in her revelation, so it was now fulfilled).[10] In committing herself to the Imago Transvesti, Kempe "fulfilt" several promises. God's Imago Dei is proven, the Bishop contingency is answered, Kempe's promise is fulfilled. In England, the established order could not see the truth in her Imago Transvesti, yet in Rome it has become visible for all to see. 

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Once the Imago Mundi is seen beside the Imago Dei, society becomes jealous. Soon after transitioning, Kempe became the target for a local priest, " He steryd meche pepyl agen hir and seyd mech evyl of hir, for sche weryd white clothyng mor than other dedyn whech wer holyar and bettyr than evyr was sche as hym thowt" (He stirred many people against her and said much evil of her on account of her white clothing; as if she deemed herself holier and better than others, he thought).[11] The revelation of Imago Transvesti can conflict with the world that rejects it. Imago Mundi establish values and norms, setting certain embodiments in the center of its world and others on the margins. Imago Dei asserts a vision of the world where the margins can be centers of their own. As Kempe is told to reject all color from her white clothes, so the world feels the force of her rejection. Imago Mundi that judged and condemns her, now fears that she will judge. The secret of the Imago Dei in hagiographies is its constant insistence through the mutable Imago Mundi that can draw the saint into inconstancy. When in Rome, Kempe is introduced to a Dutch priest who convinces her to confess to him. He asks her, will you do as I bid? [12] Yes, she replies. Having set her up with a promise to submit to any of his instructions, the priest charges her to leave her white clothes and wear black clothes. Kempe submits to the priest as an authority of the world and God, " than had sche felyng that sche plesyd God wyth hir obediens" (then had the feeling she pleased God with her obedience).[13] For Kempe, norms are stronger when voiced by a churchman, when the Imago Mundi and Dei can purport to speak in one voice. Yet readers know the conflict. Bound by a new promise in contradiction to the old, Kempe is caught between Imago Mundi and Imago Dei; each asserting claims, insisting on her constancy and loyalty.

Having abandoned normate motherhood and then trans virginity, Kempe is ridiculed for betraying both her masters. She has fallen into the position described in Matthew 6:24, "nemo potest duobus dominis servire aut enim unum odio habebit et alterum diliget aut unum sustinebit et alterum contemnet non potestis" (No man can serve two masters. For either he will hate the one, and love the other: or he will sustain the one, and despise the other).[14] Just as Jesus is describing the jealous conflict between the worldly and divine, Kempe finds herself serving different masters who are giving her conflicting commands and images of herself. The transition back to a wife was most felt as a betrayal by those who had affirmed her virginity. Her friends in Rome could not understand why she gave up on the Imago Transvesti, asked her she had been robbed. No, she replied, then fled Rome. On the road, she runs into one of the priests that had opposed her transition to virgin and smugly applauds that she realized the foolishness of her Imago Transvesti, "he enjoyid gretly that sche was put fro hir wille and seyd unto hir, 'I am glad that ye gon in blak clothyng" (He greatly enjoyed she had been taken away from her previous choice and said, 'I am glad you have gone back to black clothing').[15] At the disappointment of her friends in Rome and the satisfaction of a man she considered her enemy, Kempe began to reconsider her choices. Before the priest could move on, she told him, "Ser, owyr Lord wer not displesyd thow I weryd whyte clothys, for he wyl that I do so" (Sir, our Lord was not displeased that I wore white clothes, for her wills that I do so).[16] The Imago Dei has not abandoned her, and she has not entirely abandoned her Imago Dei. After submitting to the Imago Mundi, Kempe's life becomes more inconstant and full of conflict as Imago Transvesti constantly continues to assert its primacy.

In the end, Imago Transvesti wins out against the inconstancy of Imago Mundi by asserting the constancy that Augustine describes, “if it is made after the image of God …certainly it always is.” Given her lack of peace during her return to her worldly identity as a mother it is not surprising that upon her return to Rome Kempe also returns to her virgin identity. The Book testifies that while she was in Rome a little before Christmas, our Lord Jesus Christ commanded her, “to gon to hir gostly fadyr, Wenslawe be name, and byddyn hym gevyn hir leve to weryn ageyn hir white clothys" (to go to her confessor, Wenslawe by name, and bid him give her leave to wear her white clothes again).[17] Location and locomotion continues to function as representative of transition. Movement destabilizes her but Rome reasserts the fixity of Imago Transvesti. While she moves, Rome does not. While she changes, the Imago Transvesti does not.  While before she confused the Imago Mundi and the Imago Dei as acting in the same voice, the voice of Christ disrupts and divides this conflation. In the end, the command from God overrules the command from a priest, "whan sche teld hym the wyl of owr Lord, he durst not onys sey nay. And so weryd sche white clothys evyr aftyr"(when she told him the will of our Lord, he dared not say 'no.' And so she would wear white clothes ever after).[18] The jealous match between Imago Mundi and Imago Dei concludes here as Kempe comes to understand that obedience to the church is not always the same as obedience to God, especially when the church becomes the enforcer to worldly gender norms at conflict with Imago Transvesti. Imago Dei of Genesis may be used time and again to assert gender binaries and divisions yet are undone by living out the failure of these social constructs and experiencing the persistence of trans truths.

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Note

[1] Staley 728-3.
[2] Genesis 1.27.
[3] Staley 733-5.
[4] Ibid. 735-6
[5] Ibid. 796-9.
[6] Ibid. 799.
[7] Ibid. 1758-61.
[8] Ibid. 1756
[9] Augustine. The Trinity. Stephen McKenna trans. 6.874.
[10] Staley 1854.
[11] Ibid. 1960-3
[12] Ibid. 1966-99.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Biblia Sacra Vulgata (Vulgate): Holy Bible in Latin. “Matthew.” 6:24. Stuttgart, Germany: German Bible Society, 2007. Print.
[15] Staley 1966-99.
[16] Ibid.
[17] Ibid. 2136-8.
[18] Ibid. 2136-40.


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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The GW Digital Humanities Institute Defends Global Networks


"Yay #GWDH17! Memorable day 
of #Global #Chaucers & #Shakespeares
archives, ethics, translation, embodied 
poetics, motion X cultures @GWDHI"

@JonathanHsy

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The Ban

Do we send someone to push through protestors and fight the TSA to get our transnational scholars to the conference? Could we even get anywhere close? Would there still be a conference? These were all serious questions our conference committee (Jonathan Hsy, Alexa Huang, Haylie Swenson, and myself) were forced to consider late one January evening. The Muslim Ban had been announced earlier in the day, halting transport from seven countries but also slowing, stopping, and confusing travel of all varieties of people in the United States. Trump had signed the executive order with immediate effect but few knew exactly what to do or how to handle the number of situations with uncertain standings and outcomes. In response to the Ban and its damaging effects, protestors had gathered at major airports. What made the event stranger to me was that I was caught in the middle of it without knowing exactly what "it" was. In the days immediately prior, I had legally changed my name and gender marker at a series of government agencies across Illinois. During these personal life changes I was busy working on the conference website and following up with hotels for the various guests. Between getting my bags packed, grabbing food on way to the airport, then pushing through security, I had not given much to any attention to what was going on politically. I knew that Trump had signed a new executive order that was making a lot of people upset, but as in the campaign, the horrible news had all began to blend together. It was entirely possible some of this was bleed over from the news from the last few days of executive orders. It was not. 

The first sign that something was going on occurred when I was going through security. While I'm no stranger to strange and unnecessary interrogation from TSA agents on account of being transgender, this time I was being grilled not on who I was but where I was going and why. I was going home I told them. I live in Connecticut. Yes, I'm aware that my flight is going to Boston. Flights to Boston are three to four times cheaper than flights to Hartford, CT. Yes, that is outrageous. Yes, I do think it is a small airport in Hartford. Thank you, I am looking forward to seeing my family. No comment on whether or not I will have a good night. Once I got through to the other side of the TSA, I took a seat and opened my e-mail. Another urgent request for the website. As I paid for internet (the free 30 min was hardly enough to go through my e-mail and make replies) and got to work. After I made the changes, I turned on social media. Suddenly my unusual interrogation by the TSA agent began to make more sense. As I began to understand the gravity and widespread impact the Muslim Ban was successfully having I began contacting the other conference organizers. Over the night and for the next weeks were would monitor the situation closely. As stays were assert and the courts finally halting the ban for the time being, we began to be more cautiously hopeful that at very least the conference would still be occurring. Still, contingent plans had to been written up and a series of terrible scenerios imagined as we tried to prepare for the fallout our government's actions would have on our work and the intellectual community at large.

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The Global Community

Approaching the date, the significance of our Global Chaucer and Shakespeare conference took on a larger and more pressing significance. As the U.S. government warred with the Justice Department and the public over borders, the GW Digital Humanities Conference became living evidence on the importance of transnational networks that resisted, span, and destabilized borders. While most of the conference was carried out in English, once all the organizers and invited speakers were collected in the GW Gelman Library, our community consisted of over a half dozen nationalities and even more language groups, including a few dead languages. Counting those who participated in the conference online via live-tweeting (#GWDH17) the number of countries and language present cannot be readily tallied. What arouse in the subsequent conversations was not only a sharing of distinct cultural locations but a mutual sense of transnationalism. Michael Saenger interwove stories of his travels between the U.S. and England throughout the day's entertainment. Eve Salisbury discussed what it meant to teach students and work with speakers along the border of the United States and Canada. As borders become less permeable, the ability to slip into Canada to take a shortcut to the medieval conference in Kalamazoo, Michigan, becomes more perilous. Indeed, in the wake of the recent Ban and shift toward white nationalism in the U.S. government, boycotts of U.S. hosted international conferences are being planned. The American academics at the conference applaud the activism and wonder what effects such boycotts will have on these future conferences. For this weekend, however, we were all together to consider and plan how to use transnational technologies and humanities to build up global communities even as institutions assert greater divisions and borders.

Among the language groups in active use in the conference was American Sign Language (ASL) as translators and speakers addressed the audience in a variety of modes. Following the question of access, as well as Carol Robinson's discussion of "Chaucer and Shakespeare in the Deaf World: Transcriptions and Interpretations," Jill Bradbury added insights on how to make literatures like Chaucer and Shakespeare accessible to a wider range of audiences, especially among the Deaf community. Key to this discussion was the dialects and performances of sign language in different versions of Shakespeare. Those who attend to the American Sign Language translations the words being verbally spoken on stage will discover how much they add to and define the performance. When Shakespeare is done in part or entirely in ASL the plays take on new ranges of expression and meaning. ASL Shakespeare continually builds on the combined talents of performer and translator. Robinson affirmed how her students worked at the intersection of translation and adaption when creating American Sign Language versions of Chaucer's The Wife of Bath. Because ASL relies on embodied cues, each translation carries significant bonds with the performance. Certain gestures and facial expressions make the signs clearer or add further meaning. As a result, another person telling the same story in ASL would likely end up creating their own adaptation of the performance even as they stayed faithful to the same text. Indeed, when the conference broke for food, the conversation continued. I got to speak with Katherine Schaap Williams over salad and wraps on how disability and diverse embodiments interpenetrate all our global networks. While languages and codes shift, technologies are replaced by newer models, from medieval to modern society, history continues to play out the dialectical battle of access and boundaries. Out of this arouse a shared sense of the pressing need to be conversant in multiples historical eras, networks, and modes of communication.

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What a Transnational 
Chaucer and Shakespeare
Mean Here & Now

Following the insights from the World Shakespeare Bibliography Online (Laura Estill) on "What's In and What's Out," The Global Shakespeare Project (Alexa Huang) shared the roundtable with the Global Chaucer Project (Candance Barrington and Jonathan Hsy)resulting in some good-spirited competition and a sincere collaboration in asserting the transnationalism of these key literary figures. The entries in the Global Chaucer Project attest that the Canterbury Tales did not only travel across London but across Argentina and Brazil. Shakespeare not only spoke English and French but Portuguese and Spanish in Central and South American Dialects. By allowing Chaucer to become provincial in China or Russia, at home in their language and culture, his words become transnational. Of course, the challenge of curating such archives is determining "what is in and what is out." For Global Chaucer, this has more to do with labor and feasibility. In general, explained the directors, they do not say, "no." What they are more likely to say is, "how?" or "can you help get this done?" As a result, contributors take a hand in constructing the archive and not merely adding content to it. On the other side, Global Shakespeare admitted that due to feasibility issues, they are forced to be more limiting in what they will host. So many performances and adaptations of Shakespeare are made every year that archiving all of it with the limited workers and technology available would bring the network to a stand still. As a result, Global Shakespeare requires a performance to be released on television or film and available on an accessible recording. After all, said Global Shakespeare, there are other sites currently at work documenting and archiving other forms of performance. One archive does not need to do it all. In the end, the good is better than the perfect because it effects more change. By providing a growing range of editions for readers of Chaucer and Shakespeare to explore, more global adaptation, reading, and community will be produced by those who follow these authors as they migrate and find refuge around the world.

The roundtable concluded on a thread began in the insights of Fundación Shakespeare Argentina (Mercedes de la Torre and Carlos A. Drocchi), and the featured speaker and translator, José Francisco Botelho, who explored how Chaucer and Shakespeare became Brazilian in the process of making Portuguese editions of their works. For instance, common brown birds like larks do not mean the same thing in Brazil as they do in England, so other birds are named. The meaning of a play or the Canterbury Tales stays the same, says Botelho, only by changing some of the details. A lark becomes unusual and foreign if used in a Brazilian context. A common brown bird from Brazil on the other hand gives a sense of people on pilgrimage not too far from home. As a result, Canterbury begins to feel a bit more like it is located in some out of the way place in South America. Chaucer begins walking out of London and may find himself listening to birds and walking over a stream in Brazil. As a translator, Botelho finds himself having to make more alterations or additions to the text in Shakespeare plays because of their genre as a performance text. Consideration has to be given as to how actors might interpret the lines to make the most out of them for a local Brazilian audience. As much as he could, the translator would stick with a direct translation but often enough the meanings didn't have the same one to one connection as the words. Some direct translations would require a wider understanding of English culture, environment, and history in order to make full sense of them. These demands are less problematic in written texts such as Chaucer's. In Shakespeare's plays this additional historical context can be clunky. These changes were important, explained Botelho, "because jokes aren't funny if you need a footnote to explain them." 


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Thank You GW Digital Humanities

The Global Chaucer and Shakespeare Conference was a bitter sweet event not only because of its resistance to the wider U.S. political position but also because it signaled the last event Haylie Swenson and myself would be organizing for the GW DH Institute and GW in general. Both of us will be finishing our Ph.D's and moving on to other pastures by the end of the year. Speaking on our behalf, we are grateful for the fellowship of directors Jonathan Hsy and Alexa Huang, as well as the wider network of scholars, translators, and digital humanities the Institute has allowed us to engage as members. Moving forward, we will remain a part of the DH Institute's wider network but after this academic year will be less involved on the day to day work. Too often the value of day to day work is underrated and remembered only in recollection. Our heads are down and focused on the work in front of us. A lot happens over computers, skype meetings, and sitting around an Indian restaurant with invited guest. Personally, I'm grateful for the role each of those moments had in us laying the foundations of an excellent Institute, some cutting edge conferences, and in building up movements of resistance, reform, and revolution. Thank GW DH and let's keep this going. The work isn't done yet!

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