Friday, August 26, 2016

Transgender Saints: The Imitatio Christi of St. Marinos the Monk

“Do you wish to save your own soul 
and see mine destroyed?

Life of Saint Marinos

As genre of writing difference, trans hagiography’s goal is to offer an image of sacred life that inspires imitation. In “Crossed Texts, Crossed Sex,” Stephan Davis offers Marinos as epitomizing Imago Tranvesti as a transition that leads Imitatio Transvesti through the establishment of a model of Christian imitation, "it should also be noted that the story of Mary/Marinos is primarily a drama of elaborate personal transformation, a grand exchange of otherness." The “grand exchange of otherness” is one respect concerns Marinos’s gender transition and his transition from worldly margins to God as the center of Creation. In another way, this grand exchange of otherness is the effect of producing Imitatio Tranvesti in society, the creation of trans likeness in different people. A model for trans and cis communities alike, the trans saint offers models by which cisgender limits on God’s creation can be liberated and the damage it has done healed.

Images inspire imitations, Imitatio Christis from Imago Deis, Imitatio Transvestis from Imago Transvestis. While Imitatio Christi has a long tradition in Christian thought, imitation of God has roots in the Image of God from Genesis. The etymology of Imitatio demonstrates a fairly old and consistent meaning, imitation. The word derives from the Latin root, “imitari” from the Proto-Indo-European, “h’eym “ (*aim) from which the word Imago, or image, is derived (Online Etymology Dictionary). Imitation is the production of the same in the difference, the self in the other, in a line that connects Creation to creation. Imitation is the process that produces images. If these images, such as Imago Transvesti, effectively encourage Imitatio Transvesti, then the result will be more images of the trans saint. Consequently, Imitatio Transvesti will be the affirmation of more transgender lives and the transformation of non-trans lives into engines for trans justice as a way of following the way of the Imitatio Christi and becoming an Imago Dei. 

The Imitatio Christi, or imitation of Christ, is a central thesis in Christianity even as its language and doctrines were being developed. Indeed, the name the early Church gave themselves, “The Way,” and the later name, “Christians,” function to transform each devotee into an image in imitation of Christ. In the Book of Ephesians, St. Paul calls the “sanctos,” i.e. “God’s holy people” (NIV) or “saints” (RSVCE), to live in imitation of God. Paul writes, “estote ergo imitatores Dei sicut filii carissimi” (Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.. 5.1. NIV). According to Paul, saints are those who live Imitatio Christi. As will be shown, this imitation, whether Imitatio Christi or Imitatio Transvesti, is characterized by acts of extraordinary love and sacrifice that inspires others to love and sacrifice. 

In the early Church, roughly a century before the Vita of St. Marinos, Augustine of Hippo published his confessions where he likewise argued that the way of the saint is one of Imitatio Christi which in turns prompts others to follow in likewise imitation. In Book II, Augustine writes, “perverse te imitantur omnes …. sed etiam sic te imitando indicant creatorem te esse omnis naturae, et ideo non esse quo a te omni modo recedatur” (All things thus imitate thee--but pervertedly… But, even in this act of perverse imitation, they acknowledge thee to be the Creator of all nature, and recognize that there is no place whither they can altogether separate themselves from thee. Augustine II. Vi). There are distortions of the Imitatio Christi in any creature, including the Imitatio Transvesti, but God transforms each division from the divine into a new light and road back to the origin. In the end, innovations in the Imitatio Transvesti will be reclaimed as the trans saint’s co-creative (or subcreative) imitation of God the Creator in acting actualization of their life.

When the Vita of St. Marinos the Monk began to be circulated it soon inspired imitators and other images of trans saints with their own trans hagiographies. By the late middle ages, an evident Imitatio Transvesti has arisen around St. Marinos, being enfolded in the work of St. Thomas Aquanas. In a study of Marinos’s effect on medieval theology, Stephen Davis notes, "In the Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquanus considered the case of Joan of Arc in reference to St. Marina/St. Marinos. Aquanas writes... if the brave virgin Marina pleased God in the habit of a spiritual man, how much less does this prophetic virgin in warlike arms offen; rather she will be able to fight to defend and protect the state and the common good," (Davis 56). Rooted in the origins of the early Church, Marinos becomes a narrative and material foundation for later trans saints to be built upon. On this rock, Christ builds his transgender church. 

If early Christian saints follow St. Augustine assertion, “Let them be an example unto the faithful by living before them and stirring them up to imitation,” then I argue that the Imitatio Transvesti as a key feature of trans hagiography must work to at once imitate Christ and call on others to follow through imitation of the saint (XXI.xiii). The trans life turns from something that is supposed to imitate cisgender life into a model of imitation for trans and cis people alike. There is something authentic that inspires copies. In the first case, Imitatio Transvesti occurs to bring justice for the trans community. Like the sacrifice of Christ brings others to feel the passion and suffering they endured so too the sacrifice of trans lives encourages the renunciation of sinful systems they underwent. In the second case, Imitatio Transvesti occurs for the improvement of cis community, to liberate them from their own destructive divisions and limits. In both cases, imitation is enacted for the glorification of the truth and creativity of God.


The Relics of Alliance

In the Poetics, Aristotle names empathy, solidarity, and catharsis as key features of imitation, especially in tragedy. “Tragedy,” writes Aristotle, “is an imitation not only of a complete action, but of events inspiring fear or pity” (I.xi). In other words, it is not enough that the work of the tragic figure is taken on but the trouble of the imitated, such as the trans saint, becomes the trouble of other subjects. Before Aristotle, Plato called empathic solidarity, inspiration or divine madness. In Ion, Plato defines inspiration as “a divinity moving you… For all good poets, epic as well as lyric, compose their beautiful poems not by art, but because they are inspired and possessed” (Ion). In a way, through the Imitatio Transvesti, the trans saint as well as his devotees are drawn into a divine madness brought on Imitatio Christi. The wondrousness and marvelousness of trans saints in turn points back to the Creator of all wonders, the Imago Dei.

After Marinos's death, the body of the saint is revealed for the monastery, causing great commotion. A chorus of cries arises in the monastery response to the saint’s body. The effect of these cries is a spreading of the disturbance. Elsewhere in the monastery, records the Vita, "The superior, hearing their cries, asked them, 'What troubles you so?'" The first response to the trans body is inarticulate emotion. Nonetheless, the reaction draws others in to go deeper into the mystery. This is followed by a question. Yet the question is not concerning the trans body but the disturbance itself. What is it exactly that disturbs those who regard the trans body? What is it in the world that makes the revelation of transgender such a cause for outcry. And they said, “Brother Marinos is a woman.” The trouble that is inspire in the community arises in no small way from the realization of the suffering the trans person endured in life which now they share.

The power the trans body has the ability to transform a community’s posturing divisions and relations with trans bodies. The leader is described, "[d]rawing near and seeing" (Vita). The monks held the trans brother at a distance and did not see him for the blessing that he was. The trans body reverses this marginalization, not by changing Marinos but by drawing the community to the margins. The saint does not need to move, he is "set apart" in a way that brings him closer to God. As the other Christians desire that closeness to truth and love, go to where he is to see the truth he knew and embodied. The Vita says that leader, "cast himself down at [Marinos's] feet," (Vita). While the superior once cast out the saint, setting him below the lowest in the monastery, the gesture inverts the relations of the world. The leader is caught in an overwhelming desire to prostrate himself lower than the lowest part of the trans monk's body. Whereas in life, the trans saint was subjugated, in death he is held up in honor.

Even in death, the dead trans monk drives others to allyship. On his knees before Marinos as his confessor, the superior cries, “Forgive me, for I have sinned against you. I shall lie dead here at your holy feet until such time as I hear forgiveness for all the wrongs that I have done you.” Too often society is better at mourning the dead than they are caring for or vindicating the truth of trans persons when they are alive. Yet the superiors tears extend the hope that death is not too late to ask for justice. The superior feels his sin and the sin of his community as a pain is his body as it had effects on Marinos, affirming an Imitatio Transvesti. In modern terminology, the superior enacts a kind of allyship. As with Marinos, so with him. If injury (even death) is done to Marinos, then so with him until the trans person releases him. In one way or another, the body of the trans saint become an impetus for more trans or trans-like sainthood.

For medieval theologians and hagiographers, imitation was a form of devotion to first Mover and Creator of all images. In Mimesis: Culture, Art, Society, Gunter Bebauer and Christoph Wulf offer a variety of meanings for Mimsesis in the history of Western thought, “including the act of resembling, of presenting the self, and expression as well as mimicry, imitation, representation, and nonsensuous similarity” (1). If not all then many of these meanings were active in some way for medieval understandings of imitation and sustained a tension between authenticity and artifice. In some ways, difference remains between an ally and the target community, there is still a presentation of the superior’s self as cisgender. However, like an ally in war imitation declares that what happens to one, such as an attack, will be answered by the ally “as if” it were occurring to them. Once again, the phrase “as if” remains an active and critical idea in Imitatio Tranavesti.

Imitatio Transvesti functions by making copies. By creating likeness in difference Imitatio is a form of production and reproduction that uses trans and non-trans bodies alike. After the discovery of Marinos's body in the monastery, more and more people are drawn to Marinos, including those who slandered him, to learn his embodied truths. "Hearing this, the innkeeper was astonished and wondered greatly at his words," recounts the Vita, "And the superior took the innkeeper and showed him that was a woman. At this began to lament and to marvel at what had happened." The text uses various words with the meaning of wonder or marvel. These are reactions to phenomenon with great differences, sacred or profane. In this case, the wonder has the ability to draw people to Marinos, like a relic, and affect them; one may say, infect them. By each new devotee, word spreads and more will be drawn to the trans saint and caught by Imitatio Transvesti. In the end, the distinction between trans and non-trans bodies becomes blurred.


The Miracle of Liberation

Trans hagiography embodies the radical idea that Imitatio Transvesti is a form of Imitatio Chrisiti, that the affirmation of the transgender is not only actualization of Imago Dei but that by affirmation comes liberation from the worldly constrains of cisgender. Through the truth of imitation society will be set free and lives will be healed. In the medieval hagiographic tradition, liberation and healing usually are marked as miracles. Hagiographies generically feature miracles as signs of God's glory and of the grace embodied by the saint. The Vita of Marinos the Monk boast a series of miracles usually expressed as the liberation from demons; signs which occur in death as in life perhaps sin an anticipation of turning the saint’s body into holy relics. In the first case, these demons may be the sufferings of particular lives while the second case suggests a wider liberation of society from cisgender divisions back to the diversity of Imago Dei.

The first miracle affirms the life giving power of the Imitatio Transvesti. Shortly after Marinos's father died, the saint receives from God, "the gift of healing those who were troubled by demons." In the Church, demonic possession signified many different conditions. A clue to the demon’s meaning comes when the text description of release as healing, "For if she placed her hand upon any of the sick, they were immediately healed." The materiality of the contact and the illness undercut ideas that Imitatio Transvesti is only a play of signs. For many, trans embodiment is a liberation from the demons of cisgender. The laying on of hands was a common trope in hagiography where saints physically touched those suffering an illness. From this contact with the hands of St. Marinos, people became freed from their demons and healed. To this day, one of the hands of the saint remains venerated as a relic with the power to heal lives.

The second reference to Marino's miraculous materiality has more dispersed effects as it works to liberation the community from destructive cisgender norms. The miracle comes after when the saint's dead body is on display and the women who accused him of sexual impropriety, "appeared, possessed by a demon." What marks the woman as possessed by demons is unclear, yet signs were immediately visible. Coming to see his remains, the truth of his flasehood and prejudice against Marinos is revealed. She admits, before Marinos's body, that the saint did not (indeed could not) impregnate her. Instead, she admits that she falsely slandered the trans monk, "confessing the truth." This miracle then not only set the stage of another healing miracle but complete the concluding second motion of a hagiography: provided a narrative that made sense of and glorified the body. In death, as in life, the trans monk inspires liberation from cisgender untruths.

The revelation of the trans saint’s embodied truth unbinds the community from lies yet also directs cis and trans persons alike towards other ways to live out gender. When the woman tells the community, “she had been seduced by the soldier,” she illuminates the exchange of a soldier for the monk as the father of the child. A soldier is a man of the violent materiality of the world. Yet while he was the child's biological father, giving material life to the child, Marinos become the child's present father, giving him spiritual life. In yet another way, Marinos lived as a man and father in a way exceeding other cisgender men. Although the materiality of the saint confessed this already, the miracle of the woman's appearance provides the narrative that clarifies the embodied truth and the truth of other bodies. The father of the child has much to learn from the trans monk who lived as a father even though he was born without a phallus. Imitatio Transvesti is not only for trans faithful, also liberating cisgender men and women.

After the woman's miraculous appearance and confession before the body of St. Marinos, she is healed from demons and brought closer to God. The healing occurs sometime later, yet instantaneously, " at the tomb of the blessed Mary" (Vita). Unlike the laying on of hands performed during Marinos's life, here the healing occurs indirectly. After the woman was healed, the Vita describes, "everyone glorified God because of this sign, and because of patient endurance, for [St. Marinos] vigorously endured until death, refusing to make herself known." This is much like the need for confession to restore a believer to a state of grace before they receive communion. Before the woman can approach the shrine of Mary (often associated with the spiritual life of women) she must confess her sin against the saint. In other words, in order for the woman to move closer to a grace-filled womanhood, she must repair her relations with the trans community.

In life and death, Christ drove out demons and laid hands on the sick in what is traditionally called miracles but which scripture, especially the Gospel of John call signs. As signs, these acts that inspire many to imitate Christ, point to an Imago Dei that Creates and re-Creates the world in diverse and dynamic ways through human contact. Trans hagiography follows the generic function of saints lives to produce the protagonist as an Imago Dei that is then reproduced through the Imitatio Transvesti of followers. The relation of the object, an image of God, into an action, the imitation of God, from a common root word (as well as a common divine Word) affirms an image of Creation that is ongoing and collaborative. One is not merely born a transgender saint but becomes one and that this transition always occurs in community. Thus naming saints “those set apart” is important to the social movement that directs society away from normative centers towards the margins and revaluation of trans lives that may heal and liberate the world.





1 comment:

  1. Thanks for a great article! I linked to it in a new piece about St Marinos today on my LGBTQ spirituality blog at Q Spirit. Blessings to you today as churches honor the departure of St Marinos: