Friday, March 1, 2019

Sapphic Visions: the Queer Erotics of Hildegard Von Bingen


"Inside, you’ve got heaven and earth, and all of creation. You’re a world—everything is hidden in you."

Hildegard Von Bingen
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Assignment Overview

In this exercise, the seminar will creative a "vision" that queers (alters, disturbs, widens) Christianity through contemplation on the virtues and circumstances of Hildegard Von Bingen. These visions will take the form of a visionary presenting specific insights on the given topic and the other members of the group representing the students or adepts presenting questions or alternative points of view. The goal is to rehearse and then present discourses that arise from or cut across the life of Hildegard Von Bingen. All of these discourses call on students to offer their own insights and experiences. This means that visions and queries are rooted in the historical figure and context of Hildegard but applied to later and current events. Again, this is not a recitation of facts and dates but rather an invitation to contemplate and discourse around important contributions that arouse of women-center relationships, the erotics of chastity, queer family, convents, the divine feminine, mysticism v. scholasticism, and the body v. the mind.


Each group will be given some time in class to research, script, and rehearse. Because the goal is to incite conversation, the visions and adepts' queries need not be pre-written word for word. The task is to generate a discussion which will conclude with the visionary and the adepts inviting others into the dialogue.
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Sample Groups

Vision 1: The Love Between Women,
Hildegard Von Bingen and Sister Richardis


Convents were attractive to a wide ranger of women for diverse reasons, not least because of either a lack of attraction for reproductive sex with men or a desire for intimacy with women. This intimacy need not always be reduced to sexual intercourse, just as heterosexual relationships should not be. Yet for women who love women, convents were places where same gender community and intimacy could be enjoyed. Numerous cases of overtly sexual or chastely erotic relations between nuns are found across the generations. A famous such pairing existed between Hildegard Von Bingen and Sister Richardis. Some scholars strongly suspect that their relationship was sexual. Others believe their intimacies manifested in other forms. In any case, this love between women was greater than any other relationship either of them possessed, especially with any living man.


Because sexual intercourse, including queer sex, tends to focus on penetrative sex, society has often not been able to define sexual relations between women. This failure to define women's love for other women, especially by men, has led to many queer female relationships to be overlooked or excused. The misogynist question, "what do women want?" has riddled generations of men. The question, "what do women want from other women?" usually never gets asked even if it could be answered. In any case, within the contexts of women exclusive spaces, queer women's relationships are allowed to grow and evolve to include the sexual but also forms of intimacy than are unknown in male-dominated society. What was going on between Hildegard and Richardis? The men of her world may never have been able to properly guess.

Vision 2: Queer Erotics of Chastity
and Non-Reproductive Sexuality

Despite being defined by heterosexuals by their modes of sexual activity, queer people have a wide range of intimacies and erotics that go beyond the normative definitions of sex. As in normative relationships, queer relationships include a great deal that is not explicitly sexual. Yet even when these relationships get heated, they need not always involve traditional sexual contact. Demisexual and asexual relationships may privilege forms of intimacy that are either non-physical or do not involve genital contact, such as handholding, nuzzles, cuddling, and sitting comfortably quiet together. Indeed, with modern kink, BDSM, and queer communities, a wide range of relationships and erotics can be explored that are both non-reproductive and non-penetrative. Toys, impact play, role playing, power exchange, and bondage all offer a variety of ways for people to explore each other and themselves intimately without genital play being involved. These experiences can be not only erotic but spiritual. Many of these practices and instruments are based on medieval faith practices wherein the mortification of the body was meant to excite spiritual growth and discipline.

Then again, heterosexual culture has also defined and condemned queer erotics for being non-reproductive. Yet non-reproduction is itself something that can be erotic, life-giving and even spiritual. Despite this privileging of reproductive futurity, non-reproductive forms of sexuality, gender, and community are central to Christian traditions. The convent is one such place in which non-reproductive life was celebrated as bringing one closer to God. In these contexts, asexuals and demisexuals might rejoice in the freedom from being expected to engage sexually. Lesbians, bisexuals, pansexuals and even heterosexuals might rejoice in being in intimate relations with a community of all women. Again, the freedom from reproductive sex may be viewed as a relief and may orient the person towards other forms of relationship and pleasure. Chastity itself can be one of these queer erotics that bring its own form of excitement. 

Vision 3: Queer Family
and the Convent

Queer family often looks different. For many LGBTQIA people who are not accepted by their family of origin, a family of choice is the their primary support. Then for queer couples who elect to have families of their own, the children are often either adopted or mixed. Then there are queer families which are not concerned with reproduction in the normal sense of the word. Rather, family forms informally with elders taking on the parenting role or friends soon becoming like siblings. In special cases, intentional communities such as those women's communes and lesbian communes can form. Some of these collectives are built to last year-round and others are temporary affairs, constituting weekly events, monthly meetings, or yearly festivals. In the case of some lesbian separatists, specific rules and structures form that dictate who can join as well as what the roles of members will be.

Like these queer families and intentional communities, convents form familial structures that use the language of mother, sister, and daughter while not being related by blood. For many of the members, the convent becomes more of a family to them than their family of origin. As in other queer communities, adoption and choice are how the family grows rather than by heterosexual reproduction. These non-normative forms of sexuality, gender roles, and community can themselves be considered queer. Then there are the countless queer people who have joined convents over the generations: lesbians, bisexuals, pansexuals, asexuals, non-binary or gender queer people, as well as both trans men and women. In your group, your task is to consider the ways in which convents may contribute to how we understand queer family as distinct from the traditional heterosexual household.

Vision 4: Nuns
and the Divine Feminine

A result of the co-mingling of faith life and womanhood together in the exclusive spaces of convents was a development in theology of the feminine. While the patriarchy of the Orthodox and the Catholic Church was definitively male, with the advent of convents Christian culture began to transform and nuns increasingly became the on-the-ground workers for the Church. With growing population and relative power, womanhood began to shift in Church discourse from being a primarily secondary and subjugated gender towards being an alternative form of being as well as approaching the divine. As convents developed separately from monasteries and other male influences, a theology of the divine feminine rouse in prominence. The question turned from problematics (how do we deal with the faultiness of women in contrast to a deity characterized as masculine?) to celebration (how might God embody and honor the feminine?)

In your group, consider the ways in which a spirit of femininity may be said to exist? Is it social, natural, super-natural? How does the life of Hildegard Von Bingen and the development of convents illustrate the possibilities and conflicts that arouse when a theology of femininity began to speak back against patriarchal church politics? How might a feminist, a gynophilia, lesbian, or lesbian feminist perspective inform or reform Christian theology?

Vision 5: Theology of the Body:
Women Mystics vs Male Scholastics


In the Middle Ages, scholastic theology celebrated the re-examination of Classic Greco-Roman texts and Reason-centered theology. Yet nearly all of these scholastics were men. Women rarely found their respect as theologians and when they did it tended to be based in mysticism. Mystic approaches to theology were rooted in direct contacts with spirits over the mediation of the written word, the sensuality of the physical body over the mind over matter emphasis of male scholastics. This corresponds to traditions in which men are supposed to be more rationale and ruled by logic while women are supposed to be more emotional and ruled by their bodies. Women mystics followed this patriarchal division in certain ways, yet in other ways demonstrated how the eroticism of female bodies and emotions can allow for different ways of encountering the divine. Consider in what ways that mysticism's defense of devalued gender and embodiment represent a queer turn in theology.

How does the various bodies and emotions of women allow for distinct insights that are might not occur as readily in male dominated theological circles? How does a theology that arises out of the body defy certain limits and ways of knowing which focus on the mind? How does mysticism allow women to work around assumptions that exclude women from reading or writing about the Bible, Classical philosophy or scholastic theology? How have queer women, non-binary folx, and trans people of all sorts developed alternative forms of knowing and speaking that fill in the limits, blanks, and gaps left by heteronormative cisgender men?

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Transgender in God's Army: A Queer Christian Retrial of Joan of Arc


"Men are sometimes hanged 
for telling the truth"

Joan of Arc
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Assignment Overview

In this exercise, the seminar will engage is a new re-trail of Joan of Arc. Since Joan's death at the hands of the medieval English courts, Joan has be retried by the French, and generations of Christians, historians, and LGBTQI people trying to understand all that Joan's life meant. To this day, even as some historians fight adamantly that Joan of Arc is not trans, when "medieval transgender history" is mentioned in academic or the public the first responses almost always include some variation of the question: "don't tell me... Joan of Arc?" What is it about Joan of Arc that continues to bring scholars back to debate the gender and sexuality of a person over and over again across centuries? No matter how we might try to dismiss the cases about Joan of Arc as indisputable, unknowable, or unimportant, we cannot ignore society's perpetual fascination with the sometime heretic, sometime saint, sometime visionary, sometime virgin, sometime warrior, sometime queer, sometime trans figure at the center of these trials.


In order to get closer to Joan of Arc, the discussions will be led using (mostly) primary texts. Yet the additional research and questions challenge your groups to think about the society that produced and the eras that judged and rejudged Joan of Arc. In the process of providing a summary of the discussion, note (1) a thesis, (2) an anti-thesis, and (3) explain how your group synthesized the different points of view. Conclude by hearing arguments from other witnesses, the other students who likewise have been part of the investigation of Joan of Arc.
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Sample Groups

Group 1: Joan of Arc
as Visionary


A key piece of Joan of Arc's trial was the repeated visions and communications the saint had with angels, Biblical figures, and God. It is on the basis of these visions that Joan claims to be compelled, excused, and endorsed in becoming a soldier. Arguing truth based on feelings, intuition, ingrained natural orientations, and unconscious insights are also part of queer and trans history. Consider a few quotations relating to these visions in relation to the question of if being a visionary is part of Joan's queerness or transness:


"Men are sometimes hanged for telling the truth...I was admonished to adopt feminine clothes; I refused, and still refuse. As for other avocations of women, there are plenty of other women to perform them...


What concerns this dress is a small thing - less than nothing. I did not take it by the advice of any man in the world. I did not take this dress or do anything but by the command of Our Lord and of the Angels...

Everything I have said or done is in the hands of God. I commit myself to Him! I certify to you that I would do or say nothing against the Christian faith...

... since God commanded me to go, I must do it."


Terms to research: gender dysphoria, queer, trans, heteronormative.

Group 2: St. Joan of Arc
as Warrior

Going to war is difficult in a gown or even a peasant's dress. This is part of the rationale that kept women and other gendered people from engaging in military service openly until very recently. The assumption was not only that women must not be soldiers but that women must always wear clothes customary for women. Crossing one law would involve crossing both laws: to be a soldier would also to be a gender outlaw. This is part of the case against Joan of Arc but also the case in defense of Joan of Arc. Because if we allow the former, that Joan was and could be a soldier, then the latter follows, that Joan was and should wear soldier's clothes. Consider these arguments and conclude if Joan was being sufficiently customary and modest:

Another consulted cleric was Teodoro Lelio[59] (1427-1466), an Italian theologian attached to the Papacy who was considered one of the greatest canon lawyers of the 15th century, whose eloquence inspired Pope Pius II to label him "[my] harp". [85] In his paragraph on the male clothing issue, Lelio notes that her motives were connected with the practical needs of participating in a military campaign, among soldiers whose lust she did not want to excite, rather than from any indecent or otherwise forbidden motive.

Martin Berruyer (died 1465), Bishop of Le Mans,[61] takes a slightly different approach with regard to the Summa Theologica, citing section Ia-IIae, q. 102 a. 6, [91] which is concerned with the Christian relation to the laws in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. [92] As with the more commonly-cited section mentioned above, this passage clarifies the intentions behind the clothing regulations in the Bible, such as prohibiting the practice of cross-dressing for sexual reasons or in connection with ancient pagan religious rites. Berruyer notes that Joan of Arc therefore was not violating the intent of these laws, quoting as an example her statement that since she was among men it was "more lawful and proper to wear male clothing" in order to avoid various problems that could result otherwise. [93] He then refers to the more familiar passage (IIa-IIae, q. 169 a. 2 ad 3) justifying such a usage, and notes that the protection of one's chastity, as well as the greater suitability of such clothing for horseback riding and other activities associated with military campaigns, are perfectly lawful purposes, especially as she believed to have been acting under God's orders. [94]

The next opinion is from Guillaume Bouillé[64] (d. 1476), a professor of theology and Superior of the Cathedral of Noyon. His treatise begins: "To the honor and glory of the [Divine] King of Kings, Who defends the cause of the innocent..." [102] Bouillé covers the issues of her male clothing, armor, and short hair, beginning with the customary explanation that the prohibitions in Deuteronomy 22:5 and in the Decretum Gratiani (I.30.6 and I.30.2) would not apply in this case since it was fitting for her to make use of these things in order to live among soldiers; moreover, if she was commanded via Divine revelation to do so then it would be justified on that account. [103] He comments that she was not wearing this clothing for reasons connected with sexual depravity or idolatrous purposes, noting that it is these cases which the Bible forbids, "as says the Holy Teacher [St. Thomas Aquinas]". Here he cites the usual passage in the Summa Theologica. [104] Among the female saints who had worn such clothing, he mentions Natalia, Marina, Eugenia, and Euphrosyne.[65] [105]

Terms to research: gender expression, gender identity, cross-dressing, trans, butch, femme, heteronormativity, cisgender privilege, transgender in the military.

Group 3: St. Joan of Arc
as Virgin

In the Middle Ages, virgins had distinct legal (secular) and ecclesiastic (religious) definitions, rights, and privileges distinct from other genders/genres of women: wives, mothers, widows, and nuns. Moving from virgin to wife and mother (or other sexually active form of womanhood) was a legal and spiritual transition that corresponded to a change in social identity. As such, it is significant that Joan of Arc repeatedly invokes being a "maid" (aka. a virgin) throughout the proceedings of the trail. Even the gender presentation as a soldier is tied to this identity as virgin. Discuss how Joan of Arc's virginity is helpful to understanding the queer and/or trans tactics used to defend and attack Joan.

Read a few of the following passages:

Some additional details are provided in Massieu's final deposition (12 May 1456):

"Questioned, furthermore, concerning the contents of the 26th Article, [the witness] testifies that on the day of the Holy Trinity [i.e., Trinity Sunday], when Joan was accused of having relapsed, she replied that, as she was lying in bed, her guards removed the female clothing from the bed in which she was lying, and gave her the male outfit; and, although she asked the guards to return the female clothing so she could leave her bed to go relieve herself, they refused to give it back to her, saying that she would not receive anything but the aforesaid male clothing. 

From the deposition given on 13 May 1456[10] by Friar Martin Ladvenu one of the clergy who had served as an assessor (theological advisor) at her trial:
"Concerning the contents of the 26th and 27th [articles], he testifies that he heard from the aforementioned Joan that a certain high-ranking English lord visited her in prison and attempted to violate her by force.[13] And she told the aforesaid witness that this was the reason she had readopted male clothing after the first sentence."[14] [13]

From the deposition given on 3 May 1452[15] by the Rouen citizen Pierre Cusquel:[16]

"Concerning the 9th Article, he says that people were saying that there was no other reason for her condemnation except the readoption of male clothing, and that she had not worn, and was not wearing, this male clothing except in order to avoid accommodating the aims of the soldiers she was with; and [the witness said] that once in prison he asked her why she was wearing the aforesaid male clothing, to which she replied as above." [14]

From Guillaume Manchon's deposition on 12 May 1456:[17]

"And in the witness' presence she was asked why she had readopted this male clothing, to which she replied that she had done it for the protection of her virginity, for she was not secure while wearing female clothing with her guards, who had tried to rape her, which she had complained about many times to the Bishop and Earl; and [she said] that the judges had promised her that she would be placed in the custody of, and in the prisons of, the Church, and that she would have a woman with her [i.e., a nun, following Inquisitorial procedure];[18] additionally saying that if it would please the lord judges to place her in a safe location in which she would not be afraid, then she was prepared to readopt female clothing..." [15]


Terms to research: eunuchs, asexual, agender, grey ace, queer, gender queer.

Group 4: Joan of Arc
as Transgender Saint

On Monday, we read the Life of St. Marinos the Monk. This saint fits many of the definitions of transgender men, transitioning in his youth, changing gender presentation, pronouns, and his name then living as a man until his death. Joan of Arc has a different story and yet throughout Joan's retrial, St. Marinos (called St. Mary or St. Marina) are regularly invoked as an example of God and the Church embracing transgender identity and presentation as not only permissible but even holy. How do you see Joan of Arc fitting into this theology and history of trans saints?Another consulted cleric was Teodoro Lelio[59] (1427-1466)... adds that she should not be judged a heretic for taking the sacraments while in this clothing, as she had adopted it for good purposes. He points out that St. Marina repeatedly took the Eucharist while dressed as a monk, and likewise mentions St. Eugenia as another example. As proof of Joan of Arc's proper attitude toward the sacraments, Lelio cites one of her statements concerning the Eucharist recorded in the Condemnation transcript. [86] 

Martin Berruyer (died 1465), Bishop of Le Mans... lists the cases of other female saints who wore male clothing for various purposes of necessity - Thecla, Eugenia, Pelagia, Marina, etc - and cites the Biblical prophetess Deborah. [95]


Terms to research: non-binary, gender queer, butch, trans*, transgender men.

Group 5: Joan of Arc
as Gender Dysphoric


The authors and editors of the document we examined for class takes a traditional approach to Joan of Arc, trying hard to define Joan as not transgender. Yet what many of these scholars miss are the wider definitions of transgender and gender dysphoria that include a range of individuals, including those who do not follow the "man trapped in a woman's body" narrative. Specifically, consider how gender dysphoria arises out of social context and social prejudice against non-customary gender expression and identity, then consider if Joan is killed on the grounds of presenting non-customary gender expression and identity.

Read Definition of Gender Dysphoria


For a person to be diagnosed with gender dysphoria, there must be a marked difference between the individual’s expressed/experienced gender and the gender others would assign him or her, and it must continue for at least six months. In children, the desire to be of the other gender must be present and verbalized. This condition causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
Read selections from the introduction:

The stated legal justification for Joan of Arc's conviction and execution on 30 May 1431 was her resumption of male clothing on the 28th. Her judges implied that her actions were sinful; certain modern authors have surmised that she was motivated by transgender feelings or other such identity issues. Both positions allege that she was guilty of heresy under the tenets of 15th century theology. To any historian of the subject, these assertions present a number of obvious problems, on both factual and theological grounds. 

Re-read, Deuteronomy 22:5 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

5 A woman shall not wear a man’s apparel, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment; for whoever does such things is abhorrent to the Lord your God.

Terms to research: gender dysphoria, gender expression, gender identity, gender presentation, gender, sex, cross-dressing, transvestite.
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Eugenic Monsters: Race and Disability in Out of the Silent Planet


"Our right to supersede you
is the right of the higher 
over the lower"

Professor Weston
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The Rise

Out of the Silent Planet is the story of a impoverished child with intellectual disabilities, Harry, whose life and liberty set to be sacrificed so mankind (the masculine here is intentional) may progress to a new stage of development or at very least make a lot of money for a few scientists and industrialists. That is the plan, until a foolish professor of philology, Dr. Ransom, saves him from the eugenic duo who are his employers turned captors. As a result, Dr. Ransom replaces the boy as the victim and thus adopts the adventure which was set forth as a disability narrative. Indeed, the author, C.S. Lewis, seems to put a lot of work into the first few chapters illustrating the similarities between the victim (Dr. Ransom) and his captors: all white cisgender heterosexual men of education from England during the waining years of its role as a colonial empire. The loss of an overt disability narrative comes in order to make a statement about eugenics: anyone can be its victim, even a tenured professor with no small degree of social and economic privileges. Yet we may all be challenged to speculate as to what the story would have looked like if Harry and not Dr. Ransom had been allowed to go on the journey. How would that change the narrative? 

The scientist (Dr. Weston) and his financial backer (Mr. Devine) live in a place called "The Rise" where they are working on the space ship which will bring them back to Mars (called "Malacandra" by the native peoples) and its rich reservoirs of gold. The name of the estate, "the Rise," signifies the philosophies of the partnership. First, they regard themselves as above other peoples in intelligence, social status, and worth for the species. In contrast to their great role in history as pioneer and proto-colonizers of Mars, Harry is expendable. The name, the Rise, seems to reflect the step ladder of evolution and intelligence that eugenicists used to designate some peoples as ideal and others as feeble-minded strains on humanity. Second, the pair seeks to "Rise" humanity out of its current state into a new condition. Promptly, they wish to turn humanity into an interplanetary and later interstellar species. In the long run, they hope to assist humanity in its evolution into a new kind of super-human humanity. Third, the Rise is the literal place where these space travelers will rise off the planet into the heavens. Beyond the name, the estate is closed off to the world by large fences and black-out curtains. Secrecy and exclusivity defines the location's functioning. As Lewis argues in The Abolition of Man, eugenics and similar applications of science do not benefit all humanity but only those portions of humanity that exclusively control the resources, tools, and use of the sciences. The secrets, wealth, and future that Mars may offer humanity will be collected, hoarded, and dolled out by the gate-keepers of The Rise who will capitalize greatly from their position. Even the interior of the house, which is described as sophisticate squaller reflects the personalities of people who regard themselves as very important but who do not attend much to the conditions or methods that seeking their goals produces. All the world might likewise be turned into a trash-heap if their important lives and work are allowed to continue.
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Hnau


Upon arriving on Mars, Dr. Ransom encounters a series of intelligent species, which are very distinct in form and society but which are all given the designation "Hnau" or "sentient." These encounters and reactions to the diverse peoples can be examined for the cultural and historical associations given to different traits on Earth. The first to be encountered are the Sorns, giant long-limbed feathered humanoids that Dr. Ransom flees. The philologist wonders at them being insect-like before he sees them. After seeing them, he describes sorns as giant or ogre like. Later he considers them like goblins. Finally, he settles on them being like angels or ancient philosophers. He fears them as hyper-intelligent and cruel aliens who seek to eat him. Only later does he come to know them as hermits, introverts, scientists, inventors, and sometimes shepherds. At this point, he gains a respect for them which never quite equals warm affection. Dr. Ransom however does become very affectionate with the Hross, a species of otter-like humanoids. He encounters one on the water and fears him as a giant beast. Once he hears the hross speak, Dr. Ransom jumps out and makes his first friend on Mars. Brought to the hross's home, he discovers them to be hunters, gatherers, crafts-people, warriors, and singers. It is among the hross that Ransom spends the most time and forms the greatest ties. Only near the end of his journey does Dr. Ransom meet the pfifltriggi who are frog-like industrialists, stone and metal workers who live underground in a highly organized matriarchal society. At this point, Ransom is open to recognizing the ways in which difference in body, temperament, and society do not equate to differences in intelligence or morality. All are different on Mars but all are equally hnau.


Learning to unlearn the eugenic patriarchal colonialist and white supremacist impulse to create hierarchies among peoples is one of the most prominent character arcs that Dr. Ransom undergoes while on Mars. At first, Ransom fears all creatures that are not like him. Second, he learns to see intelligence as it appears in other kinds of bodies. Third, he is corrected again and again when he tries to determine which of the three resident species on Mars is the superior ruling class. At this, Dr. Ransom finds that not only is his understanding of the facts incorrect but that he is importing a hierarchical way of organizing information and relationships. Fourth, Ransom comes to see the different forms of embodiment, intelligence, and society as equal in value even as they are distinct. Fifth, when he meets people of his own species again, Ransom sees humanity as perhaps less "Hnau" than the martians, coming to describe himself and his peers as broken or "bent Hnau." The peoples of Mars console Dr. Ransom by suggesting that it is perhaps the great homogeny of humanity, rather than its diversity, that has caused the desire to create hierarchies. On Mars, the differences between peoples were evident for countless generations and so an appreciation was ingrown for differences in body, mind, and culture. On Earth, they speculate, the fact that there is not a fundamental difference between Ransom and his captors, between Ransom and Harry, or perhaps even between people of different nationalities, ethnicities, genders, sexualities, and abilities spurs a desire to create artificial or superficial divisions and hierarchies between peoples. With some education or time spent on Mars, as Ransom has experienced, humanity might be able to better see all the members of the human species as equally "hnau."


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Code-Switching

Out of the Silent Planet begins and ends with a eugenic dialogue but whereas the initial speeches given by Weston and Devine go unanswered in the first case (largely because Dr. Ransom is incapacitated for much of it), the speech that comes at the end of the book is answered by wisdoms greater than the scientist. These dialogues function to frame the book, the majority of which is highly metaphorical and lyrical in its logics, with plain speech articulation of the themes and problems of eugenics. The ability for the scientist and industrialist to be answered in the second set of speeches is representative of the lessons that the protagonist and thereby the readers have learned on Mars. In fact, the long speech that Weston makes before the assemblies of Mars about eugenics, colonialism, and racial supremacy is literally translated to the martians by Ransom and thus de-coded for the reader as well. The translation exchange, with Weston espousing his rhetoric and Ransom giving the plain speech version, is a good example of close-reading exercises. Readers and students can learn the form and purpose of critical summaries and co-switching from these passages. For instance, the segments of Weston's speech are much shorter than the translations that Ransom gives because the latter does the hard work of unpacking key terms and explaining leaps in logic which the eugenicist makes implicitly. A class exercise might follow the same form or even use the same text, with students being given portions of the speech or similar passages from other eugenicists and then being tasked with taking on Ransom's role of translator. This would reinforce the lessons of the book and also give students practice in close-reading rhetoric and giving paraphrases which unpack rather than merely restating.


After a series of failed attempts at establishing dominance, based on tricks of European colonizers such as the presentation of beads, Weston launches himself into a speech with a few distinct threads that reflect the themes of the novel. The main speech consists of five segments followed by a question and answer with the leader of Mars. First, Weston tries to establish humanity's superiority with boasts based on modern western European nationalism, eugenics, and racial supremacy talking points: science, industry, weaponry, architecture and capitalism. Second, Weston makes the leap in logic that because of these cultural and technological advantages, he believes that his race was the inherent moral superiority. Third, Weston extends his logical leaps even further, claiming that life and evolution naturally position such a superior race above all other peoples, with Nature commanding one race to live and all others to die. Fourth, the natural supremacy of his race means that they are the destined rulers of all habitable or resource-rich lands, justifying not only world-wide colonization but interplanetary colonization. Fifth and finally, Weston asserts that the destiny of his race as the natural rulers of the universe is so absolute that not even his death will stop it. After each of these exchanges, Ransom translates the coded dog-whistle rhetoric into plain speech racism, sexism, colonialism, and ableism which also highlights the irrational leaps in logic and the logical inconsistencies. Following this, there is an exchange between the leader of Mars with Weston in which he deconstructs the primary figure which his speech claimed to represent: the race. The leader unpacks his claims and actions to show that it is not the form of the body, nor the possession of intellect, nor even the shared humanity which Weston loves in his idolatry of his "race" but rather the mere "seed" of his race which is insists must continue unabated. The leader then challenges his love this "seed" which Weston desires to be immortal with the stark reality that not only do all lives and all planets die but even genealogies of sees must die out. Is it not better, he implores, for living things to have the goal of living good lives rather than merely trying to live long lives?

Each of these points can be broken down as part of a class discussion or serve as themes by which the wider novel might be understood. The themes of the Rise, Hnau, and Code-Switching runs throughout the book's discussion of the peoples, the physical environments, and conversations. It could be a task to find these threads and give presentations that summarize how the book shifts from the Weston to the Ransom perspective by the end of the book, or rather, how Ransom's perspective shifts from aligning closer to Weston to finally taking on a martian point of view by the end.

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Sunday, February 17, 2019

Transgender Icons: Queer Christian Images of Marinos the Monk


"The One Who Saves the Soul
Is Like the One Who Created It"

The Vita of Marinos the Monk
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Assignment Overview

In this exercise, the seminar will produce a series of icons of St. Marinos the Monk based a variety of attributes that characterize saints: Imago Dei, Imitatio Christi, Christus Medicus, Baptism, and Sainthood. These traits all have corresponding qualities in the lives of transgender people in general: authenticity, living your best lives, service to the community, transition, and remembrance. 
By focusing on these traits, this assignment eschews debates at to whether St. Marinos the Monk is a man (he lived as a man), transgender (he lived a transitioned life from his youth to his death), should be called transgender because he did not use the word (he wouldn't use any of our words, given that he did not speak English), or if he can be holy and transgender at the same time (he is a trans saint). I have addressed these considerations have been made in other posts and forthcoming peer-reviewed articles. Thus they may be reviewed in a lecture. This assignment challenges students to engage not in skepticism but in celebration. How might a trans life be honored as sainted?

By focusing on these positive traits, this exercise turns students away from the testing and skeptical tone that dominates cisgender society and the grim and negative tone that tends to surround queer allies when discussing transgender lives. The Vita of St. Marinos the Monk testify to the positivity and virtues of a trans life as much as they recounting anti-trans prejudices. A few of these negative prejudices include the tendency among hagiographers, icon makers, translators and scholars to deadname as well as misgender Marinos the Monk. He was known as a male, a monk, during life and this should be respected. He called himself Marinos and this should be respected. Additionally, the inability of local early Christian communities to recognize and name trans identities testifies to the ingrained ignorance and dominance of cisgender mindsets. Had society been more aware and accepting, Marinos might have been able to come out during his life instead of after his death. All these negative circumstances may be considered but at the center of the story is Marinos the Monk, a figure of positive traits that overcame these conditions to live a sainted trans life.

The task of assignment is to create an image with a name, a description -- write, St. Marinos the Monk, Patron Saint of [Fill in the Blank] -- and then provide a summary based on close reading the text alongside additional research. These icons will be made in small groups and then shared with the rest of the class.


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Sample Groups

Group 1: St. Marinos the Monk
 and the Imago Dei


Consider the argument between Marinos and his father. Although it seems as though he is calling on his father to save his soul by letting him also join the monastery, take a moment to ponder how Marinos himself might be living out his Imago Dei: saving his soul by transitioning into the image of a monk God made him to be. By affirming his gender (monk), how might Marinos be like the one who created him to be a monk?


"Father, do you wish to save your own soul and see mine destroyed? Do you not know what the Lord says That the good shepherd giveth his life for his sheep?" And again she said <to him>, "The one who saves the soul is like the one who created it?"


Terms to research: Imago Dei, living authentically, suicide rate for transgender youths.

Group 2: St. Marinos the Monk
and Baptism

Consider the argument between Marinos and his father. How does Marinos's father misunderstand his trans son's gender? How does living authentically as a monk answer Marinos's father's concerns? How is transitioning and taking monk's vows like baptism?

"Child what am I to do with you? You are a female, and I desire to enter a monastery. How then can you remain with me? For it is through the members of your sex that the devil wages war on the servants of God."

To which his daughter responded, "Not so, my lord, for I shall not enter <the monastery> as you say, but I shall first cut off the hair of my head, and clothe myself like a man, and then enter the mastery with you."


Terms to research: baptism, becoming a monk, monk's habits, coming out to your parents as transgender, gender versus sexuality, asexuality, abstinence and chastity.

Group 3: St. Marinos the Monk
and Imitatio Christi

Consider the ways in which Marinos is living his best life after he is able to transition. How does living an authentic life make one more successful as your work, relationships, and even prayer? How does the comment about Marinos being an eunuch relate to early Christian and medieval understandings of transgender?

"Day by day, the child advanced in all the virtues, in obedience, in humility, and in much asceticism. After she lived thus for a few years in the monastery, <some of the monks> considered her to be a eunuch, for she was beardless and of delicate voice. Others considered that <this condition> was instead the result of her great asceticism, for she partook of food only every second day."



Terms to research: authentic lives, best lives, eunuchs, gender euphoria.

Group 4: St. Marinos the Monk
and Christus Medicus

Consider Marinos's ability to heal with his touch. How does the Monk's authentic life serve to heal others beyond having miraculous powers? How might his authenticity, trans identity, perseverance and sainthood (being set apart) serve to heal who encounter him?

"Eventually it came to pass that her father died, by <Mary, remaining in the monastery>,<continued> to progress in asceticism and in obedience so that she received from God the gift of healing those who were troubled by demons. For if she placed her hand upon the sick, they were immediately healed."

Terms to research: Imitatio Christi, gender dysphoria, gender euphoria, Christus Medicus.

Group 5: Marinos the Monk
and Sainthood

Consider the reaction of Marinos's community after discovering he was trans after death. How does the Superior's reactions mirror those of friends and family after an oppressed transgender person dies? How does death feed into advocacy? Is there a critique to give communities that are better at mourning the dead than helping the living?

"Drawing near and seeing <for himself>, the <superior> cast himself down at her feet, and with many tears cried out, "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."


..."The superior thereupon send <word> to the innkeeper to come and see him. When he arrived, the superior said to him, "Marinos is dead."... "You must repent, brother, for you have sinned before God. You also incited me by your words, and for your sake I also sinned."

Terms to research: ally, advocate, transgender day of remembrance, deadnames, suicide rate for transgender people, homicide rate for transgender people.

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Starter Questions


1) What core concept did your group examine? How did you translate the theological term into current English? What are other words you consider?

2) How does your passage demonstrate the principles of the concept? In what ways does it address transgender life? In what ways does it address gender Christian life?


3) How did your group visualize the concept and passage? What associations and images are you using to translate the trans Christian sainthood?

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Saturday, February 9, 2019

Rainbow Mail: Queer Christian Letters In Response to the Epistles


"On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect."

1 Corinthians 12: 22-23
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Assignment Overview

In this exercise, the seminar will respond to selections from the Epistles. These texts are framed as letters to early Christian communities in the first century AD/CE. Many of them are written by St. Paul who is considered by many to be the first theologian of Christianity, on the grounds that he did not encounter Jesus before his death. They represent one part of an ongoing correspondence between members of a faith tradition that was still defining itself. Readers can imagine the epistles that were written before or after the letters that are available in Christian Bibles. In fact, that is exactly the task for today!


Breaking into small groups, you will form committees working for the Queer Christianity Congregation. As an emerging church, you have received a series of letters and texts from fellow members of "The Way," especially from one very passionate convert from Tarsus, Paul. Because of the number and fervor of the correspondence, each committee is tasked with responding to a different item in the mail bag, taking care to represent the mission of the open and affirming, pro-LGBTQI ministry at the Queer Christianity Congregation. Indeed, the particular letters you are tasked with engaging today articulate Paul's problematic theology around gender and sexuality.

As a 21st century ministry, your committee's response will take the form of a Youtube "mail-bag" video. Each video will be about 7-10 minutes, including (1) a restatement of the letter's content, especially those passages which reflect problematic theology around gender and sexuality, (2) counter-arguments that critique the fallacies of the letter, and (3) an acknowledgement of points where the letter's statements or spirit might be synthesized for the Queer Christianity Congregation without betraying any of its missions. The video should take time at the end to respond to at least 3 comments from the viewers.

Note: as an in-class exercise, the "video" may be a framing device for an oral report before the class and the commenters are questions raised by the fellow class-mates. An actual video need not be produced. Alternatively, a written letter may take the place of a video or oral presentation if circumstances make those methods difficult.


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Sample Groups

Group 1: Queer Love
1 Romans 1


Read "1 Romans 1" with special attention given to lines 22-27.


"22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools; 23 and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

26 For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error."



Terms to research: gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, gynosexual, androsexual.

Group 2: Queer Afterlives
1 Corinthians 6

Read "1 Corinthians 6" with special attention given to lines 9-11.

"9 Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, 10 thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God."


Terms to research: cisgender privilege, down low, in the closet, coming out, heterosexism, heteronormativity, HIV-phobia, stealth.

Group 3: Christian BDSM
Ephesians 5: 22-33

Read "Ephesians 5:22-33" with special attention given to lines 22-24.

"22 Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. 24 Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands."


Terms to research: BDSM, bottom, top, versatile, femme, butch, and switch.

Group 4: Queer Identity
Galatians 3

Read "Galatians 3" with special attention given to lines 27-28.

"27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus."

Terms to research: agender, asexual, androgynous, gender queer, gender fluid, bisexual, and pansexual.

Alternative Scripture

The assignment might also be expanded to include other texts or pieces of scripture that are not in letter form. Playing on the theme of anti-LGBTQI passages, Genesis 18 might be one such candidate. The questions may have to be adjusted in these cases.

Group 5: Sodom and Sodomy
Genesis 18-19

Read "Genesis 18-19" with special attention given to when and why Sodom is condemned to destruction and what the primary crimes are against the angels and their protectors.

"18: 20 Then the Lord said, “How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! 21 I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know.”"

"19:4 But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house; 5 and they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, so that we may know them.” 6 Lot went out of the door to the men, shut the door after him, 7 and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. 8 Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.”"

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Starter Questions



1) What is the overall message of the letter? What are the specific claims that address gender and sexuality? How are they phrased and imagined? What are the underlying cultural, leaps in logic, and theological assumptions that seem to underpin the claims?

2) Does the overall message correspond to the core values and beliefs of the Queer Christianity Congregation? How might the specific claims be answered directly? How might the phrasing of the letter be deconstructed or reimagined? In what respects are the cultural differences between Paul and the QCC made evident? What leaps of logic are rather too far for credulity? What theology or scripture might be offered to counter the letter's claims?


3) Granting that in either the specifics or in the general spirit of the letter there is something positive to be received, what elements or sentiments of the letter might still be useful for the Queer Christianity Congregation?


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