Friday, March 1, 2019

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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