This was a revelatory read in many ways. It’s sadly rare that a person from my particular background is made to come up against their privilege as many times in one sitting as I did reading this book. I appreciated the book for making me uncomfortable in a way that indicated to me that I was learning, and for inspiring in me both fierce agreement and fierce opposition. The bibliography is of particular interest to me, because the book was sourced from works I would not have sought out on my own but now realize are a vastly underrepresented side of the ‘trans’ discourse, if it can even be called that.
The book is framed as a response to Nicholas M. Teich’s Transgender 101: A Simple Guide to a Complex Issue, and exposes transgender identity and the transgender ‘community’ as as an invention of the (mostly) white colonizer that prohibits people of color from expressing their gender in ways specific to their cultures. Or, at least, that’s what I made of the book. It’s written in a way that recalls an epic tumblr post, and the form itself got me thinking of how Internet platforms may well be the future of public record-keeping. Or maybe they already are and people like me who check their tumblr once every few weeks are sorely missing out.
I have more complete notes on this book, but some take-aways were: discussions of public vs private life and to what extent that is a white colonist invention, the concept of gender not being so much about what it is but about what it does, and the idea of ‘male privilege’ and who actually experiences it and benefits from it in today’s society (I’m thinking about comparing this with Kate Bornstein’s thoughts on gender-based privilege and how she experienced it in her own life, but someone out there’s probably thought of this already.) binaohan also put forward some points that would interact very well with an analysis of Silence. Paper topics are slowly forming, and it’s a month until proposals are due for the call mentioned in the previous post.
Wish me luck!
Yesterday, I completed my first reading of Sarah Roche-Mahdi’s translation of Silence, a thirteenth-century French-language romance by one Heldris of Cornwall. The romance charts the story of Silentius/ia, a person of fluctuating gender presentation and identity. S/he is born to royal parents who decide to present their child as a boy to the kingdom. The reigning monarch has forbade women from inheriting property in his land, and so it behooves the child to present as a man. The narrator is aware of a possible contradiction between identity and presentation, referring to Silentius/ia (often simply referred to as Silence) as “the boy who was a girl” and variations thereof. The narrator switches between he/him and she/her pronouns for Silence whenever (presumably) he thinks it appropriate. This manifests when the child, having entered puberty, becomes the subject of a spirited debate between Nature and Nurture, both allegorical figures in the story. Nature would like for Silence to act “according to her nature” and engage in activities typical of young medieval women (spinning thread and staying out of the sun.) But Nurture, a figure representing the process that we today might call socialization, pushes Silence to continue living as a man–this s/he does to great success. Silence is skilled in minstrelsy, jousting, and warfare–all typically mens’ activities. S/he inspires a queen’s lust, traps the wizard Merlin, and reverses the law against women’s property rights. Oh, and s/he becomes Queen of England. While Silence is an altogether fanciful tale, I believe the author raises some serious questions about gender roles and inequalities as well as the smoke and mirrors of gender presentation. I’m not at a point in my analysis where I think I understand the author’s stance on the questions (presumed) he raises, not to mention my own opinion. More later when I reach that point.
Also, I began the sequel-of-sorts to Kate Bornstein’s Gender Outlaw, titled Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation. This work is a collection of perspectives from both established and emerging gender outlaws, edited by Bornstein and S. Bear Bergman. I’ve read nearly four perspectives thus far, and find each to be rich and illuminating. I’m excited to read the rest, as well as to track down my next two medieval targets: le Roman d’Eneas and Grisandole.
This is the first of the essays I’ve read in Gender Transgressions: Crossing the Normative Barrier in Old French Literature–and I love it. Unfortunately, what makes the article so great is what makes it irrelevant to my thesis project: it is an alternate reading of the canonic text the Roman de la Rose, positing that the central romance of the work occurs between two male figures rather than between a male and female figure. The argument is made chiefly by decoding the undoubtedly coded language used in the work, chiefly words like rose (literally “rose” but possible code for “penis”) and baiser (literally “kiss” but possible code for “sex” or “fuck”) and citing instances that attest to a deep love between the two allegorical male characters. The argument is presented very well, but the fact remains that sexuality and gender are two distinct concepts that I will need to keep separate in my mind. There was a clear benefit to the article, though, in that it challenged the automatic gendered assumptions people make that affect their conception of how a story is supposed to grow. This was more in reference to heteronormativity and European conceptions of gender roles in romance, but it was helpful nonetheless.