Odds and Ends

It’s time for another housekeeping post, in which I catalog what I’ve recently read and am currently reading and occasionally diverge into events of my personal life. Let’s get to it!

I recently finished Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation, the earth-shattering compilation of poetry, prose, and in-between writings of those somewhere along the gender spectrum or outside the gender binary speaking about their experiences pertaining to that positioning. Or, at least, it would be earth-shattering if more people knew about it. Despite its being published seven years ago now, and despite its being edited by such a well-known author and activist as Kate Bornstein (with the indispensable help of trans writer and theater artist S. Bear Bergman), and despite its being relevant to one of the foremost debates in this country at this time over the politics of gender identity, the book was entirely unknown to me before it arrived on my doorstep. Truth be told, I bought it thinking I was purchasing an updated version of Gender Outlaw, and was more than pleasantly surprised when I saw the diversity of form, perspective, and background of the contributing authors. And it was extra special to see the work of someone I knew personally through an an early music a cappella group we were both a part of in my first semester of college. I was thoroughly impressed with the book, and would love to work in some of this complex perspectives on trans+/gender non-conforming/other-gender identities into my eventual thesis. Thanks to Seal Press for bringing this book to life and to my attention–I have a feeling I will be rereading these stories for personal benefit for years to come.

Today, I also finished Thea Hillman’s collection of short essays on her intersex identity relates to her politics in romance, family, and society: Intersex (for lack of a better word.) The essays (which evolved into poetry at the very end) ranged from heart-wrenching to heartwarming, and I enjoyed the act of reading all of them, including the ones that left me aching for the sorrow or enraged for the divisiveness of some members of the trans+ community. I also had the surprisingly uncomfortable experience of reading about a location in one of the stories and realizing it was one I had passed countless times, having grown up in nearly the same neighborhood as the author. It was nice to learn that Hillman received a Master’s degree from and served on the Board of the college I will (hopfeully) be attending in the spring.

Separately, I am knee-deep in Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl, and let’s just say I’m excited to write another masterpost once I’ve finished hearing what she has to say. I think it would be interesting to write on my experience of Whipping Girl as an audiobook read by the author, having the words literally coming from her own mouth. More to come on this.

I also attended the San Francisco Trans March last Saturday. This was my second time at the event, and I was once again impressed by the out-and-proud displays of trans+ folk and allies from the Bay Area and beyond. But the event coincided with many of my conflicting thoughts surrounding the trans ‘community’ and the ‘trans-‘ label itself coming to a head. I am not at a point where expressing these thoughts in writing will be helpful to me, but I hope to eventually reach that point.

In objectively happier news, I’ll be collecting four books from the university library next week. Among these are the predictable Gender Trouble by Judith Butler, Female Masculinities by Jack Halberstam, and the medieval text Ami et Amile. The unexpected party guest is Histoire des transsexuels en France by Maxime Foerster. I know nothing about this book beyond the title and that it was the only result returned in my search for the terms ‘transgender,’ ‘history,’ and ‘france’ at once. I can only access Le Roman de la Rose inside the library itself, and consequently it has its own events on my Google Calendar.

That’s all for now! Fingers crossed that I can produce an acceptable paper proposal for the Institut de Genre (the organization that put out the call for papers) before July 10.

Somewhat-Related Research

Apologies for this segue into material only tangentially-related to my thesis research, but I’ve had a really exciting development in regards to my French term paper.

A professor at a neighboring college (and the director of an Early Music group I sing with) has just linked me to a project he and several other scholars undertook with help from the National Endowment for the Humanities some years ago. It’s called “Teaching the Medieval Lyric with Modern Technology” and it basically involves uploading texts, recordings, source materials, and research on composers within the wide category of French medieval lyric (everyone from the troubadors to Guillaume de Machaut.) In other words, a goldmine for the kind of material I’ll need for my term paper (and possibly my thesis.) The term paper will be focused on the one example of a woman troubador, or trobairitz, with a poem that survives with its original music. I had the honor of performing part of it last Friday, and giving an oral presentation on my own musical analysis of the song. And now it’s the focus of my term paper, and I have access to one of the original manuscripts, some scholarly papers, and recordings of the song. I’m honestly like a kid in a candy store right now.

And the best part is that the database of information will still be there if I ever need it for thesis research. I’m so grateful I showed up to rehearsal early and had the conversation with my director that ended with him sharing this project with me.

When a Rose is Not a Rose: Homoerotic Emblems in the Roman de la Rose

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 Rosepositing 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.

Inspiration

I was inspired to begin this project while reading one of the poems, or laisof Marie de France (111-1150) entitled “Lanval” (the notion of giving each of these lais a title was something that came around later than when Marie de France was putting them to paper, hence the quotation marks.) It features a character who embodies a mixture of masculine and feminine traits; she is identified as a female, yet she rides a horse, wears armor, and speaks in an authoritative tone (comprised of words and verb tense)–all attributes atypical of women in her time. Granted, this woman also hailed from the land of Avalon, the home of fairies and other magical figures of Arthurian legend. But her story made me wonder: was it her magic that allowed her to adopt and combine masculine and feminine traits, or was this combination part of what made her magical? Or was her gender expression entirely separate from her identity as a magical being? Were there other characters with stories like hers, and in what ways?

Once I had been introduced to this woman’s story, more and more examples of masculinity and femininity coexisting in single entities appeared during my studies. In another of Marie de France’s lais, there was a female deer with antlers who prophesied misfortune for the hero of the story. In prose works, there are several instances in which the bodies of characters identified as women are physically changed so that they present as men. And there are numerous moments within the sung poetry of the first women composers of France where they adopt the roles typically assigned to men composing during the time. Exciting stuff!

My mission now is to gather as many instances of this kind that I can find and hopefully draw conclusions not only on the conceptions of binary gender identities in France at the time, but the general opinion of gender identities that fell outside of the binary. Have you come across anything like this in work from the Middle Ages in France? Do you know of anyone who might have done so? Recommendations are more than welcome! Thanks!

So what is this project?

It’s an attempt at bridging the arbitrary gaps between my fields of academic interest and creating something of importance to me personally, to my college, and to interdisciplinary scholarship in general. I believe that this project has the potential to be relevant to today’s world, but I flatter myself to think it will ever reach that level.

For now, it’s an enquiry into the body of work composed in France during the period known as the Middle Ages, or le Moyen Âge. This includes prose, poetry, and poetry set to music–where I will focus within this body of work remains to be seen. I will be combing the work of this place and time in search of instances of gender role reversal, androgyny, and other cross-gender behavior. I use the term “cross-gender” rather than “transgender” because the latter has come to refer to an identity which I doubt will be reflected in all of the material I include in my thesis. I welcome your feedback on the term and suggestions for improving it, as well as any other questions you may have!

Welcome!

Hello dear friend! How wonderful that you’ve stumbled upon this blog of mine! I’d like to welcome you to the log of my activities and thoughts while I try to combine my interests in French Studies, Medieval Studies, Gender Studies, and Music into a thesis project. No small task. Thankfully, I have admirable supporters at my college and among my family. You can help, too! I welcome feedback on my posts or questions about any of the fields of study I mentioned or any other general thoughts of your own! This project requires the cooperation of people from various backgrounds and levels of expertise, including you!