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IMC 2018: Sessions

Session 901: New Voices Lecture: Transgender Lives in Byzantium (Language: English)

Tuesday 3 July 2018, 19.00-20.00

Introduction:Shaun Tougher, School of History, Archaeology & Religion, Cardiff University
Speaker:Roland Betancourt, Department of Art History, University of California, Irvine

From the 5th to the 9th century, there are a series of saints' Lives composed in the Greek-speaking Mediterranean that detail the lives of individuals assigned female at birth, who for a variety of reasons choose to live most of their lives as monks, usually presenting as male and passing as eunuchs within monastic communities. This talk takes these Lives and their popularity in later centuries as a starting point to consider the role of transgender and non-binary figures across the Late Antique and Byzantine world, covering the Greek, Coptic, and Syriac traditions. Weaving together saints' Lives, rhetorical treatises, letters, and medical textbooks, this talk focuses on the host of bodily and medical practices deployed in the Byzantine world to alter or affirm a person's gender identity. And, secondly, on Byzantine authors' eloquent descriptions of non-binary and transgender identity, both for themselves and others. The figures discussed throughout this talk push against expectations of gender identity in the medieval world, rubbing against our own anachronistic notions of a binary gender construct, and demanding a revaluation of what transgender subjectivities could have looked like in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages.