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Transgender Time

Transgender Time

(p.81) 2 Transgender Time
Seeing Sodomy in the Middle Ages
Robert Mills
University of Chicago Press

This chapter considers the benefits of filtering medieval ideas of unnatural sex through the postmodern category transgender. It begins by engaging with conceptions of transgender time in recent historiography. This is followed by a detailed analysis of passages on cross-gendered performance and illicit sex in Hildegard of Bingen’s Scivias, which demonstrate the inextricability of concepts of gender and sexuality in the Middle Ages. The remainder of the chapter focuses on the Ovidian myth of Iphis and Ianthe, a sex change narrative mediated in the Middle Ages via a number of moralized retellings of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. These retellings, which include a translation of the prose Ovide moralisé by William Caxton, variously confront and suppress the Iphis story’s “lesbian” implications. In conclusion, the chapter explores other, alternative responses to the myth of Iphis and Ianthe, including retellings by the fifteenth-century poet and intellectual Christine de Pizan and by the contemporary British novelist Ali Smith.

Keywords:   sex change, lesbian desire, Hildegard of Bingen, Iphis and Ianthe, Ovid, Ovide moralisé, William Caxton, Christine de Pizan, Ali Smith

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