Joan of Arc: The Crossdressing Warrior Saint

Joan of Arc was a warrior saint who played a great part toward the end of the Hundred Years War. She has been the subject of study for generations in regard to religion, martyrdom, historical warfare, sexuality and gender identity. As far as knowledge permits, she did not identify as transgender but did cross dress as a man for quite some time, likely due to necessity to pursue what she deemed to be a just cause. As is with many cases of trans history, we can not delve into the minds of the dead and determine how they may or may not have identified. We can, however, examine patterns of behavior as accounted through written history. Joan of Arc, despite the reason, was a cross dresser at the very least and this site supports the entire spectrum of gender identity and will be inclusive in regards to our content.

Joan was born January 6th, 1412 in Domremy in north-east France. Her parents were peasants who owned a small patch of farmland which they used to supplement her fathers income as a minor village official. Their village was loyal to the king but was surrounded by Burgundian supporters. It was the subject of countless raids, one of which saw the village burned to the ground. Joan claimed to have visions of Saint Michael, Saint Catherine and Saint Michael, whose divine instructions were to drive the English out of France and prepare the Dauphin to Reims for coronation. At 16 she predicted a military reversal at the Battle of Rouvary near Orleans, several days before messengers arrived to report that exact occurrence. She implored a garrison commander to giver her armed escort to the French Royal Court at Chinon. She told him of her visions and the importance of that audience by saying "I must be at the King's side ... there will be no help (for the kingdom) if not from me. Although I would rather have remained spinning [wool] at my mother's side ... yet must I go and must I do this thing, for my Lord wills that I do so."

 The commander eventually granted that request, in awe of the divine grace that gave her sight of defeat at Rouvary. They traveled through hostile Burgundian territory, she disguised as a male soldier which later led to charges of cross dressing. Though it was set upon her by her escort as a necessary precaution. Her first meeting with the uncrowned King Charles took place in 1429. The court was preparing a relief expedition to Orleans and granted Joan permission to travel along, giving her armor to wear for the endeavor. Her and her company depended on donated items to clothe and protect themselves. Many historians believe that the royal court made such great exceptions in her case because they may seen her as a last beacon of hope for a rule that was crumbling.

Though they initially placed faith in her confidence, the court was suspicious of her. The risk of turning the long standing conflict into a holy war was dangerously high, so the court made inquiry toward the legitimacy of her faith. They wanted to be sure she was not a heretic or sorceress that in the event of her success it could not be said that Charles's rule was not a gift from the devil. It was concluded with the understanding that Joan was a Christian of good standing who valued humility, simplicity and honesty. Charles was convinced but determined to put her divine purpose to the test. He wanted to see if she could lift the siege of Orleans as predicted, believing that placing doubt in it was to become unworthy of God's intervention should she be victorious.

She arrived in Orleans in April of 1429. Her participation in warfare is of debate, some believing that she favored her banner over the sword in battle others pointing to accounts of various military commanders who took her advice in battle, believing it divinely inspired.Whichever the case, her time in the campaign of war was met with great success, particularly with the recapture of Orleans. After many victories and the coronation of King Charles a short-lived truce with England was made. Once that battles recommenced, Joan took a force to attack a Burgundian camp but was ambushed and captured. Many escape and rescue attempts were made, but she eventually found herself in English custody and put on trial.

Initially Joan was only charged with heresy, a move that was of political motivation. The goal was to embarrass their enemies with the capture an conviction of such a "bizarre" individual. After much time in prison being forced to wear a dress, it was discovered that many molestation attempts were made and Joan was returned to male clothing. A situation favored by her as it offered greater protection. During her time in the military and in prison she kept her hair short. The courts tried to trick her into guilt by asking her if she was "divined grace by God". If she said yes it would be viewed as heresy as one could not speak for God and claiming divine grace would do so. If she said no, all her previous claims would be seen as false and therefore guilty of heresy by default. Her response left the court confounded, "If I am not, I pray God set me there. If I am, may God keep me there." This answer forced the court to find guilt by other means and so she was charged with cross dressing. Her defense argued that these actions were of practical nature and necessary for her case. But she was found guilty anyway and put death at the stake by fire in May of 1431. She was 19 years old.

But her legacy does not end there. Her story was of great acclaim throughout the centuries and even until now. In 1909 she was beatified, or recognized of their entrance into heaven by the Roman Catholic Church. In 1920, Pope Benedict XV canonized her at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. As was said before, she has been the subject of great study, admiration and fantasy. May films and books have surrounded the life of this great hero. The patron saint to France, martyrs, prisoners, soldiers  and I would add transgender peoples will live on for quite some time.

Trans Timelines (1500-1900): We'Wha

We'Wha was a Zuni Native American from New Mexico. She is considered the most famous Lhamana, a gender role that is now more commonly known as two-spirit. Lhamana played dual roles in society, wearing a mixture of masculine and feminine clothing, and primarily performed tasks which were traditionally assigned to females. They also served in the capacity as mediators in a variety of situations. We'Wha was born in 1849 as a member of the Zuni tribe, a year of note as it was the first year the tribe interacted with Americans who were colonizing the western part of the country. The colonists were meeting resistance of the Navajo and Apache tribes and had enlisted the Zuni's aid in war against the two other tribes. With conflict, the colonists brought disease. Mainly smallpox, which took the lives of We'Wha's parents in 1853. She was adopted by another family member and retained duties and traditions of two clans.

The Zuni tradition allows for people to be identified as two-spirit at very early ages, often as early as three or four years old. We'Wha was often seen playing with other girls, wearing attire that was usually worn by girls, and responding to the word hanni when spoken by her brothers and sisters. Though all these traits were noticed very early, We'Wha was taught religious ceremonies reserved for males at the age of twelve. Though a few years later was recognized a Lhamana and her education in female ceremony and duties began. In 1864, the conflict with the Navajos and Apaches ended in victory and We'wha and her family moved to once abandoned Zuni land where she tended a farm for a number of years, a traditionally male duty.

In 1877, the Grant administration established a peace policy, where rather than moving Native Americans to reservations it was elected to integrate the native communities into the rest of society. One such means by which they sought to achieve this was to convert tribes and their members to Christianity. While the desired affect was not achieved by We' Wha's tribe, the missionaries and the tribe had otherwise good relations. We'Wha performed many duties in the mixed community. There is evidence she even served as a matron to school girls, teaching them many domestic skills. Though by 1881 the missionaries left the area, seeking to convert other tribes to Christianity.

In 1879, We'Wha met Maltida Coxe Stevenson, an American ethnologist who noted that We'Wha was very friendly and willing to learn English to better communicate with the whites. She assumed We'Wha was a cisgender woman. It is not clearly explained when or how it was discovered that We'Wha  was assigned male at birth, but Stevenson does mention knowledge in writings from 1904 where she says  "As the writer could never think of her faithful and devoted friend in any other light, she will continue to use the feminine gender when referring to We'wha". In 1886, the two traveled to Washington D.C. where We'Wha was introduced as an "Indian Princess" and upon meeting President Grover Cleveland, even he perceived her to be a cisgender woman.

Stevenson commissioned We'Wha to make religious Zuni pottery, and We'Wha became quite the accomplished potter and was also well known for other crafts such as blankets, baskets, and dresses. Some of her pottery was displayed at the NAtional Museum in D.C. for some time. In her later years(probably around 1890) she returned to a pueblo in New Mexico and conflicts broke out between the U.S. government and the Zuni. She was accused of witchcraft and spent a month in prison. She died in 1896 attending the Sha'lako festival of heart failure at the age of 47.

*Much of the information in this post is thanks to the work and research of Will Roscoe, an American activist, author and scholar who wrote the book The Zuni Man-Woman which discusses the life of We'Wha at greater length. A work for which he was honored with the Margaret Mead Award and the Lambda Literary Award.

When Religious People Claim Your Gender Identity is an Abomination .....Remind Them of Trans Saints!

Faith. The act of having complete trust or confidence in one noun or another. In regards to religion, it's a strong belief in God, a god, or pantheon of gods and/or the teachings of a religion without factual evidence. Religion is quite often a highly touchy subject with many people and some of those people are rooted so strongly in their convictions, they refuse to ever entertain an opposing viewpoint. Many of these same people tend to oppress or persecute others who don't share their beliefs or because they believe those they are persecuting are viewed by their chosen deity as aberrations to be abhorred. While now I have often taken the perspective that no human being can ever truly know the answers to life, the universe, and everything...In the past I was taught that God loves me no matter what and that I should strive to treat others the same. I'm not sure if God exists or not, but that concept which was repeated throughout my formative years resonates in my soul in a very hopeful way. So if God does exist, it's nice to think of him/her/they practicing that same tenet. Unfortunately not everybody shares that same hopefulness.

The biggest problem I have come across when discussing various subjects or issues with some closed-minded religious people is a snobbish sense of self-importance. They exude large quantities of pride, arrogance and condescension. Quite simply put, they're egotists. Rarely will they listen to an opposing viewpoint and when they do they're even more seldom moved. While this attitude is, of course, annoying it's mostly harmless. In fact the only harm that comes from this position of isolated zeal is when their ideas and beliefs are used to justify oppression, discrimination, or other hateful acts against another person or group of people. Open a history book anywhere in the world flip to a random page in it and there's a good chance you'll read about an example of this kind of persecution. Transgender people are one of the many kinds of people to receive this type of treatment, and now the symptoms seem to be converging into an epidemic of hate crimes against us. The most common cause of homelessness among trans youth is family rejection. Which is often, but not always, caused by the uprooting of a faith-based belief system which challenges parents and guardians realm of thought. To help remedy this, parents should seek to educate themselves in two areas. The first is of course facts about transgender people and the trans experience. The second is their own religion.

Religious protesters inciting intolerance of transgender people.
Every single faith has generic teachings on loving others unconditionally. Additionally each one also has transgender figures treated in a respectful way or shows the consequences of bringing harm to someone who is different in this manner. Many religions also teach about the oneness in the ruling deity, stating that the traits we use to divide ourselves serve no purpose in the presence of that deity. But, again,  the fact of these teachings falling upon deaf ears and hardened hearts often bears repeating. And further, the inclusion of transgender kind in such stories and teachings would be denied or ignored to spare their egos of humility and guilt from treatment of others made in evil spirit.

Trans figures do play roles in all religions. Some are quite direct in their representation, others of a more interpretive nature. Roles as eunuchs, servants, and messengers teem throughout the written works. Some holding key importance or significance in various events, without their work in such moments justice or righteousness would crumble. Even if one moves to remove their existence by way of their own interpretations, brave and tortured trans souls have made their marks on the pages of written history and into the honor of sainthood or annals of legend. These examples occur throughout history, but in most cases follow similar paths. People who are assigned female at birth and who later in life dress as men for a handful of reasons. They usually continue in their male roles until death, spending their lives in monasteries pledging their lives into service of their God. They often encounter suffering or mistreatment, some even performing miracles. But two of these people have quite remarkable stories, St. Wilgefortis and St. Marinos of Alexandria(also know as Marina the Monk).

Wilgefortis, who is known by many different names throughout various cultures, is a name of medieval legend. They are the patron saint of relief from suffering or tribulation and in the height of their popularity was often revered and prayed to by women who sought freedom from abusive husbands. They are depicted as an androgynous figure upon a cross, both clothed and unclothed. Depictions of their naked body give view of a feminine for disrupted by a long beard. Clothed versions behold a bearded person in a dress much alike the kind women wore at the time. The tale of Wilgefortis is as such.

A nobleman of Gailcia promises their daughter, Wilgefortis, to a Muslim king. Wilgefortis is disgusted in the idea and takes a vow of chastity, praying to God to make them repulsive to the king's eyes. Wilgefortis sprouts a beard and the marriage cancelled. This angers their father who has Wilgefortis crucified.
After some time, Wilgefortis was replaced and forgotten and many sculptures displaying their visage were re-purposed and refurbished to be androgynous forms of Jesus Christ himself. A decision that was made for theological reasons. (A post for another day.)

Marinos was a monk during the late 5th and early 6th centuries. Their tale quite tragic, however vindicated. Born to wealthy parents, their mother died when they were young. They were raised by their father to be devout to the Christian faith. When Marinos (as Marina) came of age, their father wished to retire to a monastery and find his child a husband. Marina protested asking their father "Why do you save your own soul only to destroy mine?". Renouncing their father's plan, they shaved their head and changed their clothes. Seeing his child so determined, they gave away all their possessions to the poor and lived as men together in a monastery. Marina taking the name Marinos

After some time Marinos's father died, which caused them to delve deeper into their faith and retaining their male identity. One day, the abbot of the monastery sent him with three other monks to attend to some business for the monastery. As the journey was long, they were forced to spend the night at an inn. Also lodging there was a soldier of the eastern Roman front. Upon seeing the beauty of the inn keeper's daughter the soldier seduced her and defiled her virginity, instructing her to say, "It was the monk, Father Marinos, who has done this to me" should she conceive a child.

When the Roman's seed took hold, the woman did blame Marinos for her pregnancy. Word was sent to the abbot who called on Marinos to confess his sin. Without specifically saying how they had sinned, Marinos confessed and was condemned to live among the streets as a beggar. When the child was born, the innkeepers daughter abandoned the child with Marinos. He cared for the child for many years and was eventually let back into the monastery by the abbot, who gave Marinos demanding duties day in and out. Toward the end of their life, Marinos became ill and died. The abbot ordered the body cleaned and prepared for burial. Upon discovery that Marinos had been born a woman, the abbot wept for the wrongs that Marinos had endured.  The abbot then called for the inn keeper and informed him that Marina was actually born a woman. The inn keeper went to where the body lay and also wept for the pain and suffering which he had unjustly brought upon Marina. During the funeral prayers, one of the monks, who was blind in one eye, received full sight again after he touched the body. God also allowed a devil to torment the inn keeper's daughter and the soldier. This caused them to travel to where the saint was buried. There they both confessed their iniquity in front of everyone and asked for forgiveness.

Today the body of this saint is preserved at Saint Mary Coptic Orthodox Church in Haret el-Roum a Coptic Orthodox church in el-Ghoureya, Cairo near the Saint Theodore. The body is displayed to the public on Marina Feast Day on Mesra 15(approximately August 22nd). 

So when someone else tries to use their religion to legitimize hate, disrespect, intolerance or discrimination against you, remind them that there have been multitudes of transgender people who have done more for their belief system than they could ever hope to achieve. Their experiences are much like many of our own; filled with struggle, often sorrow, abandonment, false accusations and discrimination. Look to these figures for hopein your times of need and may they give you solace.

Transgender Representation in Comic Books

Comic books have been a staple of our culture since Superman took to the skies in 1938. Since then, titles such as Spiderman, Batman, X-Men, Iron Man....(are you seeing a pattern yet?) have dominated the comic store shelves. That's not to say that women haven't been represented in mainstream titles. Wonder Woman, Power Girl, Captain Marvel, as well as a variety of feminine variants of originally male superheroes (SpiderWoman, Super Girl, etc.) have also achieved notable success, even if they are oversexualized. Since the more recent upsurge of support for the LGBT community, even homosexual superheroes have received at least respectable attention in mainstream comics. (Northstar in Astonishing X-Men #51). However, there is one relatively untapped market that has been avoided, misrepresented, underappreciated and even persecuted by the mainstream comic industry: The Transgender community.

Ok, Ok, So I know what you may be thinking. "Oh boy, yet another transperson screaming for attention and inclusive representation from some form of media.". Well, yeah...kinda. Look, I have some pretty reasonable points that make my argument in this case. The first of which has to do with how comic books are marketed and who they are marketed to. Traditionally, comics have been considered an industry that caters mostly to males. Hence the plethora of male superheroes clad in spandex costumes, showing off their godlike prowess from Genosha to Metropolis. In my personal opinion, this fact can be best illustrated by a joke by Jerry Seinfeld where he states "See cause all men kind of think of themselves as like low-level superheroes in their own world. I'm not even supposed to be telling you this. But when men are growing up and looking at comic books and see Batman, Spiderman, Superman... these aren't fantasies, these are options. This is the deep inner secret truth of the male mind". Even before Seinfeld unwittingly exposed this intrinsic truth of the male psyche with a comedic magnifying glass, the comic book industry had long since noticed and cashed in on the idea. While the medium was originally intended for all readers in general, it was quickly discovered that young men were the primary market that supported the industry. As a result, companies began to tailor their stories to attract more young male readers. This lead to attempts to make girls more interested in superhero comics by introducing characters like Wonder Woman, Supergirl and superhero teams that included female characters. Over the years these characters were given skimpier outfits and more unrealistic, yet pleasant to look at figures for boys to drool keep them "interested" in the "story".

The second point has to do with the Comics Code Authority. In 1954, psychiatrist Fredric Wertham published the book Seduction of the Innocent which posed a scathing opposition to entertainment media and it's effects on the minds of adolescents. The publication rallied the U.S. lawmakers into proposing various methods of regulation and censorship on everything from music and movies to comics and radio stories. The comic book industry, elected to establish it's own code authority in order to self regulate rather than be controlled by the government establishing the institution later that same year. Authors or publishers would have to submit their stories to the Code Authority for review
and if all criteria was met, a stamp of approval would be imposed onto every cover of the issue. Most retailers refused to sell product without this stamp of approval. To receive this approval a story could not include gore, horror, terror, sexual innuendo; it could not portray disrespect of policeman, judges, politicians or respected institutions and such characters could never die as a result of criminal activities. In every instance, the hero had to triumph over the villain or avert disaster with a happy end. Kidnapping, excessive violence, classic Hollywood monsters (Vampires, Werewolves, zombies etc.), seduction, rape, sadism, masochism, were all strictly prohibited. Even many words and phrases were not tolerable. With most of these stipulations making sense, especially regarding the mindset of the general public of the time, it may come to no surprise that "sex perversion, abnormality, and sexual relations" were all specifically prohibited. Include the fact that traditional and wholesome love stories were highly favored as well as stories that "propped up the sanctity of marriage", you have favorable conditions for a perfect storm of LGBT exclusion. This trend continued well into the 1970's until the CCA loosened it's stranglehold on the industry allowing just a little more freedom of creativity every year. So by the mid 80's LGBT characters and story lines started to make appearances on store shelves, even if much of it was negative or purposefully insignificant. By 2001, most publisher's had abandoned the self regulation and the CCA was finally put to rest in 2011 when DC Comics and a few other lesser publications withdrew support.

The third point has to do with how the LGBT community and more specifically the trans community has been represented by the comic book industry in the past. In the early days of inclusion in comics, LGBT characters tended to be minor, situational characters only displayed in a short sequences and usually as a victim of some sort of crime or the target of a joke. Very few of these characters are transgender. Gradually, this practice began to transcend from depicting LGBT people as victims or mockeries to giving them slightly more to do. That is yes these people do exist in the comic's universe but are used lightly and in supporting or background roles as comic relief or to assist the hero in order to further a plot. While this slightly better treatment mirrored the shift in real life support of the LGBT community, it hardly did the community any justice as these characters lacked depth and offered little to no emotional connection to readers.

Then, in 2000, the first X-Men film came out. I mean that both factually and  kind of figuratively. The history of the X-Men comics was no stranger to condemning social inequality. Issues in the 1960's strongly resembled the struggles and triumphs of the civil rights movement at the time even with the CCA breathing down the neck of the industry. When that film was released, it again challenged inequality again. But this time the theme revolved more around the struggles of LGBT people, invoking the ideas that people are born the way we are and there is no shame in being different. It's subsequent sequels hammered these ideas further. Recall the scene at the beginning of The Last Stand where Angel, as a child, is desperately trying to hide his mutation from his father only to be discovered and sobbing to his father "I'm sorry." as he enters the bathroom. Later in the film we learn a cure to mutation has been discovered and further the government intends to weaponize it. An idea that bears a disturbing resemblance to the real life practice of gay conversion therapy. These films opened a door for the industry, allowing them to represent the LGBT community more adequately and respectfully, by further exploring and illustrating our struggles. But as time progressed and lesbian, gay and bisexual people received better representation more often, the trans community was getting left behind.

Now, and very slowly, transgender representation in comics is starting to take hold, mostly in the independent markets. Aftershock Comics has a series called Alters, which is a lot like X-Men but centers around a transgender woman named Chalice(pictured at the very top of the article.). In the comic which is colored by transwoman Tamra Bonvillain, Chalice trys to balance being an in-the closet transwoman, a responsible and productive family member who supports their disabled sibling, and an Alter(mutant) who must hide their identity from a disapproving government, fearful public, and dangerous villains. Stories like this can help people who aren't trans discover and learn about the struggles we face as transfolk and that those circumstances are not the only obstacles we face. It shows that quite often transgender people deal with many of the same everyday problems anyone else might face. But not every story has to be a desperate call to end struggle and oppression. Another comic Kim & Kim is a space themed bounty hunter story which features a lesbian and a transwoman. It's fun and exciting and doesn't really delve into the darkness of the trans experience. It very simply involves a trans character and her adventures. which is also a healthy story as it allows the reader to see the bright shiny personality that many transfolk have and what it might be like if we were treated like everyone else.

The next major step in representation in comics is the upcoming season of Supergirl on the CW which will feature a transgender superhero character played by transwoman and activist Nicole Maines. I predict that, if executed correctly, this particular season and character will open doors for more well established comic publishers like DC and Marvel to represent us with dignity, enthusiasm and respect. Just like the X-Men films of the early 2000's did for the LGB community. It's an exciting prospect and I'm really looking forward to it.

Transgender Day of Visibility: March 31, 2018

         Transgender Day of Visibility is an annual, international event celebrated annually on March 31st. Its purpose is to raising awareness of the discrimination transgender people face and to celebrate transgender lives and culture. It was founded in 2009 by Rachel Crandall, a trans activist from Michigan. She was frustrated with the fact that the only known trans holiday was Transgender Day of Remembrance, which mourns the deaths of transgender people throughout the year. Crandall saw a need for a day which acknowledges those of us who are living. The first TDoV was celebrated on March 31st and has since expanded to countries all over the globe.  TSER- Trans Student Educational Resources, a youth advocacy organization, has worked to bring awareness to the event since then.

TDoV is a day that encourages us to go out and be seen. It allows us to show that we are valid members of society that are capable of contributing our part in a variety of ways. We exist in all parts of life. We are part of families, communities, workplaces. There are some people who would say we should not be allowed to integrate into society, but the fact is that we are already integrated.  For those of us that are comfortable with living out as our true selves, we need to participate in this holiday in every way we can. It's more than changing the border on our Facebook pictures or updating our banners across our social media accounts. It's about being vocal and sharing our stories, educating others about the discrimination we face, recognizing how our community intersects with others, supporting organizations that fight for people like us and learning our own history.

Here is a list of organizations you can donate to help aid in our fight for equality.

Human Rights Campaign
Trans Student Educational Resources
National Center for Transgender Equality
Sylvia Rivera Law Project
The Trevor Project
Transgender Law Center
Lambda Legal
Global Action for Trans Equality
Transgender American Veterans Association

Kristelle's Story: Table of Contents