Transgender: Joan of Arc Didnt Fancy a Dress
I was not raised religious. Most of my encounters with people who are religious have included a large amount of bigotry, racism, sexism, homophobia, and views that support the oppression of women and any non-white, non-straight, non-traditional peoples. I did not conclude that all religious people are intolerant from these experiences, rather I understood that they were trying to use several centuries of bloody colonization to justify the current beliefs they held. Let me say, too, that I am predominantly considering Catholicism and Christianity when considering this argument, and only because this has been my experience. I cannot say I have heard someone wearing mala beads shouting, "God hates fags!" but around the necks of many of these people screaming these slurs were crosses glinting in the afternoon sun.
I was not raised in a society where two women held hands. I have had a lover drop my hand in the middle of Forrest Hills, though, frightened she may run into one of the high school students she taught. I can also think instantly of many people who I knew who killed themselves right after they came out to their families and were rejected by their only system of support. The reasoning behind this rejection was always Biblical.
I was raised in a society which contained sex and gender into two packages: male and female, masculine and feminine, and tried to define these roles further by primarily focusing on wardrobe instead of behavior. The word queer was born to offer people who deviated from this structure in any way, another realm. And why was another realm needed?
If human history can be summed into 1 year, 360 of the days would reflect matrilineal societies. The remaining 5 days are responsible for the current state we are in and why we are fighting for women to be liberated in all aspects, everywhere, (Feinberg, 1996).
History Lesson #1: Joan of Arc -
Who knows what about Joan? This is what I know about her without opening a book: she was born a peasant with the mind of a military genius. She knew strategy like crusaders knew bloodlust for Pagans. She wanted to raise her people up from the ground and fight against the invasions of the English to help France be declared as its own nation-state. She led the army to victory, eventually, but was sold out by the Burgundians. Since Joan was not a knight, ransom was not offered for her release, even though she had been responsible for France's victory. When it came down to it, she lacked the phallic referential point that proved her worthy of rescue. The English used all they knew about her to justify burning her at the stake. Since most of their information was false, they had to go with cross-dressing to light the match. She refused to grow her hair or wear traditional clothes assigned to her sex.
So what were some of the things the English conjured up to use against her and how is this related to Christian crusades? Well, for the crusaders, Joan represented everything they were trying to kill off: she came from the Pagan town of Lorraine, for starters. She cross-dressed. They reported (and this has been dwelled upon embarrassingly in films) that the reason she refused to dress like a woman was because God was commanding her into the line of duty to fight against persecution, which only strengthened their argument that she was blasphemous. The people who followed her put her into the category of Sainthood and considered her as important as the holy virgin. This wouldn't bode well for the Christian church that was intent on destroying Pagan and matrilineal societies. Lay waste to oppositional beliefs and values so in a few generations time, there is no history, language has been so drastically altered that there is no oral tradition, women were reduced to mothers and wives without value being placed on them - unless the value also included price tags, and their roles as mothers and wives were not seen as strengths, but merely societal obligations.
Joan's accusers said this in court:
"You have said that, by God's command, you have continually worn man's dress, wearing the short robe, doublet, and hose attached by points; that you have also worn your hair short, cut en rond above your ears, with nothing left that could show you to be a woman; and that on many occasions you received the Body of our Lord dressed in this fashion, although you have been frequently admonished to leave it off, which you have refused to do, saying that you would rather die than leave it off, save by God's command. And you said further that if you were still so dressed and with the king and those of his party, it would be one of the greatest blessings for the kingdom of France; and you have said that not for anything would you take an oath not to wear this dress or carry arms; and concerning all these matters you have said that you did well, and obediently to God's command.
As for these points, the clerks say that you blaspheme God in His sacraments; that you transgress divine law, the Holy Scriptures and the canon law; you hold the Faith doubtfully and wrongly; you boast vainly; you are suspect of idolatry; and you condemn yourself in being unwilling to wear the customary clothing of your sex, and following the custom of the Gentiles and the Heathen."
To which Joan replied, "For nothing in the world will I swear not to arm myself and put on a man's dress," (Feinberg, 1996).
Pay close attention to the last line of their accusations "...following the custom of the Gentiles and the Heathen." Here, they are comparing her behavior to the class of people whom they also direct their hate - but why? Who else was cross-dressing? This implies history beyond Joan that included more like her.
I often write that I come from empty history books, but I see myself in all of the battles - the starved body being eaten alive by the dogs of soldiers, is me. The woman in the back of a police van in 1965 and raped for being caught cross-dressing, is me. I have been born from a feral passion that compels me to fight, but have never been taught why and the pencil and my voice are the only tools of war I wish to be intimate with.
When true history is not taught generations are created who blindly follow the transformation of tradition into manifesto of colony. Western religion has spread like plague through cultures. I was reading about this when learning about Uganda. My heart felt completely torn out and broken whenever I thought of this. I felt so ungrateful for complaining that I didn't have a queer community around me in Arizona when people are being murdered at the same time in another place. Right now. Right this second. My top bookshelf would be reason enough to arrest, rape, and kill me elsewhere. I think of soldiers storming churches and raping lesbians - it is a sickeness, but every disease has a root of origin.
I see Joan of Arc riding in furs and gold, armor that peasants will try anything they can to touch her, they believe just touching her can heal them. She believes in fighting so much for the joy that will come with their freedom. The crowd is so loud as she passes that it makes her deaf, all of the noises blur. She just sees tears in the eyes of these people reaching toward her. The sun is bright. There are birds.
Then I see her in the iron cage, standing with chain around her neck, her hands, her feet. The sun is bright. There are birds as she is taken to the scaffold. She is burning alive instead of renouncing her identity. They extinguish the fire to prove she was a real woman. Her armor is sent off and kept in a museum. This is our history. It belongs to all of us and it is important.
It is easy to stop being who you are in a society that has tried extensively to deny your existence in human history.
When you erase people from history or deny the truth of who they are, this idea is planted in the minds of people who will believe and defend it. "One man and one woman" is an idea that has been implanted and a history that proves otherwise has been erased intentionally so there is no readily available or commonly accessible evidence to refute. Think of other ideas that have been implanted and the generations who followed defending them and how those ideas have completely altered how we view history.
Hopefully, when we have equal civil rights in this country the following generations will continue to defend them, and if so, we will be serving a great justice. It is not just a right for marriage. It is the right to proper representation in history books so that the truth can continue to live. I don't want queer youth (or any youths) to be unable to find themselves in the books they read. I know how isolating that feels.
If you do not believe that this history has been erased, please tell me what Two-Spirit means and how you still know and let's talk about how that is connected to forced assimilation, native genocide, rigid heterosexual standards for human worth and equality.
And if you don't know, you should look it up. I did. And I cried. Every time I find evidence of transgender people in history, I break down and cry. I can't help it. I have come from a society that has refused to show me otherwise.
I was not raised religious, but my whole life I have had Christian beliefs crammed down my throat and being used to declare deviance where love is present.
Change is underway in the United States. I know there is evidence all around me of this. The L Word soundtrack in my CD player next to the Lilith Fair double-disc set - is evidence. The rainbow flag above the office window - is evidence. Ani cooing “go ahead, make your next bold move,” is evidence. The bookshelves that reveal the true history of what has transpired - are evidence. I still cry. Some would say to take that energy and re-direct it at the source of inequality, but I will never deny myself the release of sadness for living in a corrupt world or deny that it became the way it is through genocide and violence and to benefit a handful of people while persecuting everyone else unless they conformed to the same corruption. I cannot hold it in my heart because it is infectious. Instead, I use it to say - this is what happened to Joan of Arc, please listen, this is why I am sad, this is how long ago it started, even longer than her, please listen and follow the trail through history that is hard to find.
The more I discover, the faster my hand moves and the louder my voice becomes.
Feinberg, L. (1996). Transgender Warriors. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.