"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Female Transvestite Monks Rock the Eastern Christian World: Details at 11!

You'd think I was merely trolling for traffic with a title like that, but believe it or not a new book by a reputable publisher treats this very topic. Coming out in November by Crystal Lynn Lubinski is Removing Masculine Layers to Reveal a Holy Womanhood: The Female Transvestite Monks of Late Antique Eastern Christianity (Brepols, 2013), 250pp.

About this book we are told:
Female monks have been discussed within the spheres of socio-history, theology, and literary analysis, but no comprehensive study has focused on their historical and gendered context until now. This book reexamines their hagiographies to reveal that female protagonists possess a holy womanhood regardless of having layers of masculinity applied to their characters. Each masculine layer is scrutinized to explore its purpose in the plots and the plausible motivations for the utilization of transvestite figures in religious literature. Hagiographers had no intention of transforming their religious protagonists into anything but determined, holy women who are forced to act drastically in order to sustain ascetic dreams begun while mothers, wives, daughters, and sisters. Through an intertextual method, masculinity and literary themes work to contextualize praise for a holy womanhood within an acceptable gendered language, which seems to support a belief in the spiritual potential of women. This book highlights the potential for complex irony to develop around a female transvestite, which supplies religious tales with intrigue and interest, an ability to instruct/chastise mixed audiences, and a potential to portray the reversal inherent in the human drama of salvation.
Those who know Eastern Christian monasticism, both ancient and modern, will know this is not as weird as it sounds. There are examples of this kind of "cross-dressing" as recently as in St. Xenia of Petersburg as I have noted elsewhere on here. 

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