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cross-gender roles/behavior

Any context where a person engages in actions or fulfills a social role that is socially designated for a different gender than the one they are assigned. This may be a covert part of an overall presentation or may be in open contradiction to their assigned gender.

LHMP entry

In the context of an increased interest in the cultural role of theatrical cross-dressing in the Renaissance through modern times, these authors extend the analysis backward to look at similar themes in medieval theater.

I’ve been hoping to track down this article since it first came to my attention, and the historic individual documented here is even more intersectionally mind-blowing than I knew. If I had to sum up the story in click-bait style, it would be: “Sixteenth-century Spanish bi-racial ex-slave transman becomes classically trained surgeon and marries happily.” Alas, the ending isn’t quite as happy, though far from tragic.

Early modern Europe had quite a fondness for encyclopedic works that defined and classified the entire known world (and much that was imaginary). Theodor Zwinger (1533-1588) wrote Theatrum vitae humane (Theater of Human Life) in something of a biographical dictionary form, in groupings according to the characteristic that provided their fame. Under the section “Tribades” he notes “Here we say nothing which has not been said before, and collect only a few items.

We have not entirely managed to shed the idea that an individual’s habitual predispositions are reflected in their physical features. The Greek pseudo-Aristotelian Physiognomics is one of the foundational treatises that systematized this view. References to female homoeroticism (as opposed to male references) in the context of physiognomy are rare and primarily appear in texts derived from an anonymous Latin treatise of the 4th century.

An anthropological look at several distinct types of non-normative gender categories/identities. Bolin examines five distinct types of gender variance that appear cross-culturally (without implying that these are the only five possible categories). The final part of the articles uses these types to consider modern Western gender paradigms, however this modern analysis only considers individuals assigned male at birth (including MTF transgender individuals as well as cross-dressers who identify as male) and therefore is less relevant to the Project.

In general, theological texts make no explicit reference to female homoerotic activities, though coverage may be inferred (with varying degrees of confidence) by the inclusion of women in discussions of sodomy or under vague general references to inappropriate sexual behavior. Some authors, when presenting theological discussions of sexuality, include less ambiguous examples, as in the following.

The introduction notes the extreme variation in how female same-sex relationships were treated, in terms of penalties, liability, and the means and extent of enforcement, including differing legal theories of whether the term “sodomy” could apply. As a generalization, consensual same-sex behavior was least prosecuted in England, while Florence may have regularly prosecuted relations between men but the penalties were relatively light, while in Spain penalties were regularly quite severe including execution, and similarly severe were those recorded in Geneva.

This article isn’t so much on lesbianism in a cultural context as on the methodology of studying the topic, and particularly the importance of not assuming equivalence between male and female homosexuality. Please note the publication date and filter appropriately. As most of the specific cultural citations are relatively modern, I’ll be discussing the general patterns.


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