Category: Transgender & Gender Non-Conforming

Le Roman de Silence

Le Roman de Silence

Artist: Unknown
Author: Heldris de Cornuälle
Date & Location: Early 13th Century, France
Media: Pigment on vellum (calf skin)

A miniature showing Queen Eufeme sitting on a throne in her private chambers with Silence beside her. the private apartments are represented through a distinctive architectural frame, which here manifests as two arches. The two are seated with Eupheme on the viewer’s right and Silence on the left. This miniature, consistent with the illustrative program, emphasizes Eupheme’s position in court through hierarchical scale and a golden crown.
Queen Eupheme (right) seducing Silence (left), WLC.LM.6, Roman de Silence, f. 209r. Used with permission from University of Nottingham Manuscripts and Special Collections.

Significance to Queer Art History

The French narrative Le Roman de Silence was written by Heldris de Cornuälle in the 13th century. This is the only known surviving copy, also from the early 13th century, which exists between the vellum folios 188r-223r of WLC/LM/6 at the University of Nottingham.

This narrative, including the eleven miniatures (images) containing narrative content, is based on another medieval text: De Planctu Naturae (The Complaint of Nature) by Alain de Lille (c.1128-1212). Alain de Lille focusses especially on “sodomy,” and so does Heldris de Cornuälle.

Sodomy, and characters representing sodomy, does not match with our modern cis-heteronomative presumptions. This means that the “sodomitical” characters represented in Romance de Silence don’t conform to these presumptions either.

There are three characters (Silence, Eupheme, and the Nun) who do not conform to their assigned gender roles, and one of these characters has been called by contemporary scholars a “lesbian” figure.

This is a miniature on folio 222v. This miniature shows Silence standing naked on the left with her hands raised revealing one breast located — in truly medieval fashion — closer to her shoulder than her chest. King Evan stands fully clothed in blue with a golden crown making a dialogic gesture towards Silence.
Silence standing nude before Kind Evan, WLC.LM.6, Roman de Silence, f. 222v. Used with permission from University of Nottingham Manuscripts and Special Collections.

Summary

Since these images are so connected to the story, here is a brief summary of these three “queer” characters and their role in the plot:

**Please note: Various gendered pronouns are used here to discuss the narrative, and I do not want to negate any trans/non-binary interpretations, which I think abound. Please interpret them in whichever ways resonate for you. Additionally, these characters face violent endings so, while this is a piece of the history of queer representation, this is a loving heads-up before you dive in.**

Silence

Silence is initially described as a woman, but raised as a man after the king decrees that daughters can no longer inherit.

Silence is revealed to be a woman by Merlin at the end of the narrative, and she is then married to the king.

Silence’s body had taken on physical masculine features before being revealed, though, which are described as being “refinished” by Nature (ll. 6457–6460).

It is also worth noting that Silence had desires to make the transition permanent. He sought out Merlin to that end, but was foiled by Eupheme (ll. 6457-6460).

He is also accused of liking “young men a lot” and being an “herite” (ll. 3945-3947).

“Heretic” came to be synonymous with “sodomite” in late medieval France.

Eupheme/Eufeme

Eufeme/Eupheme is sent to marry King Evan to stop a war. She arrives with her black hair on a boat which also carries black horses to be gifted to the king (ll. 231-233).

She falls ill upon arrival delaying the wedding, but it happens three days later.

She tries to seduce Silence, and is described as being “highly skilled in such matters” (l. 3713). She is also described as loving and feeling “anguished yearning…/for this young man who was a girl (ll. 3698-3704).

Another of Eupheme’s lovers is a nun who is revealed to be “a man” near the end.

This plot point has been referred to by other scholars as further suggesting her preferences for women.

The gendered hegemony is perpetuated at the end of the narrative when Eufeme is executed by equine quartering (l. 6656). This was a common sentence for sodomy.

Adjectives used for Eufeme include: “female satan/cis sathanas” and “lady harlot/la dame fole” (l. 6273).

The Nun

A nun is in Queen Eupheme’s entourage when they intercept Silence bringing Merlin to the king.

While dressed as a nun, she/her pronouns are used for this character: she said/fait ele (l. 6250).

The nun is then revealed by Merlin in his long, riddle-like speech to be “Eufeme’s lover/… deceiving [the king] in woman’s dress” (ll. 6531-6532).

The gendered hegemony is reinforced once again when the nun is made to strip before the king (ll.6570-6571), and then executed with Eufeme (ll. 6655).

Blackout

Blackout

Blackout
Artist: Indira Allegra
Date & Location: 2015, Digital
Media: Digital Weaving Installation, Dimensions Variable

Significance to Queer Art History

In Indira Allegra’s online portfolio this work is described as:

a large scale video text/ile installation studying the weave structure of police uniforms alongside statements made by families of those lost to police violence including: Aiyana Stanley-Jones (7), Tamir Rice (12), John Crawford III (22), Amadou Diallo (23), Tarika Wilson (26), Eric Garner (43), Yvette Smith (45), and Eleanor Bumpurs (66). In six black and white panels, these grief stricken texts scroll and scan endlessly, struggling to articulate themselves through the presence of serge twill – the fabric used to manufacture police uniforms across the nation.

https://www.indiraallegra.com/blackout

Queer activism and art history cannot be anything but intersectional — if they are not intersectional, they will only serve to reinforce the fabric of systemic oppression and violence. Be queer, and be proud, and if you’re a white queer (as I am) be active about using your white privilege to dismantle the systems and cultural narratives that created it.

The realities of systemic racial violence demand both an immediate response, and deeper longterm changes. Racism needs to be dismantled by our performances, by our dinner conversations, by our curricula, by our websites, by our canvases.

To all of the BIPOC queer folx who visit this website, thank you for checking out this digital collection, and I would like to centre your voices here. If you have feedback and/or art work you would like to see featured please reach me at: queerarthistoryqah@gmail.com

Hear Indira Allegra discuss “Blackout” in her own words
Saint Wilgefortis

Saint Wilgefortis

It is my sincere pleasure to introduce you — my sparkly, queer, and quarantined friends — to my favourite medieval Catholic saint.

Saint Wilgefortis shown on the cross with a beard, a crown, and a light blue dress with a fiddler at her feet. There is a column of text to the left of the image.

Date & Location: 1678, (currently) Städtisches Museum, Braunschweig, Germany

Artist: Unknown

Media: I believe it is pigments and ink on a wooden panel, but I will keep investigating! I wanted to get her name out to you all even while awaiting the reopening of libraries.

Significance to Queer Art History:

Saint Wilgefortis (or Saint Kümmernis) was martyred on a cross — the same martyrdom as Christ. According to her hagiography (the formal term for stories of Saint’s lives), she was being forced into marriage by her father, but wished to remain a virgin married only to God. She prayed to God to save her from her fate. He responded to her prayers by giving her masculine features, such as a beard, so that no one would want to marry her (perhaps the medieval version of finding freedom through the defiance of cis- het- standards)! Her father sentenced her to death for her disobedience and had her crucified.

Since she has a beard and died on a cross, images of the gender-bending Saint Wilgefortis are often easily mistaken for images of Christ. Some distinguishing features are: her missing shoe on the right foot, a fiddler, and sometimes a gown.

Saint Wilgefortis is a valuable component of the web of intersectional queer and feminist art “hirstories.” She is commonly seen as the Patron Saint of Abused Women, and she makes us question premodern/medieval constructions of gender and sexuality. Transformation between binary genders, as well as non-binary characters like Saint Wilgefortis herself, abound in the medieval imagination from biblical narratives to courtly romances.

The Vatican also removed her Feast Day from the Catholic calendar in 1969, and so her story continues in the discourse of trans- and homophobic exclusion, the resilience queer cultural memory, and contemporary art activism.

German image of St Wilgefortis. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

Resources:

Friesen, Ilse E. The Female Crucifix: Images of St. Wilgefortis since the Middle Ages. Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2001.

Creation of Adam — Sistine Ceiling (1508-1512)

Creation of Adam — Sistine Ceiling (1508-1512)

Date & Location:
1508-1512 in the Sistine Chapel, Vatican City, Rome, Italy.

Artist:
Michelangelo Buonarroti

Media:
Fresco (paint applied to still-wet plaster, once dried it becomes integral to the wall)

Significance to Queer Art History:
Michelangelo has become iconic as a “gay man” with a place in the “Canon” of Art History. Renaissance Italy was a very homosocial culture for aristocratic men, and it was public knowledge that younger men (such as apprentices) often had intimate and sexual relationships with their mentors. Michelangelo was openly a part of this culture. Artistic expressions of his desire for other men have also survived for us to enjoy today. Especially, his poetry and drawings for Tommaso de’ Cavelieri have become famous for their passion. The kissing men in the Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel are likewise relevant as representations of queer desire as well as Michelangelo’s concern for his soul.

Michelangelo Buonarroti, Last Judgement (detail), 1536-1541, Sistine Chapel, Vatican City, Rome. Fresco.

He is also an inspiration for contemporary queer artists in their own projects to reclaim and retell queer “art hirstories.” Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin is a Swedish photographer. Her work centres trans men and women, non-binary folx, lesbian and gay couples, and drag queens. She often centres them in scenes inspired by medieval and early modern renderings of biblical stories. One example, is her version of “The Creation of Adam” (“Creation”) from 2001. Her powerful reference to Michelangelo’s ceiling in the Sistine Chapel reclaims his work for contemporary queer audiences.

Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin, Creation, 2001. Copyright @ Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin.

References:
William E. Wallace. Michelangelo. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Joyene Nazatul

Joyene Nazatul

A black background with white text reading "To Mum (Love, Me)" in handwriting.
Click image to watch: To Mum (Love, Me) by Joyene Nazatul

To Mum (Love, Me)

Artist (director): Joyene Nazatul

Date & Location: 2015, Singapore

Media: Film

Where can I see this artwork?: viddsee.com/video/to-mum-love-me

Significance to Queer Art History:

Joyene Nazatul is a non-binary multidisciplinary artist hailing from the tiny island state of Singapore. Joyene was a filmmaker and writer who currently spends most of their time creating furniture in their new home in Victoria, BC. They also performs as the drag artist Noah Lott and continues to create art through a variety of media.

Juliana Huxtable (1987-

Juliana Huxtable (1987-

Untitled (In the Rage) Nibiru Cataclysm

Artist: Juliana Huxtable

Date & Location: 2015, New York City, NY (USA)

Media: Photography

Where can I see this artwork?: Guggenheim Museum, NYC

Significance to Queer Art History:

Juliana Huxtable is an intersex and transgender visual artist, performer,writer, and DJ. In her multidisciplinary career she often conveys her ideas through a afrofuturist lens blended with modern science fiction.

This piece brings together parts of her identity that she wants to draw attention to via a sexualized position to celebrate her body and identity in her surroundings which recall Nubian and Egyptian settings.

Resources & Further Reading:

“Juliana Huxtable | Untitled in the Rage (Nibiru Cataclysm) (2015).” Artsy. https://www.artsy.net/artwork/juliana-huxtable-untitled-in-the-rage-nibiru-cataclysm.

Sargent, Antwaun. “Artist Juliana Huxtable’s Bold, Defiant Vision.” Vice. March 25, 2015. Accessed July 19, 2018. https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/exmjkp/artist-juliana-huxtables-journey-from-scene-queen-to-trans-art-star-456.

“Untitled in the Rage (Nibiru Cataclysm).” Guggenheim. July 17, 2018. Accessed July 19, 2018. https://www.guggenheim.org/artwork/34476.

 

Marilyn Roxie- Non-Binary Pride Flag (2011)

Marilyn Roxie- Non-Binary Pride Flag (2011)

Marilyn Roxie is a genderqueer writer, musician, and digital media designer. They, created genderqueerid.com/ on Tumblr while attending San Francisco City College. Roxie, along with being a designer and musician, manages an online record label called Vulpiano Records. They currently attend San Francisco State University for Digital Media and Emerging Technologies. Learn more about them here: http://marilynroxie.com/

Featured Artwork: Non-Binary/ Genderqueer Pride Flag

Marilyn Roxie created this flag for a project in 2010 to find a visual identity similar to other pride flags such as the transgender flag (created by Monica Helms in 1999) and bisexual pride flag (Created by Michael Page in 1998) with colored bars representing specific meanings. Roxie came up with three colors after various revisions and simplifications that fit this criteria:

  • Lavender: A blend of traditional “male” and “female” birth assignment colors (pink and blue) to represent those who categorize themselves fitting both binary genders.
  • White: to represent those who are completely outside of the gender binary.
  • Dark Chartreuse Green: An opposite of lavender to represent those who feel neither male nor female in their identities.

After the flag’s creation, it was spotted in rallies and pride events around the world and is used widely by non-binary communities. However, Roxie still accepts submissions for new flag ideas and color palettes for community discussion. Visit http://genderqueerid.com/ for more information on genderqueer and non-binary identities as well as more information on the flag and its history. 

Resources & Further Reading:

Roxie, Marilyn. “About the Flag.” About the Flag. Accessed August 2017. http://genderqueerid.com/about-flag.

Roxie, Marilyn. “Marilyn Roxie.” Marilyn Roxie. Accessed August 2017. http://marilynroxie.com/.

 

ACT UP Los Angeles- Sir Lady Java

ACT UP Los Angeles- Sir Lady Java

Featured Artwork: Sir Lady Java poster by ACT UP Los Angeles

Date and location: Los Angeles, CA (USA) (1990)

Significance to Queer Art History:

This poster is a piece of “artivism” used by ACT UP Los Angeles that features a painting of Sir Lady Java (1943- ), a black transgender performer who was prominent in the 1960s and 70s nightclub scene in Los Angeles. This was carried around in Los Angeles and Orange County Pride parades.

In 1967, the Los Angeles Police Department began shutting down Java’s performances citing “Rule Number 9”, a city ordinance that banned “impersonation by means of costume or dress a person of the opposite sex.” This led Java to consult with the ACLU to overturn this measure. Courts ruled that only individual clubs could sue performers. Rule Number 9 was later shut down in accordance to a separate issue. From Sir Lady Java during the time of her fight for the right to work: “I feel strongly about discrimination against male-females and female-males. I am fighting to have our kind accepted on merit and merit alone.” 

Resources & further reading:

Artist Unknown, “Sir Lady Java” Sign Carried by ACTUP/Los Angeles in Los Angeles and Orange County Pride Parades, Part of a Larger Series of Placard Signs Honoring LGBTQ Pioneers in Southern California, circa 1990. ONE Archives at the USC Libraries.” ONE National Gay Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries. Accessed August 13, 2017. http://one.usc.edu/motha/motha007/.

Roberts, Monica. “Sir Lady Java- Trans Civil Rights Warrior.” TransGriot. January 01, 1970. Accessed August 13, 2017. http://transgriot.blogspot.ca/2010/12/sir-lady-java-trans-civil-rights.html.

“5 Black Trans Women Who Paved the Way.” Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition. February 24, 2016. Accessed August 13, 2017. http://www.masstpc.org/5-who-paved-the-way/.

 

Greer Lankton (1958-1996)

Greer Lankton (1958-1996)

Greer Lankton was an American Artist based in East Village in New York City. She created and re-purposed dolls as expressions and interpretations of herself, her imagination, friends, and influential celebrities. Lankton, a transgender woman, was born in 1958 and physically transitioned and was subject of a few news articles in this time before college at the age of 21. She attended the Art Institute of Chicago and Pratt. Lankton, since left a legacy of her work having been featured in the Whittney Biennial and the Venice Biennale in 1995 before her death in 1996. Her work has since been featured and remembered in the US with the 2014 exhibition, titled: “LOVE ME”

Featured Artwork: Bust of Candy Darling

Date & Location: 1989 in New York City

Significance to Queer Art History: Candy Darling, a transgender actress who was featured in several of Andy Warhol’s films was one of Lankton’s icons that she also looked up to as a trans woman. Inside the bust is a valentine-style heart next to a human heart that Lankton has fabricated. This could allude to the idea that, as a friend of hers, Julia Morton writes: “the artist’s life was sustained as much by fantasy as reality”.

Resources & Further Reading:

Morton, Julia. “Greer Lankton, a Memoir.” Artnet Magazine. January 27, 2007. Accessed May 2017. http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/features/morton/morton1-26-07.asp.

Nastac, Simona, and Massimo Grimaldi. “Unalterable Strangeness.” Flash Art. July 27, 2016. Accessed May 2017. http://www.flashartonline.com/article/unalterable-strangeness/.

Paul Gauguin- The Sorcerer of Hiva Oa (1902)

Paul Gauguin- The Sorcerer of Hiva Oa (1902)

Featured Artwork: The Sorcerer of Hiva Oa (Marquesan Man in the Red Cape)

Date & Location: 1902 in Hiva Oa, an isle in French Polynesia

Media: Oil painting

Significance to Queer Art History: This painting’s inspiration was drawn from Gauguin’s travels from France to the Polynesian Islands where Gauguin thought the lives and surroundings would be “untouched” by European influence and colonization. This painting depicts a māhū individual from Hiva Oa (not a man in a cape, as Gauguin describes the individual to his western standards of gender) who identifies with a third gender that can encompass both male and female roles, presentation, and even some spiritual aspects as māhū individuals were revered as healers as this person that Gauguin describes as a “sorcerer”.

Symbolism to note: The conversing fox and bird at the bottom right of the image are natural enemies with many differences. This is perhaps Gauguin’s way of portraying male and female genders “conversing” and getting along with one another to symbolize the māhū individual’s gender.

Editors Note: Gauguin’s view into the lives of the indigenous folks of Hiva Oa and the areas he visited in the Polynesian Islands may be untruthful and deemed offensive as he often exploited spiritual and cultural practices and added his own westernized European influences and concepts to his works while traveling to “un-touched” and un-colonized (the Polynesian Isles had already been colonized years before by the French) areas.

Resources & Further Reading:

Reed, Christopher. “Gender- Transcendant Homosexuality: Polynesia and North America.” In Art and Homosexuality: A History of Ideas. Oxford: University Press, 2011.

“The Men-women of the Pacific.” Tate. Accessed August 2017. http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/men-women-pacific.

George Catlin- Dance to the Berdache (1830)

George Catlin- Dance to the Berdache (1830)

George Catlin was a painter from Pennsylvania, USA. His works focused on Native American life and culture as he was interested in capturing North America’s “vanishing race” and spent weeks sketching and painting among indigenous folks to capture their “untouched” lifestyles. His most prolific expedition was with William Clark up the Mississippi River Territories of the United States started in 1830. While he documented tribes he visited, he was hostile toward non-european customs and wrote anti-two spirit sentiments toward the Sac and Fox village he visited.

Note on “Berdache” and Western Colonization Efforts: “Berdache” was a term given by the French during North American colonization for folks born male and given traditional female dress and roles along with (in some traditions) spiritual and shaman related properties and abilities. However, this term has been used offensively and extraneously since its origin in France and was later popularized by the field of anthropology. However, many indigenous folks have claimed the term two-spirit in lieu of this term and prefer this.

Most depictions that exist of two-spirit individuals in recorded history are from westernized colonization efforts and research such as Catlin’s. Note that his experiences through writing, art, and recordings of these individuals can be demeaning and untrue to the traditions of the Sac and Fox Nation’s two-spirit individuals.

Featured Artwork: Dance to the Berdache (1830)

Media: Watercolor

Location: Sketched on location at Sac and Fox Nation Village in Northwestern Illinois, USA (1830)

Where can I see Dance to the Berdache?: Smithsonian American Art Museum (Not currently on view) in Washington D.C. (USA)

Significance to Queer Art History: The two-spirit folks in question of this tribe in the Sac and Fox Nation’s village (located in Illinois, USA) were chosen as young males who deviated from norm in their choices during their upbringings. Some individuals  were documented to have willingly chosen to perform women’s roles in their village or may have dreams that they must fulfill a role as a two-spirit individual when discussing visions. The dance (and feast, as written in his journal) in Catlin’s piece was supposedly held annually to honor the two-spirit individual’s (or multiple persons) role/s in the tribe as a spiritual shaman and/or medicinal healing figure as well as a thanks for having been gifted with these things.

Catlin, while he was fascinated with the people and wanted to record their traditions, was highly opposed to two-spirit individuals and wrote in his notes:

“This is one of the most unaccountable and disgusting customs, that I have ever met in the Indian country, and so far as I have been able to learn, belongs only to the Sioux and Sacs and Foxes— perhaps it is practiced by other tribes, but I did not meet with it; and for further account of it I am constrained to refer the reader to the country where it is practiced, and where I should wish that it might be extinguished before it be more fully recorded.” (Catlin 214)

Sources:

Catlin, George. Illustrations of the Manners, Customs, and Condition of the North American Indians in a Series of Letters and Notes Written during Eight Years of Travel and Adventure among the Wildest and Most Remarkable Tribes Now Existing, with Three Hundred and Sixty Engravings from the Author’s Original Paintings. 214-16.

“Biography of George Catlin.” Biography | George Catlin. Accessed August 06, 2017. http://www.georgecatlin.org/biography.html.

“Dance to the Berdash by George Catlin.” Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery. Accessed August 06, 2017. http://americanart.si.edu/collections/search/artwork/?id=4023.

TWO TAKES ON TWO SPIRITS | Recording the History of Multiple Genders in Native North America. Accessed August 06, 2017. https://www.eiteljorg.org/interact/blog/eitelblog/2013/09/11/two-takes-on-two-spirits-recording-the-history-of-multiple-genders-in-native-north-america.

Williams, Walter L. “The Berdache Tradition.” In The Spirit and the Flesh: Sexual Diversity in American Indian Culture. Boston: Beacon Press, 2004.

Wishart, David J. “Encyclopedia of the Great Plains.” Encyclopedia of the Great Plains | BERDACHE. Accessed August 06, 2017. http://plainshumanities.unl.edu/encyclopedia/doc/egp.gen.004.