Monday, June 22, 2009

Transgendering History

I forgot about Elagabalus. I knew I'd missed one of those Romans, but this one is worth discussing in a little bit more detail, because he points to one of the absurdities that emerges in the entire discussion of same-sex relations. To boot: I was reading through the Wikipedia article on "the history of same-sex unions" and whomever composed the article seemed to be of the opinion that Elagabalus might have been transgendered.
Now, I will grant you this: the man's habit, dress, etc. were extremely effeminate, but the reasons for this are clear, and they are fundamentally religious. Elagabalus was from the orient (Syria, not China), and was interested in the oriental mystery cults, several of which involved the sort of "spiritual marriage" motif that characterizes both ancient and modern gnosticism and some of Jungian psychology. This is the idea that within the individual live both the feminine and the masculine principle, and that it is necessary to bring both of these out in order to achieve internal balance and harmony. It was not uncommon for men within these religions to consent to become eunuchs in order to achieve union with the gods and goddesses that they served. (Salammbo includes a priest of Tanit who is an absolutely wonderful character within this genre -- rendered with Flaubert's typical devotion to historical detail.)
Reading the modern notion of "transgender" into the eunuch-theology of the mystery religions is typical of a kind of anachronistic compression of history, in which myopic contemporary ideologies are pasted pell-mell onto the past, without any respect for context or culture. Post-modern queer theorists have pointed out -- often in award-winning books and theses -- that this is sloppy and absurd.

1 comment:

  1. The term 'transgendered" is in itself false; There is simply no way a person can change their gender. They may have radical surgery to alter their appearance and mimic the gender they want to pretend to be, but they will never be other than what they are, male or female.

    In antiquity the only option was castration for males and disguise for females but the sexes remained as they do today, the same. Genetic make up as a male or female can not be changed and those going the so called 'transgender' operations and treatment, will always be infertile mimics of the real thing.

    And beyond the physical and the male or female natural distinction, there is the immutable factor of masculinity and femininity. God is Masculine, not male, but Masculine and He has ordained for humans to be divided into male and female to complement each other.


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