Stories about gender variance and transgression have circulated in French and francophone cultures since the medieval period. Sometimes they have been the vehicle for philosophical and scientific debates (nature versus nurture, free will versus determination). In religious and spiritual contexts, gender-variant people have been used as metaphors for human diversity or divine transcendence. They have also played symbolic roles in discourses of emancipation, from anticolonialism to feminism.
While we investigate these themes, we will also attend to issues of anachronism and power in these works. How can contemporary ideas and terms guide our recovery of LGBTTQI+ lives from history—or hinder it? What is at stake when apparently cisgender writers take non-cisgender people as their subject matter? How are their stories similar to or different from ones written by the “interested parties”?
The class will begin with questions of terminology (using words like “queer” or “transgender” to describe figures from the past who did not have such words; the differences between French and English). We will also read a selection of classical texts that inform the works that follow (the Bible, Plato, Ovid). We will then read texts and watch films from French-speaking contexts, tracking five recurrent themes as we go: (1) familial and economic considerations; (2) Christian mysticism; (3) Platonic androgyny and the arts; (4) scientific theories of sexual difference; (5) free will and determinism.
In addition to regular participation and preparedness, students will have the choice between two tracks for evaluations: a test track (midterms and a final) and a paper track (midterm and final papers).
(* marks texts that students will need to acquire)
Selections from Genesis, the Gospel according to Matthew, 1 Corinthians, Galatians; Plato’s Symposium; Ovid’s Metamorphoses; and the Encyclopédie
*Anonymous. The Life of Saint Eufrosine. Translated by Amy Victoria Ogden. Texts and Translations, vol 35. New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 2021.
Balzac, Honoré de. “Sarrasine.” In The Girl with the Golden Eyes and Other Stories. Translated by Peter Collier. Oxford World’s Classics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.
Barbin, Herculine. “My Memoirs.” In Herculine Barbin: Being the Recently Discovered Memoirs of a Nineteenth-Century French Hermaphrodite, translated by Richard McDougall, 3–119. New York: Pantheon Books, 1980.
Diderot, Denis. D'Alembert's Dream. In Rameau’s Nephew ; and, D’Alembert’s Dream. Translated by Leonard Tancock. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth ; New York: Penguin, 1976.
Éon de Beaumont, Charles Geneviève Louis Auguste André Timothée d’. “The Great Historical Epistle by the Chevalière d’Éon, Written in 1785.” In The Maiden of Tonnerre: The Vicissitudes of the Chevalier and the Chevalière d’Eon, translated by Roland A. Champagne, Nina C. Ekstein, and Gary Kates, 1-90. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.
Féret, René (dir.). Mystère Alexina. JML distrib., 2013 .
*Garréta, Anne. Sphinx. Translated by Emma Ramadan. Dallas, Texas: Deep Vellum Publishing, 2015.
*La Mackerel, Kama. Zom-Fam. Montreal: Metonymy, 2020.
*Perrault, Charles, François-Timoléon de Choisy, and Marie-Jeanne L’Héritier. The Story of the Marquise-Marquis de Banneville. Edited by Joan E. DeJean. Translated by Steven Rendall. Texts and Translations. Translations 16. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2004.
Rey, Terry. The Priest and the Prophetess: Abbé Ouvière, Romaine Rivière, and the Revolutionary Atlantic World. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.
Sciamma, Celine (dir.). Tomboy. San Francisco, California, USA: Kanopy Streaming, 2016 .