MAA Advocacy Statement in Support of LGBTQ+ Rights

19 April 2023

We, the Advocacy Committee of the Medieval Academy of America, denounce the anti-LGBTQ+ legislation sweeping the U.S.A., such as the  467 anti-LGBTQ bills currently being tracked by the  American Civil Liberties Union. These affronts to trans and gender non-conforming individuals are an overreach of civil liberties and personal autonomy that will drastically harm not only some of our most vulnerable  colleagues and loved ones, but also the cultural integrity of the U.S.A. This path, as history shows, drives us ever closer to outright fascism.

Medieval studies encourages a critical approach to our modern norms, and so one of the benefits of trans experiences and queer praxis is the framework for interrogating the modern assumptions regarding genders and bodies that some unwittingly impose upon the Middle Ages. We employ “trans” as an umbrella term that aims to include a range of experiences.

Trans people have a long  and rich history that includes the Middle Ages in its broadest geographical and chronological breadth. As a discipline, too, our trans colleagues have long been contributing to the field of medieval studies. Therefore, we have some catch-up work to do. We are ethically bound to build a more inclusive medieval studies that welcomes diverse perspectives and colleagues for the vitality of the field. Moreover, we have a responsibility to advocate for our LGTBQ+ colleagues’ belonging as both independent scholars and those working in higher education. Reclaiming early trans experiences from the medieval past helps to maintain the vitality of the field as a space for innovative scholarship that critically intersects with our students’ lived experiences.

We issue this statement as a public demonstration of support for our trans colleagues to both value their contributions to the field and to encourage medievalists to do the necessary work in their own institutions and communities, as members of the Medieval Academy have begun through their scholarship. Our trans colleagues, including neuroscientist Atom J. Lesiak, have expressed a need for greater structural support. The fields of medieval studies frequently “shut out transgender bodies” (33), as Dr. Gabrielle M.W. Bychowski notes in an article co-authored with Professor Dorothy Kim, “Visions of Medieval Trans Feminism.” Based on their insights, in the context of medieval studies, we encourage:

  • conference organizers and speaker series to invite trans keynote speakers and offer panels that value trans scholars and topics,
  • editors of journals and edited collections to center trans scholars and scholarship around trans themes,
  • faculty to advocate at their home institutions for hiring lines for trans colleagues, notably for  non-precarious faculty positions, and advocate for protected research time for those trans colleagues already working in higher education,
  • the development of curricular and pedagogical tools and models that support student engagement with diverse histories of gender,
  • holding space for nationally recognized events that support our trans colleagues and loved ones, such as
    • Trans Day of Remembrance (November 20) and
    • Trans Day of Visibility (March 31).

Selected Publications and Scholarship from Medieval Academy Members:

Five recent articles and presidential addresses published in Speculum:

The Regulation of ‘Sodomy’ in the Latin East and West
Ruth Mazo Karras, Speculum 95:4 (2020)

Cultural Encounter, Race, and a Humanist Ideology of Empire in the Art of Trecento Venice
Thomas E. A. Dale, Speculum 98:1 (2023)

What Did Medieval Slavery Look Like? Color, Race, and Unfreedom in Later Medieval Iberia
Pamela A. Patton, Speculum 97:3 (2022)

Personification and Gender Fluidity in the Psychomachia and its Early Reception
Katharine Breen, Speculum 97:4 (2022)

Petrarch’s Queer History
Anna Wilson, Speculum 95:3 (2020)

Borderland Anxieties: Lisān al-Dīn ibn al-Khatị̄b (d. 1374): the Politics of Genealogy in Late Medieval Granada
Mohamad Ballan, Speculum 98:2 (2023)

“Medieval Trans Studies”:

Visions of Medieval Trans Feminism: An Introduction
M. W. Bychowski and Dorothy Kim

Trans and Genderqueer Subjects in Medieval Hagiography

Transgender Lives in the Middle Ages through Art, Literature, and Medicine Roland Betancourt, University of California, Irvine

This special issue of Medieval Feminist Forum could be useful, too — particularly M. W. Bychowski and Dorothy Kim’s Intro.

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