Blake Gutt: What Can Medieval Trans Studies Do?


12th May 2022

Session: Blake Gutt (University of Michigan): 'What Can Medieval Trans Studies Do?'


In this talk, I present the groundwork of my current book project. I lay out the theoretical stakes and potential of the approach I call “the trans Middle Ages”, and discuss two case studies that illustrate what medieval trans studies can do with both “canonically trans” medieval texts, and texts that are not typically seen as susceptible to a trans reading.

My current project analyzes medieval literary representations of gender transition and transformation through the lens of modern queer and trans theory, and traces the lineage between the two, contesting the common assumption that theorization of non-normative gender was absent from premodern thought. My literary and theoretical approach enacts a trans poetics to produce a resonant, atemporal moment of affective connection and trans creativity. The trans Middle Ages is inherently political, because acknowledgement of the existence of trans people in the past —and of the value of trans thought in the present— challenges dominant modern narratives of transgender existence.

My first case study is Heldris de Cornuälle’s Roman de Silence (c. 13th), perhaps the most “canonically trans” text in medieval literature. I read Silence through the lens of critical cis studies: the power of the text, I propose, is that it lays bare the coercive systems of gendering that are normalized in cisgender society. I then turn to Perceval, the chivalric hero of Chrétien de Troyes’ Conte du Graal (c. 12th), to explore what is trans, or trans-like, about the hegemonic hero who almost becomes the perfect knight, the masculine ideal, the chosen one capable of achieving the quest for the Holy Grail.

Register for Blake's talk on our events page.