By MK Worthington
In Imagining Transgender, David Valentine challenges the notion of adopting historical figures and events as significant examples of “gay” or “transgender” history. The terms “homosexual” and “transgender” are relatively new. Their exact meanings, to a large extent, are still up for debate. Who fits into what category depends on whom you ask– and when you ask. Even within these two terms sub-categories exist and the list is ever growing, making it difficult to sort individuals into the complex system.
Some argue that same-sex attractions and partnerships and gender variances of many sorts have been around for as long as we have recorded history. The evidence is readily available. In fact, there are arguably even examples contained in the Holy Bible! For decades now Gay Rights activists have carefully sifted through history, digging up precious examples of homosexuality from every country and every period of time known to man. And now, with the emergence of Trans-activism, the same search is being made for historical transgender forerunners. The terminology may be new, but the characters that embody these identities have been around since the dawn of time, right?
Perhaps. But at different times and in different societies those relationships and identities (both what we call “homosexual” and “transgender”) have held various names and meanings, they were understood within a different context, and they bore a wide range of consequences quite different from what we see and experience today. And, inevitably, both homosexual and transgender historians lay claim to, and fight over, many of the same ‘heroes’. When analyzing figures that existed in a time before any real distinctions were being made overlaps are bound to occur. And, the truth is, it is impossible to say with absolute certainty that any historical figure would be an appropriate fit into any modern category.
Is it fair then to look back over history at individuals and recorded instances and retroactively classify them as “homosexual” or “transgender” in nature?
It certainly isn’t a new idea to go back in time and appropriate figures in history as shining examples of a relatively new concept. One of my personal favorite examples of this is the adoption of the Old Testament and its prophets as founders of Christianity. By claiming ties to the ancient record, Christians assert their validity; their God has always been present and powerful…
One particular example of this phenomenon I consider highly notable is the deference given to Moses as portrayed in the Cecil B. DeMille film The Ten Commandments. The story of Moses, a Hebrew slave who is adopted into the Egyptian royal family and raised as a prince– a story of great historical significance within the Jewish faith– is popular among Christians as a defining story of the Christian faith as well. Never mind the fact that Jesus Christ plays no role whatsoever in the tale, the film is aired annually on television as special part of the Easter Sunday programming aimed at Christian viewers.
The Old Testament is considered to be a record of the Word of the Hebrew God, its authors the prophets of that same God. A God Christians also claim, based on an understanding developed centuries later after the coming of Christ…
In both cases there are compelling arguments for assigning modern definitions to historical individuals and events… but more often than not, the arguments against such classifications are just as compelling.
-These have been the thoughts and opinions of MK Worthington (ME)