The Transgender Imaginary in Medieval Romance: The Case of Yde et Olive
French and Francophone Literature | Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies | Medieval Studies
This 2016 Faculty Development Grant funded my examination of the large manuscript context of one medieval French romance, Yde et Olive, that has much in common with the identity experience that modern scholars name as transgender. Researching at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, I looked at the other stories that are compiled with Yde et Olive alongside the images that accompany the many versions of the story (images which some scholars have recently read as reinforcing a lesbian, rather than explicitly transgender, reading of the narrative), to get a better sense of how medieval audiences understood the narrative’s identity politics.
This work contributed to my ongoing research and writing on the queer politics of the Middle Ages. Specifically, I found several striking repetitions in the manuscript images of the two bodies in question. That is, Yde and Olive were represented visually not just as two women, but as two identical women, two mirror images of each other, in ways that were not fully examined by the available scholarship of the text. I used this finding to suggest that the manuscript’s medieval illustrator was aware of the queer potentials of the story, and I built upon these images to extend my own queer reading of the text. After consulting with the manuscripts in question, I now argue that the mirror imagery of the two bodies works to emphasize the main character’s (Yde) body as pure public representation, as mirrored surface, while leaving Yde’s interior life (and interior particularity) un-imaged. In this way, the manuscript images function as my reading of the text functions, to create a character whose interior life, including how Yde understands Yde’s self, opaque, even unknowable.
Having completed this archival work, I articulated these findings in my talk, the inaugural lecture of Linfield’s new Humanities Lecture Series, entitled, “Queering the English Middle Ages: Female Homoeroticism, Transgender Lives, and the Medieval Queer Possible,” in the fall of 2017. That lecture is part of a longer article that is currently in its final stages of preparation for publication.
Friedman, Jamie, "The Transgender Imaginary in Medieval Romance: The Case of Yde et Olive" (2018). Post-Grant Reports. Report. Submission 151.