Monday, May 30, 2016

Joan of Arc: Cross-dressing warrior-saint

“Jeanne D'Arc” by Rowan Lewgalon

"Saint Joan of Arc" by Brother Robert Lentz, OFM

Joan of Arc was a tough cross-dressing teenage warrior who led the medieval French army to victory when she was 17. She is a queer icon, girl-power hero and patron saint of France. Her feast day is today (May 30).

Smart and courageous, Joan of Arc (c. 1412-1431) had visions of saints and angels who told her to cut her hair, put on men’s clothes and go to war. At age 18 she helped crown a king and at 19 she was killed by the church that later made her a saint. She died for her God-given right to wear men’s clothing, the crime for which she was executed on May 30, 1431.

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Joan of Arc: Cross-dressing warrior-saint and LGBTQ role model

Joan of Arc portrait, c. 1485
Wikimedia Commons
Contemporary LGBT people recognize a kindred spirit in her stubborn defiance of gender rules. Queer writers tend to downplay Joan’s Christian faith, while the church covers up the importance of her cross-dressing. In truth, Joan believed strongly in God AND in cross-dressing. She insisted that God wanted her to wear men’s clothes, making her what today can be called “queer” or “transgender.” She fits the medieval archetype known as the “holy transvestite.” Cross-dressing was illegal, but what really upset the church authorities, then as now, was the audacity of someone being both proudly queer AND devoutly Christian. Her belief that God was the source of her gender-bending queerness makes her an especially inspiring role model for LGBT Christians and our allies.

Joan’s extraordinary life continues to fascinate all kinds of people. Many are eager to claim her as a symbol, from LGBT people and feminists to the Catholic Church and French nationalists. Joan is the subject of more than 10,000 books, plays, paintings and films, including recent works by transgender author Leslie Feinberg and lesbian playwright Carolyn Gage.

Gage’s one-woman show “The Second Coming of Joan of Arc” is an underground classic with Joan as “a cross-dressing, teenaged, runaway lesbian” confronting male-dominated institutions. Feinberg has a chapter on Joan as “a brilliant transgender peasant teenager leading an army of laborers into battle” in her history book “Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman.”

The extensive records of her trials by the Inquisition make Joan of Arc the best-documented person of 15th century. There are only hints that she may have been a lesbian, but the evidence is absolutely clear about her trans expression as a cross-dresser.

Joan of Arc, also known as Jeanne d’Arc, was born to peasants in an obscure village in eastern France around 1412, toward the end of the Hundred Years War. Much of France was occupied by England, so that Charles, the heir to the French throne, did not dare to be crowned. When Joan was 13, she began hearing voices that told her to help France drive out the English.

The visions continued for years, becoming more detailed and frequent. Once or twice a week she had visions of Michael the Archangel and two virgin saints: Catherine of Alexandria and Margaret of Antioch (another transvestite saint who refused to marry a man). They told her that God wanted her to meet Charles and lead an army to Reims for his coronation.

Joan’s family tried to convince her that her visions weren’t real, and her first attempt to visit the royal court was rejected. When she was 17 she put on male clothing and succeeded in meeting Charles. He agreed to outfit her as a knight and allowed her to lead a 5,000-man army against the English.

On Charles’ order, a full suit of armor was created to fit Joan. He had a banner made for her and assigned an entourage to help her: a squire, a page, two heralds, a chaplain and other servants.

Joan of Arc on Horseback, 1505
Wikimedia Commons
Joan’s appearance awed the soldiers and peasants when she traveled with the army. Mounted on a fine warhorse, she rode past cheering crowds in a suit of armor. Her hair was “cropped short and round in the fashion of young men.” She carried an ancient sword in one hand and her banner in the other. Her sword was found, as Joan predicted, buried at the church of St. Catherine at Fierbois. The banner showed Christ sitting on a rainbow against a background of white with gold lilies and the motto “Jhesus-Maria.” Legend says that white butterflies followed Joan wherever she rode with her banner unfurled.

With Joan leading the way, the army won the battle at Orleans and continued to defeat English and pro-English troops until they reached Reims. She proudly stood beside Charles VII at his coronation there on July 17, 1429.

Joan soon resumed leading military campaigns. Even during her lifetime the peasants adored her as a saint, flocking around her to touch her body or clothing. Her cross-dressing didn’t disturb them. In fact, they seemed to honor her for her transgender expression. Perhaps, as some scholars say, the peasants saw Joan as part of a tradition that linked transvestites and priests in pre-modern Europe.

One of the first modern writers to raise the possibility of Joan’s lesbianism was English author Vita Sackville-West. She implied that Joan was a lesbian in her 1936 biography “Saint Joan of Arc.” The primary source for this idea was the fact, documented in her trials, that Joan shared her bed with other girls and young women. She followed the medieval custom of lodging each night in a local home. Joan always slept with the hostess or the girls of the household instead of with the men.

Joan of Arc: Her Trial Transcripts” by Emilia Philomena Sanguinetti is a 2016 book that explores whether Joan was a lesbian or transgender person.
Extensive evidence that Joan of Arc was a lesbian or transgender person is presented in the epilogue of this groundbreaking book about the cross-dressing medieval saint. She explores how Joan shared her bed with another woman and insisted on wearing male clothing.

Nobody knows for sure whether Joan of Arc was sexually attracted to women or had lesbian encounters, but her abstinence from sex with men is well documented. Her physical virginity was confirmed by official examinations at least twice during her lifetime. Joan herself liked to be called La Pucelle, French for “the Maid,” a nickname that emphasized her virginity. Witnesses at her trial testified that Joan was chaste rather than sexually active.

Joan’s illustrious military career ended in May 1430. She was captured in battle by the Burgundians, the French allies of the English. During her captivity they called her “hommase,” a slur meaning “man-woman” or “masculine woman.”

In a stunning betrayal, Charles VII did nothing to rescue the warrior who helped win him the crown. It was normal to pay ransom for the release of knights and nobles caught in battle, but he abandoned Joan to her fate. Historians speculate that French aristocrats felt threatened by the peasant girl with such uncanny power to move the masses.

The Burgundians transferred Joan to the English, who then gave her to the Inquisition. She spent four torturous months in prison before her church trial began on Jan. 9, 1431 in Rouen, the seat of the English occupation government. She was charged with witchcraft and heresy.

The politically motivated church trial was rigged against her, and yet Joan was able to display her full intelligence as she answered the Inquisitors’ questions. Her subtle, witty answers and detailed memory even forced them to stop holding the trial in public.

Witchcraft was hard to prove, so the church dropped the charge. (Many of today’s Wiccans and pagans still honor Joan as one of their own.) The Inquisitors began to focus exclusively on the “heresy” of Joan’s claim that she was following God’s will when she dressed as a man. The judges told her that cross-dressing was “an abomination before God” according to church law and the Bible. (See Deuteronomy 22:5.)

They accused Joan of “leaving off the dress and clothing of the feminine sex, a thing contrary to divine law and abominable before God, and forbidden by all laws” and instead dressing in “clothing and armor such as is worn by man.”

Joan swore that God wanted her to wear men’s clothing. “For nothing in the world will I swear not to arm myself and put on a man’s dress; I must obey the orders of Our Lord,” she testified. She outraged the judges by continuing to appear in court wearing what they called “difformitate habitus” (“monstrous dress” or “degenerate apparel.”)

Today Joan’s conservative admirers claim that she wore men’s clothes only as way to avoid rape, but she said that it meant much more to her. Joan of Arc saw cross-dressing as a sacred duty.

The judges summarized Joan’s testimony by saying, “You have said that, by God’s command, you have continually worn man’s dress, wearing the short robe, doublet, and hose attached by points; that you have also worn your hair short, cut ‘en rond’ above your ears with nothing left that could show you to be a woman; and that on many occasions you received the Body of our Lord dressed in this fashion, although you have been frequently admonished to leave it off, which you have refused to do, saying that you would rather die than leave it off, save by God’s command.”

Joan refused to back down on the visions she received from God, and she was sentenced to death. She was burned at the stake on May 30, 1431 in Rouen. Twenty five years later she was retried and her conviction was overturned. Joan was declared innocent.

Her armor, that “monstrous dress,” became an object of veneration, sought after like the Holy Grail with various churches claiming to possess her true armor. Joan of Arc was canonized as a saint in 1920. Famous writers and composers who have done works about her include Shakespeare, Voltaire, Verdi, Tchaikovsky, Mark Twain, Bertolt Brecht and George Bernard Shaw. A stunning portrait of Joan kissing her sword (below) was painted by Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti, whose sister Christina Rossetti is also part of the LGBT Saints series at the Jesus in Love Blog.

“Joan of Arc Kisses the Sword of Liberation” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1863 (WikiPaintings)

This post features contemporary portraits of Joan by Rowan Lewgalon, Robert Lentz and Tobias Haller. Lewgalon is a spiritual artist based in Germany and also a cleric in the Old Catholic Apostolic Church. Her work is online at Lentz is a Franciscan friar known for his innovative and LGBT-positive icons. He is stationed at Holy Name College in Silver Spring, Maryland. His icons are available at

“Jeanne d’Arc” by Tobias Haller

“Jeanne d’Arc” was sketched by Tobias Haller, an iconographer, author, composer, and vicar of Saint James Episcopal Church in the Bronx. He is the author of “Reasonable and Holy: Engaging Same-Sexuality.” Haller enjoys expanding the diversity of icons available by creating icons of LGBTQ people and other progressive holy figures as well as traditional saints. He and his husband were united in a church wedding more than 30 years ago and a civil ceremony after same-sex marriage became legal in New York.

A widely used prayer to Saint Joan of Arc makes a powerful statement that can inspire those who believe in equality for LGBT people, despite rejection by religion and society:

“In the face of your enemies, in the face of harassment, ridicule, and doubt, you held firm in your faith. Even in your abandonment, alone and without friends, you held firm in your faith. Even as you faced your own mortality, you held firm in your faith. I pray that I may be as bold in my beliefs as you, St. Joan. I ask that you ride alongside me in my own battles. Help me be mindful that what is worthwhile can be won when I persist. Help me hold firm in my faith. Help me believe in my ability to act well and wisely. Amen.”

Joan has a dialogue with the fire that is about to consume her in a haunting song written by award-winning Canandian poet Leonard Cohen and sung on July Collins video .

Related links:

Wikipedia article on Cross-dressing, sexuality, and gender identity of Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc trial transcript online

Joan of Arc: Cross-dressing martyr at Queering the Church Blog

Joan of Arc sculpture by Anna Hyatt Huntington at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City

To read this post in Spanish / en español, go to Santos Queer:
Juana de Arco: Santa Travesti

To read this post in Italian, go to
Una guerriera genderbender. La favolosa vita di Giovanna d’Arco

This post is part of the LGBTQ Saints series by Kittredge Cherry. Traditional and alternative saints, people in the Bible, LGBTQ martyrs, authors, theologians, religious leaders, artists, deities and other figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people and our allies are covered.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved. presents the Jesus in Love Blog on LGBTQ spirituality.

Icons of Joan of Arc and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at Trinity Stores


JoanFan said...

Please don't confuse gender identity and clothing. Joan, who's real name is Jehanne saw herself as a woman and always called herself one and even asked to be buried in a dress. Her femaleness was an important part of her so please do not negate it. Both trans people and Jehanne face/d discrimination based on people's idea of what a woman or man should be. From what I have heard from trans people it is about more than clothes or jobs but about who they are.
Jehanne was a woman, and trans people are not cross-dressers. please do not confuse the two.
Jehanne saw herself as soldier and dressed the part. To take off the clothes was like taking off the mission and she was not done yet!
In both cases it is about more than clothes so please be more specific so that misconceptions are not spread.
Also please just say that she was known for her virginity. She was more than a physical virgin, she consecrated her very being to God like a warrior nun almost. She did not do anything unchaste with the women and girls she roomed with, we know this by their reference to her chastity. That is how we know she abstained from sex with both genders. This to was important to her.
Please tell the story of LA PUCELLE (the maiden)as it sums up what she considered her self, a young virgin woman called by God.
This is not her true history, though I am always happy to see her story shared and the pictures are beautiful.
You can do better in honouring her by representing what she truly was. Please do this, I beg, for so many falsehoods are spread about her that people no longer think one can know her true story. but it is so easy to find, just read the documents and gain some understanding of her spirituality and era is all one needs to see who she was. I think you want to tell and know the truth so please do so with Jehanne.
If you do this I will return and show you many lovely pictures of her as well as obscure information that took me a long time to discover to enhance your blog post about her. I can also do this for other historical figures if you want.
But in the name of truth, even if you do not want my offer, please fix the inaccuracies. God loves truth and if you have a message from Him or in honour of Him have no doubt that the truth is sufficient. But please make this page reflect that truth

Kittredge Cherry said...

JoanFan, thanks for raising various issues of historical accuracy. I don't think you read my article carefully because I did address many of your claims. Still Joan's life is open to interpretation, and you have a right to see it differently than I do.

JoanFan said...

I read it carefully. I see that you addressed some, like her chastity. While all of her words on when she swore virginity, cultural context and eyewitness accounts point to confirmation that she was indeed a virgin in all manners, you are correct that it cannot be physically detected in examination. I see that perhaps I was overzealous on this count, since you seem to have been referring to physical confirmation as proof.
I do not see where there is any hint that she may have been a lesbian, since her preference to sleep in a woman's bed was because it was more comfortable to sleep without armor and she felt safer. These were rough men and it is understandable why she would sleep fully armed next to them and why she would sleep in a safer room without all that heavy gear. A single bed was not an option back then.
Why she preferred to sleep alongside young ladies rather than old, I think is because she was young herself and I find that girls prefer to sleep among peers. If you think that it was because she thought young ladies were prettier, I would contest that with her staunch adherence to her vow, her unwavering dedication to it and her mission and what virginity meant to people of that time she would not have likely purposely fanned romantic wishes in any way, but indeed there is nothing to show what her reason for this was.

About her being trans, I do think that if you call her a she, as she did herself, you should be clearer that she was not a trans man. it would be wrong to call a man by she. Yes, she took on a "manly" position and held her clothing in important regard, but she practically shouted from the rooftops that she was La Pucelle, a virgin girl and she was comfortable in her female body, and wished to be buried in woman's garb. Please recognise her gender as she called it herself, and be clearer on how she defied gender roles and held to clothing as a sacred duty rather than being a man. If you call her trans it seems like she was a man. Do you mean something different when you say trans?

There are many interpretations of history,but what happened happened so please recognise the recorded facts which is that she consistently referred to herself as a woman.

I only want people to know that Jehanne is not the mysterious person people make her out to be. She is one of the best recorded people in medieval history, her personality is not obscured but remembered vividly by eyewitnesses, she did not go into her career with pleasure but with duty and sacrifice. So many people do not regard the original sources and read history in context. I want to make sure that anyone wishing to talk about Jehanne knows where to get the information and what she said about herself and her mission.

Example: People say that Jehanne attempted suicide
Fact: She jumped from a tall building and was knocked out. She said that she did not wish to die but was willing to risk her life to save a city from massacre and if she died that it was better than going to the English. She made other attempts to escape and held it as her right to want freedom. She did repent of this attempt because she was told not to jump and that help would come for the city, but she could not bear to not being there to help.
What one may interpret:
1: She made a last ditch escape attempt in desperation
2: She wanted either outcome
3: other
but it does matter that the sources are properly cited and such.

I do think recognising her as a woman who believed in her "masculine" role and dress despite opposition is important. Jehanne did not want to live like a man, judging by her comment on rather being torn limb to limb than go to war and how she talked about how she would like to go back to her home where she spun wool and prayed, her favourite activities. But despite the modest and homebodyish tendencies implied by her embarrassment at praise and not liking to stay away from her village she believed in her mission and garb as commanded and obeyed.

JoanFanatic said...

Not many people know that Jehanne was extremely out of her comfort zone when she went to war and that if not for her voices she would not have been there at all.

I know a lot about Jehanne because I love her. She has inspired me in so many ways. I want people to know how she insisted on caring for those in need and how she defended innocents and even the enemy soldiers from being mistreated. I want them to know that she though grew up in a time of suffering and injustice but did not allow vengeance and showed kindness and mercy to those who fought on the other side. People forget that she got homesick and kissed a ring her parents gave her. I want them to see her good wits in all situations and the comradeship she shared with her friends.

Because of this I am very zealous in ensuring accuracy in those who seem to care. Every aspect of her is important to me, from her love of horses and fine armor, to her intelligence and wisdom, to her being proud of being the best at spinning wool, to her care for those in need and to her selflessness in leaving her beloved old life to perform what her Saints told her.

if I didn't think this blog was good in the summery of her life (though you left out her uncle and Vaucouleurs (a very common deliberate summarisation or unintentional emission, which ever the authors reason)and Poitiers (the trial for approval, sadly the documents are lost)I would not have bothered commenting.
The people who reject the documents and ignore historical context, like the princess theorists, tend to be on the fringe and unwilling to examine the sources.

I don't want to refute your opinion, but I would like it if you clarified how she is recorded to have identified herself, because it would still fit in with the idea of the article but without any confusion of what she said of herself.

It's not a bad article but I think it could better represent Jehanne if you said something about her total dedication to her mission having to do with her vow and hence her persistence with the clothing. She and others (like the priest at Poitiers) did not make as much of it as her judges did, Jehanne saying it was the "least of all matters" and should not prevent her from Mass. She was eventually willing to take on women's clothing but only if she were taken out her awful prison and had a women guarding her and was allowed to receive Mass but was unrelenting on all other matters. she may have had permission to wear a dress or she may have been willing to wear it under those conditions until she gained freedom since it would be safer with a woman guard and she longed to receive Mass above all else. She did not renounce her wearing of it even then, holding that all she had done was by God's command and that that changing garb was the only thing she could do as they wished. The fact that she did not put them off earlier, allowing only a dress to hear Mass in provided she could change back, demonstrates her obedience to what she was told to do and her trust in God. It is interesting that she said she would go back to women's clothes when she had done what she needed to do, and that immediately after she confirmed her faith in her mission and it's source and thus her fate, she was willing to put the clothes on. It is just speculation on my part whether this has any meaning though.

I think the connection it had to her larger duty would be good to note.

That is just my thoughts. Not everyone would go into as many details as I would do, since I am obsessed. I see now how uptight I am about accuracy and study and quotes. Sorry for that. I don't mean to insult or anything I just wish for everyone to see exactly what she said and what she did, because she was even braver than people imagine her to have been.