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Stifling ‘Scare Figures’

H. Christian Blood

Supposing the kinaidos is a trans woman, what then? For several decades now, the science of classical antiquity has fruitfully engaged with, on the one hand, gay and lesbian studies and queer theory (Dover, Foucault, Winkler, Halperin, Richlin, Parker, Williams), and on the other, feminism and feminisms (Gold, Hallett, Rabinowitz), thereby transforming our understanding of sexuality and gender in the ancient world and also in our discipline. It is somewhat surprising, then, that classicists have not also taken up transgender studies, the field of study that “disrupts, denaturalizes, and rearticulates” the “normative linkages” between biological sex, social gender, and the “cultural mechanisms” that regulate them (Stryker 3). In this paper, I explore reasons that the collaboration between transgender studies and classics has been and continues to be deferred through an analysis of post-Foucault scholarship on the kinaidos. Then, in the time allotted to a conference presentation, I advance a transgender studies-oriented re-appraisal of her.

First, to address why classicists have resisted transgender studies, my paper takes the “stifling” in its title as an adjective, arguing that seminal works on antique same-sex sexuality (especially Halperin 1990 and Winkler 1990)—scholarship that remains sufficiently influential to have recently been called “the new dogma of classicists” (Kamen and Levi-Richardson)—are transphobic (albeit in a way that is subtle, probably unconscious, and altogether unsurprising for gay men in the late-1980s and early- to mid- 1990s). I take the stance that this line of scholarship has been immeasurably valuable for queers and classicists alike, but that despite its numerous merits, Winkler and Halperin (and some of their acolytes) systematically erase transgender people out of their arguments and theoretical models: these scholarly texts deploy masculine pronouns rather than feminine pronouns or gender-neutral language throughout their discussion of kinaidoi, even after speculating that the kinaidos might likely be transgender. Appropriating Sedgwick’s notion of minoritizing identities, Halperin and Winkler marginalize the kinaidos by classifying the phenomenon as a potential for any man. Finally, they conclude that the kinaidos is not a real person with a lived life, but is rather a homophobic abstraction that some Greeks found useful for policing masculinity, the eponymous “figure” that “scared” men into acting like men. While Foucauldian scholarship has been contested on these and other grounds (Richlin, Williams, Davidson), and while the kinaidos’s material existence has been revisited (Parker), I argue that if the theoretical models most available to classicists erase trans people out of existence, then classicists will not find trans people when they consider ancient evidence.  

Second, by taking the title’s “stifling” as a verb, I contend that the present task for classicists concerned with gender and sexuality in the antique world is to bring transgender studies to classics by pushing back against Foucauldian “scare figures.” I recuperate the kinaidos through sustained engagement with foundational texts in the established field of transgender studies (Butler, Ekins, Ekins and King, Halberstam, Prosser, Rubin, Stryker, Valentine), as well as a thorough a close reading of Aeschines’ Against Timarchos and On the Embassy, with great reliance upon previous work by feminist classicists that addresses and overcomes evidentiary problems (Auanger, Hallett, Haley, Rabinowitz, Richlin). Ultimately, this paper demonstrates that the kinaidos is a person with a material existence and a lived life, not a rhetorical or ideological construct. Nor is she an effeminate male. She is a trans woman. Better yet, she is a woman, full stop. And analysis of her belongs less to gay and lesbian studies or queer theory approaches to classics, but ultimately to third-wave feminist approaches (Anzaldúa, Butler, de Lauretis, Haraway). By supposing that the kinaidos is a woman and stifling scare figures from recent decades of classics scholarship, by expanding the category of “woman” to include more than biological females, we may better understand the lives of all women in the ancient world. 

Session/Panel Title

Stifling Sexuality?

Session/Paper Number

67.5

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