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The proposed paper builds upon the author’s doctoral research in Queer Theory and the cult of Bacchus within the Late Roman Republic and Early Imperial Period, to advocate the use of Queer Theory in Classics as a model of disruption. The author proposes that by analysing figures from antiquity through a Queer theoretical lens, it is possible to re-evaluate concepts of supposed gender identity through removing normative contemporary expectations of gender. The paper will focus on Bacchus as a figure beyond the binary, thus challenging the Western colonial mindset of the male-female binary as the ‘standard’, and any societal departure from this as ‘abnormal’. The paper will propose that a reliance on outdated terminology and western norms of binary gender, has historically inhibited the abilities of scholarship to discuss concepts of genders beyond the binary in antiquity, and has led to a misidentification of ancient perceptions of gender.

This paper will draw upon on works such as Campanile et al.’s (2017) “TransAntiquity: Cross-Dressing and Transgender Dynamics in the Ancient World”, and Mowat’s (2021) “Don't be a drag, just be a priest: The clothing and identity of the Galli of Cybele in the Roman Republic and Empire” through analysis of specific examples of gender transgression and minority identities, and the application of this to the figure of Bacchus. The paper will further build upon publications such as Stackelberg’s (2014) analysis of hermaphroditic images in Pompeiian art, in order to pursue an alternative reading of Bacchus.

Examples of both literary and artistic evidence will be analysed, in order to demonstrate a developed narrative of Bacchus’ characterisation as a figure outside of the gender binary. In particular, the paper will analyse specific language used within various Orphic Hymns (XXIX, XLI, XLIX, LI) through a Queer lens, and the potential non-binary transgender interpretations that these may provide.

It is important to state that this paper will not attempt to prove that a non-binary gendered reading of Bacchus is the only correct interpretation of the deity. Instead, the paper aims to present a compelling alternative reading, using Queer Theory as a model to disrupt the alleged cis-normative tendencies within Classical scholarship. Through the presentation of this paper, the author aims to draw attention to the possibilities that Queer Theory presents for the disruption of scholarly understanding of ancient gender, and the potential impact this may bring to the Transgender studies within Classics. While Bacchus will be used as a case study building upon the author’s doctoral work, the concluding remarks of this paper will highlight further areas of study in which Queer Theory may elucidate ancient gender identities beyond the binary, which cis-normative scholarship has traditionally overlooked. Thus, the paper’s exploration of Bacchic gender identity may act as an exemplar of how Queer Theory allows for the disruption of presupposed gender norms within Classics, and present inclusive, innovative, and exciting interpretations.