H. Christian Blood (Independent Scholar)
The purpose of this conference presentation is twofold. First, as a contribution to theory, it builds on recent classics engagements with transgender studies, with the explicit goal of increasing the visibility and inclusion of non-binary, or enby, people in the literature about gender in the ancient Mediterranean. Second, as a contribution to our understanding of Apuleius, this paper argues not only that some galli in Books 8 and 9 of The Golden Ass are non-binary assigned-male-at-birth (AMAB) people, but also that these episodes and their particular configurations of gender identity are programmatic for the controversial religious conversion sequence in Book 11.
Recent transgender studies-informed classics scholarship on Apuleius (Blood 2019, Adkins 2020, 2022) argues that the galli, those devotees of Cybele with whom Lucius spends time in Books 8 and 9, are not a homogeneous group. Rather, some are effeminate gay men--as they have traditionally been understood by scholars--while others are easily (and belatedly) recognized as trans women. Acknowledging that non-binary and trans are interrelated but ultimately distinct, this paper looks to Ekins and King's notion of oscillation, "a mode of transgendering that involves moving backward and forward across the gender boundary, only temporarily resting on one side or the other” (35), to flesh out an account of gender identity and expression in The Golden Ass.
While staking out space for the likely presence of enby galli alongside trans women galli and cis gay men galli in Apuleius is important on its own, here I am most interested in the possibilities opened up by the text's engagement with oscillation--The Golden Ass's master trope, introduced into the narrative by its trans and enby galli. Although some have asserted that in Books 8 and 9, "the narrative is in its most shapeless state" (Finkelpearl 1997), this presentation centers and recuperates Books 8 and 9. As Blood has suggested (2019, 163), a transgender studies reading of Books 8 and 9 looks beyond permanent somatic transformations and privileges oscillation, especially around questions of religious authenticity in Book 11. Scholars have been been unable to contend with the Isis Book adequately, offering opposing “enlightenment” readings (Scobie 1973, Shumate 1998) and “entertainment” readings (Winkler 1985, Schlam 1992, Harrison 2000), yet thus far never an analysis that allows the oscillation between poles not to undermine but instead bolster the conversion's authenticity.
That Lucius’s religious experience is valid because he himself deems it to be is the territory I wish to claim. Firmly aligned with the methodological approaches articulated in Exploring Gender Diversity in the Ancient World (2020), this paper argues that the text's depiction of Lucius's conversion to the Isis cult maps onto latter-day accounts of enby identity, concluding that The Golden Ass is fundamentally a trans and non-binary narrative, not only because it authentically and respectfully depicts trans women and enby AMAB people, but also because the narrative’s climatic transition, that of uninitiated to initiated, posits an account of identity that reifies the self’s experience of itself as authoritative and valid.