Joan of Arc; Gender Non-Conformist

Joan of Arc: gender non-conformist, martyr, or both? Ash Blight, who portrays Joan in this photo essay, has this to say in regards to Joan of Arc, one of history’s most iconic characters: “Joan of Arc’s status as a historical figure who was both persecuted and celebrated for her gender transgression has always been fascinating to me as a gender-nonconforming nonbinary person.”

Joan of Arc; Gender Non-Conformist: Maiden in Field

Jeanne, better known as Joan, had seen a great multitude of Angels. She was to go in search of a certain secular Prince, promising that, by her help and succor, this same Prince should, by force of arms, recover a great temporal domain and the honor of this world…

Joan of Arc; Gender Non-Conformist: Convincing the Prince

Joan said that there had been a sign which was received by the Prince to whom she was sent – a sign which convinced this Prince to believe in her and aid her to carry on the war. By this time, Joan had taken and bourne and continues still to bear a man’s dress, even at times saying that she would rather die than leave off the dress which she bears.

Joan of Arc; Gender Non-Conformist: Victory at Orleans

At her trial in 1432, she describes her war banner: “I had a banner of which the field was sprinkled with lilies …” When she was questioned: “Which did you care for most, your banner or your sword?”, she aptly replied, “Better, forty times better, my banner than my sword! …It was I, myself, who bore this banner, when I attacked the enemy, to save killing any one, for I have never killed anyone.”

Joan of Arc; Gender Non-Conformist: Injury at Paris

Their next questioning tactic was to attack her character. “Before the assault, did you not tell your followers that you alone would receive the arrows, cross-bolts, and stones, thrown by the machines and cannons?”

“No; a hundred and even more of my people were wounded. I had said to them: ‘Be fearless, and you will raise the siege.’ Then, in the attack on the Bridge fortress, I was wounded in the neck by an arrow or cross-bolt on May 7th, 1429, but I had great comfort from Saint Catherine, and was cured in less than a fortnight. I did not interrupt for this either my riding or work. I knew quite well that I should be wounded; I had told the King so, but that, notwithstanding, I should go on with my work.”

Joan of Arc; Gender Non-Conformist: Gates of Compaign

And the questioning continued. “When you were at Compiegne, were you several days before you made your sally or attack?”

“I arrived there secretly early in the morning on May 23rd, 1430 and entered the town without the enemy knowing anything of it; and that same day, in the evening, I made the sally in which I was taken.”

Joan of Arc; Gender Non-Conformist: Imprisoned

“And then did We forbid Jeanne, without Our permission, to leave the prison which had been assigned to her in the Castle, under pain of the crime of heresy?”

“I do not accept such a prohibition,” she answered; “if ever I do escape, no one shall reproach me with having broken or violated my faith, not having given my word to any one, whosoever it may be.”

Joan of Arc; Gender Non-Conformist: Confession

They then attacked her faith. “When you asked to hear Mass, did it not seem to you that it would be more proper to be in female dress? Which would you prefer, to have a woman’s dress to hear Mass, or to remain in a man’s dress and not hear it?” 

She needed their word that they would not prohibit her from practicing her faith. “Give me assurance beforehand that I shall hear Mass if I am in female attire, and I will answer you this.” And so a compromise was struck: “Very well, I give you assurance of it: you shall hear Mass if you put on female attire.”

Joan of Arc; Gender Non-Conformist: Defiance

And when Their promise was not kept, Joan declared, “I have but now resumed the dress of a man and put off the woman’s dress.”

“Why did you take it, and who made you take it?”

“I took it of my own free will, and with no constraint: I prefer a man’s dress to a woman’s dress.”

“You promised and swore not to resume a man’s dress.”

“I never meant to swear that I would not resume it.”

“Why have you resumed it?”

“Because it is more lawful and suitable for me to resume it and to wear man’s dress, being with men, than to have a woman’s dress. I have resumed it because the promise made to me has not been kept; that is to say, that I should go to Mass and should receive my Savior and that I should be taken out of irons.”

Joan of Arc; Gender Non-Conformist: Execution

So the decision was made: “We, the Judges, should declare her a heretic and abandon her to the secular authority, praying this authority to deal gently with her.”
But, we know the end of Joan’s story. The authorities did not deal gently with her, for she was burned at the stake from dress nonconformity. However, thanks to Pope Callixtus III, Joan’s true nature was posthumously awarded, and she will forever be remembered as a National Symbol and Secondary Patron Saint of France. 

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