Harvard’s course, “Gender in Byzantium,” delves into the spectrum of binary and non-binary gender representations in Byzantium through textual and visual materials and recent scholarship on gender and sexuality.

Discussion topics include normative masculinity and femininity, asceticism and gendered bodies, emotions and gender, same-sex relationships, cross-dressing such as trans monks, intersectionality involving gender, race, and class, authorial gender performance, eunuchs as a third gender, and incorporeal or genderless angels.

One course text, “Byzantine Intersectionality,” criticizes terms like transvestite and cross-dressing as problematic. It describes women who posed as male eunuchs to live as monks, emphasizing that scholars often avoid labeling these figures as transgender, instead using pejorative terms that deny their transgender identity.

The text cites Marinos, consistently referred to as “he” and “him,” a woman who infiltrated a monastery and lived as a monk, presenting a typical narrative for a transgender monk.

Another text, “Women, Men, and Gender in Christianity,” argues that the Gospels contain anti-Semitic rhetoric and that gender has historically been fluid, including in Christian history.

The text highlights contemporary struggles with gender ambiguity, which has always been part of Christian rhetoric.

“Byzantine Gender,” suggests that gender roles were flexible, offering a range of behaviors people could adopt to influence others’ perceptions, making gender highly performative.

Harvard offers other courses on gender and sexuality, such as “Feminism in the Age of Empire,” “Gender & Sexuality in Korean Pop Culture,” “Psychology of the Gendered Body,” and “Power to the People: Black Power, Radical Feminism, and Gay Liberation.”