By Shunichi Akasaka
Deviations and Alienations of Marginalized People in Medieval European Communities: The Seventh Korean-Japanese Symposium on Medieval History of Europe (2010)
Introduction: First I should explain about my report. You may regard my report to be as ridiculous. But I am absolutely serious. Here I will talk about peculiar things but this is because I am trying to convey the medieval people’s mentality, which is too difficult to explain in a normal way.
Cross-dressing nowadays is the object of psycho-medical research or only for pleasure or for deceiving people. Male cross-dressing is generally considered to be psychologically abnormal but female cross-dressing is not controversial. In our times, if a woman dresses in male clothes no one considers it strange. Here I will tell you a famous cross-dressing example.
I live at a small townin Japan named Takarazuka. Takarazuka is also the name of a commercial theater and this theater has theatrical troupes which are famous for their female cross-dressing. They are all girls and play male roles in male clothesin a kind of musical.
Besides I see normal women in male attire almost everyday and everywhere even in this small town. I have, however, never seen men in female attire in this town. On the other hand, in the medieval period it appears that female cross dressing was not as popular as male cross dressing. Or more strictly speaking female cross-dressing was considered a criminal act.
In the medieval period many jousts or tournaments, including helmets, armors, chest protections, etc were held and we have some reports about the tournaments where participants dressed in female garments. And this cross dressing seems to have carried no penalties at all. For example, Cypriot knights were described as fighting in tournaments while dressed as women. Interestingly, one such tournament—held in 1286 to celebrate the coronation of Henry of Lusignan as King of Jerusalem—was reported in detail. The following description is taken from Philippe de Navarres’ eyewitness report:
The fest was the most beautiful one in one hundred years of feasts and tournaments, and they imitated the Round Table and the reign of Feminine, that is, knights dressed as ladies, and they jousted together. Then they played nuns that had with them monks and they jousted with each other; and they impersonated Lancelot and Tristan and Palamedes, and played many other splendid, delectable, and pleasant games.