Lecture by Blake Gutt: “What Can Medieval Trans Studies Do?”

September 14, 2022 - 1:30pm to 3:00pm


In this talk, I present the groundwork of my current book project. I lay out the theoretical stakes and potential of the approach I call “the trans Middle Ages”, and discuss two case studies that illustrate what medieval trans studies can do with both “canonically trans” medieval texts, and texts that are not typically seen as susceptible to a trans reading.

My current project analyzes medieval literary representations of gender transition and transformation through the lens of modern queer and trans theory, and traces the lineage between the two, contesting the common assumption that theorization of non-normative gender was absent from premodern thought. My literary and theoretical approach enacts a trans poetics to produce a resonant, atemporal moment of affective connection and trans creativity. The trans Middle Ages is inherently political, because acknowledgement of the existence of trans people in the past ­—and of the value of trans thought in the present— challenges dominant modern narratives of transgender existence.  

My first case study is Heldris de Cornuälle’s Roman de Silence (c. 13th), perhaps the most “canonically trans” text in medieval literature. I read Silence through the lens of critical cis studies: the power of the text, I propose, is that it lays bare the coercive systems of gendering that are normalized in cisgender society. I then turn to Perceval, the chivalric hero of Chrétien de Troyes’ Conte du Graal (c. 12th), to explore what is trans, or trans-like, about the hegemonic hero who almost becomes the perfect knight, the masculine ideal, the chosen one capable of achieving the quest for the Holy Grail.


This lecture is open to all.



Blake Gutt specializes in medieval French literature and trans studies. His work has been published in Exemplaria, Medieval Feminist Forum, and postmedieval. The volume Trans and Genderqueer Subjects in Medieval Hagiography, co-edited with Alicia Spencer-Hall (Queen Mary University of London), was published by Amsterdam University Press in 2021. The collection includes Blake’s chapter, “Holy Queer and Holy Cure: Sanctity, Disability, and Transgender Embodiment in Tristan de Nanteuil”. Blake is currently working on a book project entitled The Trans Middle Ages, which analyzes medieval European representations of gender transition and transformation through the lens of modern queer and trans theory, and traces the lineage between the two. He completed his PhD in French at King’s College, Cambridge in 2018. His dissertation, Rhizomes, Parasites, Folds and Trees: Systems of Thought in Medieval French and Catalan Literary Texts, examined modern and medieval conceptual networks, and the ways in which these underlie both text and its manuscript presentation across a range of thirteenth- and fourteenth-century works. From 2018 to 2022, Blake was a postdoctoral fellow in the Michigan Society of Fellows, affiliated with Michigan’s Romance Languages and Literatures department. He is now Visiting Lecturer in the Dept. of French and Italian at Pitt.