R. Dillon ‘21
Majors: English and History
Affiliation: Honors College
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Aaron Hostetter, Associate Professor of English
In historical literature, queer issues are frequently overlooked and misinterpreted. In the Roman de Silence, a transgender knight at odds with Nature and Nurture is met with a sad twist and reaffirmation of gender essentialism. Feminist theory has misapplied identity language, referring to Silence with feminine pronouns. This theory further places them into the context of a woman overcoming masculine oppression to gain their inheritance through a subversion of their ‘natural’ form. Nature and Nurture urge Silence along a quest that challenges the gender binaries crucial to medieval romance. Heldris (the poet) and scholars alike deny the radical implications of language and identity and refuse to question traditional gender ideology. This erases the existence of queer identity and implies that queer readings of historical texts are anachronistic. The language and theories applied to Silence have so far been inaccurate and harmfully trans-exclusionary. Silence, as our hero, refused to be constrained by the narrative and pushes at its limitations. He refuses to be silent, and we should not be silent either. This story deserves a theory that forges queer identity and demands the recognition of both expression and oppression within a dominant culture that has only marginalized it by focusing on suffering. Here, queer theory joins interpretive intervention in a detailed annotation of the text and reads against the dominant trajectory of gender essentialism and identity. Roman de Silence is a tale aching to be read through its hero’s complex, transgressive and transgender identity, and rejects all urges to suppress his unnatural form.