Thursday, January 10, 2013

Catalina de Erauso: Was she Asexual? Conundrum from the Past

Catalina de Erauso stands out in the history of the New World as a brave individual who overcame societal restrictions imposed on women at that time. The fact that she spent her entire adult live dressed in men’s garb and most of that life gallivanting in the male sphere of conquest and battle, speaks of her adventurous soul and fierce independence. Yet, including her in the list of notable LGBTQ individuals in history presents complexities of sexual orientation and gender identity which require thoughtful consideration.

From her account, she wasn’t at any point sexually attracted or sexually involved with anybody; therefore, to the best of our knowledge, she may have been asexual. She mentioned visiting her brother’s mistress without him present, and how he, “imagining the worst”, hit her as she left the mistress’s home (de Erauso, 19). The fact that her brother suspected possible sexual activity is not indicative of the existence of any sexual activity. Catalina did flirt with women on numerous occasions, but it is not clear as to whether she did so as a result of her own feelings and attractions, or because flirting was part of her ‘performing’ a socially prescribed male gender role.

Since different individuals define sexual terminology differently, it would be important to first establish a definition of sexual orientation. According to the “Descriptive Dictionary and Atlas of Sexology,” Sexual Orientation is defined as “a pattern of sexual attraction and limerence (i.e. sexuoerotic longing for) based on the gender of one’s partners” (Francoeur, ed). Therefore, since Catalina had no partners that we know of, and expressed no limerence for any person we know of, it would be difficult to assess her sexual orientation. There is no mention in her memoirs of a sex act with, or even a sexual attraction to either women or men, she would not sit comfortably in any sexual orientation group, be it homosexual, heterosexual, or bisexual. We can neither rule in nor rule out any sort of sexual activity based on her memoirs. It is plausible that she paid off the old women who inspected her hymen and reported to the Bishop that she was “an intact virgin” (de Erauso, 66). It is just as easy to come to the conclusion that she was asexual, with no sexual attraction to anyone. If asexual individuals were to be included in the spectrum of queer identity, than she could be included as such. Yet, even that would be a modern-day projection onto her.

Why did Catalina dress in men’s clothing? She speaks in a very ‘matter of fact’ tone throughout her book, yet reveals precious little about her feelings and motivations. After she ran away from the convent, she simply states that she cut her clothing, re-fashioned men’s attire, and “cut my hair and threw it away” (Ibid, 4). It is impossible to tell from these comments how she felt about the fact that she was leaving her existence as a female behind. The only clue we have is her comment about “planning and re-planning” as she cut her clothes (Ibid, 4). What exactly was she planning? Was travel and life dressed as a man premeditated or did that develop more from circumstance? It certainly was more convenient to travel about as a man since that enabled her to gain employment and avoid the difficulty of travelling alone as a female.

Although she did choose to continue dressing in men’s clothing after she ‘came out’ as a woman, in no part of her memoirs did she mention feeling ‘trapped in a woman’s body’ or wishing to be a man. Therefore, it would be problematic to categorize her as a transgendered person. What were her reasons for continuing to dress as a man? Again, Catalina is vague.  The rest of the book is a series of statements with no expression of feelings. She met with the Pope in Rome and told him of her life, that she was a woman and had “kept” her virginity (Ibid, 78). Therewith, the Pope allowed her to dress as a man for the rest of her life. What would she have done had she not been granted this Papal permission and how would she have felt about that? She doesn’t discuss that possibility and thus, we shall never know.


Work Cited:

A Descriptive Dictionary and Atlas of Sexology, Francoeur, Robert, ed, Greenwood Press, Westport, CT, 1991

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