580: Marina the Monk
Female Monk (Now Saint)
Lived: Fifth Century AD, Byzantine Empire (Present-day Lebanon)
Also Known As: Mariam
There are actually six women who fit this description and two of them are likely to have actually lived but for this specific entry we are looking at Marina the Monk of the monastery in Qannoubine, Lebanon.
Marina disguised herself as a man to join the monastery alongside her father. Her mother died when she was a child.
She was accused of fathering a child and instead of fighting the charge she accepted the punishment from the Abbot—to leave the monastery and raise the child.
Her identity as a woman was only revealed after her death. When the monks examined her body and realized as a woman she obviously couldn’t have raped and impregnated another woman, they recognized she was an extremely pious and devout woman, and that they were basically giant, misled jerks. Marina was sainted for her piousness and devotion to the church.
I don’t really understand why, but while researching this entry in early 2020 I came across several articles claiming Marina is now an LGBT icon and transgender role model. I mean, I understand that she dressed as a man for between four and twenty-odd years (sources vary wildly on her, for obvious reasons she lived 1500 years ago), but I do not understand why Marina is suddenly a transgender icon. The idea of transgender did not exist in the fifth century Byzantine Empire, so by claiming this, activists are retroactively placing a label on her. Marina was born a woman and is remembered as a pious and devout female Catholic saint.
We will never know if Marina thought of herself as a man, the way transgender men do today. But what we do know is changing or imposing your beliefs on a historical figure like this one is dangerous. If you are interested in researching a historical figure that fits the mold of “Transgender” better, I recommend looking into General Casimir Pulaski of the Revolutionary War.