The Shape of Sex: Nonbinary Gender from Genesis to the Renaissance -

The Shape of Sex: Nonbinary Gender from Genesis to the Renaissance

Regular price $38.50

⏳ Hurry! Sale ends in {timer}.

We’re not making a profit on this sale! If you have the means, please consider contributing to the Rainbow Book Bus at checkout 💕

Added to Cart! View cart or continue shopping.

The Shape of Sex is a pathbreaking history of nonbinary sex, focusing on ideas and individuals who allegedly combined or crossed sex or gender categories from 200–1400 C.E. Ranging widely across premodern European thought and culture, Leah DeVun reveals how and why efforts to define “the human” so often hinged on ideas about nonbinary sex.

The Shape of Sex examines a host of thinkers―theologians, cartographers, natural philosophers, lawyers, poets, surgeons, and alchemists―who used ideas about nonbinary sex as conceptual tools to order their political, cultural, and natural worlds. DeVun reconstructs the cultural landscape navigated by individuals whose sex or gender did not fit the binary alongside debates about animality, sexuality, race, religion, and human nature. The Shape of Sex charts an embrace of nonbinary sex in early Christianity, its brutal erasure at the turn of the thirteenth century, and a new enthusiasm for nonbinary transformations at the dawn of the Renaissance. Along the way, DeVun explores beliefs that Adam and Jesus were nonbinary-sexed; images of “monstrous races” in encyclopedias, maps, and illuminated manuscripts; justifications for violence against purportedly nonbinary outsiders such as Jews and Muslims; and the surgical “correction” of bodies that seemed to flout binary divisions.

In a moment when questions about sex, gender, and identity have become incredibly urgent, The Shape of Sex casts new light on a complex and often contradictory past. It shows how premodern thinkers created a system of sex and embodiment that both anticipates and challenges modern beliefs about what it means to be male, female―and human.

About the Author

Leah DeVun is associate professor of history at Rutgers University. DeVun is the author of Prophecy, Alchemy, and the End of Time: John of Rupescissa in the Late Middle Ages (Columbia, 2009) and was coeditor of Trans*historicities (2018), an issue of TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly.

Leah DeVun's The Shape of Sex brilliantly realizes the promise of transgender studies and nonbinary frames of reference to provide compelling reinterpretations of gender and bodies not just in the present but also in the distant past. Through deep archival research, erudite textual scholarship, and dazzling methodological turns, DeVun shows how the figure of the nonbinary body has been central to Western theological, philosophical, legal, and scientific thought regarding proper social and cosmological order for more than two millennia.--Susan Stryker, executive editor of TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly In this important and timely study, DeVun traces the ways in which medieval European legal, religious, and scientific authorities gradually constructed the idea that there are two and only two 'opposite' sexes. Putting to rest the myth of the premodern 'one-sex' body, DeVun highlights changing understandings of what counted as a 'natural' body and why. Essential reading for students of sex and gender in the medieval and modern West.--Katharine Park, author of Secrets of Women: Gender, Generation, and the Origins of Human Dissection Eloquent, erudite, and deftly argued, this book explores the rich history of theories and representations of nonbinary sex in medieval culture, revealing their resonances with and divergences from modern and postmodern theories of intersex and transgender. DeVun's book is an absolutely vital source for anyone seeking to understand the long trajectory of the concepts of sex and gender. This is a work that challenges and transforms normative ideas about embodiment in order to offer more capacious possibilities for human experience.--Kathleen P. Long, author of Hermaphrodites in Renaissance Europe In this meticulous yet accessible study, DeVun details the long historical roots of Western European sexual categories and those bodies that exceed them. In a thrilling final chapter, DeVun turns from theological, legal, natural-philosophical, and medical ideas of binary containment to the fevered world of alchemical thought, where nonbinary beings were viewed as 'miraculous and productive.' This book reveals the world-creating power of nonbinary beings in imagery and writings from the distant past, urging us 'to let the past intrude, to be attentive to its iterations, and to keep the future open.'--Carolyn Dinshaw, author of How Soon Is Now? Medieval Texts, Amateur Readers, and the Queerness of Time The Shape of Sex is beautifully written, elegantly argued, and accessible to specialists and nonspecialists alike. Leah DeVun's use of case studies draws the reader in, and the book's sophisticated elaborations of the import of the material shows familiarity with gender theory today as well as in the past. I especially value DeVun's attention to the intersection of race and gender. This will be the major study of the topic for many years to come.--Ruth Evans, Dorothy McBride Orthwein Professor of English, Saint Louis University

Publisher: Columbia University Press
Pub date: may 25, 2021
336 pages
Format: Paperback