Review of The Lieutenant NunBy Batya Weinbaum
Published in Femspec 3.1
The Lieutenant Nun: Trangenderism, Lesbian Desire and Catalina Erauso
By Sherry Velasco
University of Texas Press ISBN 0 292 78746 4
241 pp c. 2000
In this study, Velasco explores hybrid spectacles, lesbian desire, monsters, and how transvestite narratives function by tracing adaptations of the Lieutenant Nun figure in literature, theater, iconography and cinema. She argues that we have much to learn from how this icon got transformed into public spectacle, manipulating spectators' fears and desires. The subject, Catalina de Erauso (1592-1650) was a Basque noblewoman. Just before taking her vows to become a nun, she escaped form the convent, donned men’s clothing, and went off to fight for the Spanish empire in Peru and Chile. She won a soldier's pension, and the Pope's permission to continue to dress as a man.
Velasco shows how the “male disguise provides many advantages and almost always empowers women in men's clothing” (35). By following the various adaptations of the character cross-culturally, through film in the US in the 40s and 80s, and Mexican comics and the comic book Warrior Nun Areala, she provides many insights into the fantasies of the cross-dressing women, the actresses who played her, and the public who observed and enjoyed her many representations throughout the ages. She provides us with vast information on the variations in popular culture in which the woman-as-man trope has appeared. In doing so, she sets a basis to understand the appearance of female cross-dressing characters in sf pulps of the early years, and should be read as background for understanding the woman-as-warrior image created in sf/fantasy, by both women and men, over the years.