A Side Trip to Egypt

Most of my historical research centers around Mesopotamia and Rome, because they have much more obvious evidence of multiple genders. However, Egyptian civilization existed for thousands of years and it would be very odd if there were no evidence of trans people in that culture. Clearly I need to learn more.

Thanks to Amanda Huskisson I have discovered the Egypt Society of Bristol. Bristol University is lucky enough to have among its staff Dr. Aidan Dobson who is one of the world’s leading experts on Akhenaten and his religious revolution. On Tuesday I got to listen to him explaining the latest theories about Nefertiti.

The accepted wisdom has long been that Nerfertiti died part way through her husband’s reign (or was possibly put aside after having borne him six daughters). However, current theories suggest that she changed her name to Neferneferuaten and shared the rule of Egypt, first with her husband, and then with young Tutankhamum.

This brings into focus the whole issue of female pharaohs, which in turn brings me back to Hatshepsut. The trouble with being pharaoh, as I have explained before, is that the pharaoh was the incarnation of Horus on earth, and Horus was male. So a woman wishing to assume the title of pharaoh had to, in some sense, “become male”. Language is also an issue. In Egyptian the word “pharaoh” is masculine. There is a (feminine) word for “queen”, but it means the spouse of the pharaoh. It cannot mean a female ruler.

The issue of women pharaohs is thus quite complicated, because socially, religiously and linguistically they had to be men, even if they didn’t identify as such. Given that the vagaries of dynastic politics would occasionally throw up the need for a woman to take charge because there was no man available in the family, Egypt had to deal with this as best it could. None of this would have anything to do with how the woman in question understood her gender, except in as much as her culture imposed ideas upon her.

Clearly I need to learn more about Egypt. The University actually has a whole study day about Hatshepsut in February, but I’m giving a talk in Bournemouth that day so I will miss the whole thing.

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1 Response to A Side Trip to Egypt

  1. Paul Weimer says:

    Damn, that talk sounds fascinating, because Hatshepsut, what we know about her, and what we don’t, is such a rich subject.

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