McNair/Gateway Scholars Program USC

Rebecca Das

rebecca.das.jpg

Major and Classification

Anthropology and Gender Studies

Faculty Mentors

  • Thomas Habinek, Ph.D.
  • Tok Thompson, Ph.D.

Department

  • Classics
  • Anthropology

McNair Project

Challenging Gender: The Galli Priesthood- A Transgender Presence in the Ancient Mediterranean World?

Abstract
This project examines evidence for claims circulating in contemporary transgender circles that the Galli priesthood of antiquity exemplify a transgender presence in ancient Greco-Roman cultures. First, the appropriateness of using the term "transgender" in connection with ancient peoples is considered. Second, a textual analysis of ancient Greek and Latin sources examines the characteristics and various functions of the Galli and prevalent contemporaneous attitudes towards them. Interpretations draw on feminist theory, queer theory, and symbolic anthropology. Finally, a case is made for further research on the Galli as cultural ancestors of modern transgender people. Conceptualizing the Galli as transgender, while problematic due to the term's contested definition, is justified. Textual analysis reveals strong parallels between the behavior and treatment of the Galli and contemporary transgender people. The Galli significantly challenged Greco-Roman gender norms through castration and such common gender markers as dress, behavior, hair style, and voice, resulting in negative attitudes towards them. An understanding of the Galli as transgender contributes significantly to deconstructing naturalized binary conceptualizations of gender and a history of transgender people, including the development of hegemonic attitudes towards them. More work is needed to clarify the complex role played by the Galli in the ancient world, specifically examining hegemonic attitudes towards castration, androgyny in religion, and variations in the priesthood from Phrygian Matar worship through the Greek Meter cult and into the Roman Magna Mater cult.