The Macksey Journal


This paper will interrogate the cultural origins and social consequences of three non-normative sex and gender categories in medieval Islamic Spain during the 9th-11th centuries: Eunuchs, ghumaliyyat, and homosexuality. I pay special attention to Christian eunuchs, who came to occupy an important social and political role as caliphs' preferred type of enslaved servant, and to ghumaliyyat, a term used to describe a young enslaved woman who would masculinize herself in order to appeal to men. When Islamic Umayyads conquered al-Andalus during the 8th century, they brought with them a bevy of cultural practices that were disruptive to native Iberian Christians' sense of social order. Particularly upsetting to Christians were elite Muslim's lax attitude towards homosexuality and cross-dressing. In this paper, I explore the ways that these unprecedented sex and gender paradigms impacted interfaith relationships in medieval Iberia, as well as sui generis notions of Christianity and Islam. I suggest that homosexuality and cross-dressing became a tangible thing that Christians could vilify about Muslim culture. Christian disgust over homosexuality and cross-dressing thus became a way to express dissent over Islamic rule, as well as to solidify a burgeoning sense of culturally unified identity.