One thing I found really interesting while researching for the history zine I did about the Gallus of Catterick (available here) was that so many people writing about her couldn’t understand why a cult of trans women would be the ones to be priestesses to a goddess of motherhood. Yet when I think about it makes perfect sense
(An illustraion of the goddess Cybele by Sal Harris // @Sal.Aitch )
Society, particularly western society, is obsessed with the body and body horror and body trauma. We love fetishising it. That’s why society at large is so obsessed with The SurgeryTM when it comes to trans women. There is nothing more body horror to the everyday person than the thought of a having smth happen to ur gentials
We are obsessed with The Surgery in the same way we are obsessed with birth so it makes sense people would be so confused. We are so obsessed with the birth that we don’t consider the 18 years after, of raising the little sods, just like society is so concerned with The Surgery that no one really considers the life that comes after
I guess I have more in common with wombyminin-born-wombyminin that we first thought
As I say in the zine the Galli were what is known as a dynastic theocracy. Which to those of us who aren’t brainboxes means they trained their replacements, so the Arch-Gallus would have trained the woman who would then take over from her, and this would happen for each temple or shrine
(A carving of a Gallus Priestess from 2nd Century AD)
This is not unlike queer and trans families we see today and not unlike the houses of ballroom culture. Trans women taking younger trans ppl under their wing
A largely ignored version of motherhood
It is likely that as children were growing up, if they grew up to show signs of being trans and they were comfortable with that they would have been sent off to a temple of Cybele to train to become a priestess. Some would have been sent over to Rome to train in the heart of empire herself and some would have stayed local or been sent here from the other parts of the roman empire
Cybele was not a small goddess either. She was worshipped across the empire and embraced quite quickly in places like Britannia, which would have meant we would have been just as eager to embrace the Galli when they arrived along with the integration of the cult into the culture. Given that there was generally a temple or shrine to Cybele at most roman forts we can assume that there were actually quite a few trans women spread not just across the country but across the empire!
We don’t have any detailed records of how this worked but based on how the Galli were described and the evidence of them we do have we can safely assume it was not too unlike how things are now for trans women
(A statue of a Gallus Priestess from 2nd Century AD)
Perhaps some were sent away because of an increasingly toxically masculine culture that was being put out by Rome, or perhaps some were made homeless and taken in by the Galli. Perhaps some went willingly seeing it as a chance to live as they needed to in relative peace
Whatever the reason, the older trans women would take them under their wing and show them how to survive and devote themselves to the goddess, as well as how to be trans (surprise surprise we’re not born like this and i certainly don’t wake up looking this beautiful). They would have taught what herbs to use for feminising proportions and the art of safe castration. Becoming mistresses of their own transitions
(Drawing of a Galli Priestess from the zine by China // @EmpressOfWitches )
All of this being like how cis women who become mothers teach their children the things they need to know to survive. But of course we don’t think of it like that because society is obsessed with genitals, so the birth is the bit that counts and the next 18 years of raising the little sods count for bugger all. Lets face it no one really gets past the thought of birth to think about how long it takes to teach them to tie their shoelaces or how to dress themselves or giving them the basic skills to survive the day. I think a lot of cis ppl would be surprised to find how much basic stuff u have to relearn when u come out as trans and how fuckin difficult it can be without a trans parent to help u
So. Roman motherhood was as varied as modern motherhood with birth families, adopted families and even trans families. So it makes perfect sense that trans women were the priestesses of a cult dedicated to a goddess of motherhood cuz who better to serve the Great Mother than women who can focus on the acts of motherhood when the whole world is obsessed ur junk
The trans history zine The Gallus of Catterick is available to buy as a printed copy or as a PDF with 50% of the money going to Non-Binary Leeds solidarity fund to help local trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming people.
Or you can donate directly to their fund!