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Urban Italian law, by the fifteenth-century, would become particularly aggressive in comparison to the rest of Europe not only in prosecuting sodomy, but also in implementing the threatened capital punishment. The 1354 Venetian court case of Rolandinus/a Ronchaia, in the century leading up to the officialization of the law, both exemplifies this trend and yet also stands out as unique because of the subject’s gender presentation; the case seeks to resolve whether or not this person, perceived either as ambiguously gendered or as a man dressed as a woman, can be convicted of committing sodomy or prostitution. Ronchaia, however, is consistent in her self-presentation as a woman. The courts implore Ronchaia to cease living as a woman and to recant her claims that she ever lived in such a manner; her refusal to live as male leads to her death sentence.

This paper focuses on the intersections of theoretical ideas about trans-like identity and the social realities of lived experience, of the anxieties about ambiguous gender displaced onto Ronchaia and the autonomy of Ronchaia’s life. The court’s questions focus not just on the sex acts which are allegedly the crimes, but on the details of her everyday life and previous marriage to a woman. That broader questioning points to a concern with the limits and possibilities of lived experiences of gender itself, not simply charges of prostitution or sodomy. Ronchaia’s final refusal to accept the demand to be male resists the pattern of gendered assimilation that denies individual autonomy over the body and demands a revision of the binary terms that afford or deny viable life.


Gender, Sexuality, Venice, Transgender, Sodomy, Prostitution

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