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The character of Cuer d’Acier, or Heart of Steel, in the 15th century French romance Perceforest, has a complex gender identity that does not fit easily into a gender binary. First appearing as the courtly maiden Neronés, the character later lives and is read as a man. The romance uses both “he” and “she” pronouns to refer to Heart of Steel, often using both in the space of a single paragraph or even a single sentence. While Heart of Steel is again dressed as a woman at the end of the romance, the character’s own actions and statements indicate that they consider their gender to be something more than simply either/or. This essay examines Heart of Steel’s gender identity, considering both physical and social dimensions, and the character’s understanding of themself as well as how they are read by others.


I presented a previous version of part of this essay as "Chaotic Pronouns: Cuer d'Acier in Perceforest as Nonbinary," as part of a panel entitled "How to Be Trans in the Middle Ages" at the Leeds International Medieval Congress in July 2021. I would like to thank Blake Gutt for organizing and presiding over the panel, and the other panelists and audience members for their very interesting comments and discussion. I would also like to thank the two anonymous reviewers for Medieval Feminist Forum, whose generous and detailed comments have helped me improve this essay.


trans studies, gender studies, French literature