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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
Findley, Brooke Heidenreich ""Oiez mon aventure": Cuer d'Acier's Nonbinary Gender in Perceforest." Medieval Feminist Forum: A Journal of Gender and Sexuality 58, No. 2 (2023) : 75-111.