Butch Heroes

Ria Brodell. MIT, $24.95 (96p) ISBN 978-0-262-03897-3
Visual artist Brodell delivers an ambitious and wonderfully celebratory ode to the lives of 28 people over many centuries “assigned female at birth” who “had documented relationships with women, and whose gender presentation was more masculine than feminine.” Inspired by Catholic prayer cards, the book pairs short, densely detailed biographies with stylized gouache portraits in bold saturated colors. Many of the stories involve violence or persecution, like Katherina Hetzeldorfer, who was drowned for seducing women in 15th-century Germany, or Ann Marrow, an American writer who in 1777 was sentenced to three months in an English prison and one day in a pillory for wearing men’s clothing. Not all of the biographies are about punishment. Petra Ruiz enlisted in Mexico’s Constitutionalist Army in 1913 under the name Pedro and became a respected lieutenant during the Mexican Revolution. In 18th-century Italy, people in the hill town of Montepulciano petitioned for the canonization of Giovanni Bordoni, who was born Catterina Vizzani, but the medical examination following his death revealed that he was female. Each of the paintings features the subject at the forefront of a symbolic scene. Catharina Linck, for example, a Prussian woman who lived as a man in the 17th century and was prosecuted for sodomy, is pictured headless at the scene of her execution. This is a serious—and seriously successful—queer history recovery project. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 06/04/2018
Release date: 08/01/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
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