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Literature / Florinda

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Florinda is a Chilean Fairy Tale collected by Yolando Pino-Saavedra in his 1967 anthology Folktales of Chile. In the Aarne-Thompson-Uther index, “Florinda” is an example of tale type 514: “The Shift of Sex”, with motifs from ATU 510B, “Unnatural Love” stories like Donkeyskin. It is notable for its freewheeling approach to gender and sexuality, which lends itself to many interpretations of the main characters, their identities, and relationships.

The story begins with a girl named Florinda, who is utterly devoted to the crucifix. When she is about ten, her mother dies and her father descends into madness, squandering the family fortune in search of a wife to replace the one he lost. Eventually, he decides that the unlucky bride should be Florinda herself. Florinda runs away from him and vanishes from sight in front of a crucifix.

Florinda cuts her hair, dresses in man's clothes, and steals one of her father's horses, riding as far away as she can get. She seeks shelter in the palace of a king, who takes an immediate liking to the “young man”, and, after three nights, orders Florinda to marry the princess.

After the wedding, Florinda reveals her secret to her wife, who happily accepts the situation: "We’ll live together like two doves in the world." The happy couple keeps their secret, until the princess's godfather, another king, learns from his royal fortune-teller that his goddaughter’s "husband" is actually a woman. The godfather-king breaks the news to Florinda's father-in-law, who does not believe him. The two kings make a bet: whoever is correct about Florinda's sex gets the other’s kingdom.

Florinda passes the first masculinity test by shooting down several pigeons during a hunt. The next test is more difficult: she must bathe naked in front of the two kings. Just as she’s stripping and about to give up, her old crucifix flies over the waters and transforms Florinda’s body into a masculine one.

Florinda tells the good news to her wife that they are now safe from any future inquiries about their relationship. As for the godfather-king, he is furious that he’s lost his realm and plans to execute the royal fortune-teller. The prophet tells the king that he told no lie: the princess was married to a woman, but God in His infinite wisdom changed her into a man. "What I say is the gospel truth. It was all the Lord’s work."

An English translation of the story can be found here.

"Florinda" includes examples of:

  • Ambiguous Gender Identity: This story predating our modern ideas about gender and sexuality, Florinda (and to a lesser extent, the princess) can be read in any number of ways. Like any good fairy tale, the ambiguities that make room for one’s own imagination is part of the appeal.
  • Ambiguously Bi: The princess loves Florinda in both male and female forms.
  • Animate Inanimate Object: Florinda's childhood crucifix acts as a representation of Jesus himself, who rescues Florinda and secures her happily ever after.
  • Attractive Bent-Gender: Both of the kings note how good-looking the male-presenting Florinda is.
  • Boyish Short Hair: As part of her male disguise, Florinda has her hair cut short.
  • Crucial Cross: The title character has venerated the crucifix from a very young age. When her father descends to madness and decides that he must marry his own daughter, the crucifix, acting on behalf of the Crucified Christ himself, aids her by making her vanish. At the end of the story, Florinda (who's been living as a man while on the run and now must prove her masculinity to her wife's father and godfather) is rescued by the crucifix, which flies over her and transforms her female body into a male one, granting a heterosexual Happily Ever After to Florinda and the princess.
  • Gender Bender: Florinda is permanently changed into a biological man by the crucifix. However, the focus is not on the princess getting the "proper" spouse but on the young lovers new social safety to live Happily Ever After unimpeded.
  • Hide Your Lesbians: A decidedly less charitable interpretation of the story: Florinda is a woman, loves a woman, but cannot live in peace because of that fact, so Jesus takes her womanhood away from her.
  • Important Haircut: Florinda visits her godmother to cut her hair short before she rides off into her new life.
  • Lady Looks Like a Dude: Florinda's male disguise is so convincing that it fools even her own father, and everyone else.
  • Jesus Was Way Cool: An image of Jesus's crucifixion comes to Florinda's rescue throughout the story.
  • Masculine–Feminine Gay Couple: Florinda fills the "husband" role with the princess in the wife role until they are changed into a "straight" couple at the end.
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: Florinda's main antagonist for the back end of the story is her wife's godfather, determined to prove that the princess has married a woman.
  • Parental Incest: Florinda begins her adventure to escape from her mad father's lust.
  • Perfectly Arranged Marriage: Florinda and the princess don't meet until their wedding, and Florinda doesn't reveal her sex until afterwards. The princess has no qualms about the situation, and they live happy lives together marred only by the nosy godfather trying to expose them.
  • Pronoun Trouble: The story (or at least its English translation) uses she/her pronouns for Florinda all the way through the story, even after the transformation.
  • Prophecy Twist: The prophet never told a lie; the hero's gender was changed by God between his statement to the king and the viewing of the hero's body.
  • Rags to Royalty: Florinda begins the tale as a only child of a wealthy couple. Then her father squanders the family fortune and she goes on the run disguised as a man. She ends the story as a "real" man, married to a princess.
  • Supernaturally-Validated Trans Person: The crucified Christ Himself personally supplies Florinda with a penis, and thus a happy ending for her and her wife, free from any future prying eyes.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Florinda dresses as a man to escape her father's incestuous intentions for her so she can pass for male, and no one's the wiser at first.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: One interpretation of Florinda's character — she disguises as a man for her own safety, finds she likes living this way, and is granted a divine alibi to continue it in peace as part of her Happily Ever After.
  • Wig, Dress, Accent: Florinda can pass for a cisgender man by simply cutting her hair short and dressing up in men's clothing. which even fools her father. It works right up to the point that she must bathe naked as others watch, at which point she's turned male by Jesus.