Read About the Real-Life Inspiration for “Benedetta” and More with these 5 Books on Queer & Trans Nuns

A certain subset of us — gay film geeks, horny ex-Catholics, those who are ready for still more period piece yearning with one (1) brunette and one (1) blonde white woman — may have thought we were merely wishing things into existence with the trailer dropped yesterday for Paul Verhoeven’s Benedetta, an erotic lesbian nun horror/thriller. Erotic! Lesbian! Nun! Horror! Thriller! And yet, in the cold and sober light of the next day, this trailer remains:

If you’d like more backstory on the real-life story of Sister Benedetta that inspired this film while you wait for its wide release, or just want more to read about real-life lesbian nuns, this is where to get started.


Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy

Judith C. Brown

Judith C. Brown’s account of the real-life Sister Benedetta Carlini was a fascinating and kind of scandalous text when it was published in 1986: “…Benedetta Carlini entered the convent at the age of nine. At twenty-three, she began to have visions of both a religious and erotic nature. Benedetta was elected abbess due largely to these visions, but later aroused suspicions by claiming to have had supernatural contacts with Christ. During the course of an investigation, church authorities not only found that she had faked her visions and stigmata, but uncovered evidence of a lesbian affair with another nun, Bartolomeo.”

Brown had a lot of gripping material to work with: “”Immodest Acts” is based on papers that Judith Brown, a historian at Stanford University, discovered in the state archives of Florence while researching the economic history of the region and the Medici rule. The documents concerning Sister Benedetta consisted mostly of transcripts of a series of inquests, carried on between 1619 and 1623, first by the provost (the town’s chief ecclesiastical official), and then by the papal nuncio to determine whether the nun, abbess of the Convent of the Mother of God, was a true divine visionary or the victim of a ”diabolical obsession.'”

Once Upon a Convent

Orice Klaas

A self-published memoir by a former nun who now lives in Portland with her partner and cat, this book tells the story of “a fifteen-year-old girl [who] enters a convent during an era when nuns wear traditional habits and are physically and emotionally isolated from the rest of the world. In spite of being subjected to a rigid discipline that includes nearly perpetual silence and almost total separation from her family, friends, and fellow community members, she makes the most of her life for nineteen years, until an eventual unexpected sexual awakening forces her to make a choice.” If you’ve seen Novitiate and wished for more about the real life experiences of its protagonist, here you are!

Lesbian Nuns: Breaking Silence

Edited by Rosemary Curb & Nancy Manahan

Out of print for 20 years, this is a genuine treasure and irreplaceable record of a communal history; originally published by a small lesbian press and received with a level of controversy they were totally unprepared for, this book is now re-released with “a new foreword analyzing the unprecedented impact it had on the lesbian community and mainstream culture. In new afterwords, the co-editors reveal how the book came to be and what happened to their lives when, for the first time in history, a lesbian book from a small publisher went mainstream.”

The Lieutenant Nun: Transgenderism, Lesbian Desire, and Catalina de Erauso

Sherry Velasco

An early butch or transmasculine figure, Erauso (who also went by the names Alonso Díaz de Guzmán and Antonio de Erauso) was pressured into taking vows in Spain around 15 and later escaped, living as a man and racking up a long list of travel and military exploits and pursuing various betrothals and dowries with women in North America, eventually earning a dispension from the Pope to continue dressing in men’s clothing.

Feminist Perspectives on Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

Edited by Stephanie Mirrim

Sor Juana was an enormously accomplished writer, poet, philosopher, and Hieronymite nun in Mexico, whose love poems were also addressed to women and who was generally understood to have had a relationship with Countess Maria Luisa de Paredes. She was fluent in both Latin and Nahautl, and held literary salons for the intellectual elite in her nun’s quarters before being forced to step away from intellectual life by the Bishop of Puebla as punishment for her writings on misogyny. Her life and work are fascinating and well worth reading about, as is her impact as a feminist public figure — also absolutely check out Sor Juana’s own work and especially her (gay) love poems!


What are your recommendations when it comes to lesbian, queer & trans nuns? Tell me what I’m missing!

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Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

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11 Comments

  1. I’m in the middle of Catalina Erauso’s autobiography right now (she grew up close to where I’m living) and it is WILD!! A bit slow going because I’m reading it in the original Spanish and it’s older language and syntax that I’m not used to, but the things Catalina gets up to (duels, seeking sanctuary in churches after killing people in duels, traveling internationally, having to get out of women proposing marriage) are wild. An interesting thing about Erauso as an autobiographer is that they use female adjectives when self-describing while presenting as female, and male adjectives when presenting as male.

  2. Kicking the Habit by Jeanne Cordova! She has a short version of her journey in Breaking Silence, but reading her whole experience is really rewarding and hilarious

  3. From this list, I’ve read both Judith Brown’s Immodest Acts and Sherry Velasco’s The Lieutenant Nun.

    I recently saw that New Ways Ministry has a new anthology out called Love Tenderly: Sacred Stories of Lesbian and Queer Religious. Has anyone read it yet? I’m hoping to do so soon. Love Tenderly

    Another book that comes to mind is Federico Garza Carvajal’s edition, transcription, and study of the 17th-century case against the “ex monja/beata/priora” (ex-nun/beata/prioress) Inés Santa Cruz and her partner Catalina Ledesma. Garza Carvajal published it in 2012 with the title Las Cañitas. Un proceso por lesbianismo a principios del XVII. As the title suggests, a major issue in the case was the use of a dildo. It’s fascinating, but fair warning: along with the graphic charges, the documents also describe the torture inflicted upon Inés and Catalina.

    • Thanks for mentioning Love Tenderly! I was going to recommend it as well. I have it, but haven’t read it yet. But as a queer Catholic w a complex but strong relationship to the church community, I think it’s really important to hear the stories of lesbian nuns who are STILL nuns, not just ex-nuns! I’m really excited to read their stories.

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