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Object: The Head of Amenhotep III
Maker: Unknown artist, 14th Dynasty Egypt
Amenhotep III was one of the kings of the 18th Dynasty in Egypt, c. 1593-1292. The Egyptian kings often had statues made, such as this one, to help portray them as rulers. Amenhotep III himself had over one thousand (1000) statues commissioned. These statues were often made not to show how the king looked but to portray them as a good leader, showing the traits desired at the time – for example, they were often shown as very young, even when they had reigned for decades.
These changes in appearance often cause historical debate between ancient historians. Generally, a king would be shown using stereotypically masculine identifiers – muscular, with a broad chest, with large eyes to denote youth and the curved beard of a pharaoh. This includes the imagery created of the queens of Egypt, including Hatsepsut and Nefertiti, both queens of the 18th Dynasty.
Often historians feels the need to comment on the fact that we have no evidence of the queens “dressing like men”, to prove that they were, in fact, women. They force the old-fashioned view that we must “pick sides” in gender, assuming gender expression automatically aligns with binary gender roles, and that there has to be an explanation for the fact iconography of Hatsepsut and Nefertiti presents them in both masculine and feminine manners of dress, typical of the time.
This is also shown in the iconography of another king of the 18th Dynasty, Amenhotep IV (son of Amenhotep III), also known as Akhenaten. He was often shown as having breasts and wide hips, both of which are seen as traditionally feminine. Historians argue that this is likely a conscious choice, which is symbolic of Akhenaten’s role within Egyptian religion. However, this ignores the fact that this could be an accurate representation of his physical appearance and these characteristics could suggest he was trans.
These debates about gender expression and identity often ignore the wide spectrum of gender expression, and alienate the trans and non-binary community. Historians insist that there must have been strict rules about appearance and gender expression in the ancient world, and assume that these would follow the binary of Wester society. The idea that trans identity and gender non-conformity, are a new thing ignores the evidence of queer people throughout history. It also ignores the difference between gender identity (how one sees their gender) and gender expression (which is based on societal views as well as personal beliefs) and how these can both agree and disagree with each other.