Album cover of Sainthood: maybe I’m crazy, but I think Tegan and Sara look a lot like Joan of Arc. (Is it the ex-con striped prison clothing? The short hair? Their prayerful, haloed faces? I don’t know.) Sainthood is an incredibly rich collection, thematically speaking. I adore the central concept of self-sacrifice in relationships as willing martyrdom, and how that theme colors the lyrics. I’m going to talk a lot about a willig martyr today.
So May 30 was the Feast of St. Joan of Arc, the anniversary of the day of her death by fire at the hands of quite a few slimy churchmen, a day I obsessed over for many years. I am writing about her here because she was the first girl I ever fell in love with, though I refused to realize it until now.
I was 14. I was a starry-eyed baby Catholic, in the closet about it and very much in need of a hero. One night I rented a movie – Joan of Arc, the CBS miniseries starring the gorgeous Leelee Sobieski. The awesome Neil Patrick Harris is in it too…it’s worth a watch just to see him play King Charles. He’s quite a ham.
My mom walked out in Protestant disgust about halfway through, and my dad walked in during the final death scene to laugh his ass off. (He does shit like that. It’s quite normal.) I, however, was in tears, mesmerized by the story of a girl not much older than me who had turned the tide of a war and changed history. Damn, was that hot. I mean, think about it. Illiterate teenage peasant girl gets a king crowned, leads men into battle, raises the morale of her people more than any of the male leaders of her time, and 500 years later gets canonized as a saint. Talk about a badass.
While I don’t think this film adaptation is great on terms of historical acccuracy, I think Leelee did a fine job capturing Joan’s spirit – her courage, her hot temper, her unflinching faith, her patriotism. For me, she was Joan. I’ve always been a fan of historical drama, so from the minute she hit the screen praying, I was hooked. By the time she chopped off her long hair with a sword using the river as a mirror, I was falling in love. (The short hair really suits her. I told myself every year that I would get my own hair cut in honor of Joan for her feast day, but this year is the first time I have truly short hair. Can mark that off my bucket list. Teehee.) Also, her pre-battle speeches and the way she stood up to those hideous interrogators in the courtroom following her capture had me swooning.
It was immediately obvous that Joan would be my patron saint. I bought the movie (2 copies, in case something happened to one of them), picked up about 10 books from the library detailing her life and legacy, and made a series of posters chronicling different events from her life. Every creative writing assignment I completed for school featured her. I defended her to the death if someone made a joke about her being insane, or a witch, or whatever. Every May 30 was a day for deep devotion, mourning, love. Everyone thought I was crazy. Now, thanks to the internet, I know that I am not the only crazy one, that there are many people devoted to her memory – historians, writers, actors, musicians, you name it.
I developed a sort of relationship with her, akin to my relationship with God at the time, except Joan was tangible, close, and personal where God was vague despite my efforts to reach him. I spent many nights whispering to her in the darkness, telling her about my day, imagining her talking back and what she’d say. She was like a best friend. I imagined putting my head in her lap and her stroking my hair, or lying in her arms as we talked. I mean, that’s what you do with your patron saint, right? I had some weirdly intimate dreams about her that first night.
So maybe it was that I was envisioning Leelee whenever I thought of Joan. I was certainly overwhelmed with romantic and somewhat sexual feelings whenever I watched the movie, the same way I felt whenever I watched Lord of the Rings with my various man-crushes. (There were only two. And I’m not telling who!) But it was more. It wasn’t just all physical, you know. I was as much in love with her charisma as with her body, and my whole obsession with her was intensely spiritual and emotional. She was easy to know, as her personality is strikingly vivid and shines clearly through centuries of history, but there were many questions I had for her.
I always wondered if she had lived, would she get married and start a family or become a nun or stay single, or what? Obviously, dying at 19 and having so much to accomplish before then would have left her very little time to ponder whether she liked men or God, or what. I think part of her knew she had limited time. She had priorities. She was a real career woman – her mission came first, personal life second, if at all. I know that she was extremely devoted to God and upheld the teachings of the Church with great fervor – she once shattered her most treasured sword by cracking the flat side over the back of a camp follower, a.k.a. mistress of one of her soldiers – and that she would probably react in horror to the whole concept of lesbians, but I swear there’s something there. Wouldn’t it be awesome?
Was it the way she reacted when her father got her engaged to some dumpy village guy and she heard about it not from her father but from the dude himself? She threw a hissy fit, much like a lesbian might do if her parents set her up on a blind date with a guy. Was it the way she evolved into such a powerful leader and proved to have more balls than any of the boys she worked with? The entire royal court was sitting around whining about how much life sucked when she walked in and said, “Guys, army. Assemble. Now. Let’s kick some ass.” She was fucking fearless.
I usually hate it when conspiracy-type historians try to pin something completely unfounded on Joan, that she was really a royal bastard, that she was actually on the side of the English, that she didn’t actually die in the fire, blah blah. But I like to entertain the idea these days that if she had lived longer and taken a good honest look at herself, maybe she would have realized a preference for women. I think it’s equally possible that she was asexual, but I guess we’ll never know.
After I lost my faith a few years ago, I felt farther and farther away from Joan of Arc. I don’t really know what I believe about God, let alone about saints. I had the feeling she disapproved of me. But a couple months ago I was taking a good hard look my past and realized why I had been so obsessed with St. Joan all those years: I had been in love with her. These days, she’s no less inspirational or fabulous. So maybe I’ll get back on the fan wagon, but this time it’ll be all sainthood and no religion.