In Jonathan Hsy's article, "Be more strange and bold: Kissing Lepers and Female Same-Sex Desire in The Book of Margery Kempe" he examines the queerness that Kempe exhibits throughout her book. He recognizes that she is a married woman and that she is a mother to multiple children, but when she negotiates a way to get out of "marital duties" from her husband, she embraces her love for Christ, and moves to live more for him. Hsy, however, is not examining specifically just the love of Christ, but the displays of "external desires" that get expressed as queer. Specifically, he examines her interactions with other women.
Kempe is unlike many of her contemporaries because she did not express a need to stay from lepers, but rather actively seeks them out. When she is able to make contact with a leper as an act of charity, in the style imitato cristo, she is told she can only kiss a female leper. The sin of leprosy, a disease that is contagious through fluid exchange, is often seen as a sign of indiscretion, and also a sign of giving into desires. This is one reason, Hsy argues, is why Margery's desire to kiss a female leper is worrying: It is not the possibility of contagion, but rather bringing out the desire in Margery.
Hsy's argument comes directly from the text when the encounters are described as "temptations" and "horrible thoughts." By examining Margery and her encounter with the female lepers, it touches upon the idea that female desire is a contagious thing. We have often seen through the texts in class the way that female desire can motivate a male hero or it tear down legacies. Kempe, expressing her desires in such a manner, with another female, as an act of piety, can be taunting for someone who examines Margery's writing, and only looks at the woman who considers herself the bride of Christ. This type of transgression allows for us to read the Kempe as a different type of figure: Not just a bride of Christ, but also someone who is actively interested in female companionship.
This argument is one that I never considered or even thought to take a double take on. Like many other medieval scholars, I saw Kempe's desire to pilgrim to Jerusalem and end her physical relationship with her husband as a complete devotion to Christ, but I never considered that there can also be an additional element in which this would give her room to explore her own queerness. Hsy recognizes that this is not a new or even innovative discussion that we see of Margery, but it is one that can open our understanding further about who she was and why she did what she did. This also shows us how bold Kempe is, by openly equating female-female relationship to that of Christ, something that is often not seen in other medieval texts.
I love the connection between the contagious nature of leprosy and the contagious nature of female desire. I hadn’t originally made the connection between the two ideas. While Margery does end her sexual relationship with her husband in an attempt to be closer to God, cleaner, saintlier, etc., she remains an extremely passionate character. She is far from being a stereotypically calm, wise saint; rather, she constantly displays dramatic emotions. She weeps openly (and often), she converses passionately with everyone she encounters, and even her inner thoughts and visions are conveyed in a superlatively emotive way. Perhaps the lack of physical expression of sexuality forces her passion to be expressed in different ways; she finds new outlets for her physical nature through a queered love for a mythological religious figure (Christ).
The examination of Margery kissing the leper as a desire rather than a pious act is something I also did not think to consider. Though I am curious and wonder if Kempe had been allowed to act charitable to any leper and not just female lepers would she have still kissed a male leper, or acted in a different fashion, and if a male leper would also elicit these same "temptations" and "horrible thoughts." Another thought that came to mind while reading your response was, should Margery be interested in female companionship is this thought of "temptation" furthered by the fact that it is a leper she is kissing or do these thoughts persist and she just never has a good opportunity to speak on them.