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Kate Devlin

March 23rd, 2012

The Way of The Berdache @ 02:36 pm

The Way of The Berdache

Kate Devlin


Some, but not all Native American tribes had a social role for what we call a berdache, a transgendered person .Not much is really known about these people. Much Native American culture were wiped out, first in a series of epidemics brought by the Europeans and then by the European Conquest itself. Much of the culture of the surviving Indians was destroyed. White missionaries taught natives that transgenderism or alternate sexuality in general was "evil" and this tradition was largely destroyed or driven underground. Much of what we know about the berdache comes from journals or memoirs from some of the early European explorers and some oral traditions from Indians themselves. The berdache tradition seems to have survived today most strongly among some Pueblo Indians in New Mexico and Arizona. There were a few famous (and much photographed) berdaches from this area around the turn of the last century but today these people are very secretive about their traditions and culture.

It was somewhat frustrating to write this because it is difficult to find much specific documented information on the berdache. The information I found on the Internet was either well meaning but simplistic introductions on the one hand or academic anthropologists tediously analyzing each other’s methodology on the other hand and while all this is interesting in a way, it doesn’t really tell me much. It’s hard to find much specific documentation. I did the best I could and I hope you find this interesting.

Anthropologists studying American Indians have known about berdaches for a long time but traditionally this aspect of Indian culture was downplayed. Many writers assumed berdaches were "degenerate", marginal people who were barely accepted in Native cultures. There’s been somewhat more research done on this in the 90s and today the social climate is somewhat more accepting. Many anthropologists today believe that berdaches actually played an important role in Native societies and were respected and honored.

It’s interesting (and sad) that most American, at least until recently , have not been aware aspect of American Indian culture. transgendered people are just barely coming to be accepted by mainstream society while the people who originally lived on this continent have been crossing gender boundaries for upwards of 20,000 years (that’s the currently accepted estimate of when the early American Indians crossed over the Bering Land Bridge from Siberia into Alaska and North America). I d didn't know about this at all myself until a few years ago when I came across a few very vague references to the berdache in some gay magazines I thumbed though, More recently I came across "The Spirit and The Flesh" by Walter Williams which is a good introduction to this, by chance in a bookstore . There are some really good books on American Indians I’ve seen, but even the best of them have very little or no mention of the berdache.


The term "berdache" (pronounced "bur da che-as in "cheese") itself is actually a Portuguese word and goes way back in history. It originally came from the Persian/Arabic word "berdaj" and before that from the ancient Iranian "varta" which meant "seized as a prisoner" and came to mean a young captive prisoner, male or female. Later on different versions of this word entered European languages during the 1500 and 1600s, and were used to refer to a "catamite" a young boy used for sex (this term is in the Bible) in some Middle Eastern cultures, in this case the Ottoman Empire (what’s now Turkey) where Turkish sultans kept huge harems of both women and boys. In Italian this word was "bardascia", in Spanish "bardaje" and in English "bardash". When early European explorers found transgedered people in the New World they at first thought this was the same phenomena (which of course if you’re CD or TG, or know anything about this at all, you’ll know it isn’t-it is somewhat humiliating to be put in the same category as a "catamite"). Its complicated but we probably got the Portuguese version of this word from the French Canadians, where it was used as a frontier word. when French fur trappers encountered transgendered people, probably around the Great Lakes area, in the 1600s. A French writer named Deletier wrote a memoir in the early 1700s where he talked about these people and the word stuck. Many American Indian activists, especially among the Navajo people, don’t like this term because they feel it’s too "Eurocentric" and some people have proposed using the Chippewa term "hedayeh" instead. Because it’s more familiar I’ll stick with "berdache". There are some other well-known terms. The Navajo called berdaches "nadle" or "two spirit people", while the Shoshone called them ""tanowaip", "woman-man". The Lakota Sioux (the group in "Dances With Wolves") called them "winkte". The Zunis, a group who live in pueblos in New Mexico, call them"lhamana". The Mojave called them "hwame". I could go on and on but you probably get the point. There were about 200 different languages spoken in what are now the United States, and just as many words for a berdache.

Where Were They?

Contrary to what many people today think, American Indian cultures were very varied in terms of culture and language. As I mentioned before there were about 200 different languages spoken in what’s now the US. (Today about 20 remain-I say "about" because estimates of what makes a seperate language or tribe vary a lot). American Indians could be as different from one another in terms of facial features as Italians and Swedes are in Europe today . Generally speaking American Indians(and anthropologists studying them) didn’t think in terms of separate "races" but more in terms of cultural groups. You were a member of a tribe if you lived with them and adopted their culture. Its interesting that it was easier, and far more common, for a European to be adopted into an Indian tribe than for an Indian to assimilate into white society. Largely because Native societies gave everyone a specific role in society, it was common for Europeans to enjoy living in an Indian society (once they were accepted) than in their own European culture. They are many reports from the 1600s and early 1700s of aristocratic French explorers being adopted into Indian tribes in what’s now the American southeast-Mississippi , Alabama Georgia or Florida, and enjoying it far more than European society. Many tribes of the Southeast had –the Choctaw and other groups-had aristocratic, hierarchical cultures, which were probably heavily influenced by the Aztecs and Toltecs of Mexico. Many early French explorers claimed these Native societies reminded them of the France of Louis IV, although that sounds a bit far fetched to me. Anyway there was a constant "gene flow" in many Indian societies-newcomers were often adopted into the tribe, kidnapped or captured. At the same time most Indian tribes was fiercely protective of their tribe’s territory and could be brutal, merciless, and cruel to trespassers.

Estimates vary as to how common the berdache tradition was. According to a history project by GAI (Gay American Indians-a gay Indian activist group, obviously) 133 American Indian tribes have been documented as having a berdache tradition while the American Anthropological Association puts it lower at 122. There were approximately 200 Native American tribal or cultural groups in what’s now the United States at the time of Columbus, so approximately ¾ of all Indian groups had berdaches .Two anthropologists studying the berdache tradition only found evidence for female to male berdaches in 30 tribes and its believed that this may have been less accepted and far less common. . Unfortunately there isn’t any documented evidence of a berdache tradition among Northeast Indians-the Iroquois of New York State and the Alkongquian speaking groups of New York and New England. Of course, just because it of course, just because it hasn’t been documented did not exits-a lot has been lost. Many writers think these groups probably did have such a tradition. Berdaches were common in agricultural Native cultures where women had a strong role in society, as these groups did. The Iroquois were a matriarchal people and women had a powerful economic role among the Coastal Algonquians, so it would be puzzling if they did not also have a role for berdaches . Algonquian groups living further to the west were known to have berdaches .It could be that the early New England Puritans freaked out about this. It is known that a little after the time of the Salem witch trials an Irish woman was burned at the stake in Massachusetts Bay Colony for speaking Gaelic to herself, which was thought to be evidence of satanic possession. (I’m not making this up!) The Puritans made Hester Pym wear an "A" for being an "adulteress", so you could imagine how they would react to a young Indian boy who wanted to be a girl.

Other then the Northeast, where the evidence is sketchy, a berdache tradition has been documented in every other region in the US. According to Walter Williams the Cherokee, a group in northern Georgia and Tennessee, does not have a berdache tradition but were and are very tolerant of homosexuality.

Who Started Civilization?

Sorry, but if you guessed "Sid Meier" you’d be wrong. This may be a surprise but agriculture and farming in most cultures in the world was originally women’s work. At the time of the Neolithic (the New Stone Age) men would be out hunting woolly mammoth or rhinoceros or whatever while women would stay at home and plant crops . Many anthropologists think that in this way women actually started civilization. Early agriculture societies like this tended to be matriarchal or at least gave women a much greater role. These cultures also had a role for transgendered people. In a culture where women have a strong role, it’s easier and there’s more incentive for a young boy (or grown man) who has trangender feelings to switch roles. Pastoral or nomadic peoples, tribes who made their living tending migratory animals and who would usually live in the north, in both the Western and Eastern hemispheres, tended to be more macho and aggressive. These people would look down on the settled people of the south. Farming was for sissies, while "real men" took care of sheep (yeah, yeah, I know-I couldn’t resist this). The nomads would often trash the more settled civilizations. If you play history simulation games like "Civ II", or "Age of Empires", you’ll know this is a very common recurring pattern in history. The Mongols trashed Central Asia, the Germans and Celts (my ancestors) trashed the Roman Empire, and Canadian shoppers trash northern New England on those weird Canadian holidays . Seriously though, you can see this ancient historical theme in American history, in the "range wars" of the 1880s in the prairie states when shootouts and small battles broke out between farmers and ranchers. The musical "Oklahoma!" talks about this in the song "Why Can’t The Cowboy and the Farmer Be Friends?"

What They Did (Part I)

The role of berdaches varied from tribe to tribe. In a quote from a website produced by the English Department of Reed College a berdache was a "transvested male, who had permanently taken on the dress, language, and mannerisms of the female gender in their particular society. In homosexual relations the berdache took on the passive role The member of a particular culture "became" a berdache in varying ways, some at a young age and others at a later stage in life, possibly following warriordom, when they were no longer capable of fighting effectively".

In most cultures berdaches were respected, fully integrated into society, and had a high status. There were female to male berdaches ("Amazons") but male to female berdaches seem to have been far more common. Generally berdaches were associated with good luck, they were considered to be lucky people, not because of their alternate gender but because good things seemed to happen to them. In tribes that had trade and economic activity berdaches were considered to be good in business. Berdaches were also often associated with shamanism, or contact with the spirit world. Shamans are very common, probably universal, in tribal cultures. They are people who contact or enter the spirit world, usually after going into a trance state, and are involved in "healing" people, both physically and psychologially. More on this in a minute. Not all berdaches were shamans and not all shamans were berdaches, but berdaches were regarded as making especially skilled shamans. This is because they were thought to be skillful at crossing boundaries, gender as well as spiritual. In most cultures around the world that accepted transgenderism, TGs were often connected with religion and spirituality.

Since berdaches knew what is was like to be both a man and a woman, they were also looked to for advice on relationships. Both the Cheyenne hemaneh and the Navajo nadle were skilled at making love potions. Interestingly the hijra, transgendered people in India, also have this reputation.

Individual male to female berdaches ran the gamut from occasional crossdressers to people who "lived full time". Walter Williams talks about a Shoshone Indian from the 1840s. This person sometimes dressed as a male, sometimes as a female.He/she was a skilled shaman and doctor and, when he/she wanted to be (which wasn’t often) was extremely good at being a warrior. While respected and accepted by his/her tribe this person chose to live alone in a tipi apart from his/her village and was regarded as being somewhat eccentric .One time the Shoshone were threatened by a coalition of other tribes and this person abruptly stopped living as a woman, became a warrior, killed a large number of the enemy, and when the threat was over began living as a woman again, at least for a while.There are other stories of people like this, who would switch back and forth. They were accepted and honored but also considered to be somewhat eccentric .Some of these people were married to genetic women. Often these people were extremely good at a skill-shamanism, medicine, warfare-having survival value for the tribe.There were also people both male and female, usually shamans, who partially crossdressed, wearing clothes of both genders, "mix and match". This seems to have been especially common among the Zuni Pueblo Indians .From what I’ve come up with, which admittedly isn’t much (as I said before the documentation is very scanty) "living full time" among the berdache was far more common.

The Navajo nadle was considered to be an extremely lucky person, as I mentioned before. According to Navajo myth, nadles were originally given charge of wealth at the beginning of time It was believed that a family with a berdache member would be rich and financially succesful. There was a poplar saying among the Navajo "When all the nadle are gone, it will be the end of the Navajo".

In the Lakota Soiux tribe the "wintke" were given the responsibility, also considered a privilege, of bestowing secret names to tribe members. The names "Sitting Bull", "Black Elk", and "Crazy Horse", two famous warriors and a famous story teller, were given by wintke.

The Cheyenne hemaneh were regarded as sprirtual beings with supernatural powers. Hemaneh acted as leaders of scalp dances .The movie Little Big Man (which I haven’t seen yet) has a hemaneh as a main character. In this movie a white guy, Jack Crabb comes back to a group of Cheyenne Indians he spent part of his childhood with. He meets an old friend, Little Horse and is surprised to see that he is now living as a woman. Little Horse does a woman’s dance and is extremely good at it and is regarded by the other tribe members as a supernatural, godlike being .Little Horse offers to become Jack’s wife but is turned down, possibly because Jack (who isn’t gay) already had four wives. (I definitely have to study this culture more). Some anthropologists and literary critics think the book and the movie over romanticized the situation among the Cheyenne.

Its difficult to apply terms like "hetero-" or "homo-" sexuality to TG people. It appears though that most berdaches, especially if they lived as women from a young age were sociialized to have sexual relations with men .It was very common in Native tribes for a berdache to be married to a "straight" man. Neither partner would be regarded as "gay". Polygamy was accepted in many Native cultures .It was especially common in the hierarchical cultures of the Southeast. It would be common for a high statues male, such as a powerful chief, to have many wives and it was very common for at least one of the wives to be a berdache. The berdache would often "stay at home" and take care of the children and do housekeeping while her sister wives would be farming and working in the fields. It was considered lucky to have a berdache wife. Walter Williams in "The Spirit and The Flesh" has a story about the Tlinglish, a group that still lives in British Columbia. These people had a hierarchical status oriented culture and were business and money oriented.There was a family who had a son, a young boy who was unusually feminine. His/her parents married him off to an older man who made a lot of money in the fishing industry, in order to make important business connections for the family. Neither the young boy or "her" husband were considered to be homosexual and the marriage was considered to be a "smart move" by other people in the tribe.


.There has been lot of debate over the sexual orientation of the berdache. Some writers feel that virtually all of them were "gay", that is they were socialized to have sex with men. Other people disagree with this and feel that the role of the berdache was very varied., similar to transgender peole today. It is known that there were (maybe still are) "lesbian berdaches" among the New Mexico Zuni people."The Spirit and The Flesh" by Walter Williams which came out in the early 90s, was one of the early "classics" about the berdache tradition. Williams is openly gay and takes a gay perspective. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this of course but many people might disagree with his interpretation. Williams (and other writers) seem to feel that the transgenderism of the berdache-the desire to look, act, or be treated as women is an expression of homosexuality and is not important outside of this. Many TGs and especially CDs would probably disagree with this idea. It’s a somewhat abstract but important philosophical idea. Gender identity and sexual orientation are two separate (although maybe related) things, one isn’t just an expression of the other. There was a big debate among anthropologists on this subject-the sexual and gender orientation of the berdache- thoughout the 1990s, the "berdache wars". Andrew Sullivan, a conservative gay activist, wrote that berdaches were rare in Indian societies and were only common in cultures where women had a high status. His views have also caused a lot of debate.

I haven’t found anything about "lesbian berdaches".I like to think they were common but I don’t know. Of course many Native Americans didn’t think in this rigid Western terms anyway.. Living in a tight knit tribal culture, guided by the spirit world and in which daily survival could be a struggle, diversity could be accepted and celebrated but at the same one wouldn’t have a lot of "lifestyle choices". If one had TG or CD feelings and wanted or had to be a berdache, that person would be socialized into a specific role

As I mentioned earlier Native American cultures could often be much different from one another. They were usually much different from contemporary American culture, with a few exceptions. Modern American culture is very capitalistic-its based on individual achievement and (especially) accumulation. "He who has the most toys when e dies, wins". Sad but accurate. Most Native American cultures were communal-people shared things. People had individual possessions but the concept of private property wasn’t highly developed. (The tribe in British Columbia I mentioned was an exception) Most Natives thought the concept of permanent ownership of real estate was especially absurd. This is why the Dutch were able to buy Manhattan for a few seashells and beads. (Every school child knows this story. Recent research however shows this was a little more complicated than most people think. What the Dutch paid for Manhattan was far higher than previously believed and it was the Manhattan Indians who thought they were ripping the Dutch off.)

Some tribes, particularly Plains Indians, were highly individualistic and were also very warlike-being a warrior was an important way of gaining status, while many of the Pueblo Indians were pacifistic and suppressed individual expression. Individual achievement and standing out from the group was considered bad among thee people. Some tribes were matriarchal; some were egalitarian and more or less democratic, while some, particularly in the southeast and along the Mississippi River were aristocratic. The way berdaches lived therefore varied according to the culture they were in.

Many Are Called But Few Are Chosen-Becoming A Berdache

People became berdache in many ways. According to the Reed College website I mentioned the selection of a person to become a berdache didn’t necessarily have anything to do with feminine predispositions. Just because someone enjoyed weaving or had a high voice didn’t mean they would be a berdache .Often people wee chosen by their parents or their tribe to be a berdache. A Spanish writer Fernandz de Piedrahita wrote about a village in Columbia in the mid 1600s where if a mother gave birth to five consecutive sons she was entitled to raise any other sons she would have as a girl. Another Spanish writer , Hernando de Alarcon wrote about berdaches he found along the lower Colorado River in 1541. In this society (I haven’t been able to find out which tribe) there were always supposed to be four berdaches in each village. When one berdache died, the next born boy would then be raised as a girl. In this particular society, according to Alarcon, berdaches worked as prostitutes but in reward for this had a high status in society and "were free to take from any house what they needed".

Most Native American tribes regarded dreams and visions as being very important. In Plains Indian tribes a young man or woman would often go on a vision quest for several days as part of his or her initiation ritual into adulthood and to find his or her place in the tribe. In this way a young person with transgender feelings would have dreams or visions reflecting this. The tribal shamans would help him or her interprets this. Many of these cultures were very warlike and held skilled warriors in great esteem. A young man about to become a berdache would opt out of this. He/she would forego the sometimes painful male initiation rituals and be initiated as a female. Walter Williams mentions a story recorded in the 1920s about a Lakota Sioux berdache. In the early 1900s, long after the Sioux had been "pacified", herded onto a reservation, and much of their traditions surppresed, a young boy who was unusually feminine, used to hang around his mother’s kitchen. One time after spending awhile talking about the Sioux wintke tradition with his mother, she asked him, "Do you think you are one of these people?" Her son said "Yes", and he became a berdache. Unfortunately I haven’t found too many other stories of how people became berdaches..


Shamanism was often an important vocation for a berdache I’ve dabbled in shamanism myself although I’m not an expert on this. A shamanism is someone who enters the spirit world, usually though a trance state. There are many different ways of inducing a trance-drumming is the most popular, dancing can also be used. A good basic intro on this is "Shamanism" by Mircea Eliade, a famous Romanian religious scholar .If you’re interested in contacting the spirit world yourself, "The Way of The Shaman" by Michael Harner will show you how. It comes with a drumming tape-you nee to have a Walkman with Dolby noise reduction, which is hard to find. Anyway, shamanism does work. Native Americans also used fasting and drugs (peyote, mushrooms, jimson weed, etc.) to induce a trance state .I don’t at all recommend using these methods unless you really really know what you’re doing.. Drugs were more common in what’s now Latin America (you’ll know this if you’ve read any of the Carlos Castenada books) but were not used often by North American Indians.. Shamans used their knowledge of the spirit world to "heal" people, both physically, psychologically, and spiritually, acting as both doctors and therapists. They also helped provide guidance for a tribe during times of stress-a famine, a war, etc. Shamans played a very important role in most Indian societies Anyway transgenderd people because they traveled between genders, were considered to have a gift for shamanism. Not all shamans were berdaches and not all berdaches were shamans but a vocation as a shaman was very common among these people. It’s interesting that in most ancient and traditional cultures around the world TGs were connected with religion and spirituality. It is a major tragedy (I think) that until recently crossdressing and transgenderism has been condemned by a misinterpretation of Christianity, driving people like us underground. It is sad that people were made to feel guilty to be who they are. I’m digressing.

How They Lived (Part II)

In tribes that had settled farming villages berdaches seemed to have a high economic status and were often considered to be rich. In these villages they often lived and worked in groups and played an important role as priestesses. Theodore De brey, a Flemish artist who accompanied some of the early Spanish explorers wrote open berdaches in Florida and Central America especially Florida. He noted that among a tribe in Florida berdaches worked in the "caring professions", took care of sick people, buried the dead, and worked as priests during important ceremonies and lived together as a group.. The anthropologist Alfred Bowers wrote about the Hidatsa, an Indian group that lived o the Northern Great Plains. The Hidatsa lived in earth lodge villages. According to Bowers each village would have between 15-20 berdaces, who often lived and worked together (I don’t know how large the villages were). The Cheyenne were another Great Plains group who was related to the Hidatsa. They used to live in farming villages but after they got horses from the Spanish they became nomadic. Among the Cheyenne berdaches also worked, traveled and camped together.

In many tribes berdaches didn’t specifically wear women’s clothing and weren’t "officially" considered women but had their own type of feminine clothing and culture. In religious functions and other social roles berdaches didn’t mirror women’s roles but had their own distinct role. One writer suggested that the fact that there were separate names for berdaches meant that they had a different role than genetic women. . Some anthropologists have suggested that rather than "changing gender" bedaches could be considered to represent a third (or even fourth or fifth) gender. Some people have suggested or implied that this might provide an alternate role model for modern Americans (or other people) struggling with transsexualism. People have suggested that surgery as a solution would be a "Western medical model" solution to these people’s problems and there have been alternate solutions practiced by tribal cultures. This is a complicated topic and I don’t have any answers.

Some Indian tribes, particularly in the Southeast and in Mexico and Central America were hierarchical and aristocratic. They had slaves, peasants, and a ruling class of aristocratic priests. Another common recurring pattern in history is the struggle between priests and shamans. Tribal societies usually have shamans, who are in direct communication with the spirit world. Societies that develop large cities begin to have a priest class-these people interpret messages from the gods, rather than communicate with the spirit world and often form an aristocracy. Priests usually mistrust and try to discredit shamans. This has been a very common recurring theme in almost every society in the world. As I mentioned before, berdaches were often connected with spirituality and religion .In some societies in Central and South America berdaches would act as a "passive sexual partner to religious leaders", according to one website. This was especially true in the Inca Empire of Peru. Berdaches would act as temple prostitutes or as sexual partners to religious leaders. The Spanish conquistadors freaked out about this, both because they thought this was "sodomy" and because they regarded this as religious blasphemy, and they killed large numbers of berdache.

As I mentioned earlier the Flemish engraver Theodore deBray accompanied early Spanish explorers. He made several not entirely accurate pictures of berdaches .In his pictures the berdaches are shown doing traditional women’s work in large groups. They are shown as European looking, with apparently what was supposed to be long curly blond hair, probably to differentiate them from the other Indians, and were portrayed as the medieval European conception of "sodomite". One of these is entitled "Balboa’s Dogs Attacking a Group of Panamanian Sodomites" and is a horrifying picture of just that. It’s disturbing to look at.

The Zuni Lhamana

The Zuni tribe is a group of Pueblo Indians who live in New Mexico. This is one group where the berdache tradition has been fairly well documented. Berdaches, called "lhamana" are fully accepted and respected among this tribe (they are still around). The Zunis, as I mentioned before, are an Indian tribe that is very group oriented and does not prize individual self-expression. The gender of children before the age of six is not emphasized. Kids that age are called by the same crude term meaning "child". Berdaches are honored in Zuni culture but if a young boy shows inclinations towards this it isn’t forced on him-he’s allowed to develop this at his own pace. Some Zuni groups have a separate initiation ritual for a berdache, sometimes after the male initiation ritual, some don’t.

In the Zuni creation myth there was a battle between the Zuni agricultural spirits and rival spirits of hunting tribes. During this battle a spirit called "ko lhomana" was captured by the enemy and was transformed. This spirit then returned and acted as a mediator between the hunters and the farmers. Every year the Zuni have rituals where they reenact this cosmic battle and the role of the ko lhomana-who is closely connected with the berdache.-is closely associated with the berdache. Ko lhomana or the lhamana were considered to e a third sex and played an important role in religious ceremonies and in business.

There was a famous Zuni berdache, We’wha, who lived from 1849 to 1896. We’wha was highly respected among her tribe. "Her strong character made her word law among both men and women with whom he was associated. Though his wrath was dreaded by men as well as women, he was beloved by all the children…" We’wha was the tallest member of her tribe and was also one of the most intelligent members. We’wha was not really "effeminate" but was androgynous and apparently combined both genders. Not only were We’whaand and other berdaches accepted by their families but they provided a valuable role-they could perform important women’s work without having to go though child birth or menstruation. As I mentioned before there has been a lot of debate on the sexuality of berdaches. Among the Zunis, anyway, this seems to have been varied, and there were many "lesbian ilhamana"., although these people didn’t think in terms of these Western categories.

Conclusion/Where I Got My Information From

As you’ve seen many Native American tribes had a role for gender non-conformists, what we call berdaches. These people didn't think in terms of Western strict dualistic concepts such as gay or straight, or male or female. It appeared that the role of the berdache varied. Often they represented a "third gender". They were often closely connected to religion and spirituality and were considered good at making money. There’s been very little specific documentation and much of the info I’ve been able to come up with is highly theoretical.

I didn’t include a formal bibliography because I didn’t want to feel like I was writing a college term paper .If you are interested, I could send an informal bibliography. Basically type in "berdache" on Yahoo or any major search engine and you’ll pretty much come up with what I came up with. "The Spirit and The Flesh" by Walter Williams is a good introduction but as I mentioned his ideas and conclusions are very controversial. Also-if you are reading this and you feel I did not give you credit-please let me know and I will immediately rectify the situation.

A good introduction to Native American thinking is "My Heart Is Red" by Vine Deloria. Another great book, which talks about the Native American way of life, is "Lila" by Robert Pirsig. This is sort of a "part II" of Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance". I don’t agree with everything Pirsig says but it’s still a wonderful book. "Dances With Wolves", directed and starring Kevin Costner (based on a German novel of the same name) is really good. "The Black Robe" about a Jesuit missionary in French Canada in the 1600s is really good." Dead Man Walking" starring Johnny Depp is excellent, one of my all time favorite films, but also very weird. All these provide good introductions to Native American culture, but don’t mention the berdache." Little Big Man" (the movie and the book by Thomas Berger) has a berdache main character and is supposed to be really good, but I haven’t seen or read it.

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[User Picture Icon]
From:Bonze Anne Rose Blayk
Date:May 3rd, 2013 12:51 pm (UTC)
Hey, nice post! I'm impressed by the fact that you are aware that many of the claims made are … questionable?

… all sources are problematic here! The "observer bias" and activist agenda of most authors (especially Walter Williams, who fancies himself an expert on transgenderism while being gay, himself?) makes it almost impossible to figure out what was really going on in these cultures…

"People have suggested that surgery as a solution would be a "Western medical model" solution to these people’s problems and there have been alternate solutions practiced by tribal cultures."

Which of course is the typical bullshit take on the issue put forward by certain gays, particularly conformist gay men posing as radicals - "deconstructing the gender binary!" (LOL). Transgendered persons, among them the hijra and (historically) the Gallae, have been practicing radical genital surgery on themselves for eons in order to accomodate their bodies more closely to their inner gendered nature. (These people undergo penectomies under primitive conditions. THAT is RADICAL… and not any part of the "Western Medical Model"!)

Julia Serano offers some criticism on "third gender" constructs, including Williams', from a trans feminist standpoint that I find worthwhile; you might be interested in checking out "Whipping Girl", if only because she's a powerful writer!

Personally, I don't trust modern analyses of these cultures, nor even the contemporary reports by European explorers made before Native American culture was severely undermined through contact with European Imperialism, simply because of the inherent difficulty of overcoming the language barriers and intrinsic challenge of understanding just what a culture DOES, and how it works for the people who are WITHIN it.

anyway, thanks again…
- bonzie anne
[User Picture Icon]
From:Bonze Anne Rose Blayk
Date:May 3rd, 2013 01:01 pm (UTC)
PS: I'm an alyha. By the way, that's one mistake in your post - the "hwame" were the FtM transgendered persons among the Mohave… the "alyha" were the MtF trans women. I know myself as an alyha because it is THE one test I would absolutely have passed, among those used by the native tribes to determine genuine status as a transgender person: I would have danced!

Note: I believe in the validity of this test.

Kate Devlin