Native Americans, other "primitive" cultures, and homosexuality

Where did I insult anyone?

I was careful to distinguish between gayness in general, and male chauvinist situations where gayness happens to be included. When you go, “sorry for being gay,” you imply I was attacking you for it, which I wasn’t at all. I can understand if you feel put-upon for being gay, and react with bitterness.

Do you really think most people here understand what transgender is? It would be very reassuring to me if awareness had been raised that far. I’m not sure it is.

Where did I generalize about American Indians? I used the phrase “some American Indian societies” and only talked about the ones where the phenomenon occurs. I don’t know what else I should have done to make it clear that I wasn’t generalizing. If you can show me where anyone has generalized about all American Indians please point it out, and criticize them for it. But if you get on my case about it, maybe you didn’t read my post all the way through, maybe you skimmed it and reacted too quickly, I don’t know.

I think my post expressed respect for gays in general, and pointing out that gayness can be co-opted by manipulators is not an attack. Anything is potential for exploitation by the unscrupulous. My point was that institutionalized misogyny is a bad thing. If homosexuality is used to reinforce it, that’s a misuse of homosexuality for a purpose that doesn’t belong to it. I’m not attacking you in any way. My concern is for women’s rights and I’m going to criticize the attitudes that diminish women’s rights. I didn’t say that male homosexuality is inherently bad for women. I’m not disputing that homosexuality is also used for population control, I just was talking about something else.

If I said anything wrong, if you can show me exactly where it was wrong, then I can retract what I may have said in error. If I said anything offensive, then point it out specifically and I can apologize. But please don’t get mad at me for something I didn’t say. I definitely understand what it’s like to be in a society where your existence is shunned as fundamentally unacceptable. I live that every single day. That’s why I am for the concept of LGBT unity in principle.

I do feel the need to speak out about the realities of transgender identity and to educate the public and fight ignorance about it. I don’t think I hijacked your thread, because the OP was about berdaches, and this is a subject where transgender is germane. It would not make much sense to me to open a discussion of berdaches and then exclude TG from the discussion. Your acccusation of “hijack” is a bit much. In the five and a half years I’ve been a Doper, ever since I joined in 1999, I’ve often observed that a thread can branch out into related topics that are directly relevant to the OP, without being rejected as “hijacks.”

If you had introduced a topic that had gay relevance only, and I brought up TG, it may or may not be a hijack. But when the OP directly relates to a TG phenomenon, I think it’s reasonable to note that aspect of it. If you wanted to make an OP that says “This is a subject that has both gay and TG relevance, but for the purpose of this thread I want to focus exclusively on the gay aspects of it and leave out the rest,” OK. I didn’t know you had that in mind. I also didn’t know you were gay, it didn’t say that anywhere.

As for the crack about Christians, yeah, I do have a grudge as a poetry lover and as a feminist over the destruction of Sappho’s poetry. The loss to world culture is inestimable. The few fragments of her poetry that survived by being quoted in other works show her to have been one of the greatest poets who ever lived.

I can understand if you’re mad because it sucks to be treated as an outcast for being gay. I know what it’s like to be part of such an outcast group. It wasn’t my intention at all to offend. I did emphasize the difference between gay and TG, not to disparage gays in any way, but to have TG acknowledged as a phenomenon in its own right. I shared my personal feelings about the struggle to establish my identity, because it isn’t as widely understood and too often gets confused with things that it isn’t.

I went back and reread your OP, and it isn’t all that clear exactly what you were getting at. I can agree that it’s wrong to generalize about all American Indians at once. Are you disputing that berdaches existed at all? If some Indian societies had berdaches, we should be able to discuss the fact without implying that all Indian societies are the same. I haven’t seen anyone saying that, though.

Are there any (part) American native dopers who can give us the benefit of the first-hand experience and knowledge on this question?

MtF transgendered people among Australian Aborigines are known as “sistergirls” or “sistagirls”.

I know it’s a PDF, but it’s informative.

Would be interesting to know what thye call them when they’ve had a few beers. Any Aboriginals out there?

Sweetie, if you think I sit around and feel sorry for myself because I’m gay, I don’t. The only thing that offended me was the rambly digression into TG rights, and that was just because it wasn’t largely an answer to my question.

And I’m sorry I was such a jerk about it. It was minor irritation because part of your answer was off-topic and much greater irritation at myself because I was farting around on the SDMB rather than writing a paper that’s due this afternoon (I since finished it.)

It’s true that I brought up two-spirits, and yes, they are far closer to our concept of transgendered people than to gay people, so that wasn’t really a hijack (though for some reason they rarely seem to be presented as transgendered - they always seem to be equated with gays.) It’s just that broader feelings about the place of transgendered folks in our modern society weren’t really relevant.

Again, I was a jerk just now. I’m sorry, it was completely unnecessary.

Not to hijack, but it seems that for the most part, Sappho’s works disappeared through mischance more than direct censorship. The reason Homer survives more intact than Sappho is just due to the enormous influence of Homer in Greek life, which means that his work was much more common.

Yay. And believe it or not, I don’t actually sit aroud and feel sorry for myself for being TG. There is so much that is positive in my TG life, I mostly feel grateful and happy about it. However, to be honest, the enormous darkness surrounding my little candle flame of positive happiness is ever present… I have made a conscious decision to lead a happy life and try not to worry too much about when the darkness will break down my door and fill my life with misery.

Ah, this was exactly the point. I’m glad we’ve gotten to it together. This is why I felt the need to point out what the anthropologists have so often been ignorant of: transgender is an entirely different phenomenon from both homosexuality and transvestism. Yes, it’s obvious to you, since being part of the gay community will heighten your awareness of LGBT issues. But sadly, it looks to me as though most Americans are still ignorant of what transgender really means. Even anthropologists with PhDs and tenure and everything.

In fact, my post really was a direct answer to your OP, even if clumsily expressed. You were skeptical that Indian societies who had berdaches are actually so accepting of gays. In my own, very biased, way, I was corroborating your thought. The berdaches are probably not gay men, after all, but transwomen. So you’re probably right in your skepticism.

Diane Wood Middlebrook, the biographer of Billy Tipton, missed the boat in her book Suits Me: The Double Life of Billy Tipton. She misunderstood Tipton to be a woman who crossdressed as a man, while it’s obvious to anyone who understands transgender that Tipton was totally a trans man. This is an example of why I feel the need to speak out and fight ignorance of TG. As for the subject of trans men you asked about, I have not read anything about trans men in American Indian societies, no counterpart to berdaches that I’m aware of, so I had nothing to offer there. If anyone does know about trans men among American Indians, please inform me. I am committed to promoting the interests of all trans people, trans men no less than trans women. Let me point out Joan of Arc, who was burned at the stake for being a trans man. 15th-century Christian France was obviously no friend of the gender variant, to tie this to your OP, so scratch it off the list.

OK, your point is well taken, I concede. Please excuse me for ranting in your thread. Sometimes the difficulty of existing as TG in a world that doesn’t accept me just gets a bit overwhelming. I do try to make a point of dumping my bad feelings over at the TGboards, not in SDMB GQ where they don’t belong. The lack of recognition of my people’s existence is a hard thing to live with. Sometimes the bad feelings just get a teeny bit overwhelming, and I think you can relate to what I’m going through.

It’s OK, I’m happy we’re reconciled, my dear Dope brother. {{{Cyberhug for Excalibre}}} I’m sorry for the misunderstanding and look forward to learning more from you.

Captain Amazing, actually there is reason to suspect deliberate malfeasance in the case of the disappearance of Sappho’s poetry. If you read the testimony of Greek literary critics from Classical times, Sappho had a stellar reputation in Greek letters no less than Homer. Many considered her, not Homer, the greatest Greek poet who ever lived. She was quoted and cited by so many authors on poetics throughout the Classical and Helenistic periods, these fragments are all we have left of her. Anyone whose work was so widely read and studied for so many centuries must have had lots of manuscripts in circulation. I think the Christians are to blame because Sappho had a reputation as a female homosexual, a tribadist as they were called, and this offended Christian morality so much they had to burn her books. As they murdered Hypatia. Whether or not Sappho really was sexually attracted to women, we don’t know. But her reputation as such was well known already, which is why we use the word “lesbian” with that meaning. This is not really a hijack—it relates to the OP, asking about societies where homosexuality was accepted. While the ancient Greeks allowed a certain style of male homosexuality, lesbianism was of unequal status, as were women. When Christianity took over Greece, Sappho was the first into the flames.

I think Johanna’s post do raise a point. We know that, the Romans for example, didn’t have our concept of homosexuality as an orientation. So we first have to find how a culture defined sexuality and gender roles. From Unca Cecil’s column on hijras, and some other reading on the subject, I know that a gay man born in ( I don’t know the right word here. “Indian culture” is wrong. “Hindu Culture” is wrong because there are so many variations in Hinduism, especially regionally) culture become an hijra an be accepted as having sexual/romantic attraction to men. But that meant dressing and living as a woman. I don’t know if a gay man could express their homosexuality and be accepted in their current role.

I’ve read in quite a few places (some obviously quoting a source that quotes a source etc and some well-researched and authoritative) that Crazy Horse had several wives who were two-spirits. I can’t remember whether his tribe’s culture allowed two men who both lived in the masculine gender role to be romanticly involved or to marry.

Re Berdache

I’ve read repeatedly that this term was created by Spanish explorers and is derogatory.

Let’s be careful to distinguish between “didn’t persecute” and “were widely accepting of”. First of all, Native Americans, like most “primitive” cultures, had strict gender roles and rules that were seldom crossed. “Two-spirit” men were not “widely accepted” in the sense of being able to perform any male gender role they wanted, but served a specific purpose, or set of purposes, within that society. I think you’re going way overboard if you think homosexual men were accepted outside the roll or rolls given them. It might be like the example given above, where it’s fine as long they’re hairdressers, but we don’t want them at IBM.

And of course this doesn’t even touch on the idea of female homosexuality. I’m trying to imagine two Lakota women deciding to set up housekeeping among the band they belonged to. It’s an impossible scenario.

When I majored in anthropology, I found this subject most fascinating and concentrated on it. I found it so fascinating that I am presently perusing a major in Human Sexuality.

I was raised in a Catholic environment so I grew up thinking homosexuality was unnatural. I went to college majoring in anthropology and in my first class we were studying an extremely primitive tribe in South America. These people didn’t wear clothes and were hunter-gatherers. I remember I was reading a book about them and a particular chapter had a description of a certain dwelling and the author mentioned several young men engaging in sexual play together in a hammock. I was shocked by it. I thought homosexuality was a modern invention. From then on, I looked at the levels and types of homosexualites found in all the cultures we studied and then later branched out to try and find the level of homosexuality in all cultures. I would love to write an extensive list of what each and every culture thought of homosexuality.

First of all, every culture that I’ve been able to study its sexuality in any depth had been well aware of homosexuality. In the vast majority of cultures, homosexuality was acceptable, and in some cases, encouraged. In a minority of cultures homosexuality was punished or prevented for some reason. There is no culture in which homosexuality was prevented because the members found it gross, they had other reasons. For example, the early Hebrews focused on pro-creation. To have kids was a blessing from God and anyone who couldn’t have children was thought of as cursed. Men who had deformities in their sexual organs which made them unable to have children were cast out of the tribe (which in those times ment death.) Sex was important, especially sex between the higher class members of the society. Each job was allowed a certain amount of sex per week and those with a higher level of standing were permitted more sex. Homosexuality was forbidden because of the heavy emphasis on sex and producing more offspring, not because the Hebrews thought it was ‘icky’ or gross.

Although the vast majority of cultures had members who were openly homosexual and were accepting of these members, their interaction in the society was heavily regulated. This does not mean that the people were unaccepting of homosexuality. Roles of the male and the female have been regulated in most societies as has sexuality in general. In our own society we still have a lot of archaic ‘rules’ governing proper sexuality. Some societies were stricter in their rules than other societies. The ones that had stricter rules about sexuality in general had stricter rules about homosex and vice versa.

There are 3 basic divisions of homosexuality that most cultures divide into: egalitarian, gender-based and age-based. Some cultures are strictly one or another while others have mixtures of two or three. Now, this is just the preferred partnering, it doesn’t equal what is actually done.

Egalitarian societies are one where men freely love men. There are so overt restrictions on who can be the ‘active’ or the ‘passive’ partner.

Gender-based societies are ones where homosexuality was allowed as long as one partner took the role of the opposite sex. This is interesting to study because it is hard to distinguish the gays from the transsexuals unless you look at it very closely. In extreme cases, the ‘women’ will be castrated, while in mild cases, the male who is the woman just does work typically done by a female.

In age-based societies, the younger partner is the ‘passive’ and the older partner is ‘active.’ Ancient Japan is the prime example of this. The younger partner was considered a boy whether or not he actually was a boy. I read a very cute story about to male lovers who remained together into their 70s and the one who was the ‘boy’ was actually older than the other. Furthermore, in some age-based societies, ALL males in that society engage in homosex when they are boys.

There are also societies where homosexuality is forbidden, but happens all the time and is ignored unless the people don’t produce offspring. The middle east is like this now. Although there are a lot of countries where gays are officially sentenced to death (Lebanon being the example I know most about from friends) gay clubs and gay sex can be found all over the country. As long as you marry eventually, the authorities are willing to look the other way. Most of these prohibitions are found in ‘modern’ countries, I can’t think of one that involved an ancient society and are religious based.

All of my learning was done in classes or through books, so I am afraid I don’t know of any websites that go into this in more detail. I can give you names of some of the better books that I’ve read. Any good book on sexuality in general should go into this though.

From here.

That makes for a nice, Romantic story, but the truth is, women in Lakota society couldn’t survive w/o the protection of a man.

I did not mean to imply that the *Winkte *was NOT given a special place in society, but that that place had it’s own strict rules and boundaries. There seems to be a tendancy for folks to equate the treatment of a *Winkte *in Lakota society to how gays might be accepted in the most liberal of Western countries. That simply is wrong.


I do know that Leviticus says that any man who has deliberately castrated or emasculated himself cannot marry. This passage is often misunderstood to mean that such men are forbidden to join the community or that they are forbidden from entering synagogues.


It seems to me that you are thinking of Mishna Ketubot 5:6, and 62b-62b. But that you’ve read a very distorted translation. What this actually says is that the ketubah, the Jewish marriage contract, requires a man to have sex with his wife and that she has the right to divorce him if he doesn’t have sex with her the minimum number of times each week. “(snip here for dramatic purposes) , twice a week for laborers, once a week for ass-drivers; once every thirty days for camel drivers; and once every six months for sailors.” So nobody is permitted more sex. They are required to have the minimum amount. This had nothing to do with social standing, but was based on how available the husband was. As proof, I unveil the dramatic snip “Every day for those who have no occupation”.

For more on sex and Jewish law, ask Zev or Dr Ruth.

That link also says

I’m sure of no such thing. If he had thought that the word meant ‘an individual attracted to their own gender’ he would have indicated that. The fact that he used the word hermaphrodite, indicates to me that he understood the term to refer to individuals who were viewed as combining gender roles and characteristics.

This makes me wonder, again, if the Lakota would have accepted a gay man who refused to conform to the wapetokeca role by dressing and behaving in a feminine manner. What if he continued to dress and act as a man, but was openly attracted only to men? While, from what I’ve read, the Lakota accepted a marriage between a man and wapetokeca with a penis (whether such wapetokeca were gay men or transexuals is not a debate I feel like having now), would they have accepted a marriage between two gay men who both continued to live as males?

From “Little Big Man:”

“The [Cheyenne] didn’t require a man to become a warrior if he didn’t have the temperament for it. And Little Horse didn’t. If he wanted to stay behind with the women, it was alright with the [Cheyenne].”

and later…

“[Little Horse] had become a He-ma-ne, for which there ain’t no English word, and he was a good 'un too” Decidedly effeminate, well-respected in the tribe, offers to become Little Big Man’s wife.

That’s all I got. It’s an old movie. Probably mostly fiction. All in all a pretty ignorant post. I’m ashamed.

Do you have any evidence for that other than supposition, though? Because it’s certainly possible for works, even popular works to be lost through other than deliberate destruction. The Greek “New Comic” school, for example, probably produced over a thousand plays, but all that exists now is Menander’s “Dyskolos” as well as a few other play fragments.

Sophocles wrote over 123 plays, and he was influential in the development of Greek tragedy, but only 7 of his tragedies and half of one comedy survive. Of the 90 plays of Aeschulus, just as well acclaimed, only 7 survive.

It’s remarkably easy for work to be lost, especially if efforts aren’t taken to preserve it. And, if there was Christian opposition to Sappho’s poems, rather than burning her existing works, it would be easier just not to copy them. It doesn’t take active destruction for an author to be lost to history…neglect works just as well.

As for Hypatia, we have a pretty good idea why she was murdered…because she was an outspoken pagan, and because she supported Orestes, the governor, in his controversy against Cyril, the Patriarch. As Socrates Scholasticus says in his “Ecclesiastical History”

Yeah, I didn’t mean to imply that Hypatia’s murder involved any gay or gender-crossing issues. I should have phrased that better. She was the victim of Bishop Cyril’s Christian Sturmabteilung who roughed up or murdered anyone he didn’t like. Her murder was an attack both on Paganism and on the independent status of professional women. This was a hijack, sorry.

A bit more on how to distinguish transsexuals from gays: I admit it’s a controversial subject, often quite murky, and I do not claim to have a final word on it. Do the two categories overlap to some extent? My contention is that, even if there was an overlap, it would be of minor importance if external social pressures were removed. My protest was that too often the overlap is all that is seen, so that the differences are ignored. The non-overlapped areas are certainly the majority if not the totality.

A psychologist named J. Michael Bailey published a book titled The Man Who Would Be Queen arguing that all MTF transsexuals are gay men. He has no theory to account for FTM transsexuals. Suffice it to say that my opinion of him and his worthless, harmful “theory” belongs in GD and the Pit.

What I mean by “external social pressures”: As DocCathode noted, it’s hard to tell whether the Lakota wapetokeca (the letter “c” is always pronounced “ch” in Lakota) are FTM transgendered or gay men, because the society allowed only one slot into which, presumably, both had to fit. In the case of the Lakota, the transgendered status was the acceptable one. In other cases, where transgender is not recognized, all MTF TGs may be slotted into the gay male role. In either case, a person’s true individuality is denied. DocCathode was right to ask what if a gay man refused to take on the female gender role and tried to remain male. Good question, Doc. The conclusion is that we need to recognize two different categories here. The crucial difference is in the gender identity.

Whoops! Sorry. I meant it the other way around, should have typed “MTF transgendered.”

But doesn’t your arguement here suppose that “external social pressures” aren’t blurring, conflating, or otherwise distorting our own catagorization process? It seems unlikely to me that wapetokecas sat around and said “Of course, some of us are really women with male secondary sex characteristics, and some of us are men that are sexually attracted to men, but our silly culture doesn’t make that distinction, so we are shoved into the same role.” Obviously, biology plays a huge role in sexual orientation/gender identification. But when one recognizes that one’s sexual orientation/gender identification is different from the norm, how you define that difference, even to yourself, will be influenced by what roles exist in your society–and that is as true for us today as it was for any other culture on earth.

When seeking to understand sexual orientation/gender identification models of other cultures, I think we need to be very careful not to assume that the underlying “truth” is our own sexual orientation/gender identification model–that people were “really” homosexual, bisexual, and FtM or MtF transgendered–that the models that exisit in our culture are the somehow more authentic ways of expressing sexual orientation/gender identification, and that in other cultures they have been squashed into artificial roles.

It may well be that someone who grew up as a wapetokeca in Lakota culture would have been a MtF Transexual, had they grown up in the modern US–but they didn’t and they weren’t–they grew up as a Laokta and what they were was a wapetokeca–that identity is true and complete in and of itself. It seems to me that there is no reason not to take them at their word that they felt truly two-spirited–not a man in a woman’s body, or a man who is sexually attracted to men, but a person who strongly identifies with both genders. The fact that strict analouges to such people don’t seem to exist in our culture–at least not as commonly–doesn’t mean that they were an abberation on our “norm” that needs to be explained away.

MandaJo, your point is well taken, especially about the wapetokeca role being complete in and of itself. As for what gender roles exist in this present society and how do we fit into them? My answer is that I’m participating in a movement to consciously redefine gender roles. It can be done, it has been done, and this is one way to do it. It’s creative, a quintessentially human trait: human beings have always had a way of not leaving things alone. We take things apart and design new things. That’s one thing that makes humanity what it is.

We want to expand the genderscape from a locked binary into a rainbow, a playground. We want a world where a Sioux wapetokeca would be welcomed as such, on her own self-definition. I want a world where I can be myself without penalties being exacted for my identity. To me, gender liberation means, rather than “an abberation on our ‘norm’ that needs to be explained away” — it’s time to expand the “norm” to include new types. Or simply ditch the idea that there has to be a gender “norm” anyway. Gender is the last Berlin Wall.

<Johanna hollering a magickal incantation:>
Mr. Bush, tear down this wall!