In the published 1988 book the Living the Spirit: A Gay American Indian Anthology coordinating editor Will Roscoe puts together a collection of modern writings from gay and lesbian Native Americans – poetry, short stories, essays – and historical studies of alternate sexuality in some of the tribes. A time when gays and lesbians were starting to be heard and experimented with their own sexuality and identity. This book begins with this empowering quote I found mesmerizing:
“The day I saw a poster declaring the existence of an organization of Gay American Indians, I put my face into my hands and sobbed with relief. A huge burden, the burden of isolation and of being defined only by one’s enemies, left me on that enlightening day.
I understood that being Gay is a universal quality , like cooking, like decorating the body, like singing, like predicting the weather. Moreover, after learning about the social positions and special offices fulfilled by Indians whose tribes once picked them for the tasks of naming, healing, prediction, leadership, and teaching precisely because the displayed characteristics we call gay, I knew that Gayness goes far beyond simple sexual/emotional activity. What Americans call Gayness not only has distinct cultural characteristics, its participants have long held positions of social power in history and ritual among people all over the globe.”- Judy Grahn,
Another Mother Tongue
In the second story “Tinselled Bucks: a Historical Study of Indian Homosexuality” by Maurice Kenny discusses the problems of lack of sources for original material, as well as deliberates between the berdaches – men who lived as women and women who lived as men – and men and women living their gender roles who preferred to be sexually and emotionally involved with others of their gender and gender roles. He discusses the different terms and customs of berdaches in various tribes, as well as the levels of importance that many berdaches held in certain cultures, where they were often respected as people of great magic.
“Toleration of the berdache varied from tribe to tribe. Some tribes, such as the Illinois, actually trained young men to become homosexuals and concubines of men. The Cheyenne and the Sioux of the plains may not have purposely trained young men to become berdaches but certainly accepted homosexuals more readily than perhaps other tribes” (Maurice Kenny, page 26).
This type of behavior also relates to our class discussion on Ancient Greece, and their pederasty affiliations. Relations in ancient Greece was between adult men and pubescent or adolescent boys, as well as homosexual relationships between adult men did existed. The age limit for the younger member of a pederastic relationship seems to have extended from 12 to about 17 years of age. This was a normal practice among men and was not frowned upon by anyone. In particular the Zuni tribe children were not referred to as girl or boy until around the age of five, before coming of that age, they were perceived as “child”. But as these young children began to grow older a “third gender” would soon be created as adolescents. The 130 North American Indians created a third gender defining as:
“If a cultures sex/gender system makes it possible for a biological female to become a social man, then “he” is not engaging in “cross dressing” when dressing as a male, or in “ross gender” behavior by assuming the culturally defined male role. Neither is “he” engaging in lesbian behavior by having sexual relations with women. Because he is a socially recognized man, such relations would be defined as “normal”(Anishnawbe, page 35).
As I read this poem by Anishnawbe, I felt his pain as a two spirit being afraid to embrace himself, this picture is so beautifully drawn and resembles a perfect unity in one person.
To reiterate discussion on Sigmund Freud, I would put the “two spirits” under the category of “superego”. Not only did these Native American tribes believe the two spirits had a duty to the village, but opened up a new civilization where they were welcomed and praised by past and future generations to come. I chose to write about this topic for the main fact that not much primary source material has been found nor discussed at larger scale even though it is incorporated in the LGBTQ scale. It is important in the Native American culture and should continue to be known In our Americanized culture today. It paved the way for gender identity, reforming outlooks on past history, and acceptance of the “third gender”. It belongs in queer culture as an inspirational embodiment to not only for the organization GAI (Gay American Indians) today, but to people of all ages and races nationwide.