In the transgenderal type, one of the parties abandons an original gender identity. Usually the gender abandon is male, but sometimes female. The gender-changer may be regarded as a member of the opposite sex, or as an occupant of a third gender role. Often, they take a sexual partner of the same anatomical sex, but this not invariably so. It is gender behavior and identity, not sexual expression, that is critical in this classification scheme; our highlighting this phenomenon as transgenderal homosexualities reveals the priorities of a modern Western classification scheme not shared by the peoples among whom this phenomenon is found.
When the gender-changer’s sex partners are of the same sex, their gender identities are invariably conventional. Where relationships of this sort are institutionalized, the conventionally gendered partner is given no special name or identity, but the gender-changer is considered a distinct type of person. (Greenberg, Transformations of Homosexuality-Based Classifications, p. 180 in The Gender/Sexuality Reader Culture, History, Politico Economy, editors Roger N. Lancaster and Micaela di Leonardo.)
One institutional example is the berdache, among Native American groups. The role of the berdache, is in a religious context. This person is spoken of as being two spirited. This is referred to as transgenderal or gender-reversed homosexuality. Here typically a male plays out the role of a female. The berdache would adopt the role of the opposite sex that entailed adopting the clothing, occupational specializations, mannerisms, and speech patterns of the opposite gender. The anatomical sex of these individuals are not question, it is the mechanism of selection of an individual that is not known. One controversial thought is that an individual may be selected because of a genetic predisposition to the role, for example they have feminine physical traits and characteristics. This is not unlike the labeling of those in western culture as "gay or queer" given by peers today to individuals based on their physical appearance and mannerisms. They "look and fit" the role. In these societies heterosexual marriage and parenthood are the normative. The berache is accepted, but is not the normative. The gender reversal of this norm therein implies discontinuity from childhood to adult sexual development. Berache could marry and have children. For the cultures that allowed for the berdache the homosexuality was not the most important rather it was the gender role reversal of adopting the clothing, occupational specializations, mannerisms, and speech patterns of the opposite gender.
Male homosexuality has a history, but this history consists principally of sodomites and buggers, pederasts and catamites, berdaches and contrary lovers rather than homosexuals or gays in the modern sense. (Gerard and Hekma, The Pursuit of Sodomy: Male homosexuality in Renaissance and Enlightenment Europe, p. 1)
Descriptions of the Greeks, the berdaches, and the Sambia should make us a little unsure about our categories homosexual and heterosexual-at least, they should make us think more carefully about what we mean by these words. But if we are now a little confused about categories, perhaps we can agree on a few simple facts about human sexuality: (1) same-sex eroticism has existed for thousands of years in vastly different times and cultures; (2) in some cultures, same-sex eroticism was accepted as a normal aspect of human sexuality, practiced by nearly all individuals some time of the time; and (3) in nearly every culture that has been examined in any detail, a few individuals seem to experience a compelling and abiding sexual orientation toward their own sex. (Monimore, A Natural History of Homosexuality, p. 20)
It is particularly striking that although many American tribes had a social category like the berdache, some did not, suggesting that it is particular social structures that create such categories, not individual personalities or pre-existent sexual needs. (Horrocks, An Introduction to the Study of Sexuality, p. 149)
By anatomy the berdche was a man, by occupational pursuit and garb, a woman. (Whitehead, The bow and the burden strap: a new look at institutionalized homosexuality in native North America, p. 88 in Sexual Meanings The Cultural Construction of Gender and Sexuality editors Sherry B. Ortner and Harriet Whitehead.
Another institutionalized from of homosexuality existed in many American Indian societies. Girls and boys in these societies could refuse initiation into their adult gender roles and instead adopt the social role of the other gender. For example, men who dressed and acted in accordance with the adult female role were known as two-spirited or berdache (originally the French term for these Indians). The berdache often married Indian men. The partners in these marriages did not define themselves as homosexuals, nor did their societies recognize them as such, but their marital sex life consisted of homosexual sexual relations. (Escoffier, Jeffrey. American Homo Community and Perversity, p.37)
Berdache is the name given to North American Indians, usually male sometimes female, who abandoned the gender ordinarily associated with their anatomical sex, and laid claim to the gender associated with the opposite sex. Usually this change entailed adopting the clothing, occupational specializations, mannerisms, and speech patterns of the opposite gender (Angelino & Shedd, 1995; Callender & Kochems, 1983; Forgery, 1975; Jacobs, 1975; Katz, 1976; Thwaites, 1899, Whitehead, 1981). (Greenberg, Why Was the Berdache Ridiculed?, p. 179 in The Many faces of Homosexuality: Anthropological Approaches to Homosexual Behavior, editor Evelyn Blackwood)
Berdache is the concept used by ethnographers for those individuals in certain native American groups who adopted the occupation, the behaviour, the clothing, and martial status of members of the other sex. The word itself is derived from the French word for a male prositute. (Wiering, “An Anthropological Critique of Constructionis: Berdaches and Butches, p. 224 in Homosexuality, Which Homosexuality? by Dennis Altman)
A third characteristic of a berache is that she or he was allowed to choose a marital partner of the same sex. This is not necessarily prescribed: female berdaches are known to have married men, and male ones have married women in both cases without losing their berdache status. So the element which detemined the identityof the berdache was not the choice of sexual partner but rather her or his occupation. (Wiering, An Anthropological Critique of Constructionis: Berdaches and Butches, p. 224-225 in Homosexuality, Which Homosexuality? by Dennis Altman)
In spite of major differences in gender construction, the cultural features affecting American perceptions of gender resemble those in cultures with gender-mixing statuses. The difference lies in their relative significance. Whitehead (1981) argues that Native Americans gave most weight to occupation, followed by dress and demeanor, with choice of sexual object the least significant feature. American culture, on the contrary, singles out choice of sexual object as by far the most important feature. It would seem that, wherever gender-mixing statuses exist, choice of sexual object has less significance in gender construction than either occupation or dress and demeanor. Further, if perceptions of gender emphasize sexual object-choice as their primary feature, gender construction takes a form that rules out gender-mixing statuses. (Callender and Kochems, Men and Not-Men: Male Gender-Mixing Statuses and Male Homosexulity, p. 176 in The Many faces of Homosexuality: Anthropological Approaches to Homosexual Behavior editor Evelyn Blackwood.)
The identity of berdaches, on the other hand, is determined to a large extend by their activities. (Wiering, An Anthropological Critique of Constructionis: Berdaches and Butches,” p. 232 in Homosexuality, Which Homosexuality? by Dennis Altman)
Briefly, a berdache can be defined as a morphological male who does not fill a society’s standard man’s role, who has a nonmasculine character. This type of person is often stereotyped as effeminate, but a more accurate characterization is androgyny. Such a person has a clearly recognized and accepted social status, often based on a secure place in the tribal mythology. Berdaches have special ceremonial roles in many Native American religions, and important economic roles in their families. They will do at least some women’s work, and mix together much of the behavior, dress, and social roles of women and men. Berdaches gain social prestige by their spiritual, intellectual, or craftwork/artistic contributions, and by their reputation for hard work and generosity. They serve a mediating function between women and men, precisely because their character is seen as distinct from either sex. They are not seen as men, yet they are not seen as women either. They occupy an alternative gender role that is a mixture of diverse elements. (Williams, The Spirit and the Flesh Sexual Diversity in American Indian Culture, p.2)
Although there are important variations in berdache roles, which will be discussed below, they share a core set of traits that justifies comparing them;
Specialized work role; Male and female berdaches are typically described in terms of their preference and achievements in the work of the "opposite" sex and/or unique activities specific to their identities.
Gender difference; In addition to work preferences, berdaches are distinguished from men and women in terms of temperament, dress, lifestyle, and social roles.
Spiritual sanction; Berdache identity is widely believed to be the result of supernatural intervention in the form of visions or dreams, and/or it is sanctioned by tribal mythology.
Same-sex relations; Berdaches most often form sexual and emotional relationships with non-berdache members of their own sex. (Roscoe, Changing Ones Third and Fourth Genders in Native North America, p. 8)
The phenomenon of the berdache in native American cultures has attracted considerable attention from anthropologists, and has sometimes been claimed to be an analogue of the Western ’homosexual’. The berdache is a man in woman’s clothing, carrying out women’s occupations, and having sex with men. Such men are found in many Native American societies, but the berdache seems to be defined primarily in terms of female occupation and clothing, and only secondarily by sexual object choice, whereas in the West ’homosexuality’ is defined by the latter. Thus the term ’berdache’ seems more akin to the English term ’transvestite’. (Horrocks, An Introduction to the Study of Sexuality, p. 148)
Whitehead (1981), comparing gender ideology among Native American cultures and the contemporary United States, singles out three crucial features of the berdache status, apart from the biological distinction of males and females. These behavioral features are occupation, dress and demeanor, and choice of sexual object. The features postulated here as defining a gender-mixing status are similar, but modified to fit a slightly different context. Thus, we separate dress from demeanor and conceive sexual behavior differently.
The four features which define gender-mixing statuses for males are: (1) a distinctively non-male style of dress, usually a form of transvestism; (2) expression of important traits of women’s behavior; (3) occupational inversion; and (4) the absence of sexual relations with others occupying these statuses.(Callender and Kochems, Men and Not-Men: Male Gender-Mixing Statuses and Male Homosexulity, p. 168 in The Many faces of Homosexuality: Anthropological Approaches to Homosexual Behavior editor Evelyn Blackwood.)
In probably all human societies other than those under the influence of the Christian religion, it has been legitimate for two males to have sexual relations with each other. There have been only two restrictions: that the men who had sexual relations with males also marry women and produce families; that the adult male in the sexual act always take the active or penetrator’s role. The second point was guaranteed in one of two ways. In the first pattern (as in Japan, China, New Guinea, Australia, some tribal African societies, in Islam, and in the classical Mediterranean world), the adult male had sexual relations with an adolescent boy who might be his wife, his concubine, his lover, or his whore. In the second pattern (to be found in southern Asia from Polynesia to Madagascar among the North American Indians, and among some African tribes) the adult male had sexual relations with a small minority of adult males who had permanently adopted many (but not all) of the characteristics of women in speech, gesture, clothes, and work. Christian Europe, by contrast, had since the twelfth century made illicit all sexual relations between two persons of the same gender. Such sexual relations nonetheless occurred. And when they did so they were enacted within the framework of the two worldwide human patterns. (Trumbach, The Birth of the Queen: Sodomy and the Emergence of Gender Equality in Modern Culture, 1660-1750, p. 129-130 in Hidden From History Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past, edited by Martin Duberman, Martha Vicinus & George Chauncey, Jr)
Outside of Western culture, homosexual behaviour seemed to fall into one of two patterns. Adult men, who also married women, had sexual relations with males, who were in some cultures were adolescent boys, and who, in others, were adult men who had permanently adopted a transvestite role situated somewhere between the other two genders. But the active adult male partner in these acts maintained his dominant gender status; adolescent boys left behind their passivity at manhood; and only the transvestite male undertook a new permanent gender role as a result of his sexual conduct. (Trumbach, Gender and the homosexual Role in Modern Western Culture: The 18th and 19th Centuries Compared in Homosexuality, Which Homosexuality by Dennis Altman, p.151)
Analysis of the berdache and hijra categories throws some interesting light on Western homosexuality, for nineteenth century and early twentieth century notions of male homosexuality often assumed that the homosexual was a ’feminized’ man. Thus the homosexual was said to love men or want sex with men because he was like a woman (’a woman’s soul in a man’s body’). (Horrocks, An Introduction to the Study of Sexuality, p. 149-150)
Age-structured homosexuality appears in one slice through the ethnographic literature. Besides this clearly intra-gender form is the trans-gender form best known in the Polynesian mahu and North American berdache (Callender & Kochems, 1983; Jacobs, 1968; Katz, 1976, ch. 4) Juxtaposition of these macro structures shows that homosexuality is a relationship with extraordinarily protean content. For participants in age-graded forms, for example, homosexual relations masculinize youths, while for trans-gender forms, they are part of the feminization of male participants. (Adams, Age, Structure, and Sexuality: Reflections on the Anthropological Evidence on Homosexual Relations, p. 31 in The Many faces of Homosexuality: Anthropological Approaches to Homosexual Behavior, editor Evelyn Blackwood)
Thus, whereas the age-structured form is more often universal but transitory, the trans-gender form applies to only a few men and women, but more often as a long-term career. (Adams, Age, Structure, and Sexuality: Reflections on the Anthropological Evidence on Homosexual Relations, p. 31 in The Many faces of Homosexuality: Anthropological Approaches to Homosexual Behavior, editor Evelyn Blackwood)
The universal claims of the gay myth have seduced otherwise careful scholars to reinterpret history and anthropology in the same way, applying our peculiar explanation of homosexual behaviors to other cultures and other times. Works on Homosexuality in Greece, for example, have attempted to explain the homosexual habits of the Greeks in terms of sexual orientation, an explanation the Greeks themselves would have found eccentric and probably offensive (along with our concepts of sexuality another concept of quite modern origins).
Similar descriptions of the berdaches found among American Indian societies as a common institutionalized form of homosexuality are also a mistake. There is no indication that sexual orientation had anything to do with choosing the life of a berdache. North American Indians had a tolerance for gender ambiguity that provided for more than one gender role without reference to sexual orientation.
The sexual practices of other societies are frequently similar in appearance but express quite different beliefs and social priorities. As anthropologists have told us, no human behaviors are more flexible, more malleable, or more expressive of the social structure of society than sexual behaviors, and it does no good to impose the sexual meanings of one society on others. (DuBay, Gay Identity The Self Under Ban, p.6)
These conclusions indicate that equating not-men with homosexuals is misleading, not only in the case of berdaches but also for gender-mixing statuses in general. Even the four statuses discussed here, which required sexual intercourse with men, qualified this requirement by stressing a particular form of relationship, either prostitution or marriage, rather than sexual intercourse itself. (Callender and Kochems, Men and Not-Men: Male Gender-Mixing Statuses and Male Homosexulity, p. 168 in The Many faces of Homosexuality: Anthropological Approaches to Homosexual Behavior editor Evelyn Blackwood.)
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