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We'Wha: The Zuni Man-Woman
March 10, 2004 3:36 PM   Subscribe

Poppin' Fresh from the newly launched QueerMeta community weblog: We'Wha: The Zuni Man-Woman. How could a six-foot tall Indian man be mistaken for a "maiden" and a "princess"? This was no Pocahontas! Even more intriguing is the relationship between Stevenson and We'wha. According to one gossip, "she" regularly entered the ladies rooms and boudoirs of Washington. How could Stevenson not know that her intelligent Zuni informant was really, in the words of one gossip, a "bold, bad man"? More about the 'berdaches' of the Zuni [ 1, 2, 3]. Google cache of last (Geocities) link here.
posted by taz (8 comments total)

 
Hey - Janet Reno passed in Washington! (joke.)
I imagine at the time women dressed in a way that concealed much more than today, and I doubt people in Washington at that time had met very man, if any, other Native Americans. It's also possible that some of these Victorian-era Americans who did know she was a biological male simply learned to accept it, as gender roles were much more rigid. Transgendered people were actually much more accepted in many places during the Victorian era than they are today.
I wrote a paper ages ago about the "two-spirit" or Berache idea. Fascinating stuff. Quite interesting to see how cultures and societies removed from Western cultural and religious ideas came to accept different aspects of human nature. I believe India and many Middle Eastern, African, and Asian countries also had/have a fully developed place in society for transgendered people. As with the Native Americans, such people were not considered "deviant" or "bad", but in fact were given a special and honoured status.
posted by sixdifferentways at 3:51 PM on March 10, 2004


Wow, very nice to see a QueerMeta link in the very place where my silly little idea got it's genesis...

I've studied We'Wha and the Berdache/two-spirit gift tradition for some time. I'd had no idea that anything even remotely like the berdaches existed until a dear spiritual mentor passed it along as something I might find useful. Not only was it useful, but it changed the way I saw my own sexuality and that almost every culture had a now-buried 'normal' component of homosexuality/third gender/ in their culture.

Funny. I'd thought about crossposting this to MeFi but decided against it. Taz beat me to the punch.
posted by moonbird at 5:35 PM on March 10, 2004


Personally, Jay, I think that homosexuality and "third gender" behavior are two distinct phenomena with some overlap. But that's me.
posted by digaman at 7:06 PM on March 10, 2004


I'm with you, digaman. I don't think a third gender is inherent in homosexuality either. Unless you believe that real men like women, and real women like men, and a third category is needed to deal with the others.

Perhaps it's just semantics.
posted by Hildegarde at 9:15 PM on March 10, 2004


"Tu es un berdache?" "Oui, je suis un berdache, mais pas un berdache typical. Je suis un berdache executif… un berdache d'action." "Tres bien."
posted by homunculus at 9:33 PM on March 10, 2004


"Tu es un berdache?" "Oui, je suis un berdache, mais pas un berdache typical. Je suis un berdache executif… un berdache d'action." "Tres bien."

LOL, homunculos. Really, the label of third gender is meant to be very general. I see biological gender as fairly fixed, but our emotional/psychological/spiritual relationship with gender as something of a continuum, or a gradient. It is just semantics in my view... third gender is just a way of saying "I somehow don't entirely relate to the cultural role of the gender I've been born into. Jeez, what else is there?"
posted by moonbird at 11:54 PM on March 10, 2004


Oh, that type of Indian. :D

Being an Indian, I was kinda puzzled for a while
posted by madman at 4:23 AM on March 11, 2004


"I somehow don't entirely relate to the cultural role of the gender I've been born into. Jeez, what else is there?"

Right, yes -- that's my point. I started to think about the distinction a lot in my early 20s when I moved to San Francisco and "genderfuck," the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, etc. were in vogue. I noticed that at least a few gay guys' coming-out stories included the momentous day they snuck into their mother's closet and tried on a dress. I had no such desires when I was a kid, and have always felt like a guy -- sometimes tediously so. The only time I ever put on a dress -- the first Halloween I lived in San Francisco -- I looked like Fred Mertz playing a gypsy fortune teller. There is no drag queen inside me screaming to get out, and believe me, I'm not the type to keep anything in.

Certainly my being attracted to men doesn't accord with my assigned gender role, but as Hildegarde points out, to define that in itself as "third gender" behavior profoundly limits what we think men are.
posted by digaman at 6:21 AM on March 11, 2004


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