Friday, June 7, 2013

america's ''first'' drag superstars : the berdache

I've just begun chapter two of A Queer History of the United States. This book is very good. It covers 500 years of LGBT history in America from Christopher Columbus to the Puritans to the second half of the 20th century.
    It starts by talking about the ''Berdache.'' These were Native-Americans who took on the dress and tribal duties of the opposite sex. The Native-Americans seem to have had a totally different view of gender and gender roles. I suspect that these ''Berdache'' were what we would call Gay and/or Transgender today. The first European explorers, from the 15th to the 16th centuries, noticed this practice throughout the tribes of North America and they wrote about in they're journals. They're journals are the source of most of our awareness of the Berdache today. These European explorers must have seen the Berdache as anything from a strange curiosity to blasphemous. But they themselves weren't completely unfamiliar with cross-dressing because female roles in the European theater were always played by men in drag since women were not allowed to perform on stage.
    The Puritans are discussed, too. They're legacy of intolerance is infamous today but that legacy leaves us with court and public records that prove they had a big Gay ''problem.'' These records also show that punishments for sodomy were not always evenly applied along lines of class and status. Today we think of sodomy as only applying to sex between men or people of the same-sex but it was designed to regulate Heterosexual sex, too. It just goes to show that when you persecute one group your really persecuting all groups. Any sexual behavior that was not for procreation could have been deemed sodomy. The definition of sodomy was different from colony to colony and punishment[s] varied as well.

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