Spirit and the Flesh: Sexual Diversity in American Indian Culture

Walter Williams, Author Beacon Press (MA) $12.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-8070-4611-1
Williams, an ethnohistorian at the University of Southern California, presents a fascinating and thorough study of American Indian acceptance of sexual diversity. Drawing on interviews with Native Americans, anthropologists and historians, Williams documents how tribal cultures revered the ``berdache''any man who ``does not fill a society's standard man's role, who has a nonmasculine character.'' Many American Indian communities believed that some members belonged to an ``alternative gender'' neither male nor female, their identities determined by spiritual inclination, not sex. Berdaches were treated as sacred and held ceremonial roles as psychic healers, ``medicine men'' and prophets. Williams also illustrates how European settlers in North and South America sought to repress the berdache tradition and how it went underground, reemerging after the rebirth of Native American culture and the rise of gay liberation. The only flaws in this enlightening book are the author's tendency to generalize about Western homophobia and his too brief treatment of female counterparts of berdaches. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 11/03/1988
Release date: 11/01/1988
Genre: Nonfiction
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