The Third Sex. Lesbianism and Transgender in the Indigenous Cultures of North America

In the classic sources on indigenous cultures of North America, figures of women are not particularly conspicuous or interesting. Most often they are busy preparing food, taking care of children, bustling about the home, invariably overshadowed by vigorous, heroic men. The image of the Indian squaw (the indigenous word for the female reproductive organs), reduced to such recurring clichés, was rivalled only by the figure of the Indian princess: a noble, attractive person, distinguished by above average intelligence. A person, we should note, usually found to deserve such a fine opinion due to her association with white men, placing loyalty to trappers, travellers or merchants above loyalty to members of her own tribe. The “invisibility” of women in the world of warriors, hunting, battles and male bonding distinctly encouraged the thesis that women in all indigenous communities were similar and performed very comparable social roles. Could homosexual women have appeared in such sources? The question is a purely rhetorical one, of course – where gays among the Indians preoccupied the attention of some scholars, their female counterparts were more or less completely overlooked. That happened for a reason, since for a long time the only sexual deviation whose existence was recognized by Western scholarship was male homosexuality. It roused deep indignation from the lawgivers and guardians of men’s souls since it was seen to defy male power, dignity, and virility (the organs of power being clearly identified with sexual organs). Yet despite prohibitions and teachings, those “disgusting” men existed. But could that same “disorder” affect women, those fragile and delicate beings?