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Unformatted text preview: e fits tightly into a beaded belt, and what looks like clam or oyster
shells are stitched all over the upper half of the dress. In the role of berdache, Finds Them and Kills Them carried on the traditions of women.
In war, Finds Them and Kills Them was as fierce as any Crow warrior
and was known far and wide for his/her great bravery, especially among
the Lakota Sioux, the Crow’s greatest enemies.
Thinking Inside the Box
It isn’t only in India and among the native North Americans that such
people walk. “Not-men” live among the Muslims of Oman, where they
are called xaniths6; among the people of Brazil, they are known as the
tranvesti, viado, and bichas; among the Hawaiians and Tahitians they
are the mh; in Thailand they are called the kathoey; and in the Philippines they are the bakla. It is likely that there are many other peoples
in other places who similarly fall outside of our definitions of men and
The simplest explanations for these people might be that they are
simply men or women with significant identity issues, or that they are
simply homosexuals. What would we have found if we had just lifted
the dress of Finds Them and Kills Them and peered between his legs?
Likely we would have found ourselves dead. But even if we had survived, whatever we found would have been of no significance. We’ve
already seen that genitals can be a poor measure of a person’s sex, and
so can any other criterion we might choose—chromosomes or hormones, and on and on. Even if we wished to explain all the ambiguity
away as some simple sort of genetic mutation, we have to ask ourselves,
why does that mutation keep popping up? Why does it appear in so
many societies? Generally, these people aren’t reproductive. Biologically,
that should be a death knell for their genes. But the people and their
genes don’t go away. Perhaps all of us are essential in ways we have not
At least some of those who know the nádleeh, hijra, and the alyha,
those who see them with other eyes, have great respect for them and 150 Between XX and XY their spiritual powers. Those who know them through other eyes don’t
see what we see, don’t feel the need to trivialize them somehow and
squeeze the spread of human beings in the vise of our words. They
don’t feel the need to question what the universe has given to them.
Or at least once they didn’t. When Europeans first began to explore
the Americas, only the northeastern, north-central, and east-central
tribes lacked berdache. Now the berdache are relatively few. The metastasis of white religion and white values might have killed the berdache, or
it might have been simple white ridicule of the berdache that doomed
them. The murderous power of that ridicule is apparent today among
the Pima and the Papago Indians of the American Southwest. Berdache
still survive in these tribes, but they are condemned and mocked by
many of their people.7
What About Their Parents?
No matter who we become, much of what set us upon our paths was
out of our hands. Long before we even realized that choices had to be
made, our parents were making those choices for us. And for all their
lives, the world whispered in our parents’ ears about what was wrong
and what was right, what was cute and what was travesty. It is impossible to imagine that the cultures of our parents didn’t limit the options
open to us, doesn’t still limit the options open to us, especially to those
of us who have unexpected, maybe even inconvenient, needs.
Mojave boys normally begin to show interest in the activities of men—
hunting, riding horses, making bows and arrows, interest in girls—by
about age ten or eleven, before the tribal puberty ceremony. A boy who
skipped all of this and instead picked up dolls and imitated the domestic
work of women or forced himself into women’s gambling games, a boy
who chose a bark skirt over a breechcloth, was a potential alyha.
The parents’ response to this behavior was reportedly ambivalence.
Ambivalence is not the same as indifference, though we sometimes use
it as though it was. Ambivalence means the simultaneous presence of
strong opposing emotions—love and hate, fear and pride, promise and
failure. Alternatives 151 In the beginning the boy’s parents try hard to force him into the
activities of men. But when the child sticks fast to his mother and
the ways of women, his family gives in resignedly and prepares for
the “transvestite ceremony.” But they tell the child nothing about this.
At the ceremony, two women lead the boy into a circle of women
who begin to sing “the transvestite songs.” If the boy dances with the
women he is an alyha. When that happens, the women take the boy
to the river, wash away his past, and give him girls’ clothes to wear.
Afterward the alyha chooses a girl’s name by which he will be known
from then on.
Watching their child transform into an alyha pleases no parents.
They know it will change their child’s life forever and i...
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- Spring '14