Neither Masculine nor Feminine

Here we can place the berdache as found in some cultures on the North American Plains. The term berdache has a history reflecting its Eurocentric origins and the ethno-centrism of most 17th, 18th, and 19th century European and European American observers of Native American cultures. The term "two spirit" is assuming greater currency among Native Americans. Two spirit comes closer to reflecting cultural realities than does berdache.

In all the ethnographic instances cited by Williams (1992), a young, usually preadolescent, boy would set out on a vision quest, seeking a relationship with a spirit being who would then help him determine and strive for his future life. Once he had the vision, he would return to his group and someone skilled in such matters would interpret his vision for him. For some, their vision was interpreted as indicating the two-spirit status. In the traditional world of late 19th century Plains life, they would then wear women's clothes and engage in the daily activities of ordinary women. But they also had unique roles in instances of weddings, childbirth, child naming, and warfare.

In the contemporary world, the situation is rather different. By the late 20th century, the position of the berdache had been heavily overlaid with Western sex-gender-sexuality constructs. One Lakota berdache describing his position (Bradley & Phillips, 1991) wears contemporary men's clothing rather than the traditional women's clothing. He also speaks to the contemporary rarity of berdache, implies an absence of clearly defined role, and does not mention any sort of vision quest. Although to some extent these changes are illustrative of the effects of westernization, they are also a testament to the resilience of traditional patterns in the face of dis-valuing culturally foreign pressures. Berdache were, and apparently still are, seen as neither men nor women, or possibly sociologically both. The two-spirit designation reflects the first spirit of the child's birth as well as the second spirit of the child's vision, or other contemporary realization about who he is.

There are other instances of cultures containing sex-gender-sexuality categories that do not fit within the constraints of bipolar paradigms, and many of them also do not fit the two-spirit model. At the time of writing, no clear count has yet been done. However, as will be seen below, the categories created by a particular culture under particular sociocultural conditions are not necessarily fixed and unchangeable. A rough sense of the magnitude of variations may be possible, but not a definitive count.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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