Murray (2000) tries to subsume all nonstandard non-heterosexual relationships under a model of three different types of homosexuality. The result is a shift of focus from sociocultural gender constructs to culturally mediated sexual activity. His entire book, which contains a wealth of carefully considered ethnographic material, is largely male oriented and organized around cultural definitions of who takes dominant or receptive positions. While some of his data fit that construct, his model, which denies the possibility of gender constructs beyond masculine and feminine, cannot deal with instances such as that noted by Jacobs and Cromwell (1992), while exploring the cultural construction of kwido, a Tewa "third-gender" category, one of those positions that Williams (1992) would include under the general term berdache.
In the course of her fieldwork, Jacobs was told that a person could be homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual, or trisexual. From the perspective of one of her male informants, homosexual meant that he had sex with other sociological men. Heterosexual meant that he had sex with sociological women, bisexual meant that he would have sex with either men or women, and trisexual would mean that he would have sex with men, women or kwido. The logic of these statements is that someone, man or woman, who has sex with a kwido is behaving in a heterosexual manner, even though kwido are morphologically male.
A three- or four-gender system creates a more complex set of gender-based relationships than are contemplated by a system derived from Northern European and North American constructs. One of the complexities is the question of different emic understandings of a phenomenon (Segal, 1997). The problem is clearly marked by Jacobs and Cromwell's material from the Tewa. In this case, Jacobs' informant explained that the kwido was not "gay," despite the fact that some people called him that. Rather, the kwido was made so by
"spiritual powers." In addition, other informants, elders, informed Jacobs that proper socialization for kwido included raising them "to be who they are" aided by the knowledge and experience of an adult kwido (Jacobs and Cromwell, 1992, p. 56).
The Tewa in the southwestern United States are not the only people among whom more than one emic understanding of sex-gender-sexuality phenomena can be found. A strong case can be made for similar variation in the Society Islands, including Tahiti. In that setting, the person occupying a nonmasculine nonfeminine gender position is termed a mahu, and is often morphologically male. The data from Tahiti and the other Society Islands also raise a question about the relationship between sex-gender-sexuality systems as they existed prior to contact with European cultures (and conquest), and constructs as they are now found. Levy (1971, 1973) claims that only men were/are mahu. However, Elliston (1999) documents the existence of both morphological males and morphological females who take on the mahu status. In light of the relatively low level of gender dimorphism in the Society Islands, her projection that this was also probably the case in traditional (i.e., precolonial) times seems logical.
Here, it seems that a man's sexual relations with a mahu are conceptualized (except by the mahu) as a replacement for relations with a woman. No one (except the mahu) seems to consider questions of sexual orientation (Levy, 1971, 1973). Among the Tewa, orientation seems to be an issue. Sex with a kwido is a distinct cultural category and, Jacobs indicates, kwido might have sex with other kwido.
In both instances, we are confronted with a heterogeneity of emic understandings that is all too often glossed over in anthropological literature. Another difficulty is the veneer of Eurocentric ethnocentrism and homophobia created by the European colonial enterprise over a span of at least 200 years in most portions of the globe. In the instance of the Tewa, the major source has probably been an Anglo-Euro-American Protestantism. It is somewhat facile, but the shorthand reference to European colonialism and missionary activities fairly expresses the worldwide trends of which this is a part.
Where the kwido's origins in an encounter with superhuman forces granted an element of sacredness to his nature, that has been largely lost and concepts of a variety of sexual sins have become part of Tewa cognitions (Jacobs & Cromwell, 1992). On the other hand,
Jacobs' fieldwork is of relatively recent date, and the Tewa third gender seems to continue as a part of both beliefs and behaviors.
In contrast, the status mahu, as found in the Society Islands, does not seem to be as clearly delineated as a third gender in the definitive way that the kwido seems to be marked among the Tewa. The largest part of the difficulty lies in the nature of the early sources, none of which took the people's perspectives into account, but the data that do exist are suggestive in a number of directions. By the latter half of the 20th century, when attention to emic perspectives had became more common, most of the world was in the throes of the sort of "modernization" noted by Donham (1998), although not as a result of so felicitous a process as the collapse of apartheid. The effects of colonial and mission cultures in shifting local cultural understandings of sex-gender systems have been pervasive, and sexuality has been a prime target.
Tahiti and the other Society Islands represent one type of tripolar sex-gender-sexuality system, in which there is only a single category beyond masculine and feminine, and that category is equally available to both women and men. The Society Islands are a region in which gender dimorphism is relatively light. People seem unconcerned about sharply marked gender distinctions (Elliston, 1999; Levy, 1973). This is exactly the social setting that seems most conducive to a sex-gender-sexuality system accommodating what Martin and Voorhies (1975) called supernumerary categories (Munroe & Whiting, 1969).
Mahu is not the only category or term currently found on the Society Islands. Of the terms now found, mahu has the longest history and might, in some frames of reference, be referred to as "traditional." There are other contemporary categories that explicitly link sexual behavior with gender, but mahu separates gender and sexuality in a way more complex than can be reviewed here.
Elliston's (1999) explication makes clear what may be a central question in the study of sex-gender-sexuality systems: In each particular culture, of sexuality and gender, which is perceived as producer and which as product? The very asking of the question points to the interaction of biology and culture, rather than to the primacy of one over the other. Elliston's analysis of sexuality-gender categories in the Society Islands clarifies some of the apparent confusion. Mahu refers to the oldest layer, one in which experience and observed behavior produce gender, which, in turn, directs people to their sexual partners, regardless of their morphology, that is, produces sexuality.
Other categories (raerae, petea, lesbiennes) refer to same-sex sexual relationships, coupled with coordinated gender behavior, and are conceived of as referring to categories of sexuality and gender derived from French colonial influence. However, the major difference seems to be that, for people assuming positioning within these categories, sexuality and gender behavior both exist within a performative foreground. In Elliston's experience mahu gender characteristics were part of the cultural foreground, and mahu sexuality was part of the cultural background. They were not culturally linked as a single ascribed unit.
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