Sexuality

Very little has been written about sexuality in Tlingit life. In the past, and today, people consider this a private topic and are reticent to talk to outsiders about it. Much that is known is based upon lessons for "correct behavior" and European explorer and missionary reports.

A high-ranked girl was expected to remain a virgin until marriage. Adultery was considered a crime against the family of the innocent party, and compensation was demanded from both the man and the woman involved. While small children engaged in sex play, no serious experimentation was encouraged for older children. As an adult, overt sexuality was seen as a sign of low status. While modesty was important, it involved behavior rather than dress. Men's bodies were generally unclothed and women wore coverings that often left breasts exposed.

Women were described as selling sexual services to Europeans in many early European reports. Some were clearly described as slaves who were being used by their owners to earn easy wealth. Others were also clearly lower-ranked women who traded their sexual services for personal financial gain. While this behavior would have immediately disgraced a high-ranked woman and her whole clan, in a low-ranked person the gain might have countered public disapproval.

Little appears in the literature about homosexuality or gender variants. De Laguna (1972) described individuals whom she defined as transvestites. These men who acted like women appeared humorously in stories and were described as cowards. Lesbians were not described at all in Tlingit literature.

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