Native Americans' Views of Same Sex, Two-Spirits and Berdaches
As opposed to European views of sexuality, Native Americans experience sex as more than a means of reproduction. It is also an activity to be enjoyed and appreciated. Sexual pleasure is considered a gift from the spirit world. As a result, most traditional tribes felt no inhibition in regard to sexual relations. Children were exposed to the sight of adults having sex and some ceremonies involved sex on a group level. Additionally, sexual contact was not necessarily limited to one’s spouse or to the opposite sex; thus same sex activity was not the exclusive realm of the berdaches.
Two-spirit people (also two spirit or twospirit) is an umbrella term sometimes used for what was once commonly known as berdaches, indigenous North Americans who fulfill one of many mixed gender roles in First Nations and Native American tribes. Third gender roles historically embodied by two-spirit people include performing work and wearing clothing associated with both men and women. The presence of male two-spirits "was a fundamental institution among most tribal peoples." According to Will Roscoe, male and female two-spirits have been "documented in over 130 North America tribes, in every region of the continent.
There are some characteristics of the sexual practices of berdache, which differ from those of other same sex relationships. Berdaches almost always observe an incest taboo which involves the avoidance of sex with another berdache. One explanation for this is that sexual partner of the berdache must, by nature, be masculine. This belief is consistent with the emphasis on the gender aspects of the role rather than the sexual aspects. It also dovetails with the information on berdache marriages to masculine men. In these unions, the berdache is considered a wife and is valued by the husband not only for the domestic duties the berdache performs, but also for the socially acceptable homosexual relationship.
In a sense, Native American cultures have institutionalized and socially sanctioned homosexual relations by utilizing the berdache role as the preferred same sex partner. When men want to have male/male sex, they are encouraged to do so with a berdache.
The usual sexual behavior of the berdache is to take the passive role in intercourse. At times they may indulge in oral sex or take the active role in intercourse, but this is not widely talked about. If a berdache wishes to take an active role, it is usually done only in secret and with a partner who can be trusted not to talk. This is also true of the feelings of the man involved with a berdache. If he wishes to assume the passive role, he will try to keep the activity secret.
Berdaches frequently are available for sex with both unmarried adolescent boys and married men who occasionally seek out same sex partners. Because of this, female prostitution is not needed. Traditional berdaches were also available as sexual partners during hunts and in war parties. This was yet another reason why they were welcomed on these excursions.
Source: A Native American Perspective on the Theory of Gender Continuum, DRK)