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Humanities Nonfiction Social Sciences

“…And We Are Still Here”: From Berdache to Two-Spirit People

By Wesley Thomas and Sue-Ellen Jacobs, 1999

When we gathered people together for two invitational conferences on “Revisiting the ‘North American Berdache’ Empirically and Theoretically,” our aim was to create a dialogue between indigenous/Native people and aca- demicswho had written about them. The conferences,funded by the Wenner- Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, provided the start of collab orative work that took place over the course of five years and resulted in p u b lication of our edited book, Two-Spirit People: Native American Gender Identity, Sexuality, and Spirituality. One of the most important outcomes of the five-year conversationamong participants was the realization that the term berdachewas no longer acceptable as a catch-all for Native American (indigenous peoples of the United States of America) and First Nations (indigenous peoples of Canada) gender and sexual behaviors. The Native participants concluded that the term was insulting and part of the colonial discourse that continues to be used by select scholars who appropriate indigenous people’s lives in various ways. Native people were talking about this issue long before non-Native aca- demics noticed. The most active resistance to using berdache for sexual and gender diversi- tyin North American aboriginal communities occurred at the Third Annual Native American Gay and Lesbian Gathering, where attendees decided to change the name of their future gatherings to The International Twc-Spirit Gathering. At the center of our investigation into the terms we use is a shared determination to reintegrate the word berdache into our respective writings, but using it clearly and precisely in its original meaning: “kept boy” or “male prostitute.”*In this paper, we explain our rationale for integrating the use of berdacheinto our writingsabout two-spiritpeople, explore how the self-naming and academic research issues can be accommodated collaboratively,and draw some conclusions about past and future research into Native American sexu- alities and gender diversity.

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