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Abstract

Gender variance existed in numerous cultures around the world since time immemorial. The narrative of gender-variant Native individuals in the historical world is one of honor and respect. Native American Indigenous cultures accepted and revered the fluidity and diversity of gender and sexuality in their tribes and such identities were not considered a taboo or stigmatized as within the Euro-American culture today. Colonization brought with it the rigid gender binary ideas of masculine and feminine which erased the affirmative position enjoyed by these gender variant individuals. The Native American “Berdache” is a term used to describe a person whose body simultaneously houses both a masculine spirit and a feminine spirit. The blended gender roles incorporated by the term historically included wearing the clothing and performing the work associated with both men and women. Such individuals were believed to possess a highly intellectual and spiritual capacity and keen artistic skills. The work The Zuni Man-Woman by Will Roscoe chronicles the life of We’Wha, the first Native American ‘Berdache’ to be documented in history.The present paper intends to analyze the ‘Berdache’ culture depicted in The Zuni Man-Woman to discern the different ways in which gender is experienced and performed as well as to identify the social and cultural dimensions of gender and sexuality. The paper also tries to understand the interconnection of ‘Berdache’ gender with the growing visibility of Trans and gender non-conforming identities in the contemporary society.

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