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"In the city of my birth, I had a dream..."
Homosexual Spiritual Advisors? 
23rd-Mar-2006 08:07 pm
A handful of gay fiction writers, including Lars Eighner and Tom Spanbauer, have made use of the Native American concept of berdache or two-spirit (a man who is also a woman at the same time or vice versa) in order to provide an alternative, non-Western and non-homophobic formulation of homosexuality. They point out that the berdache's lifestyle was not reviled; he was accepted by his community and sought out as a spiritual advisor.

Now, I understand how being revered as a spiritual advisor seems eminently preferable to being derided or getting beaten up on the street, but such a simplistic "bad us vs. good them" formulation does us all a disservice as it does not explain in practical, applicable-to-the-modern-era terms how the notion of queer spiritual advisor actually worked.

The anthropologist might tell you that people like the berdache or female shamans in many parts of Asia who are/were also prostitutes are believed to acquire their spiritual insight by occupying the space between the virtuous (or the normal) and the profane. Alas, I can see half my readers saying, "What the Hell!?" right about now, and I wholly agree. This is prettily descriptive, but it is not especially informative.

Instead, let's put it this way: What's missing from the Native American concept of berdache is the irrational fear of the sexual "deviant" and the intolerance that it produces. Granted, you don't WANT your son to become a berdache, but if he proves to be one, you accept it as divine will.

The berdache then functions as a spiritual advisor BECAUSE he is different. After all, when you need help with a particularly knotty problem, you ask the person who you think might have a different perspective, right? Including, irrationally, problems regarding matters totally unrelated to his behavior in bed*. And, since most often all we really need is an outside point of view, the berdache gains a reputation for giving good advice, maybe even, if you're superstitious, "supernaturally" good advice.

And, just in case you thought the gay man's day as "spiritual advisor"** was over and done with, I have six words for you: Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. (^^;

*If someone can explain to me how having gay sex gives one insight into what colors I should paint my tipi, I'm all ears.
**Well, actually, we call 'em gurus these days, and "guru" means...*mock gasp*
24th-Mar-2006 01:48 am (UTC)
I don't know.
I never had the feeling that being a berdache was encouraged, from Tom Spanbauer.

24th-Mar-2006 01:56 am (UTC)
Yeah, I also thought Tom Spanbauer handled it pretty well. I've never read Lars Eighner, so I can't comment on him.
24th-Mar-2006 04:53 am (UTC)
So are you saying his depiction was negative? Or ambivalent? I simply don't see anything less than a hearty endorsement of the berdache as an alternative to Judeo-Christian formulations of (homo)sexuality.
25th-Mar-2006 03:09 am (UTC)
No, I just understood it as there being various perspectives about it within the book.

The mormon perspective.
D's perspective, which was romantic and more than a bit warped, shaped this way by the fact that he was saved by a berdache.
The Indian's perspective. They stayed silent at first, later laughed about it later and took it in much the way you said, as not something desirable but as divine will.

I don't know if I interpreted this correctly, but that's what I took from it.
25th-Mar-2006 03:09 am (UTC)
24th-Mar-2006 01:16 pm (UTC)
Hey, there's a related story in that gay horror book (err, horror stories by gay & lesbian authors ^^;), The Kindred, page 219 if you want to look...

Otherwise, any alternative to the Judeo-Christian-Islamic view of homosexuality is probably a step in the right direction...
24th-Mar-2006 01:21 pm (UTC)
Well...the whole berdache thing isn't BAD per se, but a lot of people don't fully understand the implications. Like, they hear "spiritual advisor" and think it means Protestant minister or something, inclusion and a stake in the dominant hierarchy. But what it REALLY means is being a member of the Fab Five--where your difference is the most important thing about you.

It may not be hatred, but I dunno about you, but I don't want my difference to be the most important thing about me!
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