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Changing Ones

Third and Fourth Genders
in Native North America

 

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“Gender and sexual diversity in North America and elsewhere were once differences that served. If we can remember the stories told here, they may yet serve again.”



Gender diversity—in the form of third and fourth gender roles—is one of the most common and least understood features of native North America. Such roles have been documented in over 150 tribes throughout the continent. Widely accepted, often considered holy, “berdaches,” as they have been termed, combined the work and social roles of men and women along with traits unique to their status. In Changing Ones ,Will Roscoe, the award-winning author of The Zuni Man-Woman, carefully reconstructs the place of these roles in traditional tribal cultures and traces their history up to the present.

The result is a strikingly different view of native North America. Before the arrival of Europeans, marriages between berdaches and non-berdache members of the same sex were commonplace, and individuals sometimes changed their gender because of a dream. In place of stereotypes of hypermasculine warriors and submissive women, Changing Ones describes individuals with complex sexual and gender identities playing key roles in their tribes. As Roscoe shows, sexual and gender differences were accepted because of the unique contributions they made. They were differences that served.



“Will Roscoe is writing the history the history books don't talk about.”—Bay Area Reporter

 


Changing Ones begins with the dramatic stories of Finds Them and Kills Them, a third gender Crow who fought in the Battle of the Rosebud in 1876; the Navajo Hastíín Klah, who combined his knowledge as a medicine man with his mastery of women's arts to invent an entirely new style of weaving; and Woman Chief, a Crow woman who led men into battle and had three wives. Roscoe goes on to document the present-day revival of “two-spirit” traditions among contemporary Native Americans, and their battle against the most recent threat to native surival, the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Building on these case studies, Roscoe explores the theoretical implications of multiple genders for the fields of anthropology, history, and gender studies. He concludes by offering some intriguing suggestions regarding the social origins of gender diversity and its role in human history in North America and elsewhere. A fascinating and comprehensive exploration of an overlooked dimension of native North America, Changing Ones challenges many assumptions, old and new, about the nature of human sexual and gender diversity.


 

“The culmination of two decades of superb scholarship, a landmark work.”—Lambda Book Report


“Roscoe accomplishes a paradigmatic theory of gender diversity that is indispensible to anyone interested in the meaning of ‘maleness’ and ‘femaleness.’ Changing Ones is a superb achievement.” —Martin Duberman, author of Cures and Stonewall; founder, Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at CUNY.