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The Spirit and the Flesh:
Sexual Diversity in American Indian Culture

Walter L. Williams

1986, Beacon Press

276 Pages plus Notes

From the Cover

Gay Book of the Year Award, American Library Association
Ruth Benedict Award, Society of Lesbian and Gay Anthropologists
Award for Outstanding Scholarship, World Congress for Sexology

This landmark study documents American Indian cultures that venerate the berdache, androgynous people who are classified as neither men nor women.  Walter L. Williams combines historical research with his own important and controversial fieldwork to explore the religious, social, gender, and sexual aspects of the berdache tradition.  An acclaimed authority on the subject, Williams is the first outside observer to participate in both the public rituals and private lives of berdaches in various tribes.

"A valuable sourcebook, bringing together a wealth of information on the status of gender-variant men in a wide variety of Native American societies." - San Francisco Chronicle

"An extraordinarily perceptive study of the berdache and the most comprehensive treatment of this controversial topic to date." - American Historical Review

"[The Spirit and the Flesh] will surprise some, shock some, but almost everyone can learn something new from it." - American Anthropologist

"Williams has moved into a practically tabooed research arena and emerges as a champion of intellectual and personal enlightenment . . . [His]brilliant theoretical and empirical approach provides new ways of thinking about sex, sexuality and gender." - Dr. Sue-Ellen Jacobs

Table of Contents

Part I: The Character of the Berdache

  1. Of Religions and Dreams: The Spiritual Basis of the Berdache Tradition
  2. Sacred People: Berdache Mystical Power and Ceremonial Roles
  3. Family Matters: The Economic and Social Position of the Berdache
  4. Men, Women, and Others: The Gender Role of the Berdache
  5. The Spirit and the Flesh: Sexual Aspects of the Berdache Tradition
  6. A Normal Man: The Berdache's Husband and the Question of Sexual Variance

Part II: Changes in the Berdache Tradition Since the Coming of the Europeans

  1. The Abominable Sin: The Spanish Campaign Against "Sodomy," and Its Results in Modern Latin America
  2. Seafarers, Cowboys, and Indians: Male Marriage in Fringe Societies on the Anglo-American Frontier
  3. Of Bibles and Bureaus: Indian Acculturation and Decline of the Berdache Tradition
  4. Survival and Pride: The Berdache Tradition and Gay American Indians Today

Part III: Toward a Theoretical Understanding of Gender and Sexual Variance

  1. Amazons of America: Female Gender Variance
  2. Social Construction/Essential Characters: A Cross-Cultural Viewpoint

Readers' Comments


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Freddy Basurco  fbasurco@hotmail.com

Very interesting and enlightening. Just one other contribution: spanish chronichles also register that the Pachacamac sanctuary, south of Lima, was lead by a high priest and some tens of helpers all of them male dressed as woman. This religion performed ceremonies which at the end culminated on sexual intercourse between the priest and the offerent. A well known devotee of this religion was late Inca Huayna Capac who travelled several times from Cuzco to Pachacamac; suppousedly he also had sexual intercourse with the priest.

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Emma two Souls  emmatwosouls@hotmail.com

This book helped me to see another way, to walk in beauty with the spirit of the earth, to be a relative to all that is. Thank you Walter Williams.