(Not) The Only Gay Navajo

Interesting article on homosexuality in the Navajo community. Indian societies have long posed a challenge to Western notions of fixed sex and gender identities. Many have a long history of tolerating, and often holding in high regard, people who choose at some point in their life (usually puberty) to take on the role and identity of the opposite sex. As the article notes, these people frequently married members of the once-same, now-opposite sex, and their marriages were considered as normal and natural as any other marriage. Once referred to generically as “berdaches”, the preferred term these days, from Will Roscoe‘s work on Zuni and other socities, the accepted term nowadays is “two-spirits“. The particular term for two-spirits in Navajo is nadleeh

Western conceptions of gender don’t apply very readily to two-spirits, and it is difficult to apply the term “homosexual” to them without reservations. But, of course, Navajos don’t live in pre-contact Navajo society, they live in a modern Navajo society which has developed for centuries in relation to a conquering Western society. Homosexuality in Western society is a mark of difference, a transgression of the categories we rely on to make sense of human relations. It is also closely related to the modern, Western sense of the self as an individual, driven by private pleasures and passions. Sexuality in Western society is more than a social role, it’s a function of identity, and so the Navajo have experienced the emergence of “gay” identities that don’t quite fit the mold of the nadleeh, yet aren’t quite the same as Western homosexuality, either.

Now gay Navajos are organizing, under pressure from both HIV/AIDS and a social scene, Navajo and Western, that doesn’t quite know where to place this new breed of nadleeh. It would be interesting to know the particular experiences Navajos have in dealing with these pressures, and their responses to those experiences.

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