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Spirit and the Flesh: Sexual Diversity in American Indian Culture

4.4 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 004-6442046152
ISBN-10: 0807046159
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Walter L. Williams's excellent research has produced one of the most extensive studies of the berdache culture among Native Americans. Unlike the larger American society, Native Americans historically have respected, and in many tribal nations venerated, homosexuals. Williams explains the berdache as a custom, its social roles, and the berdache history, including its introduction to the European concept of sin and intolerance of sexual diversity. The word berdache applies almost exclusively to males, mainly because historical records only relate dealings with aboriginal males, but Williams also includes a chapter on female sexual diversity, using the word amazon to describe these often warriorlike women.

From Publishers Weekly

Williams, an ethnohistorian at the University of Southern California, presents a fascinating and thorough study of American Indian acceptance of sexual diversity. Drawing on interviews with Native Americans, anthropologists and historians, Williams documents how tribal cultures revered the "berdache"any man who "does not fill a society's standard man's role, who has a nonmasculine character." Many American Indian communities believed that some members belonged to an "alternative gender" neither male nor female, their identities determined by spiritual inclination, not sex. Berdaches were treated as sacred and held ceremonial roles as psychic healers, "medicine men" and prophets. Williams also illustrates how European settlers in North and South America sought to repress the berdache tradition and how it went underground, reemerging after the rebirth of Native American culture and the rise of gay liberation. The only flaws in this enlightening book are the author's tendency to generalize about Western homophobia and his too brief treatment of female counterparts of berdaches.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press (April 1, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807046159
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807046159
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #484,464 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author


Walter Williams received his Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and taught American Indian Studies at UCLA, and as professor of anthropology, history, and gender studies, at the University of Southern California. He taught at Buddhist monasteries in Thailand, and was also Fulbright Research Professor at Gadjah Mada University in Indonesia. He is now retired and living in a Maya community in southern Mexico.

























































Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
A throughly documented and detailed historical and socialological account of American Indian society's andorgynous Benache, sex and sexual interactions. This book takes you back in history to understand how the Benache fit in the Indian culture and how that culture's sexual norms were very inclusive and accepting of what our society would label "diverse" people and actions.The historical prespective includes the invasion of european westerization and "Diversity-cide" of the indian culture.If one wants to be spiritually awakened to the possibility that our culture's (society) rules and norms aren't natural and that there are (were) societies where diverse individuals can feel good about themselves then this is the book for your soul.You'll feel good about yourself after reading this book. It might not specifically relate to you but you'll see that maybe we're headed back in the right direction
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Format: Paperback
Finally, I found a book that speaks the truth about my people. It is extremely rare to find books that cover the issues of the two-spirit people. Williams does an amazing job of fully researching the topic . . including living with/among the people he interviews. Read this book!
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Format: Paperback
Let's clear one thing up: Author Walter Williams is not advocating man/boy love simply by discussing it in this book. He goes out of his way, in fact, to distinguish between societies with man/boy love traditions and the role of the Berdache in various native american societies. He correctly notes that the man/boy cultures are generally "warrior" cultures where women have low status, whereas the Berdache role is both feminine and esteemed as such, and only possible in a society where women's culture is esteemed. Reviewer "Gemini Walker" should read more carefully...

Anyway, Williams' emphasis is on how many native American tribes had a respected, religion-based role for feminized males in their society. That said, I caution that if you're looking for a purely scholarly work, this isn't it; while well-researched, this book is also seasoned with Williams' flights of fancy about what might have happened between men in "fringe" cultures like Carribean Pirates and Wild West Cowboys. I admire Williams for making no secret about his bias, but I find his portrait of the Berdache somewhat idealistic, and unhindered by the dissapearence of its tribal context. I found myself plagued by questions of practicality regarding the role of the Berdache on a modern reservation. I also wish that he had explored parental attitudes towards their feminine-inclined male children in strongly self-identifying native american households which practice their tradional religion vs. parental attitudes of european-descent parents with strong attachment to their religion who also find themselves raising an effeminate male child.
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This is a MUST read for every gay man or woman! It should also be on the reading list for all people. We can learn so much from the American Indians and how to love and accept people for who and what they are and what God made them. A wonderful read and study guide to gay life.
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This book should be on Oprah and should be taught in colleges , I think a lot of people around the world would benefit spiritually from such insightful and ancient wisdom.
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I found the book to be of great worth - enlightened to the real history which was never recorded in the history books. Our American History is a lie because of Social acceptance. When so many cultures have embraced the truth about life - puritanical and ignorant religious teachings have robbed us of true life and acceptance of nature. I am proud to be an American but I am not proud of what Religious fright has done to us as a whole. Why are we so afraid of the religious? Who are they? Why do we bow to their every word? - I commend the author for telling us the truth. If anyone has any sense they will study history and see where religion has been used to control the minds of individuals throughout the past while other cultures have embraced what nature has created. Darwins Theory? or the Bible - which can be proven by geology and science. Miracles or proof! Fear or knowledge! You be the judge for yourself. Great job - great book of truth - FINALLY!
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