Pre-Colonization Gender Identity

So I’m up on the roof. The evening breeze is sweet and soft. The sun now sets in the ocean, and lately there have been some spectacular sunsets. We are in something of a heat wave. Our first rolling blackout hit us this past weekend. Not a good sign that our generation capacity is as weak as our cobbled together grid. I’m glad we have enough solar and storage capacity to take the edge off. Hurricane season is upon us again, with a prediction of a worse than normal size and number of cyclones. Seems like it’s been that way for the last almost decade, so I wonder if it’s not the new normal. Either way, we prepare and hope for the best.


I’ve done a bit of research into pre-colonization culture in the Americas as background for my novels. One interesting notion I’ve come across is that the indigenous population was much greater and the societies much more complex and sophisticated than the historical narrative would suggest. As an example, Inca metallurgy was every bit as scientifically developed as European. The difference is the Incas made metals softer to be used artistically while Europeans hardened metals to make implements of war. So, when we consider some aspect of pre-contact indigenous social organization, it won’t do to dismiss it as the practice of a savage culture.


The European construct of two specific gender identities as non-interchangeable absolutes did not exist in the Americas. The majority of indigenous cultures acknowledged and accepted between three and five genders including female, male, Two Spirit male or female, and transgender. These were considered natural and in many cultures Two Spirit persons were shamanic figures, healers. They were highly revered and families that included them were considered lucky. Among the Mapuche people in Southern Chile and adjacent areas in Argentina, Two Spirits, called Machi, are considered religious authorities capable of balancing the Mapuche cosmos.


Sexuality and love were treated with similar fluidity. Sexual taboos were clan based. Same sex marriages were unremarkable, but it was considered incestuous and prohibited to marry within a clan regardless of orientation. It was under European religious influence that a previously accepted inter-clan same sex union became abnormal, sinful.


The hate, fear, and persecution we see resurging today are but a continuation of what occurred when the first European footprint was made on American soil. It was said that the Two Spirit tradition among Native Americans had to be extinguished before it could be recorded. And so it goes. Hundreds of cultures over thousands of years developed a reasonably consistent understanding of gender and sexuality as non-binary. This comes not from savage cultures, but highly sophisticated and complex, often cosmopolitan cultures. This feels to me to be more in alignment with the natural world, kinder, and respectful of all humans. From this lens, the EuroAmerican Christian way of thinking appears to be the aberration. Cobb Out




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