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" In 1463, a man was convicted by the Court of Holland for homosexuality (sodomy) and burned at the stake. A year later, his partner was whipped down the streets of The Hague and had his hair burnt off his head. In Christian Europe, the execution of homosexual men slowly increased from the fifteenth century until ending in the early 1800s. Nearly a thousand sodomy trials were conducted in Holland (now the Netherlands) from 1730 to 1811 and between 1730 and 1732 alone, seventy-five “sodomites” were sentenced to death. Convicted homosexuals were systematically garroted (strangled with a cord) either privately within the cellars of city halls or publicly on scaffolds in front of large audiences. Deaths by hanging, burning at the stake, breaking on a wheel and drowning in a barrel of water were also some of the recorded methods used. Determined to exterminate sodomy “from top to bottom,” the Court of Holland conducted one of the harshest campaigns against homosexuality in early modern Europe.
Curiously, however, the harsh penalties against sodomy in Holland and other parts of Europe did little to extinguish the “crime.” On the contrary, detailed police and court records kept during this period reveal underground inns, taverns, bookshops, alleyways, parks, and other secret meeting places where sodomites persistently gathered. As authorities investigated and raided one “sodomite network” after another, more would inevitably crop up in their place so that by the end of the nineteenth century, exacerbated European officials doubted if they could ever truly put an end to sodomy and its subculture.
Meanwhile, halfway around the world, explorers from Great Britain discovered a previously unknown tropical paradise in the Pacific South Seas. Amid emerald islands set in pristine, turquoise waters, British sailors found natives untouched by any other culture or civilization. The sailors were shocked by the sexual openness of the South Pacific islanders who unabashedly engaged in homosexual and transgender conduct. In one account from an eighteenth-century voyage to Hawaii, a British seaman related how he was approached not only by the native women but also the men; in another account, Bounty shipmate James Morrison observed that the mahu (male-to-female transgenders) of Tahiti were “like the eunuchs in India.” He described how they lived and dressed as women, sang and danced along with them and excelled in all their tasks. Upon hearing that the mahu were hermaphrodites, Bounty commander Captain Bligh asked one of the Polynesian “eunuchs” to remove his loincloth. Bligh’s report noted that the native’s “yard” [penis] was not absent or deformed but very soft and small, having been customarily tied up against the groin. He also observed how the native women treated and respected the mahu as one of their own.
Unfortunately, the initial fascination of British explorers with a Polynesian third sex quickly turned into contempt. In his 1789 observations of Maori tribes in New Zealand, Captain James Cook wrote that the natives were “given to the detestable Vice of Sodomy.” Early nineteenth-century missionaries from Britain complained that New Cythera (Tahiti) was nothing more than a “filthy Sodom of the South Seas,” fraught with rampant fornication and “often boys with boys.” Disgusted, they accused the Polynesian children of doing little else than frolic on the mountains together in wickedness. Determined to purge the islands of such pagan practices, Christian missionaries convinced the Polynesian natives to abandon their traditional lifestyles by the end of the nineteenth century.
The two histories cited above provide interesting examples of how different societies respond and adapt toward gender diversity. The Netherlands, once one of the most cruel and aggressive countries in its attack on homosexuality, has since become one of the most accepting—in 2001, the Netherlands became the first country in the modern world to legalize homosexual marriage. Polynesia, on the other hand, originally held no stigma for homosexual or transgender conduct but has since become largely intolerant—most Polynesians now strongly criticize gender-variant behavior, and homosexuality is illegal on many of the islands. In both examples, the third sex was and still remains present; there were gender-variant people in Polynesia and Holland during the 1700s and there are gender-variant people now. What changed, however, was the way in which such people came to be viewed and treated. Intolerance turned into acceptance and acceptance turned into intolerance, but the persistence of a third sex remained constant in both instances.
Perhaps the real question, then, isn’t whether or not a third sex exists throughout the world but why world cultures react so differently to it. Religious zealotry seems to play a major role. In the two examples cited above, Dutch society moved from Protestant fundamentalism in the 1700s to mostly secularism in the twentieth century, whereas Polynesia abandoned its traditional island practices and beliefs to adopt Victorian-era Christian mores. Nearly all of the world’s indigenous cultures, including India’s, accommodated gender diversity to some degree but from the third century A.D. onward, dominant Christian and later Islamic authorities began enforcing strictly dimorphic (male/female) social standards with little room for a third sex. Nevertheless, there are examples wherein the latter religions have also accommodated gender diversity—the medieval Islamic caliphates, for instance, or modern states currently reassessing their own sex and gender laws that are predominantly Judeo-Christian in background. On the other hand, atheistic governments such as China demonstrate that gender prejudices are by no means limited to religious societies. Clearly, other factors are involved including natural fears over human differences (sex and gender phobias); moral and religious attitudes; government systems and leadership; national prosperity or destitution; population and urban growth; advancements in education and science, and so on. All of these factors can contribute to whether or not any given society celebrates, tolerates, frowns upon, or condemns gender diversity among its populace.
In any case, it is important to understand that gender diversity is primarily biological and therefore all pervasive. The fact that homosexual, transgender and intersex beings exist in all cultures, countries and species of the world should give us a clue about their biological origin, as should their persistence as a social class in human society despite harsh persecution in many regions. The third sex is not simply a temporary social phenomena, self-identity or exotic expression limited to India, Hinduism or any particular culture—it exists primarily as a biological category found throughout the natural world. Because the third sex is often concealed and not readily apparent to the untrained eye it is sometimes known as the “hidden sex.” This is all the more true in societies that attempt to persecute or cover up third-gender behavior. Nevertheless, as demonstrated in this chapter, an unbiased inspection into both the animal and human kingdoms will reveal a third sex all around the world and throughout time.
The Animal Kingdom
Just as there are many incredible displays of sex and gender variety among Hindu deities, so also nature displays an amazing array of sex and gender diversity within the animal kingdom. The simplistic notion of a Noah’s Ark, with one male and one female specimen sustaining all species, is a far cry from scientific reality. In truth, biological sustenance and reproduction are dependent upon an incredibly complex web of co-dependent factors, including a third sex. Not only is nature more complex than we imagine, it is more complex than we can imagine!
Microbes and simple life forms are, of course, either asexual or hermaphrodite, meaning they reproduce without separate dimorphic divisions of male and female. Many plants can reproduce themselves simply by the severance of a root, twig, or other appendage, and nearly all flowering plants are hermaphrodite with sexual organs (flowers) that have both male and female parts. Worms, slugs and many aquatic species are also hermaphrodite—they possess both eggs and sperm that are mutually exchanged. In the insect world, reproduction occurs mainly through dimorphic male and female methods, yet many of the more developed social species such as bees, ants and termites sustain their colonies through large numbers of asexual or sterile workers. In such insect colonies, the asexual workers and reproductive queens and drones are all co-dependent upon one another for survival.
Scientific studies of homosexual behavior among fruit flies are quite well known; scientists have observed this behavior in nature and can also induce it in individuals through the manipulation of their genes. Homosexual behavior has similarly been observed in insects such as moths, butterflies and beetles, and intersexed examples of butterflies and spiders have been found that are sexually divided in half, with one side male and one side female (gynandromorphism). Among the millions of Monarch Butterflies found mating in central Mexico, 10 percent of the mating pairs are same-sex male couples—with an even higher ratio of 50 percent by the end of the season!
Creatures such as sow bugs, shrimp and oysters completely reverse their sex at some stage in their lives and such transsexuality is a routine occurrence for many species. Tropical coral fish, for instance, are especially well known for their ability to change sex—more than 50 species of parrotfish, groupers, angelfish and others are all transsexual. Their reproductive organs can undergo a complete reversal, enabling females with fully functioning ovaries to become males with fully functioning testes and vice versa. In some families of fish, transsexuality is so common that it’s actually more unusual to find species that do not change sex!
Among amphibians and reptiles, certain species are known to reproduce both sexually and asexually. Female geckos, salamanders and Whiptail Lizards, for example, are parthenogenetic (able to clone themselves) and can reproduce without help from males. Biologists have identified over a thousand of such parthenogenetic species worldwide. Among snakes, both homosexual and bisexual behavior has been observed and studied. Most animals attract and find partners primarily through pheromone or scent signals and when snakes or other animals are homosexually attracted they are simply following these natural signals. In some species such as Garter Snakes, certain males will produce the female pheromone, thus adding to the complexity!
In birds and mammals, methods of reproduction are consistently dimorphic but social interaction and behaviors such as courting, mating and nesting become increasingly diverse. It is among these species, therefore, that the greatest amount of homosexual, bisexual and transgender behavior is found. Homosexuality among avian species is quite common and has been observed in nearly all bird families including waterfowl, sea birds, penguins, parrots, songbirds, finches, swallows, sparrows, crows, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, game birds, birds of prey, flightless birds and so on. Birds are similar to humans in the sense that they typically mate and nest in pairs. Thus, homosexual birds also court each other, pair off, mate and build nests together. Quite a few also become involved in raising chicks—penguins, swans, flamingos, parrots, songbirds, gulls and others have all been observed taking eggs or finding hatchlings to rear as their own. Some birds also engage in same-sex group behavior. In Mallard Ducks, for instance, where homosexuality and bisexuality are quite common, “gay” drakes socialize primarily among themselves and form what biologists refer to as “clubs.” Other birds are transgender—certain female Hooded Warblers can be found bearing the markings and singing voices of males while in other species, such as Ochre-bellied Flycatchers, certain males will mimic the courting behavior of female birds to attract other males. Such types of transgender birds (with mixed gender markings and behavior) are commonly observed by ornithologists and referred to as “marginal” males or females. Intersex conditions are also found among avian species and over forty cases of gynandromorphism, wherein birds have split male and female plumage, have been reported in species such as pheasants, falcons, and finch. In some types of birds, significant portions of the population never mate or reproduce; for instance, twenty-five percent of Long-tailed Hermit Hummingbirds remain single and nonreproductive throughout their lives, and as much as one third of Common Murres (a seabird) and Kestrels (a type of falcon) do the same.
Among mammal species, homosexual, bisexual and transgender behavior is even more common and has been documented among small rodents and insectivores (mice, rats, bats, squirrels, chipmunks, marmots, hedgehogs, etc.); marsupials (wallabies, kangaroo, koalas, dunnarts, etc.); carnivores (lions, cheetahs, wolves, foxes, bears, hyenas, mongooses, martens, raccoons, etc.); hoofed mammals (deer, elk, caribou, moose, giraffes, antelopes, gazelles, pronghorns, wild sheep, goats, buffalo, bison, musk-oxen, zebra, horses, pigs, llamas, elephants, rhinoceros, etc.), marine mammals (river and salt-water dolphins, porpoises, Orcas, whales, seals, sea lions, walruses, manatees, dugongs, etc.) and primates (Bonobos, chimpanzees, gorillas, Orangutans, gibbons, langurs, Proboscis Monkeys, macaques, baboons, Squirrel Monkeys, capuchins, tamarins, langurs, bushbabies, etc.).
Homosexuality in mammals is quite complex and has been well studied both in captivity and in the wild. Bonobos (Pygmy Chimpanzees), for example, have been found to exhibit a wide variety of different homosexual behaviors and emotions, and in small mammals such as mice and rats, scientists can induce homosexual behavior through the manipulation of their hormones during gestation. Bisexuality is very common among mammals and has been observed in many species outside of their normal breeding season such as Walruses, Bottlenose Dolphins, Bison, Bighorn Sheep, Giraffes, etc. Transgender behavior can also be observed among mammals—in Bighorn Sheep, some rams identify as female and herd themselves with the ewes. While Bighorn rams typically engage in homosexual behavior all year long, the transgender rams will only allow themselves to be mounted during the mating season when the “other” ewes are in estrus!
Many varieties of intersex conditions are found in mammals such as primates, bears, whales, dolphins, marsupials, rodents, insectivores and others, and quite a few mammal species have large numbers of individuals that are nonreproductive and never breed. For instance, more than fifty percent of American Bison and Right Whales, 75 percent of Blackbucks and Giraffes, and 80-95 percent of New Zealand Sea Lions and Northern Elephant Seals never mate or reproduce with the opposite sex throughout their entire lives.
Ratios of heterosexual, bisexual and homosexual animals vary from species to species and in many cases the homosexual populations of animals exceed those found in humans. Human populations are roughly estimated to be 80 percent heterosexual, 15 percent bisexual and 5 percent homosexual (80-15-5), but among animals these ratios can differ considerably. Female Silver Gulls, for example, have been found to have a ratio of 79-11-10, respectively, while male Black-headed Gulls have a ratio of 63-15-22 and Galahs (a type of cockatoo), 44-11-44.
There are so many examples of gender-variant creatures in the animal kingdom that it is impossible to do them justice here. Why such creatures exist or what purpose they serve may be debatable or even beyond our understanding, but clearly the natural world, when put under the microscope, is amazingly diverse. Biological life is so exuberant it seems to diversify at every possible opportunity and in every conceivable way, thus reflecting the very nature of Godhead itself.
Those who attempt to limit nature, limit God. In scientific journals from the nineteenth century, early zoologists typically imposed their own homophobia on the animal kingdom. While praising the mating of heterosexual creatures as “beautiful representations of God’s glory,” they simultaneously condemned the homosexual behavior they witnessed among animals as “unnatural” and “so monstrous as to be unworthy of record.” Initially, many zoologists tried to explain away homosexuality in the animal kingdom, hypothesizing that the creatures were simply deprived of opposite sex partners, mimicking heterosexual behavior, reacting to artificial environments, defective in some way, confused, or so on. All such rationalizations, however, have since been disproved and unbiased research into the animal kingdom has disclosed to modern biologists what indigenous cultures of the world have known all along—that nature is awe-inspiring and inconceivably variegated in terms of sex and gender.
Well-organized civilizations and tribes existed throughout the Americas for thousands of years prior to their discovery by European explorers. Scandinavian Vikings first reached the North American continent in the eleventh century but were unable to establish a lasting presence. Spain’s Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) rediscovered the Americas at the end of the fifteenth century and a flurry of military, commercial and religious expeditions quickly followed. Spain, Portugal, Holland, France and England all took part in the massive grab for American land, resources and souls.
Sixteenth-century Spanish explorers were quick to notice the homosexual and transgender behavior unabashedly practiced by many of the American natives. After his exploration of the Veracruz region of eastern Mexico, conquistador Hernando Cortes (1485-1547) informed King Carlos V of Spain: “We know and have been informed without room for doubt that all [Veracruz natives] practice the abominable sin of sodomy.” Fellow conquistador and historian Bernal Diaz del Castillo similarly noted sodomy among the nobles: “The sons of chiefs,” he wrote, “did not take women, but followed the bad practices of sodomy.” Detailed reports written during Francisco Pizarro’s conquest of the Incas in western South America (Peru) described crossdressing and homosexuality among native priests as follows: “The devil has introduced his vice under the pretense of sanctity. And in each important temple or house of worship, they have a man or two, or more, depending on the idol, who go dressed in women’s attire from the time they are children, and speak like them, and in manner, dress, and everything else they imitate women. With them especially the chiefs and headmen have carnal, foul intercourse on feast days and holidays, almost like a religious rite and ceremony.” Similar reports of “hermaphrodite” natives among the indigenous tribes of Mexico, South America, Florida and the West Indies evoked great curiosity back in Spain. Eager to investigate, Spanish writer and traveler Francisco Coreal set out for Florida in 1669. Once there, he discovered a class of effeminate boys who lived with the women, made their same handiworks, wore particular feathers and served the native tribesmen in various ways that included sodomy. Coreal wrote: “I believe that these hermaphrodites are none other than the effeminate boys, that in a sense truly are hermaphrodites.”
In the West Indies and much of Central and South America, gender-variant behavior was observed by early Spanish and Portuguese explorers but not well studied, mostly because the native populations were quickly devastated by war and disease. Nevertheless, many descriptions of third-gender beliefs can be found throughout the region, particularly within the Aztec and Maya cultures. All Native American civilizations were polytheistic and worshiped a wide range of gods, goddesses, and nature spirits. Third-gender natives especially honored Xochiquetzal, the Aztec goddess of spring and sexuality, who is associated with same-sex attraction, crossdressing and various types of arts and crafts. In one popular narration, Xochiquetzal transforms herself into a barren hermaphrodite after being raped by Tezcatlipoca, the Aztec god of nighttime and illusion. In another story, the goddess assumes a male form known as Xochipilli, who was especially worshiped by homosexual natives and presided over flowers, art, dance, music, perfume and shamanic trance. Aztec rituals often included homosexual acts as a way of communing with the gods, and Aztec cosmology described four ages—the previous of which was said to be marked by a prevalence of peace, artistry and homosexual relations. Masculine-type lesbians were known as patlacheh and often joined Aztec men in battle. The male warriors were famous for their brutal combat and regularly sodomized defeated soldiers as a celebration of their victory. Prostitution was also common in Aztec society and handsome, teenaged boys were especially valued. Among the Maya, homosexuality was associated with Chin, a dwarfish nature spirit. In Mayan narratives, Chin introduced homoeroticism to the nobles and allowed them to take handsome youths from lower class families to serve as partners for their sons. These early Mesoamerican same-sex unions were a type of marriage among the Maya and recognized under tribal law.
One famous Spanish conquistador, Catalina de Erauso (1585-1650), was actually a woman who left her life as a Basque nun to become a soldier in the New World. Granted permission by the Roman Church to dress as a man, Erauso fought valiantly against the natives of western South America and was celebrated for her heroic military service. The Roman Church launched brutal Inquisitions throughout Latin America during the first few centuries of colonial rule wherein homosexual behavior was severely punished with fines, religious penance, public humiliation, floggings, imprisonment and death. In 1575, Spain’s King Philip II issued an edict sparing indigenous natives from the torture, declaring them incapable of good reason. During the mid-seventeenth century, Inquisition authorities uncovered a network of sodomites in Mexico City and reported the “abomination” to Spain. From 1656-1663, hundreds of homosexuals were consequently executed during a well-publicized effort to purge Mexico of sodomy. The convicted homosexuals were marched to San Lazaro, garroted in public and their dead bodies burned. During the same time period in Cuba, the ruling Spanish Captain General sentenced twenty “effeminate” sodomites to death by burning. Cuban homosexuals and prostitutes were also exiled to Cayo Cruz, a small island in Havana Bay commonly known as Cayo Puto or “Island of the Faggots.” Similar disparaging attitudes toward homosexuals were expressed in a 1791 Havana newspaper article entitled “A Critical Letter About The Man-Woman,” which condemned the effeminate sodomites that apparently thrived in eighteenth-century Havana.
In the early nineteenth century, Inquisitions were ended and many Latin American countries achieved independence from Europe. Both Spain and Portugal eliminated sodomy laws during this time and a majority of Latin American nations followed suit. Brazil, for instance, gained independence from Portugal in 1822 and decriminalized sodomy eight years later under Emperor Dom Pedro I. Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821 but was briefly occupied by France for five years, from 1862-1867. Under French rule, the Napoleonic Code was adopted in Mexico and sodomy was consequently decriminalized. Both Costa Rica and Guatemala abolished their sodomy laws during the 1870s. Modern homosexual subcultures began appearing in large Latin American cities in the early 1900s and by the end of the century, nearly all countries had repealed their sodomy laws. In some nations, laws against homosexuality were temporarily reinstated by dictators but then later repealed. One of the last major Latin American countries to repeal its sodomy laws was Chile, in 1998.
Sodomy laws or not, homosexual and transgender people remained stigmatized and persecuted throughout much of Latin America. Effeminate men were often despised in the male-oriented, Latin culture and harassed by officials under contrived charges, a phenomenon that continues up to this day in certain regions. Nations retaining their sodomy laws included Guyana, Nicaragua and several Caribbean island nations such as Trinidad and Tobago. Guyana punished sodomy with up to life imprisonment and Trinidad and Tobago prescribed ten to twenty years. Both of these countries had large East Indian populations and their sodomy laws were mostly vestiges of early British rule. Nicaragua, which previously had no sodomy laws, criminalized homosexuality in 1992 under pressure from Christian political groups. The Nicaraguan law also prohibited public support for homosexuality but was rarely followed or enforced.
In the Caribbean, Brazil and American Southeast, descendants of African slaves established a significant presence and introduced traditional African practices such as Voodoo and Santeria into the region. In these religious cults, female head priestesses, crossdressing priests and homoerotic rituals were not only common but also similar in many ways to indigenous Native American practices. A majority of African-Americans, however, converted to Christianity and harbored a great deal of animosity for homosexual and transgender people, particularly in the Caribbean region. In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, the British Caribbean islands were among the most hostile while the Spanish islands were predominantly closeted and the Dutch, guardedly tolerant. Some of the last Caribbean islands to decriminalize sodomy were Cuba (1979), the U.S. Virgin Islands (1984), Bermuda (1994), the Cayman and British Virgin Islands (2001), and Puerto Rico (2003). Caribbean islands retaining sodomy laws included St. Lucia (twenty-five years imprisonment), Antigua and Barbuda (fourteen years imprisonment), Jamaica (ten years of hard labor), Barbados, and Grenada. In the Bahamas, public sex was legal for heterosexuals but punished by up to twenty years in prison for homosexuals.
On the island of Hispaniola, sodomy was decriminalized under European rule in both the Dominican Republic and Haiti but homosexual and transgender people remained harassed, just as they were in neighboring Cuba, Jamaica and Puerto Rico. Female-to-male intersex conditions were relatively common in the Dominican Republic and locally known as guevedoche or “penis at twelve.” This well-studied condition, also called pseudo-hermaphroditism (steroid 5-alpha reductase deficiency), is found on certain islands and isolated jungle areas around the world. Infants born with this syndrome are commonly mistaken for and raised as female; however, they are chromosomally male and develop as such (sometimes only partially) upon reaching puberty. One of the earliest known cases of pseudo-hermaphroditism in America is that of Thomasine Hall, who was born and christened a girl in England but began dressing as a man at age twenty-two. Hall joined the English army for several years and then later moved to America, where she reassumed her original female identity. This caught the attention of colonial authorities, however, and the questionable woman was summoned before an American court in 1629. Upon examination, Thomasine Hall was found to have fully developed male organs and a baffled court subsequently ordered her to dress partly as a man and partly as a woman.
At the dawn of the twenty-first century, Latin America was predominantly Roman Catholic and a majority of its nations were quietly tolerant of homosexual and transgender people. Gay communities flourished in large cities such as Sao Paulo, Mexico City and Buenos Aires, and civil rights protections—along with some legal recognition for gay couples—were enacted in countries such as Brazil, Mexico and Argentina.
In North America, settlers from England and France became prominent during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Although indigenous native tribes were quickly decimated in the East, those west of the Appalachian Mountains survived longer and were well-documented by Euro-American settlers. Seventeenth-century French explorers in both Quebec and the Mexican Gulf region noticed a class of crossdressing, homosexual natives and coined the term berdache to describe them. Berdache is of Arabic origin and refers to a young homosexual partner. The word has since become derogatory and most Native Americans now prefer the traditional term “two-spirit,” which refers to tribal members with both male and female spirits or natures. Although French and English records of North American tribes describe Native American culture in great detail, two-spirit natives were typically mentioned only in brief or disparaging terms. Nevertheless, two-spirit traditions have been documented (and in some cases, photographed) in nearly 150 indigenous North American tribes and societies. In roughly half of these, female counterparts were also reported that lived and dressed as men. Included among the tribes were the Seminole, Navajo, Mohave, Crow, Zuni, Pueblo, Hopi, Kutenai, Blackfeet, Hidatsa, Cheyenne, western Algonquian and nearly half of the thirty-five tribes living along the Pacific Northwest. Two-spirit natives comprised a distinct social class within most of these tribal communities; for example, among the Hidatsa of the northern Plains, two-spirits were observed at no less than fifteen to twenty a village and typically pitched their tipis together in a group.
Native American tribes used a wide variety of names for their two-spirit brethren. The Mohave of the American Southwest, for example, called two-spirit men “alyha” and two-spirit women “hwame.” In most Native American societies, two-spirit men were assigned a semi-sacred status and often served as shamans or ceremonial dancers. In battle, two-spirit men were commonly put in charge of bringing food and ammunition to the male warriors while two-spirit women often undertook a man’s lifestyle and actively participated in the fighting and hunting expeditions. Many of the two-spirit men were transgender—they lived among the women and excelled in all their tasks—but were not known to practice castration. Both two-spirit men and women crossdressed or wore specific types of clothing and feathers, and their engagement in homosexual behavior was accepted by their fellow tribesmen. One of the best-known American two-spirits is We’wha (1849-1896), a celebrated Zuni shaman who was invited to Washington D.C. in 1886 and subsequently honored, photographed and widely discussed. We’wha’s ambiguous gender and sexuality created a sensation among Washington’s elite and the two-spirit was dined at the White House and introduced to U.S. President Grover Cleveland.
Native Americans practiced a polytheistic religion worshiping many different gods and nature spirits. Euro-Americans, however, had little interest in the pagan beliefs of Native Americans and were mostly condescending of their tribal practices. By the late 1900s, a majority of tribal descendants had converted to Christianity and abandoned their traditional beliefs. Euro-American culture, on the other hand, moved in a contrary direction. Homosexuality was punishable by death in early colonial America and one of the first known executions for sodomy occurred in Dutch-ruled New Amsterdam (now New York). In 1646, Jan Creoli was convicted of a second offense of sodomy, condemned in the name of God, choked to death and then “burned to ashes.” In 1660, another trial in the same colony convicted Jan Quisthout van der Linde of sodomy with a servant. The servant was flogged while Quisthout van der Linde was tied into a sack, thrown in a river and drowned. In 1674, the English took permanent control of the New Amsterdam colony and renamed it New York. Sodomy laws prescribing the death penalty were continued under English rule and validated by Biblical references from the Old Testament. When the United States of America was established after gaining independence from England in 1776, homosexuality and crossdressing were strictly prohibited and sodomy was punishable by death in nearly every American state. The laws mostly served as a public declaration against homosexual behavior and were only occasionally brought to trial. Shortly after Independence, American states replaced the death penalty for homosexuality with long prison sentences that remained in effect throughout the nineteenth century. In 1850s California, for example, a convicted homosexual could be sentenced from five years to life in prison. While most Latin American countries followed Spain and Portugal by decriminalizing sodomy in the 1800s, English-speaking nations such as the United States, Canada and many Caribbean islands mirrored Britain and kept their sodomy laws intact well into the twentieth century. As a result, all nineteenth-century homosexuals in North America were closeted and lived highly secretive lives. One prime example of this is the United State’s own fifteenth president, James Buchanan (1857-1861), who is widely believed to have been homosexual. As the nation’s only bachelor president, Buchanan never married but shared a home in Washington D.C. with his longtime friend, William King, for sixteen years prior to his presidency. The two were often slighted as homosexual in political circles and King in particular was referred to as “Miss Nancy” or as Buchanan’s “wife” and “better half.”
In the early 1900s, homosexuality came to be viewed more as a psychopathic illness and prison terms were reduced in many states. Homosexual subcultures had existed in large American cities since the early nineteenth century but became increasingly prominent after World War II, when the United States emerged as a modern superpower. In 1948, Dr. Alfred C. Kinsey’s groundbreaking book, Sexual Behavior In The Human Male (The Kinsey Report), created a sensation in conservative America and brought the taboo subject of homosexuality up for debate. In 1950, America’s first homosexual organization, The Mattachine Society, was founded in New York City and in 1952, Christine Jorgensen became America’s first modern transsexual after returning home from a sex-change operation in Denmark. In 1956, beat poet Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997) crossed censorship lines by publishing Howl, a book celebrating his homosexuality. The first U.S. state to decriminalize sodomy was Illinois in 1962 and others gradually followed. In 1969, homosexual riots broke out at the Stonewall Inn in New York City as a response to routine police harassment, marking the beginning of the modern gay movement. Sodomy laws had long been used by authorities to stigmatize and harass homosexual citizens in the U.S. and most states were extremely reluctant to abolish them. In 1975, for example, the California legislature just barely managed to repeal its sodomy laws by a single vote. In New York, sodomy laws were ruled unconstitutional by the state court in 1980 but not formally repealed until twenty years later.
During the latter half of the twentieth century, many educated Americans began viewing homosexuality and transgender identity as primarily innate and biological. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental and emotional disorders and two years later the American Psychological Association followed suit. In 1981, HIV/AIDS was diagnosed for the first time among American homosexual males. The disease initially fueled homophobia but also prompted many gay men to reconsider their promiscuous behavior and move toward committed, monogamous relationships and marriage. Wisconsin was the first state to outlaw discrimination against homosexuals in 1982 and Minnesota was the first to ban discrimination against transgenders in 1993. That same year, the Intersex Society of North America was formed to provide support for intersex individuals. In the 1950s, American doctors began performing sex-assignment operations on intersex infants that often caused severe physical and psychological trauma later in life. The ISNA was established to promote a more natural and accepting approach toward intersexuality and to abolish all unnecessary surgery and stigma.
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the United States of America was a predominantly conservative, Christian nation but mostly tolerant of homosexual and transgender people. Modern gay communities, some of the largest in the world, thrived in cities such as San Francisco, New York, Chicago and Miami. In 2000, Vermont was the first state to grant civil unions for gay couples and in 2003, the United States Supreme Court invalidated all U.S. sodomy laws (173 years after Brazil and 212 years after France). Remarkably, nearly a dozen states still had various laws against homosexuality in their books at the time of the ruling. In 2004, Massachusetts became the first U.S. state to legalize same-sex marriage and the issue was hotly debated nationwide. Several Christian and Jewish denominations began including gays in their congregations, blessing their unions and allowing them to serve as priests, but most major denominations remained strongly opposed to homosexuality and did not at all welcome gays, lesbians or transgenders into their folds. Rather, they actively fought against them both socially and politically.
Canada gained independence from Great Britain in 1867. Sodomy laws were inherited from Britain but no death sentences were ever recorded. Canadians were flogged for homosexuality until 1894, after which prison terms of up to fifteen years were meted out instead. Canada repealed its sodomy laws in 1969 and five years later, Chris Vogel and Rich North, a gay couple from Winnipeg, shocked the world by becoming the first homosexual couple to publicly marry in a church and file a legal challenge (a Manitoba judge declared their marriage invalid later that year). In 1986, equal rights and freedom from discrimination were guaranteed to homosexuals and transgenders under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The new charter allowed Canada, in 2005, to become the first country in the New World and the fourth overall to legalize same-sex marriage. In the early twenty-first century, gay and transgender communities thrived in large Canadian cities such as Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.
The South Seas
The indigenous cultures of the South Pacific were at one time, and in many cases still are, among the most isolated in the world. Prior to their discovery by Europeans from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, these societies had little if any contact with outside civilizations. The vast region includes Australia, New Guinea, New Zealand and all of the various Polynesian islands of the Pacific Ocean.
When Europeans first explored the South Seas they found large, thriving settlements along many of the island coastlines. Some of the more inhabited islands, such as Tahiti and Hawaii, had populations of up to two hundred thousand and were comparable in size with many European and American towns of the same time period. Within these communities, homosexual and transgender natives were well documented by early French and British explorers such as Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, James Cook, William Bligh, and others. Third-gender natives were evident in all of the major Polynesian islands including Tahiti, Fiji, New Zealand, Hawaii, Tonga, Samoa, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, etc., and to a lesser degree among the dark-skinned aborigines that formed smaller tribes along the coasts of Australia and New Guinea.
In Polynesia, European explorers were surprised to encounter societies that had long regarded bisexual, homosexual and transgender conduct as normative. Third-gender natives were common on all of the islands and known by different names. In Tahiti, for instance, male-to-female transgenders that lived and behaved as women were called mahu. In the Hawaiian Islands, whose inhabitants are believed to have originated from Tahiti, the mahu were also present along with the aikane—sexually related or “friendly” men that were essentially masculine-type homosexuals and bisexuals. In Tuvalu, the word pinapinaaine substitutes for mahu, as does the word fa’afafine (“like a woman”) in Samoa and fakafefine in Tonga. All of these various terms referred to the different types of transgender and homosexual men found among the South Sea natives. Polynesian mahu lived and worked alongside the women and excelled in traditionally female tasks such as lei making and basket weaving. They did not perform castration but instead tied their genitals up tightly against the groin. Hawaiian aikane and their counterparts on other islands were commonly engaged as male servants, messengers, guards and confidantes to the royal class. Both the mahu and aikane were known for their talent in the elaborate dance ceremonies performed throughout the islands. Bisexuality was quite common in Polynesia and many island kings kept both male and female partners in their royal huts for intimate relations. Lesbians were less reported in the South Seas although early British ethnographers observed such women in several of the western islands, such as New Hebrides (Vanuatu). Among the Maori tribes of New Zealand, intimate companions of the same sex were known as takatapui and often engaged in homoerotic or bisexual relations. Two Maori ancestors, Tutanekai and Tiki, were renowned as takatapui and are traditionally portrayed playing their flutes together under the moonlight on a secluded island.
Polynesians worshiped a wide range of gods and island spirits but eventually abandoned their indigenous beliefs to adopt Christianity. Soon after their conversion, islanders began stigmatizing the mahu and enacted laws to punish homosexuality. French Polynesia, consolidated under France in the nineteenth century, was the exception and never established sodomy laws. The small Pacific nation is comprised of the Society Islands, which include Tahiti, as well as the Austral, Marquesas and Tuamotu Islands. Several Polynesian islands decriminalized homosexuality during the late 1900s such as American Samoa, Guam, Hawaii, Micronesia, New Caledonia and Vanuatu. Most islands, however, retained strict, British-inherited sodomy laws well into the early twenty-first century. The Cook, Fiji, Kiribati, Solomon and Tuvalu Islands all punished homosexuality with up to fourteen years of prison; the Marshall, Niue, and Tokelau Islands prescribed ten years and Western Samoa, seven. Sodomy laws in Polynesia were based on strongly held religious beliefs and many of the islands were extremely reluctant to abandon them. In Fiji, for instance, laws prohibiting private homosexual conduct were invalidated by the High Court in 2005 but the ruling was highly criticized and challenged by many islanders.
Hawaii’s first written laws were established in 1833 and did not specifically mention sodomy. In 1850, however, a law was enacted under British supervision that prescribed up to twenty years imprisonment with hard labor and a fine. The new sodomy law remained in effect after the U.S. annexation of 1898 and cases were occasionally brought to trial. Hawaii’s last sodomy case was tried in 1958, one year before statehood, and the law was eventually repealed by the state legislature in 1972. Hawaii took a step backward in 1998 when it became the first U.S. state to effectively ban gay couples from marriage through a constitutional referendum.
In New Zealand, homosexuality was punishable by hanging under early British rule but no executions were ever reported. During one famous trial from 1836, six young Maori men accused the Reverend William Yate of sodomitic relations. The Reverend, second in line to the Bishop of Sydney, was not convicted but forced to return to England in disgrace. In the mid-nineteenth century, New Zealand replaced the death penalty with long prison sentences. Few cases were ever brought to trial, however, and sodomy was eventually decriminalized in 1986. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation was outlawed throughout New Zealand in 1993 and civil unions were established in 2004.
At the dawn of the twenty-first century, much of Polynesia scorned homosexual and transgender behavior but indigenous third-gender traditions persisted throughout all of the islands, whether rural or urban. In modern cities such as Auckland, Honolulu, Papeete and Suva, homosexual and transgender locals aligned with their Western counterparts to form small but thriving gay communities.
Early European explorers also reported homosexual and transgender behavior among the aboriginal tribes of New Guinea and Australia. The Portuguese first sighted New Guinea in the sixteenth century and the Dutch discovered Australia in the early 1600s. Throughout the islands of New Guinea, the Papua Gulf region and western Melanesia, the practice of ritualized homosexuality has been observed among various tribes such as the Samba, Anga and Keraki for many years. In these unusual ceremonies, young boys from the age of seven to fifteen, without exception, are made to perform oral sex on older boys and swallow their semen in a series of initiation rites. The rites are believed to instill male potency in the youths and after the age of sixteen they are considered fully potent and married off to women. From that point onward, all homosexual behavior stops with very few exceptions. In a similar tradition found among the Marind-anim tribes of Irian Jaya in Western New Guinea, tribesmen honor an ancestor known as Sosum by dancing around a giant red effigy of his penis while performing homosexual acts on young initiates. According to local legend, Sosum’s mother-in-law cut off his penis when he was having too much intercourse with his wife. The Sosum ritual similarly warns new initiates not to emasculate themselves by overindulging with their future brides.
Another unusual occurrence in this region is the above-normal birth rate of female-to-male intersex children (pseudohermaphrodites). The Sambia tribes of New Guinea are so familiar with this particular intersex condition that they rarely misidentify it and acknowledge three distinct sexes in their culture—male, female and kwolu-aatmwol or “transforming into a man.” Kwolu-aatmwol tribe members are accommodated within Sambian society but quietly disparaged and isolated. They are also somewhat feared—kwolu-aatmwol are believed to have mystical powers and often become shamans or witchdoctors. Most world cultures accept intersex people either by passing them off as ordinary men and women or through the recognition of a third sex category. In many indigenous societies, intersex children are raised as shamans while in other cultures they are given to monasteries and encouraged to live as celibates. A few societies have been known to kill their intersex infants at birth, such as those of ancient Greece and Rome. Most intersex conditions, however, are either unnoticeable at birth or mild enough so that the majority of intersex people live relatively normal lives.
Several countries ruled over Papua New Guinea until the island nation achieved full independence in 1975. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, more than ninety percent of Papua New Guinea’s population was Christian and British-derived sodomy laws punished homosexuality with up to fourteen years in jail. Native tribes, on the other hand, lived in isolated regions and were able to maintain traditional practices and beliefs with little interference.
In Australia, aborigines existed for thousands of years prior to European contact. Early Caucasian settlers were hostile toward the dark-skinned Native Australians and came very close to exterminating them. As a result, little is known about the traditional beliefs and practices of Australia’s original inhabitants although most scholars believe they were similar to other tribal cultures in the region. Early but unsubstantiated reports mention sightings of crossdressing aborigines, sodomitic rituals and homosexual apprenticeships along Australia’s northern islands and eastern coast. Captain James Cook rediscovered Australia in 1770 and a British penal colony was established in the area of Sydney in 1788. Under British rule, homosexuality was punished by hanging and sodomy cases were routinely brought to trial. Australia’s first hanging for sodomy occurred in 1828 and executions reached a peak during the 1830s. Beginning in 1864, long prison sentences replaced the hangings while floggings were meted out for minor sodomy offenses. In late nineteenth-century Australia, homosexual men and women thrived in private social circles and an urban homosexual subculture emerged by the 1920s. Authorities launched several crackdowns on homosexuality after World War II but the persecution ended in the 1960s when Western attitudes toward sexuality were liberalized throughout much of the modern world. In 1975, South Australia was the first state to repeal its sodomy laws while Tasmania was the last, in 1997. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, Australia was a mostly conservative, Christian country but largely tolerant of its homosexual and transgender citizens. Modern gay communities thrived in cities such as Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, and various civil rights were offered from state to state.
The countries of East Asia have a long history of gender diversity and relative tolerance. Prior to European colonialism, Hindu traditions thrived throughout Indochina, down the Malay Peninsula and across the Indonesian archipelago. One example of this is the large Angkor Wat Vishnu temple of Cambodia, built in the eighth century A.D. Another example can be found on the island of Bali in Indonesia, where Hindu culture flourishes to this day. Up until the first few centuries A.D., much of the Indonesian islands were under the control of East Indian traders and priests that brought with them traditional Hindu attitudes regarding gender diversity and tolerance. Buddhism was also imported into the region a few centuries later and became prevalent from Indochina all the way up to Japan. Both of these religions preached virtue, responsible family life and asceticism among their adherents but at the same time tolerated various types of sexualities within general society. Unlike Europe and other parts of the world, East Asia has little if any history of widespread execution or torture of homosexuals.
The indigenous natives of East Asia lived relatively simple, rural lives for thousands of years and typically viewed human sexuality in a light-hearted, playful fashion. This attitude is demonstrated in early East Asian folksongs, poetry, art and especially dance. Traditional dance performances have been an important part of Asian culture since time immemorial and dance troupes were customarily either all male or all female. This practice in theatre and dance, wherein crossdressing men played female roles and crossdressing women played male roles, fostered a great deal of gender levity that invariably attracted many homosexual and transgender people into the profession.
Throughout the Indonesian archipelago, third-gender natives were acknowledged for centuries by traveling Hindu, Islamic and Dutch merchants. Homosexual and transgender Indonesians remain common in the islands today and are known by terms such as waria, banci, bencong and many others. Waria is the most familiar of these and is especially used to address male-to-female transgenders. As a combination of the Indonesian words for female (wanita) and male (pria), waria reflects their mixed-gender status as both woman and man. Indonesians traditionally viewed the waria as symbols of prosperity and their presence was believed to bring good luck. In a similar tradition still practiced today, intersex animals are kept as pets in the belief that they bestow good fortune upon the family and village. Another time-honored custom still found in many remote sections of Indonesia is the practice of homosexual apprenticeships. In this tradition, accomplished shamans and artists known as waroks offer tutelage to young male disciples or gemblaks that often involve homosexual relationships.
In the eleventh century A.D., Islam was introduced into the western islands of Indonesia and gradually spread eastward until, by the 1500s, most of the country was Muslim. Unlike other parts of the Islamic world, however, male castration never became a widespread practice in medieval Indonesia. The Dutch gained control of the islands in the seventeenth century and established the highly lucrative Dutch East India Company. Both the Muslims and Dutch overlooked third-gender behavior among native Indonesians and sodomy laws were never legislated. After gaining independence from the Netherlands in 1949, Indonesia remained legally neutral toward homosexuality. Nevertheless, Islamic beliefs increasingly stifled traditional attitudes toward gender diversity and authorities often harassed homosexual and transgender citizens. In 2003, calls by Islamic fundamentalists to legislate Shari’a or strict religious laws throughout the islands brought Indonesia’s traditional stance of tolerance into question. Several local districts were allowed to adopt Shari’a law and an immediate persecution of homosexual and transgender citizens ensued. Nearby Brunei, Malaysia and Singapore also had large Muslim populations and were even more conservative than Indonesia. In these three countries, British colonialists instituted strict sodomy laws during the 1800s that remained firmly in place well into the early twenty-first century. Brunei punished homosexuality with up to ten years in prison, Malaysia with twenty and Singapore with life. In addition, Malaysia and Singapore had repressive laws banning any organization or public expression in support of homosexuality.
On Mainland Indochina, early rural cultures were full of gender diversity and this is reflected in the colorful same-sex dance and theatre traditions found throughout the region from Burma to Vietnam. Traditional Siamese culture recognized three sexes known as ying (female), chai (male) and kathoey (effeminate homosexuals and transgenders). Another term used for the third sex in northern Siam is pu-mia or “male-female,” which refers to the crossdressing transgenders found in that region and describes their mixed-gender status. Early British colonists in both Burma and Siam noticed homosexuality as well as crossdressing among the natives and often complained about their inability to distinguish the men from the women. In her book, The English Governess at the Siamese Court (London: 1870), Anna Leonowens wrote about the gender-ambiguous natives she encountered in Siam as follows: “Here were women disguised as men, and men in the attire of women, hiding vice of every vileness and crime of every enormity—at once the most disgusting, the most appalling, and the most unnatural that the heart of man has conceived.”
Great Britain incorporated Burma into the British Indian Empire during the nineteenth century but allowed Siam to remain an independent yet supervised kingdom. Under British influence, Siam briefly enacted sodomy laws during the early twentieth century although not a single case was ever brought to trial. In 1949, Siam changed its name to Thailand and sodomy laws were abolished seven years later during an effort to purge Thai legal codes of obsolete edicts. By the end of the twentieth century, over ninety-five percent of Thais were Buddhist and the country was among the most tolerant in Asia. Modern Thailand became an international center for gender-variant people of all types and famous for its drag queens, legal prostitution and easily accessible transsexual operations. Gay tourism grew in popularity and local homosexual and transgender Thais united with their Western counterparts to form thriving communities in resort areas and large cities such as Bangkok. Burma, on the other hand, remained stagnant in terms of civil liberties and social tolerance. Under British rule, strict sodomy laws were established in the mostly Buddhist nation that punished homosexuality with up to life in prison. Burma gained independence from Great Britain in 1948 but chose to keep the inherited sodomy laws. In 1989, the highly isolated country changed its name to Myanmar and eventually reduced its punishment for homosexual behavior to ten years in prison.
The early indigenous cultures of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos were similar to that of Siam and Burma. All three became predominantly Buddhist with some traditional animist tribes in remote rural areas. Vietnam was heavily influenced by China, which ruled the region from the second century B.C. until the early tenth century, while Cambodia thrived under the impressive Khmer Empire from 800 to 1450 A.D. Laos was more closely related to Siam and they united as a single kingdom in the fourteenth century. Detailed legal codes from Vietnam’s Le and Nguyen Dynasties, beginning in the fifteenth century, banned male castration but not homosexual behavior. While Vietnam’s laws often mirrored those of the Chinese, in this case Vietnam outlawed male castration even though China did not. Similarly, when China passed laws discouraging homosexuality in 1740, Vietnam chose not to follow suit. In the nineteenth century, France dominated all three countries and established French Indochina. Sodomy laws were never enacted under French rule and Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos all achieved independence in 1954. By the early twenty-first century, all three countries had resisted criminalizing homosexuality although the general mood toward homosexuals and transgenders was mostly conservative.
The Philippines were first sighted by Portuguese explorers in the early sixteenth century and colonized by Spain from 1565 onward. Documents from early Spanish colonists mention male-to-female crossdressing and “nonconforming” behavior among the island’s indigenous animist shamans. Under Spanish rule, homosexuality was a punishable offense and Christian Inquisitions were conducted until Spain abolished its sodomy laws in the early 1800s. Independence was achieved through revolution in 1896 but the United States took possession of the islands two years later. In 1946, the Philippines was granted full independence by the Americans.
Research conducted on the Philippines’ island of Negros in the 1950s and ‘60s by anthropologist Donn Hart reveals a longstanding presence of homosexual and transgender individuals in the region, from the slightly effeminate dalopapa or binabaye to the fully transgender bayot. Similar third-gender subcultures can be found throughout the country’s many islands, each with its own set of local categories and terms. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the Philippines remained a diverse and mostly tolerant nation despite the fact that over ninety percent of its inhabitants were Roman Catholic. Homosexuality remained decriminalized, transsexual operations were legal and male prostitution was often a livelihood for some of the islands’ poor. Gay and transgender Filipinos maintained a significant presence in large cities such as Manila and were known as bakla in the local Tagalog language. Masculine women and lesbians were also common in the Philippines and called lakin-on.
China has a long history of gender diversity dating back many thousands of years. The legendary king and founder of Chinese culture, Emperor Huang Di, is described by ancient poets as having male lovers and was by no means alone in this regard—for two centuries during the height of the Han dynasty, ten openly bisexual emperors ruled China. Their names and the names of their acknowledged male lovers were recorded in the official histories of that period, beginning with Emperor Gao Zu (ruler from 206-195 B.C.) and his favorite, Jiru, and ending with Emperor Ai Di (ruler from 6 B.C. to 1 A.D.) and his much adored male concubine, Dongxian. There were also no less than nine emperors after this period that had openly homosexual relationships, from Emperor Jian Wen Di of the Liang Dynasty (ruler from 549-551 A.D.) to Emperor Puyi, the last Qing or Manchu emperor of the twentieth century. China has an excellent history of record-keeping and early court chronicles from the eighth century B.C. onward document Chinese kings with third-gender servants in their royal assemblies. In many cases, the servants were intimately connected with the king and often acted as confidential advisors and friends. Homosexual and transgender citizens were also known to serve as shamans, dancers and prostitutes in early Chinese culture and a good amount of homoerotic literature exists from the Six Dynasties Period (222-589 A.D.), such as that written by poet Ruan Ji. Some of the poetry also includes references to lesbian love affairs.
The three most important religions of ancient China were Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism. Taoism is China’s traditional, indigenous religion and worships various gods, nature spirits and human ancestors. Many Tao gods and goddesses are depicted living either alone or with another deity of the same sex, such as the mountain god, Shanshen, and the local earth god, Tudi. Tudi is always depicted as male but Shanshen is sometimes male and sometimes female. Tao teachings stress harmony in nature and the importance of maintaining a balance between the female (yin) and male (yang) principles. Some Taoists believe that homosexual behavior indicates an imbalance of yin or yang while others understand that third-gender people are naturally balanced or “neutral” since they possess both male and female qualities. Confucius (551-479 B.C.) was an early Chinese philosopher and ethicist whose teachings slowly grew in popularity after his death. Confucianism was adopted by Emperor Hu in the second century B.C. and has influenced China’s moral, social, political and religious practices for many centuries. The Analects of Confucius is the primary source of Confucian teachings and stresses social loyalty and righteous living. Homosexuality is not specifically mentioned in the text but traditional gender roles are prescribed and failing to produce a son is considered the worst neglect of duty. On the other hand, Confucius exalted all that was ancient—he recognized China’s longstanding tradition of accommodating third-gender citizens but maintained they should never assume positions of power. Buddhism was brought to China from western India during the second century B.C. along trade routes (the “Silk Road”) extending out of Central Asia. It was acknowledged by Emperor Hu of the Han dynasty but slow to gain in popularity. Buddhist teachings of asceticism and monastic life were initially foreign to both the nature-worshiping Taoists and family-oriented Confucianists but by the sixth century A.D., Buddhism became widespread and was a major religious influence.
Muslim merchants introduced Islam into China during the eighth century along the same trade routes that had brought Buddhism. Islam sustained a significant following in northern China and influenced the region for eight centuries. Muslims popularized the practice of male castration among third-gender servants and slaves, just as they had in India, and the castrations involved a complete removal of both the penis and testicles. Castrated servants were highly popular among Chinese royalty for many centuries but became less common when Islam began to wane in the 1600s. The last vestige of China’s eunuch system ended in 1912 with the collapse of the Qing Dynasty.
Christianity first arrived in China during the sixteenth century but never became widely popular. Catholic missionar
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