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Up Topic Discussion / TG/TS In the News / The Navajo Nadleeh
- - By Dianna Date 2003-10-22 06:03
Excerpt:
Navajo origin stories embrace the idea of cross-gender identities. In some
of these stories, men with feminine characteristics are known as “nadleeh” —
they dressed like women and were considered important religious figures with
a special role in ceremonies. They also shared in conventional female
duties, such as cooking or caring for children.

In Navajo tradition, sexual relationships between nadleeh and non-nadleeh
men were considered heterosexual.
================================================

Gay Navajos find their place between traditional and Western culture
By LESLIE HOFFMAN
Associated Press Writer

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. (AP) — Darrell Joe sits across the table over a Denny’s
breakfast, cup of coffee in hand, rattling off projects he’s working on and
programs he wants to start in his new job with the Navajo Nation’s AIDS
office.

He’s a respected 30-year-old professional in a high-profile position, his
calendar filled with meetings and conferences. There is an ease in his
voice. He knows who he is and what he wants. He is happy.
But it wasn’t always like this.

Joe remembers when his journey began: when he and his cousins, playmates
growing up in the small Navajo community of Iyanbito, N.M., went off to
school.

That’s when other kids started hurling words like “fag” and “queer” at him.
Soon, some of his cousins were embarrassed to be seen with him.
“That’s when I started to think, ’OK, I’m different.’ I couldn’t figure it
out, and I think that’s when I started pretending that I lived in certain
worlds,” he said.

His search for a place to belong both as a gay man and as a Navajo would
take him far from his home and his culture to an urban existence in Western
society — and back again.

Joe is one of the growing number of gay, lesbian and bisexual Navajos
walking a cultural tightrope, uniting elements of Navajo and Western culture
to establish a place for themselves.

“They sort of had to create their own world,” said Wesley Thomas, an
assistant professor of anthropology at Indiana University who specializes in
American Indian gender studies.

The modern view of homosexuality in the Navajo Nation is shaped both by
tribal tradition and Western influence, according to Thomas.

Navajo origin stories embrace the idea of cross-gender identities. In some
of these stories, men with feminine characteristics are known as “nadleeh” —
they dressed like women and were considered important religious figures with
a special role in ceremonies. They also shared in conventional female
duties, such as cooking or caring for children.

In Navajo tradition, sexual relationships between nadleeh and non-nadleeh
men were considered heterosexual.

“In the Western gay culture, you have men who look like any other guy and
behave like men and that’s their identity as a gay male,” said Jack Jackson
Jr., a gay Navajo who serves in the Arizona House of Representatives. “On
the reservation ... you see a lot of gay men who look more feminine and act
more feminine, and it seems it’s from their upbringing in a more traditional
way.”

A modest number of nadleeh have lived openly as transvestites on the
reservation for generations, said Harry Walters, an anthropologist who
teaches Navajo culture at Dine College in Tsaile, Ariz.

Some in the community now see “nadleeh” as an early manifestation of
homosexuality, and use it as a broad term for anyone who isn’t heterosexual.
Yet Thomas and Walters said the traditional understanding of nadleeh is
disappearing, in part because the cultural significance has not been passed
from one generation to the next — but also because of changing attitudes.
With the arrival of Western religious influences, Navajo families began to
hide away homosexual relatives or encourage them to live a heterosexual
lifestyle, Thomas said.

“The nadleeh were very much a part of Navajo culture right into the late
1800s,” said Thomas, who is also a gay tribal member. “Now we have children
and grandchildren who dismiss (nadleeh) as part of Navajo culture. It was
... relegated to something that was part of Western culture and not Navajo.
“There is now a search by these Navajo gays and lesbians to find out who
they are,” he said.

With that search has come an attempt to organize.
Melvin Harrison, head of the Chinle-based Navajo AIDS Network, said there
wasn’t a community for homosexual, bisexual or transgender Navajos when he
began HIV prevention work on the reservation in 1988.

“Ten years ago, 15 years ago, there was no place for these individuals to
go,” Harrison said. “That’s the big change I’ve seen is that we have people
who come to our office just to get a hug, to laugh, to wear makeup. Then
they wash up and go home and be their other selves.”

To celebrate National Coming Out Day earlier this month, the network’s
office in Gallup, N.M., organized a coming-out party at a nearby state park.
More than 50 people showed up for the third annual event, which included a
drag show and a dance.

No one can remember a formal organization that served homosexual, bisexual
or transgender Navajos before the network’s formation in 1990. Homosexuality
is simply not discussed within the traditionally discreet Navajo Nation.
“It’s always been accepted, but deep down it’s seen as something that’s not
normal,” Walters said.

Some credit the traditional nadleeh teachings for greater tolerance among
older generations. Joe said his grandmother, for instance, always knew he
was different but never judged or ostracized him.

Still, the homophobic attitudes that first emerged with the decline of the
nadleeh persist today, although tribal members disagree to what extent.
Pernell Sam, a transgender Navajo from the small town of Many Farms near
Chinle, said the two-inch scar on his back is painful proof. The 28-year-old
was stabbed at a party seven years ago by a man who he said used to call him
“fag” and “queer” in high school.

“They never caught that guy,” Sam said. “I still see him around.”

Countless tribal members stay in the closet, fearing that kind of backlash,
Harrison and others said. As a result, it’s hard to know just how large the
gay community is on the reservation.

As a young man, Joe was simply too afraid of the reaction he might get from
friends, classmates and others if he came out. A cross-country athletic
scholarship to college in Idaho was his ticket away from the reservation.
Eventually, Joe set out for San Francisco. There, a stint as a volunteer
with an AIDS prevention organization led to a career. But something was
still missing.

“I was living in two worlds,” Joe said.

He returned to Gallup, eager to reconnect with his culture and help the
local AIDS prevention effort, using models from his work in San Francisco.
That work led to the Naa Ts’iilid Hozho, or Beauty Rainbow Project. The HIV
prevention group, which is part of the Navajo AIDS Network, targets the
homosexual, bisexual and transgender community. The rainbow is a symbol in
both Navajo religion and the Western gay movement.

Beauty Rainbow Project is both a public health effort and an important
support network. “As far as the gay community on the Navajo reservation,
we’re it,” said Marco Arviso, who heads the group of about 20 people.
They gathered one recent evening, under a patch of cottonwood trees in the
shadow of Canyon de Chelly in Chinle.

There was Aaron Begay, a 29-year-old transgender who works at Dine College.
He said he believes the reservation is generally an accepting environment
for those like himself, “although we hear a lot of this negativity and
name-calling.”

Mitch, a bisexual public school teacher, recalled when the nadleeh were
considered “almost like holy people.”

Mitch is one of the few in the group who remains in the closet, still unsure
about how to balance his place in the Navajo community and the society
surrounding him.

Sitting next to him, Pernell Sam said he revealed his identity 10 years ago
and will not go back in the closet. “It’s too hard,” he said.

Sam is dressed in a plain gray cotton top and white pants, his face
flawlessly smooth with strong feminine lines defining his cheekbones — all
changes from hormones he’s taking in the hopes of someday getting a sex
change. His personal mission is to help other Navajos understand.

“I have nothing to hide,” he said.
Parent - By maryannk Date 2003-11-07 03:14
"The painful Legacy left by Christian Missionaries"

Diana's post could be titled this.  The Indian
Communities were sold at big bill of goods
by the Western White Man.  This rape of
a natural peaceful society has happened all
over the world.  To bring these "savages"
into the glorious 20th century with phones,
cars, cameras, indoor plumbing, White Man
attached the Necessity for their Religious
Salvation through Christianity.  That is they
should refrain from homosexuality, cross-dressing
and cross-living of their pagan ancestors and
now rejoice in the Good News preached by
closeted Pedophiles called Holy priests.
Their beautiful and empathetic culture and
traditions replaced by White Mans's lies,
Sham, and Hypocrisy

The younger generations clutch Western Mores
of the Christians in order to acheive success..
not fully cognizant of the duping and lost of their
Indian culture.  White Man's God..Capitalism has
appealed to their greed as any one else.

How do we and they repair the damage the Great
White Fathers selfishly and criminally reeked on the
Indian societies?

Should we take in receipes for Missionary Stew?
Too late, 100 years too late.

Luv each other,

Maryann
Up Topic Discussion / TG/TS In the News / The Navajo Nadleeh

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