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Changing Ones:

Third and Fourth Genders in Native North America

by Will Roscoe

Book review kindly provided by by Dr Tracie O'Keefe DCH

This delicious, clever book which looks at gender roles in Native North American cultures, is both an exciting read and a skilled cultural exploration. Roscoe was also the author of The Zuni Man-Woman that received the Margaret Mead Award of the American Anthropological Association and Society of Applied Anthropology as well as The Lambda Literary Award.

Although I would bow to the superior knowledge of my very good friend Dr. Napewastewin Schutzer (a proud North American, Sioux, Blackfoot Tribesperson herself), whose opinion on this book would greatly interest me, I find it to be as believable an interpretation of native American gender culture as I have ever read. It's examination of gender diversity and third and fourth gender roles is both fascinating and profoundly shameful to European and Scandinavian people whose ancestors destroyed much of the life patterns of over 150 tribes throughout that continent. The sheer arrogance of the settlers, who portrayed this gender diversity as an expression of savagery, homosexuality and devil worship, seems to be little more than ignorance today but at the time was nothing less than extreme cultural violence.

The foreword by Randi Burns, co-founder of The Gay American Indians, (San Francisco) is a testament to the sensitivity and accuracy of a work that has been pieced together from records over the last 200 years. Roscoe excels where he shows how acceptable, sex and gender difference was, and how important the unique contributions these individuals made to their cultures were.

Shamans, medicine people, beadworkers, males who fulfilled female or non male roles with ease. Apache warrior women who battled along side their brothers and hunted the buffalo of the plains. Included are photographs of those who chose neither male or female roles, but played out third and fourth gender roles, even sometimes in secret, away from reservation wardens who threatened to imprison them unless they became conventional and inoffensive to the paleface uniform with forked tongue.

From an anthropological point of view, Roscoe's study of the history of these cultures shows that they were greatly different from tribe to tribe, river to river and valley to valley. Changing Ones is truly a lovely book from a sociological point of view, because it shows the way those societies, unaffected by the industrial revolution, JudeoChristianity, and capitalist ethics, flourished to accept a greater range of sex and gender encodation.

But most of all I like this book because it seems thoroughly well researched and he has put a great deal of work into his study, suspended presupposition, and done the spade work. If this book sits on your shelves you will be a gender intellectual, if you read it on the train you will be a gender geek and if you lend it to the unenlightened non gender adventurer they will be shocked about the lies generations told us about so called uncivilised, ignorant red Indians who worked out how to accommodate gender diversity while we were working out how to destroy their achievements

Dr Tracie O'Keefe DCH is a clinical hypnotherapist, psychotherapist, and counsellor formerly practising at The London Medical Centre, Harley Street in the UK. Now the Director of the Sex, Gender, and Sexuality Identity Clinic, at The O'Keefe Institute, Sydney, Australia.
In asociation with Katrina Fox, she is the author of a number of books, details of which may be found on her website:
Their latest publication is Finding the Real Me: True Tales of Sex & Gender Diversity, published by Jossey Bass Wiley

Published by St. Martin's Press; (pbk 2000)
334 pages ISBN: 0 312 22479 6
Macmillan Press, (hbk 1998)
ISBN 0 333 73129 8
(Also Palgrave Macmilan ISBN: 0 312 17539 6)
GO TO TOP Copyright GENDYS Network and Dr. Tracie O'Keefe. Page design Jed Bland. 13.02.01 Last amended 28.01.04