A Circle of Berdaches
Though the term Berdache was known for centuries, it remained obscure and was somewhat "re-discovered" in the 1950s. It was a word dating perhaps to the Crusades and thought to be likely Persian in origin -- the history of it is still being learned, as is an increasing understanding that it's use was more widespread than originally assumed. It is known that French soldiers in the late 1600s used it to identify LGBT persons in Native American Tribes who "did despicable things with others of the same sex". However, it was quickly adopted as a postive pan-tribal term, supplementing the many long-existing Native American words.
The cutural and social heritage of Berdaches were particularly targeted by Christianity and destroyed along with most other Native American traditions throughout the latter part of the 1800s. The last documented Berdache was a Navajo who died in 1930.
While studying about Berdaches these past many years, a simple truth constantly flies up at me... They were people who were valued members of their communities. Many were the spiritual leaders, medicine people, artisans, teachers, adopters of orphaned children, sometimes even chiefs as in the case of one woman. Today LGBT people often continue to fulfill those roles; yet, too many of us remain under-valued or have our self-esteemed stripped from us because of our sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. For me, Berdache is a perfect self-description. Harry Hay suggested it as a better term than gay and lesbian. It reinforces the truth of our self- worth, our value to our society, and our countless contributions in developing the world for future generations. It is also inclusive and, thankfully, SHORT.
For some time, I have looked at various programs I might develop to bring Berdache people together. In January 2003, I discovered a very workable solution...
Outmusic member, Andy Northrup, traveled from the Great White North to New York City, and I hosted a house concert featuring him. It may have been sparsely attended but the spirit of the evening was unmistakable. To see and hear my friend, whom I had not previously met in person, sing his heart out, plus sing songs that reflect my life and others was thrilling. It was as if we were all somehow chiefs of our own lives and had come together to communicate to each other where we are in space/time. A sort of Pow-Wow. Freddy Freeman performed at Andy's request afterwards, and then we had a sing-a-long for about an hour. I didn't even know two of the guys who attended but we knew we belonged together.
My apartment worked well as a performing venue with its high ceiling and long main room. As the evening ended, Jon Gilbert Leavitt suggested I host more and "give it a name". So I put ideas into action and created this performance series called, " A Circle of Berdaches".
The performers primarily fall into either of two categories:
I hope you will join with us some evening.