reassignment, fa-afine, mahu, kathoey, xanith, hijara, hsiang ku, berdache & the faecal child

– etching by de Bry, “Balboa’s Dogs Attacking a Group of Panamanian Sodomites”

Being a berdache – that is, a man who behaved much like a woman, or occasionally a woman who behaved like a man, in a Native American tribe – was not soft option. As well as customarily providing non-berdaches with sex, berdache men carried out a variety of shamanistic duties, became skilled at women’s tasks, wore women’s clothes, and even underwent their own versions of menstruation and childbirth. After a male berdache got married – which was usually to a young man or an older one between marriages – he began to imitate menstruation by scratching himself between his legs with sharp sticks until blood flowed, after which he strictly followed the women’s menstruation taboos. When he decided to become pregnant, he stuffed rags and bark under his skirt in increasing quantities, boasted of his condition in public, and started to follow normal pregnancy taboos – except that, unlike pregnant women in the tribe, he allowed his husband to carry on having sex with him. As delivery approached, the berdache started to drink a concoction of mesquite beans that led to extreme constipation, pain and stomach cramps – in other words, ‘labour pains.’ Finally, and inevitably, when the colonic pressure became too great, the berdache went into the bushes, took the position of a woman giving birth, and ‘gave birth.’ Clearly, the ‘baby’ simulation had insurmountable problems from this point on. As a result, the faecal baby was pronounced stillborn, following which the berdache commenced a period of wailing to lament the loss, clipped his hair and gave away the cradle that he had prepared for his child. The husband, meanwhile, was obliged to join in with the melodramatic proceedings.

– Clive Bromhall, The Eternal Child, p. 261