The Queer History of the United States: Part 1
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Episode · 2 years ago

The Queer History of the United States: Part 1

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Here on Pride, we have the honor of speaking with scholars and historians that study all different aspects of queer history. Last year, Dr. Rebecca Simon taught us about the history of same-sex relationships during the Golden Age of Piracy. In December, Dr. Andrew Lear explained the pederasty of Ancient Greece. Our guest today is Dr. Eric Cervini, an American historian with specialized knowledge of LGBTQ+ history in the US. Today, is part one of a six-part series that explores the rich history of queer people throughout time in the US. We’ll start with the indigenous people of North America, move into the Conquistador’s effects on native people, and end with the British Colonies. Be sure to follow Eric on IG! Your host is Levi Chambers, co-founder of Gayety. Follow the show and keep up with the conversation @Pride. Want more great shows from Straw Hut Media? Check out or website at strawhutmedia.com. Your producers are Levi Chambers, Maggie Boles, Ryan Tillotson and Edited by Sebastian Alcala Have an interesting LGBTQ+ story to share? We might feature U! Email us at lgbtq@strawhutmedia.com. *This podcast is not affiliated with Pride Media. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

STRAWUT media. Here on pride we have the honor of speaking with scholars and historians that study all different aspects of Queer history. Last year, Dr Rebecca Simon taught us about the history of same sex relationships during the golden age of piracy. In December, Dr Andrew Lear explained the pederisty of Ancient Greece. Our guest today is Dr Eric Servinni, an American historian with specialized knowledge of LGBTQ plus history in the United States. Today is part one the six part series that explores the rich history of Queer people throughout time in the US. Will start with the indigenous people of North America, move into the CONQUISTADOR's effects on native people and end with the British colonists. I'm Levi Chambers, and this is pride, all right. Are you ready? Don't be nervous. Yeah, okay, I'm good. I'm a name is Dr Eric Servini. I'm a historian of LGBT Q plus history. When Dr Eric Servini arrived at Harvard as an undergraund, he discovered not only that he could live as an openly gay man, but that he could also study queer history. Specifically, I didn't think that I was gonna Study Gay History and then I saw the movie milk, which is an amazing movie and got me realize. First, how did I never hear of Harvey Milk before if I'm a gay man? And second, who else is out there who? What other stories have we not been telling ourselves, because lgbtq plus people have always been erased from history. I think it's an important part of our national identity and in who we are in the the our culture is queer culture and it's always been apart from the beginning, from day on, since humanity emerged, there have always been queer people out there and I think discovering that and in telling these stories is something that we have to do as as a modern day civilization. For now we'll start at the beginning, and when we talk about American history, that means Turtle Island, what the indigenous tribes called North America long before the Spanish, Portuguese and English ever set foot here. I think a lot of people would be shocked to hear how incredible their conception of gender was for thousands of years before European showed up the their doorstep and said, Oh, actually, there's just two genders. Hey, power, you all dons a Niftim.

Take Harlan Prudin a workout. No money, NIH Nahl, Nihaya quake. Greetings by relative, and thank you so much for this opportunity for me to be here to share some of my teachings and knowledge around what is two spirit and who is too spirit. My government name is Harlem Prutin. My Indian name is Waka, no money. Harlan Prudin is a scholar and activist and a member of the CREE nation, the indigenous population of Modern Day Alberta, Canada. Some of our nations had two genders, while others had three. My nation had for some nations had up to seven different genders. With more than five hundred federally recognized tribes present in the US today, you can imagine, there were many different names in many different languages to describe genders. When Westerners came into native communities and saw people who didn't fit the binary, they lack the vocabulary to describe what they were seeing. Until one thousand nine hundred and ninety. Anthropologists use the word Bardak has, a derivative of Bardah has, meaning passive sodomites, and sorry if I didn't get the pronunciation right. That's where some of these offensive words came from. Now we have an umbrella term that we use for native people who do not fit into the Western gender binary. That term is too spirit. Someone who has both a male and female or masculine and feminine essence within them right or their spirit. But to spirit is not the same as trans and not necessarily an identity in itself. Harland explained, it's a community organizing tool or strategy or another way of doing that around descriptive language rather than using Western identities. Is Too spirit is the intersection of those who embodied diverse sexual sexualities, genders, gender expressions and gender roles and who are indigenous to turtle island, and so it's a way to organize though that community. And so if you're not indigenous to turtle island and you don't have this diverse sexualities and gender, gender expression and gender roles, you cannot use the term to spirit. But so what we do is be organized under two spirit and it's a pan indigenous concept. Harland spoke to their own experience as a member of the CREE nation. For Myself, I would have been known as an a Yah quay and that would be the you know, for the male assigned to spirit person, and that's how we would identify that that gender. Within different societies. To Spirit people had special, often spiritual roles that their unique identity made them capable of. You know, for us as crees is, we are how we formed our societies. There were two big dominant camps, or two big dominant society. There was the woman's camp and a men's camp. Men Hunted, women gathered and also within that public sphere, because of the division of lay, were around our genders.

Women weren't allowed to men's camp and a man wasn't allowed into the woman's camp. But good? Is that bad? Well, I'd like to suspend judgment and say that's just the way that we formed our society. That's statement of being. Now, if there was ever I balanced or disharmony amongst those two camps, a man couldn't walk over to the woman's camp and say hey, women, what's going on, and a woman couldn't walk over to a man's camp because they weren't allowed in those spears. But us, as a Yah Quay, we were often schooled in both of the technique, the technique of gathering, the technique of hunting, and we had were the only people that had unfettered, in equal access to both of those camps, and so if there was ever disharmony or discord or imbalance, we would provide this mediation or this mediator role where we would float over to the women's camp are like Hey, women, what's going on with happening? We would go over to the men's camp and we've like came in, what's happening? What's going on? And then we could go back and forth and we could negotiate and navigate that conflict or that work for a resolution. A man couldn't do this and that whale, a woman couldn't do this, a square, just us, as a Yah Quay, could do this, and so we had this like fluidity and I think out of that and many of our two spirit relatives were also known as being the medicine and people, and I believe where that came from was that if we were good at negotiating these spaces between the net whale and this Quaya camp, you know, we were all so good at navigating, in negotiating between the scene and the unseen world or the physical and the spiritual dimension, and I think that's where you know and where many of our two spirit relatives were known as being medicine people, because they could navigate and negotiate and be the link between the those two different world the Zuni tribe, which occupies present day New Mexico and had occupied that land for thousands of years, use the word Lahamana to refer to a third gender, and the Zuni tribe believed that gender was built over time. Right, you were born, in their words, you were born raw and then you were cooked into adults. So gender wasn't something that was fixed from the very beginning. So and a Lamana is someone who has both a male and female or masculine and feminine essence within them right or their spirit. The most famous Lahamana was a person called Waywah, who was born in one thousand eight hundred and forty nine. Way what was born with male characteristics but even from a very young age showed interest and excellence and weaving and pottery, which were traditionally female activities. And it's...

...really, really hard to capture that concept in the English language because when other Zuni members would describe way was gender, they would say she is a man right. So it's very you know, of course we're using a female pronoun, but then that the object itself is is male, so it's hard to capture that. Now, in eighteen seventy nine, Weiwa began a friendship with an anthropologist named Matilda coake Stephenson, who wrote a lot about their relationship. When she referred to Weiwa, she switched between male and female pronouns until nineteen o four, when she wrote in her diary. As the writer could never think of her faithful and devoted friend in any other light, she will continue to use the feminine gender when referring to Wei Wa. Then in eighteen eighty six, Weiwa coompanied Stephenson to Washington DC to educate the public about Zuni culture. They demonstrated weaving on a loom set up on the National Mall, performed a traditional dance at the national theater and even met the speaker of the House and President, Grover Cleveland, whom Wei Wa presented with a gift. As they traveled around Washington DC, one newspaper reported society has had recently a notable addition in the shape of an Indian princess of the Zuni tribe Princess Wah Wah goes about everywhere at all of the receptions and ties of Washington, wearing her native dress. The media can have fell in love with way. Why? One quote, it says her features, especially her mouth, are rather large, her figure and carriage rather masculine. Right. It didn't even connect to them that maybe in American culture they would have been assigned mail. Sadly, Waiwa's attempts to bridge the divide between Westerners and their own culture did not end well. In eighteen ninety two, relations between the Zuni people and the Westerners were becoming more and more strained. I think it's it ends up being a somewhat of a tragic story because way while was arrested for protecting a Zuni governor from American soldiers who were invading their land. Essentially and was arrested and in prison for a month and then died just a few years later. When Wai Wa passed away in eighteen ninety six, their friend Matilda coake Stevenson was among those by their side. Later she wrote about that experience. She said we will called her over and said tell all my friends in Washington goodbye. Tell President Cleveland my friend. Goodbye. Way will maybe the most wellknown to spirit person, but there were many, many more. Harland told us about them. So there is Wei while from the Zuni nation, there is husting claw from the Navajo or DNA nation. There is Ozawa did from the the on a Shnabe Nation, Oh tish from the crow nation. These are all male...

...assigned individuals. There was we wa Barciampe from the Crown Nation, a female assigned at two spirit warrior. which is really cool about the Barciampe is. There are, I think, thirteen fires that make up the crow nation and we and Barciampe was known for being for their bravery and being an amazing tacticianer of war. And so Barciampe became the chief of one fire and then became a chief of chiefs, became a chief of all thirteen fires for the crow nation and there were female assigned. Rarely do us as two spirit people had yet our experiences centered and focused. And so this time and the space and place that we are talking about two spirit does my heart so good and makes my heart think of thank you so much. How we say a formal thank you and create you on us in a well or informally we would just say Hihi. When we come back the violence of the Spanish conquistadors. Welcome back. Before the break we talked with Harlem prudent about two spirit people in native cultures. Now we'll talk about the effects of the Spanish and Portuguese conquistadors on native people, specifically regarding gender and sexuality. Immediately after one thousand nine hundred and ninety two, right Columbus sailed ocean blue, as we're all told in in elementary school, and you know, started this kind of reign of terror on the continent and imposing their own gender norms upon these native Americans, and in a very, very violent way. Columbus sailed the ocean blue in thousand und ninety two. Here in the US we've celebrated Christopher Columbus as the hero who bravely discovered America. The actual history of Columbus Day is complicated, but it's fair to say that now in two thousand and twenty were ready to admit he kicked off one of the most brutal and violent periods in history. Columbus was Italian, but he was commissioned by the monarchs of Spain to find the new route to India. After Columbus landed, many more Spanish conquistadors followed to claim land, established settlements and bring back slaves and resources, and they did it all through brute force. What a brave thing to do. What I think is particularly interesting is they used this concept of sodomy, write, the sin of sodomy, to justify some of their violence in their rampages. So when they wrote back home to, you know, the emperor, to the...

Spanish emperor, some of these conquistadors would say, oh well, it's okay that I'm massacring these civilizations because they're all engaging in sodomy. In one thousand five hundred and nineteen, when the Spanish conquistador herning Cortez arrived in modern day in Mexico, he wrote back home to Emperor Charles the five we have learned and been informed for sure that they are all sodomites and use that abominable sin. So if you're a king hearing back from one of your explorers and a new world that you have absolutely no data on to begin with, and you hear that they're these abominable sexually deviant creatures, then you're not going to feel so bad if you also hear that they just killed hundreds or thousands of these same people. And so it was a pretty messed up approach, but I think very strategic on the part of the conquistadors to get what they wanted, which is power, right, and they were were bloodthirsty. Eric says that when you look back at the content of the letters the conquistadors wrote home, the thing that shocked them most was actually not sexual activity, because chances are they didn't see people actually engaging in sodomy. They didn't see native Americans engaging in sodomy. They saw people wearing what they considered, with the Europeans considered as women's dresses. Right. So they saw what they thought were, quote and quote, cross dressing. Another kinquistador, Bernald Diez del Castillo, wrote that he saw boys dressed in women's dresses who were earning their living in that perverted occupation, and so for them that meant sodomy, right. That's they couldn't possibly grasp that maybe there wasn't just a binary between men and women, but instead they were a completely different gender. They didn't understand what they saw, so they dealt with it the way they dealt with everything with violence. The Spanish and the Portuguese kinquistoors established what they call sodomy laws, the punishment being burned alive, and it happened a lot. If you've ever wondered about the origin of the words Faggot or Flamer, it's here. Another famous kinquistador was Vasco Nunyaz deb Alboa, who traveled to the new world one thus five hundred thirteen years later, when he crossed the isthmus of Panama, he became the first European to see the Pacific from the new world. He was probably the worst guy of them all. He was just a terrible person, and he wrote that he was shocked by quote young men in women's apparel, smooth and effeminately decked. Two days before Balboa reached the Pacific, he killed six hundred native Americans who were just defending their people, and then afterwards he took forty of these suspected sodomites and fed them to his dogs, and there's a...

...really horrifying illustration of that that an artist made a few decades later. That is just terrifying. We don't know how often this happened. We can only guess how many times this idea of sexual deviance or transgression of gender norms may have resulted in a massacre like this. Like Columbus Vascon Nunia's, de Balboa's atrocities were also glossed over and he was proclaimed a hero rather than a murderer. There are lakes, parks, streets, cities and even schools named for Balboa. We are honoring someone who committed essentially genocide, but also targeted in a very, very brutal way, people who would have been living non binary or sexually different lives and who have made of been creating their own histories that we now have lost, and I think it's a tragedy that we know continue to to honor someone who really committed atrocity, or honoring a Dickhead. Yeah, we're honoring a complete asshole. You can say that I don't like. When we come back how the British colonies dealt with Queer individuals within society. Welcome back. Before the break we talked about the brutality the conquistadors inflicted on the native lands they invaded. Now we'll move on to the British colonies and how they approached Queer people. Within Society. What's interesting with these British colonies is they were slightly less preoccupied with this concept of sodomy because they actually had a law about it. In one thousand five hundred and thirty three England past it's buggery statue which required proof of penetration and witnesses in the prosecution of sodomy cases. So the colonies were bound by that law. This law made sodomy cases much harder to prosecute, but there were still trials and you could still be found guilty of attempted sodomy. You know, only a few years after the the mayflower landed in Plymouth, the puritans found two men, and I love the quote from this. They found them guilty of lewd behavior by often spending their seed one upon another. So we know that there was definitely a sex going on. Right, the puritans were engaging in same sex behavior, but those two men, because they didn't have evidence of penetration, those guys...

...avoided the death penalty right instead, one of the guys who was caught with seed on him was whipped and burned on the shoulder with a hot iron and banished from the colony. So still sucks. No, one wants that, but not quite as bad and as brutal as as some of these Spanish conquistadors. I'm interested in how they they caught him with the seed upon him. Either he was just like, Oh, I didn't notice, or they were like knew it and then like storm dead. My guess is someone walked in on them. Things were very small back then. A lot of people were sharing spaces, so my guess is they were they were caught and they act. Sometimes they were convicted on attempted sodomy. So that was still a crime, but not punishable by death. Remember, the PURITANS had broken from the Catholic Church and had new sets of beliefs, still brutal, but not quite as brutal as the fire and Brimstone of Catholics. They believed that homosexual behavior, like all sins were, was a temptation for everyone. So as long as you confessed and repented, you had a chance of having your sentence lowered. It wasn't as if, you know you if you were a homosexual, then you would be executed, because they didn't see it that way. They saw it as an action that you may be tempted to do, that everyone may be tempted to do but as long as he didn't hect on it or as long as you repented, then you had a chance of self. Who's like did it. I'm sorry, though, yeah, I'm so sorry. You may still be whipped, they may pull out the iron, but you could do it tomorrow and then again be like super sorry again. This is really rusting, isn't it? Well, one actually very interesting situation, one case that is really interesting, I think rings true and relevant today's in terms of class, how they approached in. So one guy who's very wealthy in Connecticut in one thousand six hundred and forty, he was accused of making pretty violent sexual advances on his male servants. The town leaders investigated him and, rather than bringing him to court, decided to reprimand him privately. It wasn't until his third offense that he went to trial and was found guilty of attempted sodomy. His only punishment was that if he did it again he would lose his estate. That was it. And so I which would have been probably a lot. It would have been a lot, but not quite the same as the death penalty or even being banished from from the colony. And so very similar to Greek and Roman times and I think just like today, if you're a wealthy white guy who's preying on lower classes, then chances are you'll get away with it, which I think is a tragedy now, and it was a tragedy back then. Like in Greek and Roman times, the British colonies were not as concerned with same sex relationships between women. But even though sodomy laws were directed at men, women weren't completely off the hook. The...

...only colony that had women included in it's sodomy law was the one in new haven and Modern Day Connecticut. In one thousand six hundred and forty two, a servant named Elizabeth Johnson was fined and whipped for, quote, unseemly practices betwixt her and another maid. Another punishment that the Plymouth colony dolled out when two married women were accused of Lewd behavior in bed with one another, they had to confess in front of the entire colony their UN chase behavior, and so they may not have brought out the the hot iron, but they certainly were humiliated. Eric says that he believes women were not punished as harshly as men, simply because the colonies were a male dominated society. If you are in power, chances are you're a man and the people you want to keep in their place are also met right. So this concept of accusing someone of sodomy or of being a sexual devian or a pervert, that wasn't as useful if you were trying to keep women in their place, because women already occupied a lower class. In fact, the British colonies were much more concerned with cross dressing than same sex behavior among women, though cross dressing laws targeted both men and women. I think one of the most interesting instances is there was a servant in Jamestown own, Virginia, who was known as both Thomas or Thomasin Hall, and they claim to be both a man and a woman, so they may have been intersects. We don't know. Thomasine was raised in England as a girl, but they decided to present as male when they wanted to join the military, so they changed to Thomas. After returning from military service, Thomas went back to Thomasine to work in Feminine Trades and then back to Thomas after moving to the Jamestown colony in search of work. Once there, they switch back and forth between presenting male and female, and we're rumored to have both male and female sexual partners. But that was just too much for the colonial authorities. They freaked out and in one thousand six hundred and twenty nine General Court ruled that hall wasn't allowed to switch between dress and instead they had to wear both a man's breaches and a women's Apron at the same time. They could not switch. So even when there were these less clear cut cases of transgressing gender norms, they tried to they try to impose order and control and preventing people from living their authentic selves, and I think that's something we still have today and it's a shame that, you know, we had to come into this this space that was occupied by these cultures for thousands and thousands of years that had this really advanced, ast phenomenal approach to gender...

...and then impose this really oppressive gender system that we now are obsessed with and continue to enforce today on the same land the two spirit people thrived in their original communities. The attitudes towards gender and sexuality regressed as a result of strict interpretations of Judeo Christian concepts. I think when you look at the very early writings of the Bible, the very first drafts of the Bible, for example, this the sin of Sodom. When you hear of Sodom and Gomorrah, the the origin of the word sodomy, you think, Oh, they were committing sexual or sexually deviant behavior. But in reality, for thousands of years the sin of Sodom was that they were raping their guests. Right there was in hospitality and rape, and then only, you know, a thousand years later, did some philosophers say that, Oh, actually the sin was this homosexual behavior. The Bible itself is not responsible for the damage done in its name. Instead, it's the way the powerful people present the contents in order to justify their violent actions. What you see throughout history is Europeans interpreting their scripture in order to advance their own power. Right and I think as soon as this concept as sodomy as a sin arose, then different leaders saw it as an opportunity to label minority groups or to to create a distraction from some of their own domestic problems. If you have these sinful sodomites running around, then people aren't really going to care if the economy is doing terribly right, or if there's a famine or something like that. So I think they saw religion, these rulers saw religion as an excuse, just like the conquistadors saw sodomy as an excuse to further their own power. You saw that also throughout European history and then also, I think, today, the the cultural war that is going on and has been going on is a distraction from what's actually happening in our country. So what would you liked it? Obviously this is an election year, so it's a big year. If you had to like name a few things that, in terms of like gender, that we could look back to our history and go back to that. What would those things be that would make our culture better? Now, as a culture that net exists in a space that once belonged to these vibrant, diverse other cultures, is to be asking questions. I think we have to say, all right, I know if we lived in a completely just historical world, we wouldn't...

...be here right, we would not be occupying this space. So let's take a step back and ask questions. What can we do to promote understanding of what could have been in terms of gender and there's this, I think, concept, especially in academia, that there's all these new theories of how we understand gender and Queerness, when in reality they're not new at all. And I think if we sat and listened to people who have been understanding gender differently from us, from for thousands of years, then we would have a lot to learn. And when you started studying history, right, I think even in the gay community there is a lot of FEMOPHOBIA. Right, but I mean you can see it on instagram. If you go through someone who, let's say, is androgynous in the way they dress, there will be a lot of gay people being super critical. Right. Did the study of history change, as a gay man, your perspective on those things? Right, like gay guys who wear heels and address? Do you feel like you've learned for yourself and changed by studying these points in time? I think the best part about studying history is that it promotes empathy, which is allowing ourselves and forcing ourselves to take someone else's shoes, taking a step in their shoes and saying okay, by studying what happened to gaze in America, we can understand how difficult it might be for us to be our authentic selves now. But what it also allows us to do is look at other marginalized groups and say, okay, as a gay man, I understand what it feels like to be repressed, so let me see if I can imagine being different in a different sense, in being a person of color also. Right then maybe we can say, all right, I understand where they're coming from and I'm going to sit here and listen because I understand my own repression, but I may have privilege in other ways. And history allows us to say, okay, there's a lot of commonality between different marginalized groups and now, as pride is now a sexy, cool thing, it's our responsibility to say, okay, what other groups have been historically marginalized? Let's talk to them, let's listen to them, and then let's help because ultimately we all have the same enemy. There's always going to be that person or institution in power that's trying to hold us back and use us as a scapegoat for other issues. So what are you working on right now? I have a book called the deviance war, the homosexual versus the United States of America that will be coming out on...

June. Second and until then I also have a instagram show called the magic closet where we spend each week looking at different parts of our own queer history, and you can catch that at instagram at Eric Servini, and that's your I see, see Er v I and I. Over the coming weeks Eric will be guiding us through our six part series through the queer history of the United States. Next week we'll move forward in time into the American revolution. Pride is a production of Straw hut media. If you like the show, leave us a rating and review on Apple, podcast, spotify or wherever you're tuning in from. Share us with your friends, subscribe and follow us on Instagram, facebook and twitter at pride. You can follow me at the bye chambers. Pride is produced by me, the by chambers, Maggie Bowls and Ryan Tillotson, edited by Sebastian Alcohol. Was it helpful when I repeated myself? Okay, we'll just cut that part out and we'll fix it. Yeah, okay, well, I won't, Sebastian. Well, and we have to sell Sebastian. How great, there, we love you, Sebastian. There you go. He'll love that.

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