Longform

The Crying Game

Page 3 of 7

"Quite a few of the Plains tribes, some along the Gulf Coast, and, of course, in the Southwest," he says.

Until the early 20th century, that is, as those living on the reservations began assimilating to Western ideals, and Christian missionaries found the rez to be fertile ground for converts.

But many Native Americans, Thomas says, especially those in the Navajo Nation and local Pima tribes, deny that transgenderism ever played a significant historical role in their cultures.

Albert Deschine is one of them.

Deschine is a former Navajo tribal councilman, who lost his bid for another go-round as chapter president of Fort Defiance (a small community just north of Window Rock) in 2004 and now serves as an adviser to the Tribal Council's Human Services committee.

Just doors down from the Tribal Council chambers, where various committees and councilmembers are meeting on a Monday afternoon, the topic at hand kept Deschine talking for nearly two hours.

Of Wesley Thomas, Deschine asks:

"Is that the homo archaeologist? Yeah, I know who that is. I hate that fucking fag!"

He goes on to declare that Thomas is nothing more than a "nadleeh activist who thinks the nadleeh deserve some special privilege."

"If you ask that guy, he'd probably tell you that the sun [the Navajo God] is a homo."

Deschine -- who refused to be photographed for this story -- then proceeds to draw a diagram on a dry-erase board illustrating, with stick figures, "what really happened" between First Man, First Woman and the nadleeh.

He explains the division of First Man and First Woman almost identically to Thomas' thesis, even saying that the "nadleeh went across the river with the males," but adds the caveat, "supposedly."

"That's the part I really don't agree with," he says.

"If you listen to the nadleeh activists," Deschine continues, "they act like men can't do anything on their own. Well, that's not true. The nadleeh today are just trying to find a spot in our society, and I refute that.

"There was nothing special about the nadleeh," he adds. "They were nothing more than a degenerate gene. Every society has one. There is no way that a Navajo man would have sex with a nadleeh. We're not that idiotic. We're not a backward community."

Just last month, the Tribal Council unanimously passed the Diné Marriage Act, proposed by Fort Defiance councilman Larry Anderson Sr. (Anderson did not respond to repeated phone and e-mail requests for an interview.) The law officially bans gay marriage and civil unions within the boundaries of the reservation. Deschine makes a point to mention that the tribal law prohibiting sodomy has been upheld, as well.

Deschine then explains part of the reasoning behind the Diné Marriage Act, bringing his voice down almost to a whisper. He says there was an era between creation and women's liberation that Navajos rarely speak of -- a "time of disease and death in our culture" -- and he wonders aloud if the nadleeh were responsible.

He also blames recent diagnoses of HIV on the reservation on the nadleeh, specifically girls like Francessica who have unprotected sex with supposedly straight men -- men whom Deschine contends likely don't know she's actually male. Since 2000, according to the Navajo Nation's Division of Health, more than 250 Navajos living on the reservation have been diagnosed HIV-positive, with 56 dying of AIDS.

"It just keeps getting bigger and bigger," Deschine says, "so we're doing something [approving the Diné Marriage Act] to safeguard ourselves."

Deschine's conclusion: "The best place for the nadleeh is to be at home with their family -- try to be productive there, because once they come into the community, there's no place for them."

Not all Tribal Council members concur.

"I disagree with that," Lawrence Morgan, the Tribal Council's Speaker of the House, says. "Whether they're gay or nadleeh, they're still human beings just like me and you."

Morgan, in his second term as Speaker after winning reelection last November, is torn. He says that while he never would have proposed the Diné Marriage Act himself, he "had to support the council."

"They voted unanimously to approve it," he says. "It only outlaws gay marriage. They can still hold hands, they can sit in the park together, and go to movies together.

"I think the Diné Marriage Act," he adds, "is really misunderstood by the general public."

Morgan volunteers that he has a nephew "that probably plays a [transgender] role." His nephew, Morgan adds, dresses like a female and acts like a female. "But there's no such thing in Navajo culture as 'transgender.' It's just the way they act."

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Joe Watson