The Berdache


Print of “Dance to the Berdashe” by George Catlin from the 1903 edition of his North American Indians. Written 1832-1839

In the 1830’s painter George Catlin depicted a dance honoring a Fox-tribe berdache, or i-coo-coo-a. He described him as “a man dressed in woman’s clothes.”[1] An eyewitness to a similar Fox tribal event in 1902 said dance movements included “pretended love-making” between the berdaches and the tribesmen dancing with them.[2] Apparently the dancers were the i-coo-coo-as’ sexual partners or lovers.[3][4]

In 1856, Edwin Denig, a fur trader among the Crow tribe, remarked, “Strange country this, where males assume the dress and perform the duties of females, while women turn men and mate with their own sex!”[5]


1. Jonathan Katz, Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A. (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1976), 302.

2. Gay American Indians, Living the Spirit: A Gay American Indian Anthology, ed. Will Roscoe (New York: St. Martin’s, 1988), 53.

3. Gay, 54.

4. Will Roscoe, Changing Ones: Third and Fourth Genders in Native North America (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1998), 9.

5. Katz, 310.