Forde's "Casual secret homosexuality," 1931

"Casual secret homosexuality among both women and men"

In his "Ethnology of the Yuma Indians" for the 1931 University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology, Forde reports on "transvestites," including references to "female inverts," and "Casual secret homosexuality among both women and men."

Both male and female inverts are recognized; the females are known as kwe'rhame, the males as elxa'. Elxa' are more numerous. Such persons are considered to have suffered a change of spirit as a result of dreams which occur generally at the time of puberty. Such dreams frequently include the receiving of messages from plants, particularly the arrowweed, which is believed to be liable to change of sex itself. An elxa' known to one informant [had a dream implying] his future occupation with women's work.

When he came out of the dream he put his hand to his mouth and laughed four times. He laughed with a woman's voice and his mind was changed from male into female. Other young people noticed this and began to feel towards him as to a woman.

As a rule parents are ashamed of such children, but there is no attempt to force them or suppress the tendency. In some cases the "transformation" is publicly recognized, friends are invited, and in the case of an elxa', food is prepared by him. It is, in any case, customary for an elxa to undertake women's work, fetching water and grinding corn.

An elxa' later goes to live with a man; such a pair often remains together permanently. It is considered unwise to interfere with them for the elxa' has more power than the ordinary man and is thought to have a peaceful influence on the tribe.

Female inverts (kwe'rhame) are rarer, but they too realize their character through a dream at puberty. The characteristic dream is of men's weapons. As a small child the kwe'rhame plays with boys' toys. Such women never menstruate; their secondary sexual characteristics are undeveloped or in some instances are male; Parents object more strongly to kwe'rhame than to elxa' and attempt to bully them into feminine ways.

Casual secret homosexuality among both women and men is well known. The latter is probably more common. This is not considered objectionable but such persons would resent being called elxa' or kwe'rhame.[1]


Jonathan Ned Katz, Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A. (NY: Crowell, 1976) pg. 323-324.

  1. C. Daryll Forde, "Ethnography of the Yuma Indians," University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology, vol. 28 (193'1), p. 157.