Legg's "Berdache and Theories of Sexual Inversion," 1959

In 1959, W. Dorr Legg discusses the berdache and homosexuality in the ONE Institute Quarterly, a publication of a California "homophile" organization involved in homosexual emancipation research and education. Legg’s brief study indicates the American homosexual rights movements’ early interest in Native American homosexuality, and in the usefulness of such cress-culture and historical information in questioning some of the traditional anthropomorphic, atemporal, and oppressive theories of homosexuality.

Legg discusses that theory which suggests that homosexual behavior originates in the reversal (or “lnversion”) of the “natural” sex roles of males and females. Though he does not question the very idea of “natural” sex roles, Legg does point out that when such roles are actually specified they turn out to refer to that behavior which is the most commonly associated with a particular sex in a particular society.

He also points out that what is perceived as “natural” in one society may not conform at all to what is considered “natural” in another. He argues that cross-cultural and historical considerations suggest that very little behavior considered “masculine” or “feminine” in Western society is actually “natural” in any biological sense, but is actually culturally conditioned.

Citing several early documents referring to Native American homosexuality and transvestism, Legg concludes that such reports do suggest connections between sex role reversal (“inversion”) and same-gender erotic attraction. But Legg is one of the few to point out that Native American homosexuality else includes the much less commonly discussed phenomenon of same-gender sexual behavior unconnected with sex role reversal, such as cross dressing.

Legg asks, what is the sexual orientation of the tribal leader who marries and has sexual relations with the berdache? What is the sexual character of those Native American youths whom George Catlin describes as participants in an orgiastic dance to the berdache, those youths whom Catlin calls a society of “odd fellows”?

Legg’s essay raises useful questions still to be answered.[1]


Jonathan Ned Katz, Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A. (NY: Crowell, 1976) pg. 326-327.

  1. W. Dorr Legg, “The Berdache and Theories of Sexual Inversion,” ONE Institute Quarterly, vol. 2, no. 2 (1959), p. 59–60, 63.