Spier's "Transvestites or berdaches," 1930

In his work on Klamath Ethnography, for the 1930 University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology, Leslie Spier writes a section on "Transvestites," including comments on male homosexuality and non-cross-dressing lesbians.

Transvestites or berdaches (twllnnfi'ek) are found among the Klamath as in all probability among all other North American tribes. These are men and women who for reasons that remain obscure take on the dress and habits of the opposite sex. Their number is small. Five men who lived as women were cited by an informant, two women who lived as men, and others are known. One of the former was from the Dalles. This is a very minor fraction in a population numbering upward of two thousand. Kroeber has assumed that such individuals are invariably psychologically abnormal, homosexual; I am not sure...

At any rate their abnormality is socially canalized: they are permitted to live as they desire despite the distaste of the normal Klamath for the practice, and the scorn and taunting to which he subjects them. It is to the point to note that the men who turned women adopted woman's dress, pursuits, personal habits, and speech, and in one case at least married. Neither of the two women affected male garb; one married and made some pretense of men's habits, the other is rather simply a case of an irregular sex life.

Spier's female histories follow:

A woman named Co'pak lived like a man although she retained women's dress. She married a woman who lived with her a long time and finally died. She observed the usual mourning, wearing a bark belt as a man does at this time to prevent the back from growing bowed. She tried to talk like a man and invariably referred to herself as one.

Another women still living has had relations with both women and men. She never adopted men's garb but told them that she was a man. She is today a common prostitute, an abnormal, irascible person. Those she lived with were all older women, not young girls. This practice is known as sawa'llnaa, to live as partners. They say of such: they have lots of partners, friends (snewa'ets doma' sawa' Hnaa'sgltkt): Other Klamath of any standing have always avoided her and her women partners. She was never married to a man.[1]


Jonathan Ned Katz, Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A. (NY: Crowell, 1976) pg. 322-333.

  1. Leslie Spier, "Klamath Ethnography," University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology, vol. 27 (1930), p. 51-53.