translate

Winkte In A Wasicu World, by Georgie Jessup

"The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth." Physicist Niels Bohr

I am winkte. Or should I say I identify with Native Americans of the Lakota tribe's winkte tradition since I am not Lakota myself? The very first time I read the word "winkte" was in John Fire Lame Deer's book, Lame Deer Seeker of Visions, (as told to Richard Erdoes). According to Lame Deer, "Winktes…dressed like women, acted like women, and looked like women. They did so by their own choice or in obedience to a dream." Lame Deer went on, "…the Great Spirit made them winktes and we accept them as such."

I think it is interesting to know, in light of this quote from John Fire Lame Deer, that he said he was heyoka, or a sacred clown, and, at one point in his own life, Lame Deer became a rodeo clown and named his persona Alice Jitterbug.

"…Not all men can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it." Jesus, Matthew 19:10

I had followed Native American culture for a long time before reading Lame Deer's book. There were many things about the various indigenous cultures here in this land, called Turtle Island by Natives, that I identified with. I would like to spend a few minutes talking about various things in the Native American's culture that made sense to me and things in our country's culture that don't make sense to me before I go deeper into a discussion of the place of those who follow the winkte's tradition.

For example, in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (by Dee Brown), one observer said that he was amazed that Indians could spend days on end doing nothing but relaxing, eating, and playing games. But then, when the time came to break camp and travel, they could do so for days without sleep or food.

Sleep when you are tired! Eat when you are hungry! Enjoy this wonderful life given to you by Creator! Hoka Hey, today is a good day to die!

That resonates with me! Of course, critics may say I have been simply rebelling against the Roman-Christian American culture I found myself growing up in, but those ideas struck a chord with me, and it rang with truth!


For my family, who grew up during the great depression, hard work, sacrifice, and denying pleasure were a way of life. I have found that people, who are considered "lazy" in this culture, judge themselves by the standards created during the depression, and it makes me sad to see that.

It makes me sad because then those individuals, who can't seem to get ahead in this culture, often turn to abuse of drugs and alcohol or other destructive behaviors instead of demanding respect and taking pride in the fact that they are not motivated by greed and material possessions.

People come to this country from all over the world in search of the "good life" and the great (so called) "American Dream." When you see these individuals in the news, the news media always praises the "freedom" here in America. But freedom is subjective. The freedom that the news media, politicians, and "successful" immigrants are talking about is very different from what a traditional Native American calls freedom. In fact this country's "freedom" was built denying the various indigenous nations theirs.

The great native warrior, Tashunka Witko (Crazy Horse) said it directly and truthfully: " How can you own the land upon which people walk?")

The freedom that the people in the United States of America talk about is the freedom to be as greedy as you want to be. Exploitation of Grandmother Earth is the party line here in the land of the free. They hold to the Roman-Christian Empire's belief that humans are on a higher level than the rest of creation and are much more important than the rest of creation! Therefore they have a right to exploit the rest of creation to satisfy their wants and desires.

So I find it odd that you can pull a plant from the ground, cure it, roll it, and smoke it and you can go to jail. Certainly greed has caused more death and destruction than smoking pot. In fact greed is the motivation in the destructive drug business. Often those who do their business in the drug market don't even use the drugs they deal.

It has always made me angry that in a world full of hungry and homeless people you can be as greedy as you like without any interference. In fact those who are considered "lower class" will aspire to be just like you! The wealthy have become the role model for everyone to work towards.

I have learned that the struggle for power comes down to a "gain" mentality verses a "be" mentality. I use the word "be" as in being; as in living with the earth instead of against the earth. The "gain" people see freedom in terms of material things you can hold, see, or own. The "be" people see freedom on a spiritual level.

There is more to life than how much you can acquire or what you can own! Certainly there are well-intentioned "gain" people, but they need to impose their idea of freedom on everyone else first and foremost. This "gain" mentality has to rule over all other thought. They may try to be compassionate about it, but the bottom line is you will submit one way or another.

At least in fairly recent times, people with this "gain" mentality have managed to suppress the "be" people wherever they met up with them. The people at the top of the "gain" culture have kept the focus off their greed by encouraging hate between the opposites. Black is taught to hate white; right wing against left wing; man against woman; and religion against religion as if one is more correct than the other! There is even a division between those who are most active at night and those who are most active during the day. "Day people" are hard working God-fearing church-going people. "Night people" are lustful sinners of course.

As every mystic realizes the most powerful time of a day is the dawn and the dusk. These are something in-between. They are neither night nor day. It is a time of balance, and it is sacred. Donnerlieschen Roesch (mystic)

In a "gain" world there is wide latitude of behavior on a material plane. You can own everything and anything. The "gain" person sees non-material issues with the same eyes that they see material things. Whatever they observe they must know what color it is, how many are there, what can I gain from it, and of course what sex is it. In the "be" cultures there are wide latitudes, and individuals tend to observe their world more on the spiritual plane.

I believe you are what your vision tells you. Native people change names many times in life depending on visions, dreams, and deeds. All of those changes were honored. They were not based on physical evidence but based on one's spiritual relation to the rest of creation and Creator.

"Hundreds of women on the movie screen. Not one of those women looks a thing like me…." Georgie Jessup from Girl To Look Good

Those observations lead me back to the focus of my discussion of being a winkte. Being a winkte is not a physical thing. Although I am sure that hermaphrodites were also considered winkte and could offer physical evidence, with most winkte their situation is a spiritual thing. It is a "feeling" that one cannot really explain. The "gain" world calls us "transsexuals" or "transvestites," and some claim we are simply "homosexual males."

There have been many books from the gay community making exactly this claim. However, homosexuality does not qualify you as a winkte. Homosexuality is about whom you want to have sex with. Being winkte is a whole other matter and frankly has very little to do with who you might have sex with. There are many gay men who may show feminine qualities and lesbian women who might show masculine qualities just as the same can be said of heterosexual men and women.

Transsexual children who grow up in the wasicu culture (white/Roman-Christian Empire/Western civilization - literally "fat takers") find themselves only being able to describe their condition as being uncomfortable in the body they were born in. Many writers on the subject have said this is a product of western civilization and its insistence on there being only two gender choices. Certainly I think this is the reason for describing this "feeling" as "being born in the wrong body" but a small child doesn't understand all of that. They simply know something is very different about them from the rest of mankind, be mankind gay or straight. For the "gain" culture all of this translates into being what they term "transsexual".

There are many reasons why someone might exhibit transvestite or cross-dressing behavior. Some of them may include this "feeling" I am trying to convey to you, but not all do. "Drag Queen" is a slang term for gay men who dress up as women to entertain audiences or simply to be outrageous and flamboyant. They become caricatures of women.


It is interesting that when transsexual individuals really started to interact with the gay community they were met with resistance from the lesbians of that community. I believe this is because most transsexuals and cross-dressers, and especially drag queens, are portraying a man's idea of what it means to be a woman. But you won't find too many drag queens dressing up to be anything but glamorous women. You will find plenty of Bett Midlers, Marilyn Monroes, Lizas or Patti Labelles. They only want to be women if they can be glamorous… basically a man's idea of what it means to be a woman. As a transsexual person matures he or she tends to move past that awkward stage and find their own place as individuals; gender issues become resolved. The core of what makes a "transsexual" different is this "feeling" of being trapped in the wrong body. It consumes your life! It over-whelms your life!

"She's not a woman he's not a man. God wouldn't have made me if there
wasn't a plan" Georgie Jessup from Girl to Look Good


The "feeling" can be so overwhelming that individuals often finds themselves unable to function in the day to day activities that we all take for granted. Until they find a way to address these daily conflicts they will live in confusion, fear, and secrecy. They certainly will not feel comfortable exposing themselves to the rest of the wasicu world out of fear and the guilt that the Roman-Christian culture puts on anyone whom "feels" as they do.

So the compassionate of the "gain" world came up with the idea: if you can't change their minds change their bodies to fit their minds. I guess it was nice of them to go to all that trouble, and it certainly does reflect an attitude that is at least looking for the answers. Remember transsexuals are often victims of this "gain" mentality as well.

The problem is not really with the individual who is having this "feeling." It is a sickness of a culture that does not allow for spiritual diversitiy. Still, I feel that pre-1492 indigenous winkte would have not turned down the offer to have their bodies reflect how they saw themselves inside; but unfortunately we will never know that answer, and I can only speculate based on my own "feelings". I feel sure that if you had given pre-Columbus wintke an option of changing their physical bodies a good many of them would have taken it. However, more than likely, it would have been for sexual function rather than spiritual completion. I do know that this "feeling" exist outside of western civilization, and it has very little to do with how we were raised. How we are raised certainly affects how we deal with it, but this "feeling," of "being born in the wrong body," that is real!

Certainly in the "be" cultures there was no real need to change the physical body, because what your spirit was, was the important thing. Unlike Christians and other dogmatic religions, "be" cultures found "God" in people with this "feeling!" Winkte had positive roles in their communities where they could contribute and give back to the people. They had gifts that only they had been given from Creator for having this great burden laid on them.

In Native American society, which I include in the "be" culture, there was no pressure or need to change your physical body since being winkte was accepted. You changed as your vision told you to. Unfortunately, in this context, we wasicu transsexuals will always be both and neither at the same time whether we have surgery or not.
This is the balance and the place of in-between that I referred to earlier. We are not to be pitied or scorned. We are Creator's gift and lesson at the same time. For transsexuals in the wasicu world or as I have titled this paper, winkte in the wasicu world, we grow up viewing our dilemma as a burden. We discover the gift when we become balanced and are able to contribute to our community.

In his book, The Spirit and the Flesh, Walter L. Williams gives account after account where winkte would be very upset if their penis was referred to as anything other than a clitoris, and, during sexual activity, they seemed to have preferred the clearly more uncomfortable position of lying on their back to have intercourse. In one story a winkte decked a man for touching her penis. These are not the actions of a gay man who enjoys penis stimulation and wants it to be known, even if in drag, that they are male.

Being winkte, (and certainly this goes for the various other nations in addition to the Lakota's who had the same tradition, such as the Navajo's "Nadle," the Mandan's "Mihdacke," or the Sauk and Fox's "I-Coo-Coo-A") was not something to be looked down upon or discarded. In Lakota culture the winkte were one of four holy categories.

According to William K. Powers' book, Sacred Language - TheNature of Supernatural Discourse in Lakota:

The generic term wicasa waken 'sacred man' or, in English, 'medicine man'
encompasses four major types of sacred persons based on the kinds of criteria discussed above: (1) wapi-yapi 'curers'; (2) wakan kaga'performers';
(3) wicahmunga 'wizards'; and (4) winkte 'transvestites'.

The reader should keep in mind the terms transvestite, transgender or even transsexual were often used with the same meaning. In my opinion the term transgender would better be applied here to a discussion of winkte. Powers goes on to say in the same chapter titled, Medicine Man,

The final class of wicasa wakan is the winkte, variously translated as transvestite, hermaphrodite, homosexual, or more appropriately "would be woman".

He goes on to explain that the generic anthropologist term "berdache" was used where this type of behavior was found around the world. He further explains the origins of the word "berdache" as a French corruption of the Arabic word "bardja" meaning slave;
It should be noted, however, that among the Lakota, winktes were never slaves and, in fact, enjoyed a decided amount of prestige and high status. They were regarded as extremely sacred people who followed their particular lifestyle as a result of instructions received in visions… Their vow was not entirely mandatory as in the case of the heyoka kaga, [sacred clowns], where antinatural behavior was required after dreaming of lightning or thunder….
Some authors conclude that winktes were "sissies" and "mama's boys," but this is inconsistent with Lakota ideology. Winktes were indeed considered the most sacred and played important roles in Lakota culture.

Commenting further from Powers' book, he describes some of the roles winkte fulfilled such as: taking care of the old and feeble; looking after orphaned children; serving as go-betweens for men and women coming together for marriage; participating in naming of children, (it was considered a prestigious thing to have your child named by a winkte and many famous Lakota names came this way). They actually went on war parties, and they were often asked to "counsel over matters important to the tribe as intelligent critics of tribal policy".

Many commentaries, collected from missionaries, mountain men, army officers, and anthropologist, have been logged by Walter Williams in his book. He also collected statements from respected medicine men like John Fire Lame Deer and many winkte as well. All of them speak to the sacredness, social importance, and honor given to the winkte tradition. Among the Lakota, the winkte tied the directional flags to the Sun Dance pole. This was a very special honor of course! They had an opportunity to serve the people in many ways including as shamans with the ability to heal their people. It is said that Crazy Horse, Gull, Sitting Bull, and many other well-know leaders were given secret names by winkte.

Will Roscoe talks about the Zuni Ihamana often being economically successful people. Apparently the berdache had a knack for accumulating wealth and security in their tribe. It made sense for leaders then to ally themselves with these individuals. Powers' acknowledgement that this role was not only found in Native American cultures but around the world was confirmed when I learned that, in Africa, one tribe's rite of passage for the role of medicine person included castration.

Warriors could approach winkte as a sexual partner or even take them as second wives without fear of being considered homosexual. In fact it is quoted in Williams' book that Gull, and other great chiefs, actually had winkte wives. In the "gain" culture if a biological male has sex with another biological male it is considered a homosexual or at the least, a bisexual act. Winktes could be with men or women or no one at all and it did not affect the partners' status in the community. Since the role of winkte was considered wakan, or holy, many winkte found being a medicine person put a strain on any kind of personal one on one relationship. Being a holy person was a hardship because it meant that their lives were dedicated to helping others and in service to the Creator. This made it hard on family members or partners since they would not have the holy ones to themselves.

I do not agree with authors like Walter L. Williams or Will Roscoe, author of The Zuni Man-Woman, when they claim that being berdache was more of a gay issue rather than a transgender issue. Williams suggest that it would be better to compare drag queens to berdache than transsexuals in "gain" society. Roscoe refers to the famous Zuni berdache, Wewha ,as "he" instead of "she" throughout his book. Yet, in almost every historical quote Roscoe used, the person was referring to Wewha as "she".

Wewha, according to Roscoe's own account, was considered a very intelligent human being. She could even speak some English and would have understood how gender pronouns were used. Roscoe never quotes Wewha as correcting anyone who had referred to her as "she". Yet he insisted on using the "he" pronoun when he referred to Wewha.

In the Orient it is known that their berdache used an herb to help in breast growth. I have also been told that hormones were taken from animals in some way and that winkte would ingest them to achieve breast growth. How much of this is fact is hard to say since very little documentation on the subject has survived. It is important and worth noting that the vast majority of medications we use today came from studying the various "be" cultures and the herbs they used for one purpose or another.

William's insisting that the gay drag queen is closer to what a berdache was than the transgender or transsexual, (I use these terms interchangeable while noting the distinction between pre-op and post-op transsexuals), is disturbing and perhaps it is based on his identification as a gay man. It seems to me, drag queens are more like the heyoka or sacred clown mentioned earlier. This is not belittling the role of the drag queen at all!
Heyoka were also considered very sacred people. Their medicine was very powerful and could heal where other medicine men might fail. However drag queen's portrayal of women is more in line with how a heyoka would act. They were contraries and said yes when they meant no, hot when it was cold, day when it was night, and other such opposites. This was part of their way. So clearly being a man and dressed as a woman for the sake of entertainment would be a contrary act in Lakota culture.

Transsexual individuals are more likely to be introspective and not seek the spot- light as drag queens do. Anne Bolin (In Search of Eve: Transsexual Rites of Passage) Notes:

My own research indicates that most transsexuals have spent a significant portion of their time coping with their gender angst. Finding the label transsexual and applying it is not an overnight event. Transsexuals are consequently deeply analytical, based on a long history of self questioning.

Shamans are noted for the same kind of inward journey. I think the nature of being transsexual forces you to go within and look at your life. Most transsexuals are heterosexuals and are not motivated by their sexual attraction to men or women for that matter. To link a gay man who is feminine to the act of wearing a dress makes perfect sense to most people. But for the transsexual to "feel like a woman" and put on a dress, as a heterosexual man, makes no sense to other people and frankly not even to the transsexuals themselves. To wrestle with this dilemma takes a much deeper exploration of self to come to terms with this "feeling".

Being transsexual one comes to learn that being a man or woman is not a question of masculinity or femininity. You can be a male and feel feminine and still "feel" right being a male. The same is true for a female who feels masculine. However the transsexual male "feels" woman even when there is no evidence of femininity. Many transsexuals played male dominated sports, dated and even married women, and were to most observers, normal little boys while growing up. Yet this "feeling", "woman would become" (and I'd finish the sentence, if they could), of "being born in the wrong body" persist. The transsexual doesn't understand this "feeling" any more than anyone else does. It is this "feeling" that is unexplainable that I say makes one winkte.

I think it is fair to say homosexuals found a safe haven in the winkte tradition just as transgender folks find gay bars a safe place to express themselves. However, it is interesting that the homosexual community finds it has a better power base with out the inclusion of transgender people, be they transsexual, transvestites, or drag queens, when dealing with the political side of the straight world.

My understanding of the word "winkte" is that when it is pronounced "wink-tay" it is a kind of insult in modern Lakota. I am not sure if this goes back to contact with the wasicu or not. When winkte is pronounced "wink-tay" it refers to someone who is homosexual. Pronounced "wing-tay" (or win-tay) it's meaning is "woman would become" or referring to the sacred tradition. I think it is safe to say that most homosexual males have no desire to dress, act, or be women except maybe for a masquerade party or for drag shows. Since winktes did not have the options of sex reassignment surgery their only forms of sexual interaction was homosexual by definition. In the Native American culture, it was accepted for a male to be with a winkte; however it was looked down upon for two males to practice outwardly homosexual behavior. The safe option for feminine homosexual males was to find a haven in the winkte tradition therefore having social approval for homosexual activity.

I'm sure as frustrating as transgender people find being lumped into the homosexual definition by the straight wasicu world, homosexual individuals found it a bore to have to play a role in order to be themselves. The fact that Native cultures respected individual visions allowed for homosexuals to dress male to some degree, but the idea of simply being a gay male with out taking on the winkte role would not be accepted. The accounts that Walter L. Williams mentions in his book clearly show men who rejected their maleness and would become angered if approached for their maleness. The idea of the penis not being a part of gay sex would certainly disappoint most homosexual men. Winkte would be concerned with their partner's penis but insulted if theirs was acknowledged.

I personally don't have a problem with all groups, (gay, lesbian, bisexual transgenderist, and transsexuals, et. al.) identifying with the winkte tradition. I am not sure how the Lakota would feel about that, and it is not my place to say. The tradition belongs to the Lakota people, and I only use the term because in my understanding, through mentoring by traditional elders like Frank Fools Crow or reading Lame Deer, it fits me and it rings true for me.

For all of us to want to return to spirituality, (which is lacking somewhat within all of the above mentioned wasicu communities), is a good thing. I do have a problem when Williams, Roscoe and others in the gay community attempt to claim the tradition as solely a gay issue. Their insistence that transsexual individuals are sick and only mutilating their bodies in an attempt to please the wasicu idea of male and female is absurd; and I believe it reflects a collective conscience that resented the winkte role they were expected to fulfill.

I know, as a transgender post op transsexual, I resent being lumped into the homosexual definition by the wasicu world. When the average "gain world" individual hears the word transsexual, transvestite or transgender they automatically think GAY. I have often been referred to as fagot, queen, dike, and other such homosexual slang insults. This is one of the reasons I believe transsexuals feel a need to define themselves further. Sex reassignment surgery and hormone therapy certainly lets people know that you are willing to walk your talk and that this is not simply about sexual activity. Anne Bolin calls the surgery a rite of passage:

The metamorphosis has all the characteristics of a rite of passage in which idenities and statuses are transformed with in ritual parameters.

This rite of passage is not something to be taken lightly as is the case with drag queens that come to entertain or cross dressers who simply find some sexual release from their dress up time. The inward journey for the drag queen is to become someone else and not to risk everything to go through surgery. The cross dresser may wrestle with after orgasm guilt but their focus is sexual gratification rather than finding out if their behavior is truly a reflection of who they are. Most transsexuals begin questioning themselves far before puberty, (four to seven years old). If their orientation is heterosexual the self- questioning becomes an inward journey that, (because of the wasicu culture he or she lives in), takes thirty years of more to come to terms with. Some of that is changing as time goes on and transsexuals are discovering their place in the world at a much younger age because of the work the transgender community has done educating each other and the examples older transgender folks have set. Studies have shown that the age thirty is when most transsexuals really start to deal with their issues actively. Every issue that comes into the transsexual's life is treated with that same kind of intense inward search for truth that inspires shamans.

The priest and the shaman dress like women to take on their magic…
William Irwin Thompson from The Falling Bodies Take to Light

The problem that faces transsexuals is to find the gift in the burden dealt to them by Creator. Too many transsexuals stop at considering their dilemma to be a burden. They want nothing more than to become the man or woman they desire to be. When they deny their past of being born one sex and "feeling" another gender, I would suggest they are giving up the very thing that makes them wakan/holy. This is not to say they should not seek the surgery but they should not put so much weight in it either. Being born both is not something to look down at your self about. Realize that your pain comes from a society that does not allow for the place of in-between!

There are many reasons for the transsexual to seek sex reassignment surgery. There are still laws on the books and new ones being developed everyday, against males who "impersonate" women in day-to-day life. Using the public restroom in a pre-op state can be life threatening not to mention a legal nightmare.

If you are pre-op male to female and use the women's room you risk being arrested and being labeled a pervert. If you do the legal thing and use the men's room you risk physical violence and even death. and again you will be considered a pervert. In most states you cannot change your legal documents until you have the surgery. This can become a problem since most therapist insist on living in the desired gender role for at least one year prior to surgery. Going shopping for cloths and using the fitting rooms, going to the gym and using the locker room, going to court for a simple traffic ticket, or just going to church all become situations of anxiety for the transgender individual. These are things most "normal" people, gay or straight, take for granted.

One of the main reasons for having the surgery is so the person can function with some comfort within the wasicu/"gain" world. For the heterosexual oriented transsexual, relating sexually as a gay male does not feel right. I have already mentioned the difference in the way that "gain" culture addresses life verses the way the "be" culture does. Transsexuals have to learn to live in two worlds. They need to function in the dominant "gain" culture and deal with their prejudices but they need to view their lives and place on this earth through "be" eyes. Know that you are a gift from Creator and not a burden to the people.
Remember if Creator has given you a great burden then there is also a great gift to be explored. Make that your journey. Realize that in the "be" culture you are both and at the same time not a man and not a woman. This is the place of in-between and it is sacred. Your time is the dusk and the dawn. Your gift is balance!

According to the legend about the White Buffalo Calf Woman she is presented as a female. The White Buffalo Calf Woman brought the sacred pipe and the seven sacred rites to the Lakota people. Most legends go back to the times when many of the Gods were both. If you have ever read comparative myths you will find this to be true. Some of the most important Gods were as my Germanic ancestors said, "heavenly twins". It is said that individuals who dream of the White Buffalo Calf Pipe are winkte. If this is true it is my belief that the White Buffalo Calf Woman was also winkte. My hope is that my "sisters" will understand this and walk with the honor they hold!