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    AC Benus
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

The Great Mirror of Same-Sex Love - Prose - 40. Owlfeather “…but I want to be with you” – a Native American point of view


“…but I want to be with you”– a Native American point of view


The following document explores a personal history in his time-setting’s authentic voice. Therefore, some “othering” language has been left for contextual reasons. Berdache, for example, is a French term of utter debasement, but became the English-language standard when referring to First Nation Gay, Trans or Intersexed citizens. “Two Spirit” is now the most-accepted term of respect. Likewise, for the same contextual reasons, I have not altered the author’s usage of terminology to reflect common, self-chosen identification like “Native American.”




Children of Grandmother Moon


Grandmother Moon comes slowly

over the eastern hills.

Chanting a song, a song of a lost age,

its meaning a mystery.

She comes dressed in orange calico.

Her hair wrapped in otter fur.

Her moccasins made of soft deer skin.

No one hears as she makes her journey

to her lodge in the west.

Before her goes the owl, flying by night.

Singing, “Hush, respect your grandmother

She is old and knows many things.

Say nothing as she passes.”

Sometimes she sends owl out, to warn her people

of someone about to die.

He chants a verse, three times

for three nights,

before it happens.

This makes her very sad, her people are few.

You can tell she weeps

because you find

Her tears

On the grass and trees when she’s gone.



The reservation where I live is a harsh place, situated on a high plateau valley in the west. Most people wonder why anyone would want to live here. The temperature ranges from one hundred degrees in the summer to forty below in the winter, and life is indeed hard. It takes a certain kind of person, or people, to call this place “home.” My people have lived in this place for many, many generations and consider it more than home; it is the place from where we come and to where we return. It is our mother and our special place in the world.

Many people ask me, “Why do you stay here? You have a good education, you have traveled the world and lived in many places, many different lives, so why return? There is no work here, little or no pride; there is depression, desolation; no hope. And for a person such as you, a Gay Indian, what is there for you here, except perhaps criticism and humiliation?”

All of the above is true. But still I am here and surviving. I have a supportive group of friends, Indian and non-Indian, Gay and straight. I hide my [way of living] and interests from no one. I participate in Indian traditional dances and religion. In a small town and in a tribal group of four thousand people, nothing is hidden.

I returned to the reservation four years ago. I still remember a time when I vowed that I would never return. But despite all the situations listed above, the fact remains that I did return because there is something here that exists for an Indian person nowhere else: the sense of belonging; of family and of the land. You are not only a person, alone, but an extension of a family and a group of people, a “tribe” that has existed before the written word and history. It is a unique place and people, something that non-Indians cannot really imagine or feel. True, the culture is shattered, broken . . . and the people’s lifestyle is in tatters and perhaps even still in culture shock to some degree. After all, my great-grandfather and great-grandmother saw the last of the buffalo killed. A lifestyle they knew and loved, with the rigors of moving camp and living in tipis, going anywhere they pleased, was destroyed.

Indian life and existence today is a paradox of the old and new. Christian beliefs are held along with native traditions. Western lifestyles are combined with traditional Indian lifestyles, and a number of people get hopelessly lost. Not respecting themselves or anyone else, some get angry, some get drunk, and some deny the Indian culture or anything Indian because they think it is useless in this present day and age.

No wonder a young man of nineteen years that I know and sleep with sometimes says to me, “I don ‘t want to have people call me a queer or a f*gg*t, but I want to be with you,” or that I have a long-standing married lover who throws rocks at my window when the moon is full, wanting me to come out and play. He says, “I’m married, but I have always loved you and always will.” Gay and Bisexual Indian men and women are no different from anyone else in their fear of criticism. But I think it is more intense within a tribal structure, because our traditional way of correcting behavior is public chastisement and ridicule. And today, the view of the Gay Indian man or woman has been twisted to fit the mix of Christian and Indian beliefs in contemporary tribal culture.

In the old days, during life on the plains, the people respected each vision. Berdaehes had an integral place in the rigors and lifestyle of the tribe. The way they were viewed was not the same as the contemporary Indian Gay [ways of living] and consciousness that we have now – they were not fighting for a place in society and to be accepted by that society. They already had a place; a very special and sacred place. They were the people who gave sacred names, cut down the Sun Dance pole, and foretold future events. They were renowned for their bead and quillwork and hide-tanning abilities and fancy dress. (Not all berdaches dressed in women’s clothes; it depended on their vision.) It was considered good luck to have a berdache on a war party or on a horse-stealing raid. If a man wanted to, and had the ability to take a second or third wife, many times a man of the berdache vision would be chosen.

But all this changed with the coming of the reservation period in Indian history and the systematic crushing of all things Indian. The berdache visionaries were one of the outstanding targets, especially those who dressed and had the mannerisms of the opposite sex. (Some of these men were married to women, but maintained the dress of their vision.) The last record of a berdache on my reservation was in the early 1900s.

You must understand that in the period of 1880 to 1910, if you were found or caught practicing Indian beliefs or dress, you could be jailed. Even if an Indian man wore his hair long, which was his pride, he could be jailed and punished. The great summer Sun Dance was suppressed. In one district of my reservation the dance was stopped by cutting down the Sun Dance pole in the midst of the ceremony. In another instance, the dance was held on a Mormon rancher’s property where the government had no jurisdiction. So it was with little wonder that the vision of the berdache was forgotten or suppressed to the point that it was no longer mentioned and barely remembered. When it was mentioned, it was with shame and scorn, due to the influence of Christianity on Indian people. It is into this type of belief system and that Gay Indian men and women are born today.

On my reservation, it is traditional for the firstborn of a generation to live and be raised by the grandparents. They are called the “old peoples’ children,” and they are taught the knowledge, traditions, songs, and lifeways of the tribe. Usually these people either become respected members of their community and tribe, or turn out to be totally useless!

I was raised in this manner and lived a wonderful childhood. I was raised by my grandmother in a little one-room cabin that she and my great-uncle built in the 1920s. We had a wire strung for drying meat and hanging dish towels and clothing. In the center of the room we had a big round oak table covered with oilcloth. My grandmother’s friends would come to visit and have coffee. Sometimes my great-aunts or great-uncles could come. I always knew my place, but would sometimes sit with them and drink coffee with lots of sugar and canned milk in it. I always enjoyed these visits and still feel more comfortable with Indian elders than with people my own age. I lived through their tales and my grandmother’s own stories. In the winter she would tell “coyote stories.” I felt very secure hearing stories of our family and tribe and would listen very intently after the fire had burned down, and everyone was bedded down for the night. The winter nights were wonderful when those stories were told, with the snow blowing around the edges of the cabin.

Our life was very simple by non-Indian standards. In the morning when I was older, I would chop wood and pump water – those would be my chores at the start of each day. After breakfast, which was either oatmeal or pancakes, my sister and I would venture forth to greet the day and many adventures.

My relationships with children my age were limited. Besides my sister and several cousins, I had very few young friends. Even at an early age I was attracted to members of my own sex. I was dreaming in my childhood. I knew that I was different in my attraction to other boys and men. I always had this dream in which a bearded man would open his arms to me and say “Come.” When I was eight years old, I experienced my vision and found out how truly different I was.

It was during a hot, dry, and dusty Idaho summer, when I was eleven, that I had my first real contact with another male. I had more freedom then. I had both a pony and a red bicycle. With those, my circle of friends widened. I met a boy who lived a few blocks down from my grandmother’s cabin. He was a local white boy some years older than myself. I admired his independent and cocksure ways. He seemed to be everything that I was not: good in sports and, above all, sure of himself in every situation. He had tousled brown, curly hair and was somewhat stocky. He became my hero in the eye of my budding desire.

The local boys our age frequented several well-known swimming holes on the reservation. We always picked one that was well secluded with overhanging trees and green grass on the banks. One day toward the end of summer – on the kind of day when the light is hazy and diffused, and the air is barely moving and heavy to breathe – my friend and I decided to have an impromptu swim before returning home. The water was cool and clear as we dove in. I came up from under the water first. He came up right behind me and reached around into my shorts (we always swam in our undershorts). I noticed that he was hard as he rubbed against my backside. As his hands reached around me, I became aroused and hard too. It felt good and right; like something that was supposed to be. I knew then that this is what I had been waiting for and I have never looked back since.

After that summer, and after many more rendezvous, my friend moved away. I was dumbstruck. I had found a companion, someone to share with and be my friend, closer than a brother or a buddy. But then he was gone. My young heart experienced for the first time the loneliness and the ache of missing someone that you love. Since that time I have found many more boys and men of all races in many different cities and countries and situations. But of course, there is no time like the first time. It is something that is burned in my memory, like those hot Idaho August days, so long ago.

It is unfortunate that among today’s Gay Indians, the great tradition and vision of the old-time berdaehe has been suppressed and is nearly dead. Gay Indians today grow up knowing that they are different, act in a different way, and perceive things in a different light from other Indians. They know these things, but sometimes are afraid to act or acknowledge their gayness. If they do, they try to accept and emulate the only alternative [way of living] offered to them, that of the current Gay society of bars, baths, and, until recently, numerous sex partners. It is no wonder that many succumb to alcohol, or drug addiction, and early death. Today I see so many of my Indian brothers and sisters with the same vision living a life that is damaging to themselves; denying or fighting against what they really are. I see and know many Gay Indians on the reservation and elsewhere that think along the following lines: “It’s okay for you to go to bed with me. I will talk to you in bars or when I want to f*ck. But don ‘t come around me in Indian society, at pow-wows, or other tribal functions. I don’t want our people to know. Nobody knows my secret, but everyone knows what you are and what you like to do.”

To escape this kind of thinking, and the [way of living] that Gay Indians are often forced to live on the reservations, many go to the city and follow the way of the non-Indian Gay society – taking up the latest trends in fashion, carrying on in the bars, or dancing the night away in discos and after-hours clubs and, of having sex; lots of it. I followed this way myself for many years, but in the end, I became tired of it all. Deep inside I knew that, as an Indian, something else was needed – something more than poppers, drugs, booze, fashion, restaurants, bars, Gay shops, cock rings, leather, drag, and the latest dance hits – especially for a person of substance and especially for an Indian person. Most Indian people, Gay or straight, have been instilled with a respect for all things; a love for the earth and all things living. The current Gay [way of living], although it is an up-front Gay existence, is not an Indian way. Most Gay Indians become lost in it, not only to themselves but to their cultures, tribes, and sometimes families as well.

In the past ten years, however, efforts have been made by Gay Indians who live in the cities to found support groups and social organizations for urban Gay Indians, as well as those across the country, on reservations, and in other rural areas. They are to be commended. Organizations such as Gay American Indians of San Francisco and the Native Cultural Society of Vancouver, British Columbia, are at least there to provide the positive statement and support needed by many Gay Indians. They exist to say, “We are here, we exist, we are INDIAN and we are GAY!!” That is very important, not only to those in the cities, but also to the Gay Indian living on the reservation. Many live in such isolation that they cannot react to other Gay Indian people in a positive way, and are afraid to associate with other Gay Indians because of social ostracism or criticism.

In the old days, groups of berdaches lived on the outer edge of the camp. They lived together in a tipi or a group of tipis that were usually the best made and decorated in camp. The old-time berdaehes had a pride in their possessions and in themselves. They knew who they were and what place they had in Plains Indian society.

I believe this is exactly what needs to happen again with Gay Indians today. There is a need to take pride in one’s self and to respect other Gay Indian people. There is a need for a resurgence of that old pride and knowledge of place. Traditions need to be researched and revived. If traditions have been lost, then new ones should be borrowed from other tribes to create groups or societies for Gay Indians that would function in the present. An example of this is the contemporary pow-wow that takes elements from many tribal groups and combines them into an exercise in modern Indian tradition and social structure.

I am not saying that we should all go “back to the blanket” or return to the reservation. But somehow, there should be a blending of the old with the new, to develop more within ourselves and our a people living on the “outer edge,” a unique and valid vision and a place in the history and contemporary lifestyle of our country.

When you are born into this world, you reach for either a bow and quiver – which is blessed and protected by the Sun, our Grandfather – or, you reach for an awl and sewing bag, which is blessed by the our Grandmother. From that time on you will follow that vision and be blessed. —Traditional Indian belief and teaching

—Clyde M. “Owlfeather” Hall[i]

Shoshone-Metis / Cree,







[i] “’…but I want to be with you’ – a Native American point of view” Clyde M. “Owlfeather” Hall Living the Spirit: a Gay American Indian Anthology [Will Roscoe, Editor] (New York 1988), ps. 97-105, under the chapter heading “Children of Grandmother Moon”


Copyright © 2021 AC Benus; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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This left me with a riot of emotions. My ‘free afternoon’ became a deep dive into anthropology and literature. I’d known of Two Spirits and how that term of respect was born but found the rawness of this work, coupled with the late 1980’s when it was written, to be compelling. 

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I agree that this is a compelling and deeply moving piece. I am put in mind of the deep scandal of the Indian School movement by this. This general movement has much to answer for, including the indictment in Owlfeather Hall’s essay. 

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On 12/30/2021 at 4:19 PM, 84Mags said:

This left me with a riot of emotions. My ‘free afternoon’ became a deep dive into anthropology and literature. I’d known of Two Spirits and how that term of respect was born but found the rawness of this work, coupled with the late 1980’s when it was written, to be compelling. 

Thank you, @84Mags! This is great feedback. The source in which I found a reprinting of this account has several other first-hand summaries from around the world. I look forward to bringing a few more to the Mirror :)

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On 12/30/2021 at 8:00 PM, Parker Owens said:

I agree that this is a compelling and deeply moving piece. I am put in mind of the deep scandal of the Indian School movement by this. This general movement has much to answer for, including the indictment in Owlfeather Hall’s essay. 

Thank you, @Parker Owens! The year 2020 marked a momentous step forward. Deb Haaland, a Native American, was appointed Secretary of the Interior of the United States. There is much work to be done towards equality on Interior lands, so I hope she gets the budge appropriation needed to strive forward. I also hope Ms. Haaland is merely the first of an all-Native-American line of Secretaries of the Interior; it will take generations of work to provide redress for the wrongs   

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