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Basic Information

Derived from an Amerindian concept the berdache is a person who is physically male but culturally female, adopting the dress, mannerisms and social status of a woman of their culture.

This is far from a universal institution - indeed, most cultures don't possess the concept and many cultures are not supportive or accepting of gender-queer individuals.

In societies where berdachism is socially-supported lifestyle choice, it is usually entered into at coming of age when a boy would otherwise be initated as a man. From then on, he is given a woman's adult name, does women's work and lives accordingly. In some cultures, (s)he may even marry a man (normally as a additional wife given her inability to bear children) - but obviously, not a woman (because to her culture she is a woman). Some berdaches may also be eunuchs, but this was far from universal.

Another common role for berdaches - and others of "non-standard gender" - was that of shaman. Indeed, in some cultures it was normal for a shaman to be gender-queer in some way as this was seen to confer advantages in dealing with the spirit world.

A mirror role, in which a woman officially becomes a man, is found in the Albanian tradition of the Sworn Virgin and the Pashtun Bacha posh - actual implementation differs.


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • Could make a very interesting PC concept as well.
  • Especially interesting if the berdaching society also has a strong taboo against homosexuality (as some of them did).
  • The female to male berdache is also a possibility for allowing women PCs into roles which it would be illogical for them to occupy in context - especially various species of barbarian warrior.
  • If you have a species with self-determined gender (or a hermaphrodite species with defined gender roles) this suddenly becomes a core social concept.
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