Sex and Conquest: Gendered Violence, Political Order, and the European Conquest of the Americas

TitleSex and Conquest: Gendered Violence, Political Order, and the European Conquest of the Americas
Publication TypeBook
Year of Publication1995
AuthorsTrexler, Richard C.
PublisherCornell University Press
CityIthaca, N.Y.

This dazzling book delineates the relation between force and sex in social and political institutions. Its subject is male sexual culture in Europe and America at the time of the conquest; its basis is the primary sources of the period. What does it mean, Richard C. Trexler asks, that the Spanish and Portuguese repeatedly justified their conquest of America's Indians with the claim that the Americans had to be saved from themselves because they practiced sodomy, transforming into "women" (berdaches) the young men whom they penetrated. To answer his question, Trexler interrogates the sexual culture of both conqueror and conquered. Turning to the native American world, the author finds a remarkably similar pattern of gendered dominance and submission. He reconstructs the lived experience of the berdaches - biological males who lived as women - analyzing the familial and political pressures that produced them and concentrating on the social, religious, and sexual roles they were expected to fulfill. Trexler concludes that making berdaches was a form of state building, and that state building through berdaches involved child abuse. Finally, assessing both Iberian and American attitudes toward the transvestism and homosexual behavior he describes, Trexler maintains that civil institutions in both the Old and New World were modeled on the military: the weak, however defined, were gendered as feminine to guarantee the power of the (macho) elite. In an impassioned conclusion, he argues that the sexual violence so deeply encoded in social and political institutions must be confronted before "we [can] freely revel in the distinctive genius of each human culture."

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