Toward an End to Appropriation of Indigenous “Two Spirit” People in Trans Politics: the Relationship Between Third Gender Roles and Patriarchy

When I say that transgenderism is culture bound, don’t get me wrong: I think every gender role and presentation is, in fact, dependent on culture.  The entire idea of gender, the roles that are developed and called “gender,” are based on the sex binary.  That’s why almost always, when you see gender roles, even if there are more than two, you can bet money that it’s just a matter of reclassifying people who don’t fit into a culture’s otherwise rigidly defined sex roles.

Which brings us to the indigenous people of North America.

I have a special kind of rage for any white person who claims to identify as a “Two Spirit” person.  It’s like wearing a hipster headdress: it proclaims loud and clear that you’re a white person who likes to appropriate American Indian culture while having little or nothing to do with the culture you’re appropriating.

The version of this that’s less enraging but more prevalent (think of it as the “dreamcatcher” of appropriation–common, misunderstood, and talked about in gross ways by all kinds of white people) is the white trans person who points to American Indian cultures as some kind of more accepting place for people with dysphoria/GID, because many of these cultures had a “third gender.”  This represents a misunderstanding of what, precisely, being two-spirit meant culturally, economically, and socially for many two-spirit people, and also represents a very limiting, naive, “all these people look the same to me” view of American Indian nations.

Before we start: lumping all non-gender-conforming people in indigenous North America into a single “third gender” or “berdache” or “two-spirit” label is problematic.  The cultures of pre-Columbian North America were incredibly distinct from each other, with significantly different gender roles to be observed even in Indian nations that were very close to each other.

What gets even more interesting when you look into the two-spirit phenomenon is where it doesn’t pop up–or doesn’t pop up with the same frequency.

The Iroquois Confederation historically had no two-spirit people in spite of keeping significantly more detailed documentation of the lives of its people than many other American Indian nations.  For that matter, neither did the Apache, who treated two-spirit people respectfully and cordially when they met them but did not themselves have two-spirit people as part of their culture.

What would make the Iroquois and Apache different?  It’s not a matter of genetics.  That’d only be possible if there were no intermarriages between American Indian people from different nations, and that’s simply not true.

The Iroquois had one of the most politically egalitarian societies for men and women in the world, at the time when white folks set out to destroy them systematically.  Women had significant amounts of political power, and the society was not simply matrilineal (which can sometimes still involve huge patriarchal gender role issues–hello, Orthodox Judaism!) but involved real equality of authority.

The Apache were famed for their skill in battle, which may mean you’ve never heard one of the most fascinating parts about their culture.  Because war was a near-constant fact for Apache adults, while adults tended to have sex-segregated roles in society, children were actually given a very non-gendered upbringing.  Girls were expected to know how to do “boy” things, and vice versa.  Why?  Think about the home front during World War II.  It’s a good idea if all your people know the basics, just so that when there are war parties gone, or a sex imbalance after raids, you don’t lose all of the missing/dead people’s knowledge and skill base.

Neither of these societies–which have in some ways more progressive and egalitarian places for women and/or girls than contemporary societies–had two-spirit people.  Was this because they were evil and repressive?

Let’s take the Lakota, one piece of the Sioux nation, as an alternate example.  Please note that I’m speaking about the Sioux nations from the perspective of someone who has taken time to learn a great deal of a Sioux language and has studied these cultures both in historical and contemporary contexts.  The Lakota have a longstanding tradition of two-spirit people, documented as far back as the written record goes.  Among the Lakota, polygyny was accepted, and gender roles were extremely clearly established for boys and girls from an extremely early age.

The Lakota two spirit people are never born women.  Almost all of them, historically, have been men.  Claims of intersexed/hermaphroditic people from the 19th/early 20th centuries should ALWAYS be taken with a significant grain of salt, because of the trouble Europeans in this era had distinguishing between homosexuality and hermaphroditism (both male and female homosexuals were often thought to have hermaphroditic qualities–a historical fact we’ll talk about in another entry!).

Were no Lakota women “born this way” while men were?  Let me postulate a different theory: that it’s men in power who impose gender roles, and that Lakota men’s patriarchal society had to have somewhere to put “men who don’t ‘act like’ men” because of male gender policing. Lakota people put two-spirit men in the part of the camp where women and children lived, which was generally not as well cared for and considered not as prestigious because of the patriarchal way that they lived.

While there were occasionally women in the Lakota and other Sioux nations that became part of war parties, they were not regarded as “male” in any way relating to their oppressed status at home.  There was no need for the patriarchal Sioux to create a category for gender non-conforming women, nor to give them special status or specific supposed talents (Lakota and Dakota two-spirit people are said to be excellent namers of children and are thought to be able to see visions of the future).  That’s something men do for men, because just by dint of having a penis, gender non-conforming men deserved to be able to have their own group and identity.

You see this in large numbers of patriarchal American Indian cultures: societies where there’s a firmly established “third” gender that men can elect to participate in (sometimes as older people, sometimes from an early age), while women’s gender roles are firmly entrenched and allow for little variance.  What’s amazing is that many people are invested in the notion that third gender was egalitarian.  Check out how careful this website is to show us both male and female two-spirit people–in fact, having more stories of female two-spirit people–while making no mention of the fact that female third gender individuals were incredibly rare compared to male ones.

Let’s take another example of a society that had a significantly different conception of gender and what it meant to be two-spirit.  The Dene people of Alberta are a First Nations group that historically believed children could be reincarnations of deceased relatives.  So far, so good, lots of cultures think that–hell, sometimes my own mother tells me I’m the reincarnation of my great grandfather.  But in Dene culture, if your parents saw the spirit of a woman enter your mother’s body when she was pregnant, regardless of your birth sex you could be referred to as “my daughter” by the man who believed his daughter’s spirit had been reincarnated into you.  You wouldn’t have to live as the sex of the person that you were thought to have been before, but would always be considered to in some way have a foot in each gender from your reincarnated past.

The Dene, it’s worth noting, forced women to go hungry at their husband’s discretion whenever the tribe was low on food.  Women in this society were among the most oppressed women in all of indigenous North America.  These supposedly progressive ways of viewing gender don’t come from cultures that actually treat women progressively.  Not once.

It’s very strange to watch the contemporary trans movement attempt to incorporate American Indian cultural conceptions of gender-nonconformity, because it’s so clearly an attempt to shoehorn people of the past into contemporary cultural labels.  In some third gender societies, two-spirit was simply a way to handle homosexuality within the group: homosexual men were considered not fully men, a halfway gender that wasn’t quite “normal.”  In others, it was a way to handle intersexed people in societies with rigid sex binaries.  In still others, it was for men who specifically preferred women’s work and roles, like weaving and cooking.

In almost none of these societies did two-spirit people born male identify *as women*.  We have no documented cases (in spite of documentation of other activities and feelings of “berdaches”/two-spirits in history) of two-spirit men anguishing over an inability to be fully recognized as a woman or to have a woman’s body.  They tended to identify as a different type of man, or something between masculine and feminine.

To systematically deprive historical two-spirit people of their own thoughts regarding their gender and what the historical record shows was their place in society–to misrepresent these people, who were often oppressed within their groups rather than lauded for their non-conformity, in spite of the all-too-common hagiographic contemporary notion of American Indian nations as places free from oppression–is to erase the nuance of real history in favor of a conception of history in which really, everyone’s just like you, you lucky 21st century son of a gun who has it all figured out.

The continuous use of two-spirit people as a way to show that transgenderism has existed in all societies–and the incredible lack of knowledge of the basics of indigenous North American cultures shown by many trans people who casually refer to there being transgender people in American Indian societies–is appropriative behavior.  It is taking the parts of a society that you think you like, without studying them much or looking at their origins, and deciding that the culture they’re from must really be deep and would really get you.  It’s de-contextualizing and de-humanizing, and erases differences between American Indian cultures as well as the fundamental ways those cultures historically were different from anything we have on the planet today.

What’s instead true is that American Indian nations that had more rigid gender roles and assigned women less power historically felt the need to strip male/female identities from non-conformers, while more egalitarian societies with less gender socialization lack two-spirit people because of, rather than in spite of, their lack of emphasis on sex-assigned gender roles.


–Deirdre Bell


91 thoughts on “Toward an End to Appropriation of Indigenous “Two Spirit” People in Trans Politics: the Relationship Between Third Gender Roles and Patriarchy

  1. An interesting post, which leaves me with mixed feelings regarding ‘appropriation’ I agree that quoting half-truths about ‘Native-American’ stereotypes of gender is a weak justification for perpetuating western ones, I’m not convinced this moves us forward in eliminating ‘gender’ as an idea though: looks like a diversion to me. In particular, the comparison between American and ‘American’ notions of gender looks like a blind alley if both cultures are 99% in agreement that diffrerent standards apply on the basis of sex. In the link to there was a reference to colonization and ‘our land’ which I found unsettling: land is never ‘ours’ and this conceit (with regards to women, land and the Earth in general) is a common thread underpinning patriarchy across cultures. Acknowleging and respecting cultural difference is fair enough – healthy and moral, even – but not at the expense of sidelining universal female oppression. And as a music lover, the universal appropriation of African-American music, as unfair as it might be – albeit under patriarchal terms of ‘property’ – has undoubtedly enriched the world.

    It’s not insignificant that ‘culturally-different’ societies’ condemnation of each other often comes down to ‘the way they treat their women’: but where’s the real difference? As long as we all prescribe differing roles, dress, thought, behaviour etc on thebasis of biology we’re all as guilty as each other and women will lose out. The author on still talked about America as ‘our land’ which is a patriarchal conceit whichever way you look at it: as Hundertswasser said, we are guests of nature–Behave-42919

    1. Is eliminating ‘gender’ as an idea something we’ve all signed up for? I must not have got the memo.

      1. Just teasing. As a woman who dresses like a man, I reckon it would be a crying shame if “woman” and “man” ceased to be relevant categories for me to play with.

      2. Well here’s a thing, my girlfriend and I were watching Tim Minchin on telly the other day and we both agreed he looked good, that there was nothing wrong with a straight guy mixing ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ affects in creating his stage persona (see also David Bowie, Mark Bolan, Kiss, Annie Lennox, Michael Stipe etc etc). On a more sinister note, I read a recent story about a girl in Israel who was heckled with ‘boy’ and ‘lesbian’ before being pelted with stones by some boys/young men and badly injured from what I recall. Another feature awhile back (on Gender Trender or Pretendbians, I forget which) reported on a gay guy who was accused by Transwomen of ridiculing them by wearing a skirt. So on the one hand, I quite agree that all forms of sartorial expression ought to be valid choices for persons of any gender, and I don’t doubt that the sense one is ‘transgressing’ some unwritten code adds a certain frisson; but when such a code is so rigidly ingrained into the collective psyche of a culture that people (males mostly) actually feel threatened by another’s choice of hairstyle, clothing or sexual partner…

        So if you’ll excuse my labouring over what is a fairly obvious point, do you think you’d make the same sartorial choices if standards of dress weren’t so typically gendered, if what you describe as ‘dressing like a man’ was just dressing?

      3. If the world were a completely different place, I can only assume I’d make completely different choices. If we were in ancient Rome I’d probably cross dress by wearing a toga (if I could get away with it). I certainly can’t say I’d invent a sports jacket, tie, and button down shirt so I could wear them. If clothing signaled nothing about gender, I assume it would still signal something, and that my choice of dress would be closely related to what I wanted to signal. Power, authority, self-assuredness, and other things linked in our culture to “maleness” would probably come into it, but it’s difficult to speculate.

    2. Guls, i dont like the way you have imposed your patriarchal notion of land-ownership on us Natives, we never owned land, when a Mi’kmaq, such as myself, calls it our land, its because we have been on the very land under my feet for 11,000 years, it was because of Prophecy we allowed the newcomers to settle in our lands. We never were conquered, never seceded any land thru Treaty, we have Legal Title, then after specific acts of genocide the Mi’kmaq were dispossessed of our lands, pushed onto concentration camps called reservations/reserves. I call Holy Family Church – My church; but i dont own it, i call UNB my university; but i dont own it…

      1. Renagayde, thank you for your comment.

        I find it hard to conceive of any sense of land ownership that isn’t at its heart, patriarchal.

        On the flipside, my sympathy for Jayson is increasing.

        His apparent innocence makes a refreshing contrast to his defensive, precious detractors. You think your traditions and practices are so goddam special that an ‘outsider’ couldn’t possibly learn them? Wake up boys. Or to put it another way; your shit stinks too. Get used to it or get nose-plugs…

        Racial and cultural norms and conflicts shift and change over time; sex is constant: females can do something we can’t and we can’t live without, the world over and for all time.

      2. Interesting that you would mention that. The only reason I want to own land is to protect it from those who would destroy it. (And protect myself from intruders, that is) Without patriarchy, I would not have to protect the land I live on, or myself.

        The concept of land ownership is flawed, anyway. One cannot own a river, or the sea, or even the air. Everything done on a piece of land affects all the land around it. (Climate change …)
        Not that Nestlé doesn’t try to own bodies of water, of course.

    3. Minor point.. perhaps the “our” in “our land” denotes relationship rather than ownership, like in “our friend” or “our mum” etc.

  2. Oh yes appropriation and faulty analogy swiped from other cultures, so glad you brought it up.
    The only way the T narrative can have any inkling of legitimacy, is to hijack. To that end the civil rights movement is used as a historical precedent that relates to them, ditto-gay rights. The most ridiculous and offensive which serves as chilling example of the narcissism and the disconnect from reality, is the concentration camps narrative. I mean think about it. Some guy buying wigs and new clothes at malls and talking to therapists and then talking hormones in the plush appointed rooms of the 1st world is like people who were rounded up put in sealed cattle cars and gassed at the other end of the line. That is some serious disconnect. But they also say a women can have a penis.

    All the appropriate is a kind of build up to
    Ta da. Voila. Woman. (can’t even touch the F2T)
    To even say they are women really requires women to abandon all reason.As far as anyone knows there is not precedent for this. No recorded of any ancient culture were men claimed to be women trapped in men’s bodies. They could say they were just that radical(special) the all cultures so narrow(bigoted) that it was too taboo. Well cannibalism is taboo; we have a record of that. Incest, record of that. Screwing a goat recorded in detail. Humankind has no fear of recording taboo subjects. This is made up by men for men. And does not threaten men at large one wit—maybe gives some the hibbygibbies but is only a threat to women.

    The T movement takes other cultures narrative because the truth of their own is a whole lot less compelling. And based in psychosexual compulsions that they try to dress up as having any history or authority. They are demanding in most cases that a obsessive male sexual fetish be validated celebrated and seen as some new social cause. And people will because conformity is overpowering and we live in a non critical moment in history–not unlike pre Nazi Germany.

    The fact is that historically across cultures sex roles and gender role are not all that rigid and in the real world rather flexible. What is not flexible is biology. Whatever chemical or surgical approximation can be done is crude—needs a dream catcher. next narrative should read—abandon all reason ye who enter.

    1. Can you name a recorded/ancient culture where men claimed to be exclusively attracted to other men and to create families of two men?

      Can you name a recorded/ancient culture where women claimed to be exclusively attracted, NOT BY THEIR OWN CHOICE, to other women and to create families of two women?

      Note: there *is* ancient precedent for the “political lesbian” choice and separatist community. There is also very wide precedent for what the modern West calls bisexuality. But the “born this way” typical Western G/L narrative? Quite culture-specific, just like trans.Or you have proof otherwise?

      1. Given the predomininance of patriarchy thru recorded history, it’s axiomatic that lesbianism – and there’s a culture-bound term if ever… – is going to carry a political significance absent in other ‘family arrangements’. It’s really striking, actually. Choice is a relative concept, I think – I know both lesbians and gay men who claim that their predilections to be innate and others who have chosen same-sex relations of their own volition. In a way it makes no difference – in societies where there was no concept of ‘proper’ gendered behaviour, choice of sexual partner would be a matter of little significance – much less a significant component of ‘identity – unless reproduction was a desired aim of the relationship. It’s precisely – and apologies for preaching to the converted here – because patriarchy requires a constant supply of ‘rape fodder’ and ‘cannon fodder’ to survive, that reproductive (PIV) sex is so aggressively-normalised, at the expense of gay men, lesbians, trans*, the infertile, the post-fertile. Nonetheless, it’s fairly obvious that women, as a group and regardless of sexual-orientation are penalised more thus. It’s also notable that sexual orientation can be objectively evidenced – by actual sexual activity – in a way that ‘gender orientation’ can’t. I’m bixexual – tending towards hetero – but as a biological male, patriarchy benefits me either way, irrespective of my choice in that regard.

      2. Guls, seeing as you agree that “lesbian” is a culture-bound term, we don’t appear to differ in this regard. All I was saying is that any invalidation of trans identity based on it being “culturally bound” leads logically to invalidation of gay and lesbian identities for precisely the same reason. (And I’m not here to argue about your other statements re patriarchy).

        Also, note the thread about cultural appropriation below. If it is assumed wrong to want to join a radically different culture – I won’t argue about that as I’ve not even *met* a Native American, me being in Europe and all, and the only cultures I encountered closely are all part of the big European family and thus not so different – then why not embrace one’s own, including what it believes about personal choice and personal identity?

        If one says BOTH that appropriating other people’s culture is wrong and that embracing culturally bound identities of one’s own culture is wrong, this creates a double bind requiring one to abandon any culture whatsoever. I can only think of the Zentradi – for those who have not watched Macross or Robotech, that’s basically a race of giant humanoid aliens who were forbidden from any culture in order to be perfect warriors. This did not end well.

        Can’t agree with your notice – “sexual orientation can be objectively evidenced – by actual sexual activity – in a way that ‘gender orientation’ can’t”. If – that’s a big if – we take voluntary personal activity as objective evidence, then “gender orientation” can be evidenced by transition (whether entirely social, hormonal, or surgical). If we don’t, we don’t. In fact, transition is harder to obtain than sex of any orientation, so, if anything, it can be seen as more objective (simply because sexual activity can be a matter of experimentation, conditioning by specific situations, or even, in some cases, political beliefs).

  3. Trans* flinch not at all at outright theft, appropriation and erasure, be it of Native culture, or of the Female.

  4. Is there no room for white people to find truth in aboriginal culture and incorporate that path into their lives if that pursuit is based on respect, openness and honesty? I live in a First Nations community and find more truth and more of who I am in Anishnabek ceremony, teachings, and culture than I do in the traditions of my own Scot/Irish heritage. I am not native, will never identify as native but still feel my spirit wanting to walk the red road. Should I be denied this path because I was born white?

    1. You have got to be fucking kidding me, Jayson. A white dude who wants to “walk the red road”? No. There isn’t a place for you. Go live out your Dances With Wolves fantasy if you must, but you’re fucking vile and appropriative even when you just say a few sentences about your charming lifestyle.

      1. I’m curious about Jayson’s question cbg. specifically, I find myself thinking ‘if, when Europeans had arrived in Amerika, what if they had abandoned their Scots/Irish/German/Spanish… traditions and willingly integrated into the local culture’? We’d be looking at a very different ‘USA’ today, no? Not necessarily a better or worse one, but surely different.

        I realise that making analogies between local/national cultural traditions and universal/gender-based (i.e. patriarchal) ones is problematic at best, meaningless at worst: your observations about varying attitudes to gender between different tribes is enlightening and also instructive, though. If we have good historical records left by cultures who maintained a more healthy relationship between the sexes is there not a mandate for us to try and apply their lessons to our benefit? I’m referring less to the Anishnabek that he mentions but rather the Iroquois in your post, but either way, I felt Jayson was attempting to be respectful; he was clear that he didn’t claim to be any kind of ‘Trans-aboriginal’. I defer to your feelings on the matter – you’re clearly the authority here – but it didn’t feel like aggressive appropriation to me.

      2. I did not mean to offend and don’t think that I deserve your condascending and dismissive response. I only asked because I see truth in what I learn from Anishnabek elders I work with. I only seek a better understanding and respect for a path that rings true and accurate and real in my heart and soul. I will not apologize for following that path. It is not tokenism, it is not appropriation and it is not on a romanticized “Dances With Wolves” ideal if one feels it to be true and respectful.

        I’d like to know more about your background, your connection to the culture you so spitefully advocate is only meaningful for aboriginal people and why you think it is dangerous for non-aboriginal people to see the teachings as powerful and something of meaning? Did the Creator create only people of aboriginal decent? If the Creator created all, then why do you deny me the opportunity to learn? If the Creator did not create all, who created me, a white Canadian of Western European ancestry? If non-native people cannot follow the “red path” then what becomes of the many mixed-ancestry people on this continent who live in aboriginal communities, live in aboriginal families and see truth in their daily lives?

      3. Mixed-ancestry people are still living in the framework of reduced opportunities and privilege caused by white oppression. Your use of terminology suggests more of a “noble savage” view of indigenous people than I am remotely comfortable with. In my own experience in Dakota and Lakota communities, white people who talk like that get mocked behind their backs, because dude, you’re ridiculous.

    2. As an opponent of the blog owner, and also a member of another religion, I would like to propose that questions regarding any religion be raised on its own forums. I’m not sure what a “red path” is – if it has any connection to “red skin” then it is racialist baloney, but perhaps “red” has some other meaning here. In any event I am sure that any particular religion prominent enough among Native Americans to attract your attention also has at least one forum or blog where its educated members can answer your questions.

      Why “CBG”, who for all we know can be an atheist (and I apologize if that proposition is insulting, this is NOT my intention), should decide on who created what baffles me entirely.

      Oh, and religious choice is a big thing in Western (in the wide sense of the word) culture. So culturally you prove yourself Western, European, whatever simply by engaging in individual path-seeking outside your birth community. And that’s great. In fact, the ability to propagate and integrate teachings originating outside of it has always been its strong point. So – culturally you are Western, which is all that matters in any connection to this blog. Who you can be religiously is a matter for some other place. Does it actually say anywhere at the entrance to an Anishnabek ceremony that you can not participate if you are a member of Western culture? (I don’t know the answer).

      tl;dr: you can seek for what you think is truth wherever you wish, this seeking is a part of being culturally Western, you will not be culturally anything else, what you will be religiously is very much off topic. Oh, and if you want MY opinion on where to find said Truth, I’ll need to find a way to answer elsewhere, because it also would be off topic.

  5. I work with ONLY First Nations students. I see their struggles and success, I attend their funerals and their celebrations, I mourn and celebrate with them, I smudge and dance and drum and laugh and cry and live with them. They are my neighbours and my IMMEDIATE family.

    If, for one second, you think I believe in the noble savage, the drunk, the supernatural shaman, the stoic Indian, the Indian Princess or ANY other stereotype, you misjudge me and are guilty of dismissing the parts of my life I value deep in my soul, deep in my heart and deep in my vision for the world.

    You didn’t answer my question. Who made me? Is my Creator different than yours?

    1. To tell you the truth, it just doesn’t surprise me much that a white dude would show up on a radical feminist blog demanding to know answers to questions about god, instead of trying to actually engage with the topic at hand. Doesn’t surprise me at all. If my lack of courtesy has thrown you for a loop, consider how discourteous it is to show up here and essentially change the subject away from the actual topics of this blog (gender issues and their intersectional expression) and toward your own experience as a white man who thinks he should be able to “walk the red road.”

      Part of the reason I assume you’re getting laughed at behind your back is because you show up in a space where you’re clearly not welcome and keep persisting in asking off-topic questions and making it all about you, you, you.

      1. He definitely gets laughed at behind his back. And I’m sure he has a sense of superiority when dealing with first nation people.

    2. You are a racist if you only work with Native Americans and no one else. Not only that, but there is no ‘creator’ evolution happened, get used to it.

      1. I googled “two-spirit” and your essay about appropriation came up. You seemed intelligent and could think fairly and critically so I asked the question. It is obvious that you and I speak of two completely different concepts of “two-spirit.” You understand it as a gender term or something historical. I understand it as a term of self-identity and spirituality, an understanding that each of us possess a masculine and feminine energy.

        If you feel that I’m a bumbling white dude who has stumbled into your little den of vitriol and seething anger, I apologize. I apologize for having white skin, a penis and a genuine desire to learn. I suppose you want me to fit the stereotype and not be interested in learning about first nations culture or to question my own gender identity?

      2. You think that I’m a racist because I teach in a first nations community school? You know so little about me but feel that you have enough to level the term racist at me? I know nothing about you except for one character trait: you’re quick to jump to conclusions and assign labels without asking questions. Beyond that fact, which you provided the evidence for, I wouldn’t level any judgement against you Brunhilda.

    3. Jayson if you really want an answer to your question look here >< you'll need to do your own legwork, i will post the Introduction to their website

      "Do you think you are "Indian at heart" or were an Indian in a past life? Do you admire native ways and want to incorporate them into your life and do your own version of a sweat lodge or a vision quest? Have you seen ads, books, and websites that offer to train you to be come a shaman in an easy number of steps, a few days on the weekend, or for a fee?

      Have you really thought this all the way through? Have you thought about how native people feel about what you might want to do?

      Please think about these important points before you take that fateful step and expend time, money, and emotional investment:

      Native people DO NOT believe it is ethical to charge money for any ceremony or teaching. Any who charge you even a penny are NOT authentic.

      Native traditionalists believe the ONLY acceptable way to transmit traditional teachings is orally and face-to-face. Any allegedly traditional teachings in books or on websites are NOT authentic.

      Learning medicine ways takes decades and must be done with great caution and patience out of respect for the sacred. Any offer to teach you all you need to know in a weekend seminar or two is wishful thinking at best, fraud at worst.

      Most of these FRAUDULENT operators are not the slightest bit reputable. Some, such as Robert "Ghostwolf" AKA Robert Franzone and Forrest Carter, have actually been convicted of fraud. Some are sexual predators who prey upon their followers. "Sun Bear" AKA Vincent La Duke was a serial rapist who was facing numerous charges when he died, including the rape of girls as young as fourteen.

      Women should be extremely wary of any " teacher" who claims sex is part of an alleged "ceremony." Most of these FRAUDULENT operators have been caught making complete fantasies of what many whites WISH natives were like. Another way to say it is that they are outright liars and hoaxers. Some, like Carlos Castaneda, were exposed as long as three decades ago.

      You probably are asking yourself, "Aren't any of these people for real and a good way for me to learn?"

      We (native people and our supporters) realize that most of you do not know any better, at least not yet, but we hope you learn about these matters from more reputable sources and in a more respectful manner.

      If it says New Age or Shamanism on the cover, it's not a good source for learning about natives. Find out which authors can be trusted before you pay money to operators who harm us all.

      Please understand the following points about native spiritual ways:

      Native belief systems are COMMUNAL, not focused on the individual's faith like Christianity, and are TRIBE-SPECIFIC. There is NO "generic Indian" form of spirituality. There are as many differences from tribe to tribe as there are between Hinduism and the Church of England. No one would think of teaching those two as the same and calling them "Indo-European," yet many of these FRAUDULENT operators teach a thrown together mishmash of bits and pieces of different beliefs.

      TRADITIONAL elders are very cautious about changing rituals and mixing different customs, it does happen, of course, but only after lengthy discussions that can take decades. FRAUDULENT operators are very casual and haphazard in what they do, in a manner that shows they have no understanding of or respect for the sacred.

      TRADITIONAL elders DO NOT believe that any ceremony can be done by anyone who feels like it. It's that same caution and respect for the sacred. Yet these FRAUDULENT operators will let anyone do their inaccurate version of a ceremony if they have the money. Vision quests, for example, are intended for young boys age 12 to 14, but boys don't have much money, so these FRAUDULENT operators sell "quests" for hundreds or thousands to mostly middle-aged men and women.

      There is also the matter of telling people they can be shamans and charging them for it. If you were interested in Judaism, would you pay money to someone who said he could make you a rabbi in just one weekend seminar? If someone did this and then claimed Jewish objections were foolish, we would recognize he was anti-Semitic. Think about the lack of respect these operators show to native people and beliefs, and to their own followers, by defrauding people.

      Native people DO NOT use the label "Shaman."

      Think also about how it makes it harder for natives and whites to get along when whites have been given an untrue picture of native cultures. We have to learn to get along and we can't do that as long as whites give support to operators who push a fraudulent version of what we are like."

  6. Jayson, I’m native. I understand you as one of those white “nice guy” rescuer racists. And two spirit? I understand that as a patriarchal/new age resurrection of homosexual erasure. Your problem is you’re so busy “teaching” that you’ve learned nothing. Par. Stop appropriating my culture. It’s insulting, and makes you look like an asshole.

  7. I would *really* appreciate it if you would e-mail me, or give me a contact for you. I have some questions about this subject.

  8. I don’t understand why it’s so awful that a person who is not native identifies as Two Spirited. Why is it not possible for a white person to be two spirited. Gender Identity is something we choose for ourselves. We choose our own labels and if someone sees the term “two spirit” and goes “that is how I identify” then why is that offensive? Is it truly just you seeing it as them appropriating American Indian culture? Or is there a reason in your religion or culture as to why a non native person can not be two spirited?

      1. That’s totally not the same thing at all. You can’t identify as a race. You’re born with your race. You’re not born with your gender. That’s an awful response.

      2. Wait, wait. You’re NOT born as your gender? Because that’s not what the trans* folks I have met here and elsewhere have said. They say their gender identity is an immutable characteristic set at birth.

      3. It also offends a whole bunch of people of Native heritage–some of whom have taken the time to message me privately with long, detailed, heartfelt messages about their feelings on this subject. Don’t act like I’m just someone who’s out there alone on this. White folks who claim two-spirit identities piss off a whole lot of folks on the rez.

  9. A friend referred me to this post. I wanted to share a few thoughts about it based on my experiences with gender and decolonization as well as my close relationships with Indigenous activist and traditional people.

    First, the modern system of gender and transgenderism (gender difference enforced by medical models of transition from one gender to another) need to be decolonized.

    But so too does the idea that all gender is culturally based. The spiritual aspect of gender and sexuality feels completely erased in this discussion, and that aspect of gender is not structured by a culture of human people, but given to a group of people by the animal or spiritual relatives of these people as part of their living culture in order to help maintain health and balance between human communities and other forms of life who share a place.

    This is not to infer that the original sacredness of these roles is preserved or respected by human people – we are really good at falling out of balance with each other. But the hypothesis that gender roles are solely determined by a culture of humans does not actually reflect the spiritual understandings of the way in which the universe works held by many Indigenous peoples.

    For example, I know from my considerable direct experience with Lakota traditional people that your description of gender roles within Lakota society is not accurate so I don’t believe using it to support your hypothesis is helpful.

    Second, I share your frustration in the use of the term “two-spirit” by gender non-conforming non-Natives. I have also challenged individuals and groups who use this term in a way that appropriates Native culture and erases authentic Indigenous voices. I don’t share your vitriol however and here is why.

    One reason is that the process of decolonization is difficult and without much guidance for people of European heritage an others who wish to explore a more decolonized understanding of their life and way of living in this world. Frankly, we are going to make mistakes and probably alot of them. The question is do we have the integrity and perseverance to apologize for our mistakes and learn from them as we grow deeper into our decolonized understandings of ourselves and our ancestors? If we are not given the space to make mistakes, learn, and then further our decolonization – the place of healing between Natives and settler/colonizers will never be able to occur. Because, as much of the decolonizing literature accurately attests, these healing conversations can only occur when settler/colonizers have achieved enough decolonization to be able to truly listen and understand Native people, as well as begin to heal our own wounds from our complex past.

    I also need to call out something I see in the comments to Jayson. While its certainly fair to challenge Jayson on his desire to adopt a culture that is not his own (I would ask Jayson to put in the energy and effort to find his own Indigenous European lifeway through decolonization), many of the comments greatly assume that he has not been invited or accepted into this culture by Natives in this community. So to assume that he hasn’t, also erases the voices and wishes of Native people who may have accepted him into their family and culture. Those people (and their Elders) are the only ones who really have the cultural authority to accept him or reject him. Many cultures have a ‘making of relatives’ ceremony. Are we saying they are wrong now to do so?

    Another reason is that in my own conversations with some groups and individuals who use the word “two-spirit”, I’ve found that there are some people of Native heritage. It becomes not so black and white in this case. I’m happy to initiate hard conversations when its necessary, but I don’t want to fall into the trap of policing people unfairly.

    Finally, I see value in Brook’s question because most people of European heritage (in particular) have decolonized so little, that historic language, words, and the spiritual understandings of these words have been asleep and yet to be reawakened. But in the meantime, they may be experiencing or finding meaning in the world beyond the vocabulary or concepts that exist within modern western concepts. Adopting the words of another group still under oppression from colonizing society isn’t the answer – but what are we doing to point them to a better way of doing things? When do we put down our sharp words that often perpetuate societal wounds, and offer them a more powerful insight that allows decolonization and healing to occur?

    Thanks for listening.

  10. I get that it offends people. I’m not trying to offend you or anyone else. But I want to learn why it’s offensive because I really don’t understand. You haven’t given me any answer as to WHY it’s offensive. Just that it is. Is there actually any part of your culture anywhere that two-spirit is something that only applies to native people and that it would somehow be blasphemy for a person of non native heritage to identify as Two-Spirit?

    1. Brooke, I recommend reading up on the political implications of cultural appropriation. It’s not that Native people’s traditions explicitly state that no white people can participate in them – because their cultures developed and flourished prior to the arrival of white settlers to this land – it’s that you and I, as settlers of European heritage, are part of the colonial legacy that has oppressed people indigenous to this land, and which privileges people like us in society to this day. How do you even have access to Native American cultural practices? I’m guessing internet, books, movies, and other media are the source, probably none of which were created by actual Native people for your consumption. If you are ever in the position of relating face-to-face with Native people at a cultural event, trust they will let you know exactly when and how it is appropriate for you to participate, if at all. Be careful of Native men who may share cultural practices with you in order to gain sexual access to you. These people’s actions do not represent the consent of their communities as a whole. If it is unclear to you why Native American people would not want you appropriating their cultural practices, you need to study up on the history of genocide, lies, broken treaties, etc perpetrated by your very ancestors, and/or people who look like you and share your privileges, on this land. And please, please, please don’t ask a person of Native heritage to educate you about this or demand that they explain why you shouldn’t take any more from them than has already been taken. Look into your own ancestral history and culture for spiritual connection, guidance and cultural identity. It’s an amazing journey and I promise you won’t be disappointed 🙂

      1. Must we all be slaves to the actions of our ancestors? Shouldn’t we be judged and considered as individuals with unique motivations and ideals that are apart form any collective group, in the past or present?

  11. “when white folks set out to destroy them systematically” I think you mean white MEN. Name the agent please.

      1. Thanks. I thought you would be mad that I wrote that. Its still a great post, wasn’t trying to nitpick.

  12. I just learned more about the concept of two-spirits today from the PBS documentary about Fred Martinez, which is told from a Navajo perspective. Though his story is tragic, I found the documentary to be very inspirational and moving. I love the idea of multiple genders and it’s something I’ve discussed at great length about a certain person who isn’t transgender, but moreso a perfect combination of both masculine and feminine traits. He has passed on and though he had a truly blessed existence, it was also met with a great deal of vitriol and adversity from people who just didn’t understand him and sought to label him as things he was not. The hate that was foisted upon him is what I believe ultimately resulted in his death. (I wonder who can guess who I’m talkin’ about, lol)

    I like to think of him as a two-spirit because I believe it truly feels right – within his soul and in his blood, it fits better than anything else I’ve ever heard. If someone feels this way about themselves and is not native, I don’t see why it’s so terrible for them to identify as such. I feel like I myself could be two-spirited and I’m mixed race, with a black father and white mother with German roots. I don’t know anything else about my heritage beyond that, but the aspects of many different cultures interest me even though I’m not a part of them.

    I don’t think it’s a bad thing, to use and cultivate positive traditions of a culture, while leaving behind the the more oppressive ideals. I mean, that makes sense to me, and it’s pretty much what everyone does or *should* do, in my opinion. Every culture and nation has it’s dark corners but there will always be beauty to be found. We should acknowledge the darkness and embrace the beauty.

    I don’t claim to be well-versed in native traditions or history, but I just think the concept of a person having the spirit of both a man a woman harmoniously in one entity is a beautiful one. Androgyny has fascinated me ever since I understood what it meant. I’m attracted to people and concepts and art that showcase an equal degree of masculine and feminine characteristics, and the notion that some cultures have even found androgyny divine is pretty darn cool to me.

    1. Dear me, replying to a critique of cultural appropriation with “but I like cultural appropriation”. Great. White folks already have words for that… like the horoscope of Gemini.

      1. I don’t think the concept of cultural appropriation is so black and white. A lot of people declare it as some some heinous pox on civilization, but people have been blending cultures for eons with positive results. All art is inspired by something and every person is also inspired. I don’t think anyone has a right to dictate what someone is influenced by and everyone’s different. Some people are respectful and others are not, generalizing everyone as a culture vulture seems so skewed to me.

        I can’t say that I belong specifically to any culture. I’m half African-American but I don’t define myself based on “blackness”, to me that is ridiculous. I love people and art and food and music from around the world and my ideas and dreams are molded from the impressions I have. I identify myself based on what clenches my heart and triggers me to be passionate. As long as the interest someone has in a culture is stemming from a place of love, what is the point of condemnation? We are all people with unique and expressive ideas, and a lot of us are not adverse to sharing and instead encourage it.

        One day I’d like to visit Japan and I wish to study art in China, but as long as I’m not claiming to *be* Asian, what is the problem? I’ve seen some rather radical associations made here that make no sense, like a white person calling oneself a two-spirit would be like calling oneself black – uh, okay. Gender can be fluid, but race is one thing that you are born and die with – but it is certainly not an indicator for the person you are or are supposed to be. One of the greatest black history teachers I’ve ever had was a white man, but he most certainly held an honest and genuine passion for black history and civil rights.

        It is entirely possible for a person to relate with and understand another person, even if they are not the same creed – because we are all human beings and the plight and experiences of one group affects us all. It’s in the same way that a male feminist can be just as effective as a female one – there should be no lines drawn when it comes to honesty and authenticity in spirit.

        I don’t make it a habit of discussing cultural appropriation, but as an example, I know that some black people dislike the seemingly white appropriation of R&B music, such as Justin Timberlake mimicking Michael Jackson. In my opinion, I think anyone has the right to pursue the style of music they most resonate with regardless of skin color, but I do think it is important to give credit where it is due. (Justin Timberlake doesn’t do a great job at that, which is why someone would be justified in criticizing him, but not just because he’s a white guy singing black music – no, I do not agree with that idea at all and I’d say most artists don’t.)

        When a person genuinely loves and cares about something, they *do* make it known. When you’re influenced by something, you like to talk about it and share that inspiration with others, you acknowledge where it came from. That to me is *not* fake, not appropriation, When someone seeks to mimic with no respect or interest in the source material, and claims everything they’ve found as their own ideas, *that* is appropriation.

        I’ve seen many examples of native appropriation that is most certainly offensive, such as the insignia used for so many sports teams, and I don’t think it’s the greatest idea for someone to dress in faux native regalia on Halloween. But I do think it’s possible for a non-native to be kind, respectful and enthusiastic about a tribe’s culture without coming off as an ***hole, and I know for a fact that there are natives that would agree – because, everyone of a particular race/culture does NOT share the same opinions and ideals, obviously.

        Just my opinion. I suppose I ascribe to a rather “live and let live” attitude. If the love is there, that’s what matters most.

  13. And, really, you know, maybe this isn’t the place for me to comment on, because I don’t exactly share the views of this blogger. I just got excited about two-spirits and dug for more and ended up here. I was a bit deflated to see someone attack the notion of non-natives using the term.

    I’m most drawn to it because the idea of gender being attached to spirituality is something that resonates with me. “Two-spirit” as a term in and of itself really speaks to me in ways that “queer”, “gender fluid” and “androgynous” do not. I’m not religious in any sense, but when it it comes to talking of the spirit, I’m more inclined to believe these forces exists, or at least, I want to. In terms of gender identity, it really just makes so much sense to think of it in such a way.

    After watching and reading about native people coming together in a celebration of two-spirits, I have to take this blogger’s words with a grain of salt. While not all native people may embrace the concept, there certainly are those that do and I believe there are also those who would invite anyone to do so who ascribes to what two-spirit represents. It seems like two-spirit may mean different things to different people, even within the same native community, and I think that’s fine and probably as it should be. If a trans-person believes in their heart that it is right for them, so be it. Even if trans-people were not documented in the past, it doesn’t mean they didn’t exist or weren’t acknowledged.

    While there may have been men who identified as feminine males, there may have also been men who seemed similar yet felt like women rather than a man who was merely feminine. It seems very likely that this was the case. Like homosexuality, I don’t believe transgender people are a new phenomenon. We just have new technology, new freedoms and new ways to broadcast voices.

    “It’s very strange to watch the contemporary trans movement attempt to incorporate American Indian cultural conceptions of gender-nonconformity, because it’s so clearly an attempt to shoehorn people of the past into contemporary cultural labels.”

    Perhaps it’s not an attempt to shoehorn people of the past into something new, but moreso the embracing of old traditions while also acknowledging the gains we’ve made as a society. It’d make no sense to precisely follow old teachings that have little relevance in a progressive world. This a problem that a lot of devote religious people have, unfortunately. They can’t seem to reconcile ideals of the old with what we’ve learned over the years and understand today.

    The use of the word “two-spirit” seems to be a way to incorporate the most positive aspects of the original two-spirit tradition into an ideal that would be beautiful, benevolent and inclusive for everyone in the modern era. In such a way, the LGBT presence in the native community would have a way to continue fostering togetherness and understanding while also getting the younger generation in touch with their native roots. It’s also a way to show people that homophobia and transphobia are relatively new constructs, rather than ancient principles that we should base our morality on.

    If people who aren’t native can identify with this movement, what in the world is wrong with that?

  14. Most of the warrior societys did not appreciate homosexuals, it did not beneifit the tribe, at least from what I have read of the Apache, Comanche, Cherokee, and Iroquois. There is too much blanketing of all tribes accepting of this, and even further confusion of actual Mens roles in camp when they would become lame and/or retarded from battle, thus having to take on womens roles in camp to help. Not homosexuality. Anyhow, the New Age people and homosexuals bent on finding something rightous about being homosexual sure try to blanket all Native American Nations as accepting it, when that is far from the truth. I read there were 540 federal recognized tribes, and the scan mention of anything related to transgender at 140 tribes. Most of the most powerful tribes had no need for homosexuality.

  15. Reblogged this on Just Another Summer Fae and commented:
    Before you claim transgenderism has a long historical context, read a little and stop mindlessly spewing propaganda. Stop appropriating Indigenous culture to defend sexually fetishistic men! Women only spaces protects women from male violence. Its important that women’s right to female only spaces like prisons, locker rooms, washrooms etc. be respected.

  16. Interesting article. I didn’t know that there is a connection between oppressive culture and “third gender” in America. However, now that you mention it, I read somewhere that there’s the option to opt out of female gender for women in Armenia. However, whether they are allowed to do so is decided by men, and it is only done when a man has no male heirs. (I don’t need to mention that the culture there is extremely oppressive towards women? Women cannot even inherit land, that’s why the whole scheme was invented. In fact, the custom is slowly dying out as society becomes more equal)

  17. Hi All,

    Wonderful article and discussion. I am not Native (African American), but deeply identifies with this concept, I’ve researched the two-spirit concept thoroughly. I believe I have a good understand of the realities and origins of the concept. And the nature of the concerns of misappropriation. That being said, I have some questions. Thanks in advance for any answers. I’m really trying to get a clear understanding of the objections to others using the term. ‘Cause I really think it fits who I am. I was moved to tears of relief and validation when I discovered the concept.

    1. Why couldn’t someone who was not born of Native blood have with the same inherent identity, orientation, etc…?

    Native culture may have accepted and cultivated the concept. European and other cultures may not recognize or “use” the concept. But just because a person’s culture doesn’t recognize a concept, doesn’t mean there wouldn’t be individuals of that culture, born into that inherent state of being. Just because you aren’t born of certain ethnicity, doesn’t mean that a mental and spiritual idea can’t apply to you, right?

    My understanding is that traditionally, a person born two-spirited was raised accordingly, and in most cases, given some measure of choice in what communal role they filled. If so, isn’t it also possible that individuals born of other ethnicity/culture might identify and serve the same spiritual and cultural roles if given the opportunity?

    What if someone is a deeply spiritual person, has researched and understands the concept, and has great respect and reverence for the idea? (Basically, someone who is not appropriating the term in a shallow way).

    Not everyone who appropriates something from another culture does so lightly; contemporary Buddhists for example. Muslim, Jewish, and Christian spiritual traditions also allow individuals to “convert” to that spiritual framework. Because anything spiritual, by design, is supposed to be open to all human beings, regardless of birth ethnicity or culture. Why would this concept be any different?

      1. I never suggested I was “immune to critique”. That’s silly. There isn’t anything I’m suggesting I “must” do. I’m actually trying to understand something BEFORE I start applying it out of respect. I’ve raised some legitimate points. If someone were to “critique” me, I believe presenting my above issues/questions would be an effective response. After your great article and comments, if that’s the best you can come up with as a response, I must be on to something.

      2. Ah. If I may attempt to clear up the ambiguity here, I feel the point being raised is that while a non-native person *may* take onboard the spiritual / religious tropes of other cultures (and some religious traditions would of course actively encourage them to), having such a spiritual / religious belief – whether by birth or conversion – does not make one exempt from criticism. This is hotly debated, but I would say fair enough under “Voltaire’s” rule of thumb for a democratic society:

        “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” (by Beatrice Evelyn Hall, in fact)

        I personally have had more flak in my life for having become a Christian than having come out as transgender, so can’t complain… Those who want the right to hold their own views, live by those views, and criticise others must concede the same rights in return.

    1. It is a hugely interesting point, and thinking on it I have no doubt that from a certain perspective my own (Christian) spiritual identity could be interpreted as no more than a crass, selective cultural appropriation of Judaism with a dash of Roman-inspired heresy thrown in. Then again, what would my “native” spiritual tradition be? Being of Welsh / Irish descent, some form of Celtic paganism, I suppose, of which I know nothing that is not contained within the pages of an Asterix book. As a person of faith, I would certainly concur that spiritual beliefs should – if they are worth their salt – transcend issues of race, nationality, culture, etc.

      Still, I do get the article’s point that an “appeal to ancient tradition” can be used in a shallow and cynical way to add a false sense of depth to an argument (as in any number of generic self-help spiritual books). However, even when one has studied their theology or spirituality in depth, as you have, it will still have little-to-no buoyancy when sailing in sceptical waters, and – in all fairness – given the patchy and record of institutional faiths on women’s and LGB issues, one can see why Radical Feminism would tend to scepticism.

  18. Two spirit is not even a native word or concept. It was contrived at a gay activists gathering in Canada in 1990 for the purpose of forcing their agenda on tribes who have never had this “tradition.” The two spirit cult is like the fake Hopi prophecy fake shaman cult in which they co-opt native history and distort it for their own wants. No matter how many times you tell them the Hopis have denounced all but the one prophecy they made public to keep the world from being destroyed by a bomb, and that there is no legitimate, credible, unbiased, original, native-generated, verified source for this “tradition” existing as an indigenous feature of native culture independent of Euro corruption within native societies, no matter how many times you quote the actual sources that refer to the rare men dressed as women in various tribes as “hermaphrodites” and point out that those same sources make it clear they were “objects of contempt” or in the case of Lakota winkte (hermaphrodite having both sex organs), had special honor — no matter that the cources do not mention homosexuality and that these were rare instances and sometimes a result of dreams, or that wearing women’s clothing was “humiliating” to men, they really really really NEEEED to justify their CHOICES by ignoring all that and parroting the to spirit cult narrative. They twist any vague reference to gender to suit their plan to create an imaginary native history where transgender and homosexuality as it occurs today, not by being born that way since the science has already proved that myth wrong, but by choice, because they are using native culture to make it appear this is something acceptable to our people when the research shows the opposite and shows a variety of customs. They ignore the complete lack of any reference to it by first contact sources or in tribal histories, and rely on recent gay white agenda anthropologists who use the fraudulent method of deciding what results they want and going out to misinterpret everything to produce that result, in the same way they searched for a “gay gene” that never existed and used fraudulent science to achieve the result they planned for their political ends, and they created a myth which has now programmed naive Americans and they have passed the legislation they wanted to using that myth. Now they are using the two spirit myth to influence and pressure native tribes to assimilate on the pretense that this is some “honored tradition” that they somehow forgot all about abandoning when ‘Christians” banned it, yet there is no factual basis for that. Spaniards are the source they love the most and the most notorious propagandists in history and they admit themselves they are in their own accounts. Do your own research. Look up Catlin’s notes on “Dance to the Berdache” and read the whole thing. Note the use of “hermaphrodite” they always try to discredit, and the fact that this dance was an amusement. Note in early accounts that the rare men who dressed as women were often looked at with scorn and not allowed to carry weapons, and that they are not documented as being homosexual, but as having both sexes, not “two spirits.” Read what Russell Means said denouncing gay men misusing the winkte tradition dressing up as women desecrating their dances, and Russell making it clear :winkte” is not gay. But that’s irrelevant to the two spirit cult. because it doesn’t fit their narrative. So they will keep slandering any tribe or person as “homophobic” — a non-existent condition who does not change their tradition or minds to submit to it, because they’re cultural nazis.

    1. When we walk away from the light…we follow our own shadow..When we walk towards the light, our shadow follows us… When we walk North or when we walk South, our shadow walks beside us. Close to ground, shadow real close…high in sky, shadow real far away. In total light, there is no shadow. In total darkness, everything is shadow.
      But for me, whatever, I walk wherever, I want whenever I want-whatever…I am lost, I am lawless, but I live totally free.

  19. Topic: Radical Faeries (Read 2853 times)
    Offline educatedindian

    Posts: 3934

    Radical Faeries
    « on: April 13, 2006, 05:29:07 pm »
    Found this group mentioned doing a search on Sams. Seems their late founder Harry Hays invented the term two spirit. One site mentioned his group the Radical Faeries do Native or what they think are Native rituals.,3.html
    “Meetings of the Radical Faeries generally occur in rural settings, and their celebrations combine Native American and New Age elements. The first took place in the desert near Tucson, Arizona in September 1979. Since then the Radical Faeries movement has spread across the United States and also to Europe….Stuart Timmons published a biography, The Trouble with Harry Hay, in 1990, and a collection of Hay’s writings, Radically Gay: Gay Liberation in the Words of Its Founder, appeared in 1996. When in 1999 the choice of grand marshal for San Francisco’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Parade was put to a public vote for the first time, Hay was the winner. He was also the subject of Eric Slade’s PBS documentary Hope along the Wind: The Life of Harry Hay (2002)”

    They seem decentralized much like the Rainbow Tribe.

    And this Gay Spiritual Network turned lots of groups that need to be looked at.
    Offline educatedindian

    Posts: 3934

    Re: Radical Faeries
    « Reply #1 on: April 13, 2006, 05:33:24 pm »
    The good post that started me looking into this.
    “After Derek’s exhaustive 40 minute search in the American History section of a bookstore, he proclaimed that “the Native Americans had quite a few people that were revered in their society that were called two spirit people. … Now, they were called two spirits and considered a little more in touch with the divine in their opinion because they were considered to have the foot in two world and their spirits were more open and pure.???
    I don’t know which books Derek stumbled onto, but it sounds more like he dropped by Barnes & Nobles or Borders notorious “Native American??? section. It is usually full of well know fraud and spiritual hucksters such as Ed McGaa, Jamie Sams, Lynne Andrews and the ilk. You don’t do serious research about Indigenous people at a bookstore. Both the anthropologists and the gay community are well known for fabricating information about homosexuals in Indigenous culture. It’s not responsible to perpetuate misunderstanding about the two-spirit myth.
    There was so much inaccurate information in your piece; I don’t know where to begin in debunking it. Indians (sic) did not refer to homosexuals as Berdaches, this is a term used by Anthropologists. Indigenous people NEVER referred to homosexuals as two-spirits. Two-spirit is a term coined by Harry Hay, founder of the radical Faeries. In the 1970’s he was making a nuisance of himself trying to find a “Berdache??? person among the Pueblo people. The spiritual leaders basically laughed at his outrageous theories and wouldn’t have anything to do with him. He finally located one tribal member who merely showed him where the gays lived – on the outside of the village. Unwilling to be stopped by facts, Hay made up the whole two-spirit Faery tale and started trying to sell it to the gay population. The Jungian psychologists of the time ran with it and kept embellishing it with more and more little white lies. Just like Orwell predicted, that little white lie told over and over again became “truth.??? I am constantly annoyed by gay people who firmly believe they are “two-spirits??? who are entitled to be told everything about my spiritual practices on the basis of their homosexuality alone. Millions of people accept as absolute truth a complete fabrication that was pulled out of Harry Hay’s but.
    There are a lot of terms for homosexuals in Native languages but none of them contain the word “two??? in it and none of them indicate that a homosexual is more in touch with the divine or revered in any way. This is just LGBT propaganda – wishful thinking. I believe you know what Carl Sagan would say about this modern myth.
    The only accurate statement that Derek made about homosexuals and Indigenous cultures is that homosexuals were not discriminated against one way or the other. In most Indigenous cultures, gays were considered equals, nothing else. They weren’t special and they didn’t have super-powers.
    If Derek had bothered and examine these ridiculous statement rationally, he might not have wasted precious bandwidth with this LGBT drivel.
    Anyone who knows the first thing about Indigenous cultures, knows that First Nations people don’t believe that having any particular sexual orientation or gender orientation puts you in closer contact with the spiritual. This is patently ridiculous. It is tremendously offensive to me as a Native American when whites tell me what my people used to believe. I get really annoyed when I am silenced when I try to voice my opposition to the offensive behavior of white gay people and I’m labeled anti-gay or a homophobe and told that I’m ignorant of my own cultural traditions. The arrogance of the white “two-spirits??? is boundless.
    Additionally, it makes no sense to assume that Indigenous people refer to white outsiders with a term they would use to refer to homosexuals. Most Nations have one word for all whites and it’s rarely a nice one.
    It was fairly well known in the 70s that Harry Hay was making up pretty myths about gay people in order for the gay liberation movement to have a positive image of themselves. Very few white people will ever object to his exploitation of Native American culture to get his message across, because we are not seen as fully human. The end justified the means. Now white middle class gays can’t let go of their pretty lie. They stop all dialogue on the subject and label anyone who tries to debunk their myths as anti-gay. Carl Sagan’s Baloney detection kit has a lot to say about this type of argumentation.
    The sad truth is that Native voices will always be silenced by more powerful white voices. If white middle class gays need to lie about our ancient practices in order to make themselves feel better about being a sexual minority, then they will use their power and privilege to accomplish those ends. They will see that the books they want to have published are published. They will support books that lie with their dollars. They will continue conduct visions quests and sweat lodge ceremonies that they made up with the help of lies perpetuated in popular nuage books. They will refuse to stop exploiting and selling our ceremonies for profit because they can. They will turn a deaf ear to the protests of our legitimate elders because they don’t have to listen to us. This is exactly how morally superior the gay white population is.
    Derek seems to be easily influenced into the popular stereotype of Indigenous people being all kewl and mysterious and believing in really funky weird things. If it sounds strange, it must be an Indian thing ey? Only a bunch of primitives could think that a homosexual sex act puts you into closer contact with the divine. If Hay had chosen another culture to exploit,
    Derek continues his brilliant analysis of cultures he knows nothing about by declaring that,
    “The newer two spirits that started to pop up I guess most of them are probably white folks
    trying to make people know that this is an acceptable practice by ancient folks so why isn’t it acceptable now? The newer Native Americans don’t give it any support they are actually siding with the gay is wrong side.???
    Why is it appropriate for white people to spread the word about our ancient practices?
    This is the same fallacious argument that gay exploiters use to justify cultural theft. Any Indigenous person who objects to their exploitation and propaganda must be anti-gay and ignorant of all the tremendous wisdom that our great white brothers possess.
    Could it be that LIVING Native Americans are actually on the side of cultural theft and perversion is wrong?
    Would it have killed you to try to present the Native American position on the cultural genocide perpetuated by the two-spirit movement?
    You claim to give religion critical thought, but you don’t touch Wiccan’s cultural theft or the Rainbow’s environmental destruction or the gay population obsession with perverting and destroying Indigenous Culture? How come certain groups are getting a pass on this show?”
    Offline educatedindian

    Posts: 3934

    Re: Radical Faeries
    « Reply #2 on: April 13, 2006, 05:35:28 pm »
    And a good follow up post at the same link.

    “I love this site guys, the interviews rock, but the research by the hosts leaves a little bit to be desired.
    Well I had a little longer than 40 minutes, so I did some research on the subject.
    The two-spirit tradition appears to be nothing but a hoax.
    Pretty much every pop-culture mind-candy book provides no hard evidence that gays were revered in any Native American culture. A lot of the authors take wild leaps of logic and freely speculate as to what they hope to be true. Two of the books I looked at were written by Will Roscoe whose research was guided by Harry Hay. Another one was written by Walter L. Williams, who dedicated his book to his friend Harry Hay. Another one was edited by Sue Ellen Jacobs, who admits to a personal correspondence with Harry Hay and uses Will Roscoe as a reference. A lot of these books also site authors that have been widely criticized by Native people such as Paula Gunn-Allen, the fruitcake who speaks to aliens from distant galaxies through a crystal skull, and Beverly Little Thunder, who managed to elicit several death threats from Lakota elders for her version of the female Sun dance. (Lesbians without shirts getting their chests pierced, I’d like to see that)
    On the Berdaches as revered shamans side of the argument, the sources were almost exclusively modern day Lakota informants. The most frequently sited is, Terry Calling Eagle. Also sited were Michael One Feather, Vincent White Cloud, Luke Standing Elk, Twila Giegle Dillon and John One Grass. I couldn’t find any information about the qualifications of these individuals. Terry Calling Eagle is quoted frequently on gay web sites. Most of the books using these informants also site Harry Hay’s philosophical writings as evidence (The Hammond Report, One Institute Quarterly 6 (1963) p. 11) and a lot of them site the work, Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions by John Fire Lame Deer.
    I read the whole book and I couldn’t find any evidence there.
    On the other side, there were a lot of prominent female anthropologists who wrote about Berdaches in the 30s and 40s who came to the conclusion that Berdaches were not revered and in some cases were even excluded from becoming healers and medicine men because the tribe believed they were spiritually deficient. Ermine, Vogelin 1938 Tubatulabel Ethnography. Anthropological Records (2) I:I-90 and Cora Dubois, Wintu Ethnography. University of California Publications in American Archeology and Ethnology 1935. Vogelin reported that is was impossible for Berdaches to become shamans in Wintu society. And DuBois reported that in Chugach Eskimos culture, the man-woman were not able to become shamans and they were regarded as unfit to be healers. She also reported that in the majority of the California tribes, the Plateu and the Great Basin, Berdaches were regarded as not having the necessary spiritual gifts and possessing no sacred qualities. Julian H. Steward, a prolific writer in Anthropological Records Cultural Element Distributions(4:2) p 252 and (8:3) p 279 reports that Berdaches were uncommon in Shoshone society and regarded with mild interest and no disapproval. Regarding Shamanism and Berdaches she concluded that “Native thought did not connect the two phenomena.??? In 15 reported cases the reported Berdaches were unremarkable. They were just seen as men who wanted to do women’s work. One male Berdache had a wife and children, another kept house for white people, another one had an abnormally small penis. None of the informants mentioned anything about spiritual powers in the 30s and 40s. All the hoopla came well after Harry Hay claimed to have found all this evidence.
    Overall, based on an incredible absence of evidence and a lot of wishful thinking by white gays trying to promote a political agenda, I would say that a thinking person would have to conclude that the is no link between Berdaches and heightened social status or increased spiritual gifts in any Native American culture.
    I’m straight and white myself, but until somebody can provide me with hard evidence, I’m going to tell everyone I know that the two-spirit myth is pure bunk.
    And I will continue to be annoyed by all the silly white people running around calling themselves two-spirits and engaging in random acts of preciousness.”

    1. I don’t know if I understand very well (I am not an english-speaker).
      But it seems that someone has try to convince that homosexuality and transgenderism must be normal, because in previous societies was considered it. I cannot approve this type of brainwashing, because “the truth first of all”.
      However, in these months after have discovered the (probably false) concept of two spirit, I believed that it is possible to live with the original body, though you suffer of gender dysphoria.
      Because:1) it is not verified in the brain (male and female brains are indistinguishable, same thing for the gay gene!) 2)it was proven that in some previous cultures crossdressing was considered well, so the surgery was not necessary.
      But now, what can I think? I cannot believe that the concept of two spirit (—>totally crossdressing behaviour) was never existed…
      Maybe our society will be the first society in which we can create the concept of two spirit.
      (please answer me)

      1. The two spirit thing was made up by gay activists. if you research their supposed “history” of it, there isn’t any. Just references they twist to suit their agenda. It was not any kind of widespread “custom” — and there are many tribes such as Iroquois nations and Southeast like Cherokee where there is no mention of it or homosexuality and no recording of it by first contact documents.

  20. THANK YOU!!!! I am part of a new facebook group that is self-described by the two creators as endeavoring to promote, get ready: “The Conversations Project: radically inclusive radical feminism” yet the whiteness is glaring and the white privileges are largely unchecked and too often willfully undiscussed. I am doing my wee bit. And linking to this piece here is so helpful! Thank you again.

  21. I’m glad I read all the way to the end. I had stopped referring to myself as two-spirit because my ancestry is completely white, but it appears that my understanding of (the many) Native approaches to gays and lesbians was seriously lacking. Fortunately I’m not looking for anything now – but I’ll stay open to more information.

  22. As a white male colonist oppressor who conforms to sexual and gender-identity norms I feel a strong need to derail the conversation, even though I completely agree with everything written in the post.

    There seems to be various conflicting rhetoric regarding dealing with the people who defend their appropriation. Throughout this thread various claims have been made: 1) Books, movies, etc. are not legitimate sources of information regarding native people as they generally are created by whites and for whites. 2) Native people themselves are not legitimate sources of information regarding native people, because either A) they don’t represent true tradition because they are asking for money, B) they are laughing at you behind your back because you are a “dancing with wolves” type, or C) you have no right to seek education from them in the first place. It would therefore seem that there is in fact no legitimate way for the colonist oppressor to learn about the experience of the oppressed. So he will continue to use his own myths to understand them.

    On a somewhat similar vein, I suspect that all this anti-appropriation rhetoric does real harm to natives who make their livelihood through cultural crafts. Selling native art to whites, performing for white audiences, leading sweet lodges for whites, etc. These are modes of economic existence for many native people. If any and all appropriation of native culture becomes viewed as controversial, these people’s livelihood is seriously threatened.

    At the same time, there is a great deal of bull spewed by white people that want to reimagine native culture in their own image. The “two-spirit” nonsense is far from the only example of this. From what I understand, these people often come in with very imperial attitudes and certainly are not helping native americans who genuinely want to preserve their culture. So where is the middle ground? Call out the bullshit that is bullshit, but leave a space for natives who want to present their culture to outsiders is a profitable way?

    1. You left one out: How is it they remember this one thing, but have lost all the rest of their culture owing to residential schools et al? I think this selective memory is purely led by white male left. You can hear it in their very un-indigenous like psychobabble. No indigenous people in my memory (I’m status) spoke that way until a couple decades you could hear it creeping in.

  23. and here is an all white gay mens wicca coven who has appropriated the word, just leaving this here in case anyone wants to push back

  24. I self-identify as “Two-Spirit” for two reasons. 1) I am a descendant of the Mi’kmaq. 2) I actually experience two spirits, one feminine and the other masculine. I don’t control them and I never know which one is going to be more prevalent. I believe that the trans community is misguided into believing that they must transition from one gender to another instead of the alternative which is accepting themselves and that they are different. In my case, my feminine spirit is more dominant, so I choose to undergo Hormone Replacement Therapy to give myself a more feminine appearance. The societal pressure to conform to one gender or the other causes the anxiety for people that don’t fit into either of these binary forms. I have no desire to butcher myself and to create fake parts, yet everyday people make assumptions that I am still in transition or that somehow my path is not completed. I pass as a woman just as I am. I believe that I have special skills and qualities because of both of my spirits and I believe people like me should be more celebrated in modern society instead of targeted for oppression. I see no connection between my spirits and religion and this is confirmed by the modern medical research. I have my own private relationship with the creator that I am comfortable with, but my oppressors do not share this opinion.

  25. fascinating article. Would be great if the author could reference some sources for the information about the various indigenous cultures.

  26. I just wanted to say thank you for a well-written, informative post. I loved your points but was also just impressed by your writing. You managed to be really clear and concise while also conveying a lot of information and concrete facts backing up your argument. I had heard the ‘two spirit’ idea bandied about and always had a few misgivings about what it really meant, now I understand much better.

    In the course of scrolling through the comments to write that short thank you, I saw a lot of de-railing/off topic comments from ppl who hadn’t seemingly read your post or maybe feel defensive of losing their ability to project fantasies onto past cultures they don’t understand. So I guess I should also thank you for dealing with all the nonsense of the internet in the course of providing a helpful resource!

    1. Thank you very much! It means a lot to me. I am a professional writer by trade and have been for a very long time. When this was written originally, I was languishing in bad job roles, but have since had a lot of promotions — good for my family, bad for having time to blog! 😀

  27. Within your framework, how would you explain acceptance of (if not reverence for) two-spirit people within Native American matriarchies such as that of the Navajo people? As I’m sure you know, anthropologist Walter L. Williams has posited that, among the known historical instances of tribal acceptance of the berdache, most of them have been within peaceful tribes – such as the Navajo. More externally aggressive tribes, such as the Iroquois, which you mention as egalitarian, did not openly embrace the notion of berdache legitimacy. I’d like to state that it is not an act of cultural appropriation to look at people other than ourselves to find historical continuity so long as we understand the culture and refrain from oversimplifying human sameness. Happily there are Native American people who are using their own histories to connect transgender identity with an enduring part of their existence as individuals. I consider them my brothers and sisters on the deepest level imaginable.

    1. “Peacefulness” has nothing to do with the enforcement of gender roles. The Navajo had strictly-prescribed roles for men and women, and offered alternate gender roles only for non-conforming men and intersex individuals. Saying non-conformers aren’t manly enough is shit, no matter who’s doing it.

      Your line at the end suggests a real dedication to ecological Indian fallacies and maybe even a touch of the hippie-dippie noble savage trope. Embarrassing.

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