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Article on Native American Trans* folks


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As a trained anthropologist, and a trans person, I found the article very interesting. I do wonder whether "two-spirit" individuals were treated the same across most, or all Native American cultures. There were differences in religious and cultural practices, especially between widely physically separated tribes. I am skeptical about any claims that all Native American peoples were uniform in their approach to most anything. In fact, I have spoken with Mayan people, who tell me that they do not recognize "two-spirit" people in their culture. It is easy to make generalizations.

Thanks for posting this, Charlize.

Carolyn Marie

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I think it is an over-generalization to assume it was universal--what was universal was the Christianization process very nearly wiping out such identities as acceptable to one degree or another, whether they existed or not.

Many Navajos have no idea there is any such thing, though a judge mentioned to me that Nadleehi (can't spell properly on the board) were valued as the best teachers for children, and mentioned her family having a hired tutor who was nadleehi when she was a child, who taught them horseback riding as well as weaving (traditionally a women's art among the Navajos).

It's also ridiculous to assert that there were no gender roles in First Nations societies before Europeans came along. Those roles looked different than European roles, and different from one tribe to another, but if they didn't exist, neither would the understanding of people who transgressed them.

I know the complementary duality of male and female genders and sexes is deeply embedded in Navajo thinking and philosophy; the word nadleehi means "one who is transformed" and recognizes the transformation of someone's social roles. Their terms also translate well to "female-bodied man" and "male-bodied woman."

It's also simplistic to directly correlate modern conceptual understanding of transgender identity with two-spirit identity. The medical transition many of us undergo is distinctly modern and many traditional cultures with intact third gender or two spirit identities are in the process of figuring out how the concepts relate to each other.

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Thank you for sharing that Ravin. I'm learning.



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Have read a great deal concerning two spirit people.

Thanks for your words, Ravin. Over generalizations contribute to all kinds of social stigma. No group of people is without vice.

This is a good discussion. Thank you Charlize for posting it!

Do-hi-yi !

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Interesting articles. Although there is some generalization, what jumps out at me is how religion had such a hand in destroying a culture and belief system that was different. So sad, and it continues on even today.

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  • 3 months later...
On July 8, 2016 at 10:03 AM, Briana said:

Interesting articles. Although there is some generalization, what jumps out at me is how religion had such a hand in destroying a culture and belief system that was different. So sad, and it continues on even today.

You know, I do not believe it is ever 'religion' that destroys anything. Religion, like any other thing in life, can be used for good or for ill. It is the within the hands of the weilder that the determination is made.  Like guns. 

If you want to talk about culture and belief systems being destroyed, we include the likes of Josef Stalin, Pol Pot, Augusto Pinochet, Idi Amin and Mao Zedong (and many others) who committed some of humanity's greatest atrocities. Religion? Nope. 

People destroy people.


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  • 1 month later...
On 7/7/2016 at 5:18 PM, Charlize said:

Hhmmm....I disagree

On 7/7/2016 at 6:08 PM, Carolyn Marie said:

As a trained anthropologist, and a trans person, I found the article very interesting. I do wonder whether "two-spirit" individuals were treated the same across most, or all Native American cultures. There were differences in religious and cultural practices, especially between widely physically separated tribes. I am skeptical about any claims that all Native American peoples were uniform in their approach to most anything. In fact, I have spoken with Mayan people, who tell me that they do not recognize "two-spirit" people in their culture. It is easy to make generalizations.

Thanks for posting this, Charlize.

Carolyn Marie

I'm more inclined to agree w/ this reply.  I don't know about training, but I had undergraduate and graduate studies in both anthropology and sociology before I decided to do other things so I think I can give a relatively educated opinion that the article linked in the initial post progressively stretches the imagination.  While I'm not one to usually engage in ad hominem like arguments, I quickly noted the title and subtitle of the journal/magazine in which the linked article was "printed."

Personally, I've never heard of any such two-spirit/transgender traditions in my mother's peoples.

[No special bone to pick w/ re: to the notion of "two-spirts" here.  Just happened to be looking at old posts/threads and this one caught my eye.]












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Thank you for your post Tejana.  It echoes those of other members and perhaps may provide some additional incites.   I am certainly no expert on the Native American acceptance of gender issues which is why i felt this article with it's mention of different tribal attitudes was interesting.  I haven doubt that, as in our own society, there are large variations .





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  • 2 months later...
Guest Squallsong

I have to agree with Carolyn Marie on this one...skepticism.

In reference to Lakota "Winkte", they fail to acknowledge that the Lakota woman was under no defined set of gender rules (Siouxan peoples are like most plains peoples, their women held high station and authority) and for that reason it was widely acceptable that they took whatever role suited them, while less masculine men were restricted from typical male roles (and for this reason were defined separate from male).  Algonquian peoples had a "coming of age" ceremony for males (which involved a prolonged overdose of datura) to rid males of their memory (and literally killed any femininity a male had).  Southeastern tribes held a belief in three genders (and three spirits which collectively defined which gender the individual was)...the list is infinite...and a generalization such as the five stated (a Southwestern belief) is not universally accurate.  Most tribes embraced their "two spirit" members, and it was not until colonization that this changed.

European society was based on patriarchal and aristocratic hierarchy, and the collective beliefs of Native Peoples was a direct assault upon the entire European culture.  With colonization came religious doctrines which vilified all non-binary people.  Native men embraced the notion as it brought power and station to them, in contradiction to the equality that had traditionally maintained their culture and society.  Europeans used religion to fuel a revolution within Native cultures, so that feminism could be eradicated for another three centuries...and any non-binary notions could be quashed for another four.

Even today, there is a great deal of denial of the "two spirit" within many Native cultures despite growing evidence to the contrary.  Mayan is particularly noteworthy, as they had a ruling class when the Spanish arrived, and their oppressors took extreme steps to eliminate trans and gay people, while rewarding those in power for assisting in that goal.

The article does spread the ideals of acceptance though and it introduces at least one accurate description of the notion of "two spirit" to Europe through a page regarding religion, so in that respect, it is decidedly a good thing.

Be well and take care!


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Thank you Squallsong and others.  This is interesting and helps me understand a culture we in America are unfortunately not fully exposed to.


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