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You’re Not Two-Spirit Unless You Are Familiar With Your Traditions

Two-spirit is a pan-Indian term

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L to R: Vicki Quintero (White Mountain Apache), Timothy
L to R: Vicki Quintero (White Mountain Apache), Timothy "Twix" Ward, San Carlos Apache, and Vanessa Kristina (Salt River Pima), who all identify as two-spirited. VOA
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Growing up, Timothy “Twix” Ward, a member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe in Arizona, thought he was “normal.” But his family recognized there was something “special” about him.

“It wasn’t until I got older that I knew who I was, that I was different from everyone else,” he said. Ward identifies not as a man or a woman, but both — and neither: Twix Ward is a Two-Spirit.

The term was first devised in Winnipeg, Canada, during a 1990 inter-tribal conference of Native American/First Nations gays and lesbians. Derived from the Ojibwe language, the term was deliberately chosen to serve as a “pan-Indian” term encompassing indigenous people who don’t fit into any normative gender role.

“Two-spirited people are not LGBTQ [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered or Gender Queer], although some two-spirited people are LGBTQ,” said Ward, narrowing the definition. “You’re not two-spirit unless you are familiar with your cultural identity and your traditions.”

Shown is Timothy "Twix" Ward, San Carlos Apache two spirit, who specializes in the traditional craft of basket weaving.
Shown is Timothy “Twix” Ward, San Carlos Apache two spirit, who specializes in the traditional craft of basket weaving. VOA

Ward lives year-round in a traditional Apache house. He participates in traditional ceremonies. He is also a basket weaver and seamstress, specializing in basketry and making dresses for young Navajo women’s coming-of-age ceremonies.

“I try to teach the girls what the dress is for, the meaning behind it in their ceremony,” Ward said.

But not everyone in the community accepts him, and he admits to loneliness.

“I still carry the traditional [two-spirit] face markings, the traditional attire,” he said. “Some people that claim to be traditional are upset with me because they think I’m acting like I know more than them.”

A ca. 1886 photograph of We'wha (Zuni, N.M.), a famous lhamana (“like a woman"), the traditional Zuni gender role now described as two spirit. Courtesy: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration - 523798
A ca. 1886 photograph of We’wha (Zuni, N.M.), a famous lhamana (“like a woman”), the traditional Zuni gender role now described as two spirit. Courtesy: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration – 523798. VOA

This year, the tribal council blocked him from using their facilities to hold a second annual “Miss Apache Diva” beauty contest.

Balancing the male and female

Thirteen hundred miles away in South Dakota, Kellie Bingen also identifies as a two-spirit bisexual. Born on the Lower Brule Reservation, she now lives in Sioux Falls, which makes her an “urban Indian,” serving on the board of the Sioux Falls Two Spirit and Allies group.

“Two-spirits are people who can balance both their male and their female sides,” she said. “I’ve been a ‘tomboy’ my whole life. Dad taught us girls to do anything that a man can do, so we learned how to install sheetrock and to roof, and to fix our own cars.”

But she said she still has a “girlie” side. “I can wear heels and a dress, put makeup on, and go out and be pretty.”

Like Ward, Bingen believes only Natives who are in touch with their traditions can claim two-spirit identity — and the term should never be co-opted by non-Natives.

New York City musician and activist Tony Enos offers a slightly different interpretation.

“Two-spirit is a pan-Indian term for Native people who identify as gender queer, gender non-conforming, gender fluid,” he said.

Born to a biracial family and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he identifies as two-spirit based on paternal Cherokee ancestry.

This October 2017 photo shows Tony Enos during protests to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline held near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in Cannon Ball, North Dakota
This October 2017 photo shows Tony Enos during protests to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline held near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, VOA

“Before colonization, we were balance-keepers. We were the only ones that could move between the men’s and women’s camps. There was a special role for these gender queer, gender fluid, gender non-conforming tribal individuals who had this special medicine, this blessing to be able to see life through male and female eyes.”

And that’s what the two-spirit movement is all about, he said — reclaiming the special role two-spirits held in pre-colonial tribal societies.

But is that even possible?

Decolonizing the ‘berdache’

"Employments of the Hermaphrodites," an engraving published by Theodor de Bry (1591), after a watercolor by Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues, in what is today Florida. In some tribal cultures, two spirits cared for the sick and buried the dead.
“Employments of the Hermaphrodites,” an engraving published by Theodor de Bry (1591), after a watercolor by Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues, in what is today Florida. In some tribal cultures, two spirits cared for the sick and buried the dead. VOA

Much of what is known about historic two-spirits comes from accounts written by Western missionaries, adventurers and ethnographers, who referred to anyone who deviated gender norms by the derogatory term “berdache,” derived from the Arabic for slaves or kept boys.

Tribes had their own terms for third (if men) and forth (if women) genders — “like a girl,” “manly-hearted woman,“ “both man and woman,” “fake,” “supernatural” or “instructed by the moon.”

In some tribes, two-spirits were considered sacred and were honored as healers, seers, name-givers, or in the case of the Yokuts and Mono of California, gravediggers, as they were believed to be guided by the dead.

“But not all tribes honored them,” said Wesley K. Thomas, a Navajo anthropologist, professor and graduate dean of the Navajo Technical University School of Graduate Studies and Research. He believes two-spirits tended to be honored only in matrilineal tribes like the Navajo, where descendancy is traced from the mother’s line.

In other tribes, they were merely tolerated.

“There were even some patrilineal tribal societies who committed infanticide of such children [early on] or later in life,” he said.

George Catlin (1796-1872), Dance to the Berdache. Drawn while on the Great Plains, among the Sac and Fox Indians, the sketch depicts a ceremonial dance to celebrate the two-spirit person.
George Catlin (1796-1872), Dance to the Berdache. Drawn while on the Great Plains, among the Sac and Fox Indians, the sketch depicts a ceremonial dance to celebrate the two-spirit person.
VOA

Whatever their status, the subjugation and Christianization of Indians by Europeans ensured that two-spirits were stamped out.

“As the country is gradually being filled with the Missions, these detestable people will be eradicated and that this most abominable of vices will be exterminated,” wrote Spanish missionary to California Francisco Palou in 1777.

By the mid-20th century, gay Native Americans, facing homophobia and ostracism within their own communities, began to flock to urban centers for safe haven.

“But there, they found themselves marginalized by non-Native LGBTQ communities,” said Thomas. Hence the need to name themselves.

Thomas isn’t critical of the two-spirit movement, which in his words “gives them a sense of belonging, of identity, self-affirmation.”

That said, Thomas doesn’t believe they will ever recover any honor given to them in the past.

San Francisco, California's two spirit contingent marches at the San Francisco Pride parade, June 2014.
San Francisco, California’s two spirit contingent marches at the San Francisco Pride parade, June 2014.
VOA

Also read: LGBT activists in London call for decriminalisation of homosexuality

“It’s not possible,” he said. “We have been distanced too much from our traditional ways and cultures.” (VOA)

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India Gets A Win, Supreme Court Decriminalizes Homosexuality

In December 2013, a Supreme Court bench said that it was for the legislature to look into desirability of deleting section 377 of IPC.

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Homosexuality, India, marriage
SC decriminalises homosexuality, victory for gay rights. Pixabay

 In a historic verdict, the Supreme Court on Thursday decriminalised homosexuality between consenting adults by declaring Section 377, the penal provision which criminalised gay sex, as “manifestly arbitrary”.

In separate but unanimous verdicts, a five-judge Constitution Bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice Rohinton Nariman, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice Indu Malhotra partially struck down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) as unconstitutional.

The bench said it is no longer an offence for LGBTIQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender/transsexual, intersex and queer/questioning) community to engage in consensual sex between two adults in private.

Reading out the judgment, Chief Justice Misra said attitudes and mentality have to change to accept others’ identity and accept what they are, and not what they should be.

Homosexuality, India
LGBTIQ people have a right to live unshackled from the shadow.
Pixabay

“It is the constitutional and not social morality which will prevail,” said the court.

The verdict sparked celebrations in the LGBTIQ community across India even as the judgment was being read out. Many of the community members who had assembled outside the apex court jumped in joy and distributed sweets.

Chief Justice Misra said consensual sex between adults in a private space, which is not harmful to women or children, cannot be denied as it is a matter of individual choice.

Section 377 will not apply to consensual same-sex acts between homosexuals, heterosexuals, lesbians, the court said, clarifying that sexual act without consent and bestiality will continue to be an offence under section 377.

“An individual has full liberty over his or her body and his or her sexual orientation is a matter of one’s choice,” said the Chief Justice.

“Time to bid adieu to prejudicial perceptions deeply ingrained in social mindset. Time to empower LGBTIQ community against discrimination. They should be allowed to make their choices,” he added.

Homosexuality, India
In separate but unanimous verdicts, a five-judge Constitution Bench struck down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) as unconstitutional. Pixabay

 

In a concurring judgement, Justice Nariman said homosexuality is “not a mental disorder or disease”.

He said the LGBTIQ community has an equal right to live with dignity and are entitled to equal protection of law. He directed the Centre to give wide publicity to this judgment to remove the stigma attached to homosexuality.

Justice Chandrachud said to deny the LGBTIQ community their right to sexual orientation is a denial of their citizenship and a violation of their privacy.

“They cannot be pushed into obscurity by an oppressive colonial legislation… Sexual minorities in India have lived in fear, hiding as second class citizens,” said Justice Chandrachud, adding “the state has no business to intrude on such matters”.

Justice Indu Malhotra said that history owes an apology to the LGBTIQ community for all that they have suffered on account of the ignorance of the majority about homosexuality.

“LGBTIQ people have a right to live unshackled from the shadow,” she said.

Homosexuality, India
People Participated in Hundreds for the Gay Pride Parade Held In Delhi.

The Supreme Court verdict, which overruled its own earlier judgment, assumes significance as in the earlier round of litigation in 2013, the top court had reversed a Delhi High Court ruling decriminalising homosexuality.

The Delhi High Court bench, headed by then Chief Justice A.P. Shah, had in July 2009 legalised homosexual acts between consenting adults by overturning the 149-year-old law — finding it unconstitutional and a hurdle in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

In December 2013, a Supreme Court bench comprising Justice G.S. Singhvi and Justice S.J. Mukhopadhaya in the Suresh Kumar Koushal and another vs Naz Foundation and others case, had set aside the high court’s judgment and said that it was for the legislature to look into desirability of deleting section 377 of IPC.

The matter was subsequently resurrected in July 2016, when a fresh petition was filed by members of the LGBTIQ community — dancer N.S. Johar, journalist Sunil Mehra, chef Ritu Dalmia, hotelier Aman Nath and business executive Ayesha Kapur — which was then marked to the Constitution Bench by a Division Bench.

Homosexuality, India
Gaydo, India’s first LGBTQ Radio Show

Also Read: Gaydio: India’s First LGBTQ Radio Show Will Help People Understand Gender and Sexuality in a Better Manner

The reference was made on the basis of submission that it was the first time that individuals directly affected by the provision were approaching the court.

Among the petitioners are a batch of current and former students of Indian Institutes of Technology. Claiming to represent more than 350 LGBTIQ alumni, students, staff and faculty from the IITs, the petitioners said that the existence of Section 377 had caused them “mental trauma and illnesses, such as clinical depression and anxiety and relegated some of them to second-class citizenship”. (IANS)