GENDER MONTH–Week Three–INDIGENOUS HISTORY (NORTH AMERICA)

5 weeks of expanding the mind and beautifying the world with Queer/Trans/Intersex fabulousness!

ON TO THE THIRD WEEK OF GENDER MONTH!

Each week of this month I’m focusing on a different theme in relation to Queer/Trans/Intersex fabulousness. If you missed last week’s post on MULTICULTURAL AWARENESS, check that out here and the previous week’s post on NATURE can be found here.

WELCOME TO INDIGENOUS HISTORY WEEK!

In PART THREE of the gender series we open our eyes to our ancestors in North America, the lives they lived and the echoes of that time that still sing through to this day. Beginning again with Leslie Feinberg and their book Transgender Warriors, we position ourselves here, on the land we live on and the people who’ve lived in North America for thousands of years.

 

There is an undeniable strength and power that queer/trans/intersex people hold. Opening up to multicultural awareness about gender showed that the history and presence of our community is global and stretches through the expanse of time with great variation. As we look at queer/trans/intersex history here in North America we find a similar story.

We see courage, persistence and endurance. Frequently in matrilineal/matrifocal communities, we can see an inability to deny the power of nature within the self, and instead a commitment to give it expression, fluidity and freedom. Like many global cultures that acknowledge 3rd and 4th genders, multiple gender expression permeates a vast number of indigenous cultures in ancient North America.

3rd and 4th genders provide a more nature-based embodiment within a culture that supports and celebrates roles for queer/trans/intersex people. These are the kinds of roles that create connections and bridges, synthesize information and experience, and maintain expansion for their communities. Valuable roles that serve their people and time, but can also serve as a lifeline to another person at another time.

The National Museum of the American Indian when it was located in the Bronx. You can now visit the museum here.

In this short video, Feinberg speaks about the moment they first found 3rd/4th gender representation. The truth in our ancestors was so clear and undeniable, it could reach through time and open Feinberg’s eyes to their own self. It was at The National Museum of the American Indian.

Although numerous tribes never forgot and remember to this day the presence of 3rd and 4th genders from their traditions, most knowledge about gender went underground during the time of aggressive colonization and rightly so. But when knowledge goes underground for safety and survival reasons, it is easily lost or temporarily misplaced. The fact that this knowledge was not lost and in fact could not be denied and is rising with greater strength even now, is a testament to the enduring power of queer/trans/intersex people and the positions they played in North America’s historical past.

In contemporary times, it can be challenging to step outside of the Western framework and into a more indigenous one. Western messages have become deeply embedded, even internalized, until it seems they are reality itself. And sadly much of the documentation that reflects pre-colonized perspectives are filtered through heavily biased individuals and systems. However, by putting them in context and looking with a queer eye, we can gain a valuable window back in time that can help re-frame and potentially heal the present.

From Transgender Warriors,
‘Strange country this,’ a white man wrote in 1850 about the Crow nation of North American, ‘where males assume the dress and perform the duties of females, while women turn men and mate with their own sex!’

I found hundreds and hundreds of similar references, such as those in Jonathan Ned Katz’s ground breaking Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the USA, published in 1976, which provided me with valuable research. The quotes were anything but objective. Some were statements by murderously hostile colonial generals, others by the anthropologists and missionaries who followed in their bloody wake.

Some only referred to what today might be called male-to-female expression. ‘In nearly every part of the continent,’ Westermarck concluded in 1917, ‘there seems to have been, since ancient times, men dressing themselves in the clothes and performing the functions of women…’

But I also found many references to female-to-male expression. Writing about his expedition into northeastern Brazil in 1576, Pedro de Magalhaes noted females among the Tupinamba who lived as men and were accepted by other men, and who hunted and went to war. His team of explorers, recalling the Greek Amazons, renamed the river that flowed through that area the River of the Amazons.

Feinberg’s book fascinated me because of its range. It is a sweeping testament and holds the freedom and the beauty of containing their own personal experience and exploration as part of their documentation.
Indigenous History around Gender

“I began to hear more clearly the voices of Native peoples who not only reclaimed their traditional heritage, but carried the resistance into the present…Two historic developments helped me to hear the voices of modern Native warriors who lived the sacred Two-Spirit tradition: the founding of the Gay American Indians in 1975 by Randy Burns (Northern Paiute) and Barbara Cameron (Lakota Sioux), and the publication in 1988 of Living the Spirit: A Gay American Indian Anthology. Randy Burns noted that the History Project of Gay American Indians ‘has documented these alternative gender roles in over 135 North American tribes.’
“I knew that Native struggles against colonization and genocide—both physical and cultural were tenacious. But I learned that the colonizers’ efforts to outlaw, punish, and slaughter the Two-Spirits within those nations had also met with fierce resistance. Conquistador Nuno de Guzman recorded in 1530 that the last person taken prisoner after a batter, who had “fought most courageously was a man in the habit of a woman….”

– Leslie Feinberg, from Transgender Warriors

Recommended Books to learn more about Indigenous History and Gender
These books are joined by one that drops more specifically into the life and times of We’Wha. Will Roscoe’s The Zuni Man Woman was published in 1991. It won the prestigious Margaret Mead Award, as well as the Lamda Literary Award. We’Wha was the most famous lhamana, a traditional Zuni gender role, now described as mixed-gender or Two-Spirit.

Changing Ones/Third and Fourth Genders In Native North America, was published in 1998. This book contains an extensive overview documenting multiple cultures and individuals.

Roscoe says,

“In truth, the ground American society occupies once may have been the queerest continent on the planet. The original peoples of North America, whose principles are just as ancient as those of Judeo-Christian culture, saw no threat in homosexuality or gender variance. Indeed, they believed individuals with these traits made unique contributions to their communities.”

“The evidence of multiple genders in North America offers support for the theory of social constructionism, which maintains that gender roles, sexualities, and identities are not natural, essential, or universal, but constructed by social processes and discourses…”

It may not be possible to fully understand indigenous perspectives on gender and sexuality after centuries of colonization, but by turning in this direction we can begin to learn. In listening more closely and opening our minds and perspectives, we can help root a present and a future where queer/trans/intersex and indigenous people are once more treated with deep honor and respect. Our ancestors are still alive in us and on this land.
Randy Burns and L. Frank portraits
This makes it valuable to more fully understand the history of indigenous North America. Numerous stereotypes persist because of deeply biased scholarship.

One book I recommend to expand perspectives is 1491/New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles Mann. It helps with envisioning what indigenous North America must have been like. Very different than what most of us were taught, it helps give some framework to the economic, spiritual and healing/health systems functioning at that time.

Here are videos that share some of the inclusive, indigenous genders still singing through from the ancient past into the present time in North America.

Although in ancient time as today there has always been a 4th gender, what is sometimes called female-to-male, it appears within a patriarchy these representations are more actively suppressed. What is sometimes called male-to-female is more frequently represented.

The Middle Road/Kane Wahini, Wahini Kane in Hawaii

Man, Woman, Muxe/3rd Gender in Mexico

Two Spirit/Native American Tribes

Contemporary

A closer look at WORDS and Native American experience


IMAGINE FOR A MOMENT…

We'Wha PortraitYou are surrounded by a vibrant, beautiful group of queer/trans/intersex folks. It may be a small group or even a very large group. A strong underlying feeling of mutual respect and a sense of service and belonging permeates everyone’s actions and reactions within this group and extends to everyone beyond this group. In fact, you’ve experienced a deep feeling of being fortunate and lucky ever since you were a small child.

You were always seen as a gift, and encouraged to blossom freely. As you developed into your queer/trans/intersex self you were cherished and your family invested in you to develop your natural skills.

Creativity, spirit, service, mediation, intuition, home, family. Strength, insight, endurance, freedom, independence, passion. These strengths are valued within you and allowed to flourish for the benefit of yourself and the community.

You know that everything in nature includes your reflection. Rest down into yourself.


WHAT IS COMMONLY TAUGHT AND THOUGHT
from When a Bully is President

In a Eurocentric, colonized environment complete suppression is the name of the game. Genocide, slavery, aggressive interruption of culture, stealing and destroying land… The true history of the US and the indigenous people of the Americas has and is suppressed if not completely distorted either intentionally or through ignorance by the dominating culture.

While minor change has occurred to bring greater truth, it has been extremely slow and education remains severely lacking on multiple levels. One of the primary problems is that the majority of people are taught through the public school system where perspectives that do not include indigenous history or people in a truthfull manner are passed on by positions of authority. These perspectives are then firmed by larger social, political and cultural systems.

Context:

The colonization of North America was at all times an economic venture. Anything and everything that could be used to disrupt and overtake the perceived resources was employed. 3rd and 4th gender roles in indigenous cultures were people who generally held more economic, spiritual, sexual, health and social power than most in their community. It is not surprising that there are stories about specifically targeting and shaming these individuals. This would diminish their role as well as fundamentally impact their community.

False accusations of cannibalism, harsh judgment against sodomy, and fabricated ‘proof of being irrational’ were used as justifications to enslave and slaughter huge swaths of indigenous people across North America from Mesoamerica to Canada.

Impact:

Racism against indigenous peoples of the Americas can be personal but it is always systemic in the US. A country that evolves from aggressive colonization holds at its core the same principles that created it. Unless these foundations are consciously addressed fully, they continue without interruption and permeate all aspects of society.

Over centuries of developing justification for aggressive colonization, numerous theories were provided that falsely position indigenous and POC as inferior to Europeans. Although proven wrong, the emotional impact of this kind of promotion has lasting effects on the mentality of the population at large. Again, if not consciously addressed these sentiments have a life of their own across a society that systemically oppresses indigenous people.

On LGBTQI2S+ Community:

1998, from Changing Ones/Third and Fourth Genders in Native North America:

“Alternative gender roles were one of the most widespread and distinctive features of native societies throughout the continent, yet they are barely mentioned in ethnographies and, until the 1980s, no anthropologist or historian comprehensively studied them. A conspiracy of silence has kept the subject obscured and hidden. In the eight volumes published to date of the Smithsonian Institution’s state-of-the-art Handbook of North American Indians, berdaches* are mentioned in entries for only sixteen tribes—an accuracy rate of barely ten percent based on the number of tribes with alternative gender roles listed in the index here.”

*Note: ‘Berdache’ is an outdated Persian term no longer in current use, brought over by the French to designate 3rd and 4th gender roles in indigenous North America. Two Spirit is the term adopted in the 1990’s by native people to reflect an alternative to Western labels like “gay, lesbian, transgender, as well as berdache.”

The indigenous and POC LGBTQI2S+ communities continue to be some of the most invisible, silenced and marginalized people, even within the LGBTQ movement, which has historically maintained a predominantly Eurocentric bias.

In November 2017, the National Center for Transgender Equality released “a detailed report about the specific experiences of transgender American Indians and Alaska Natives in many areas of life.”


BACK TO THE TRUTH and PRACTICAL, DAILY APPLICATION

By creating a truthfull foundation that includes nature, multicultural global awareness, as well as the reclamation of the suppressed history of North America, we literally begin to reconstruct the world we live in.

By creating a truthfull foundation that includes nature, multicultural global awareness, as well as the reclamation of the suppressed history of North America, we literally begin to reconstruct the world we live in. This is not isolated to one area of thought or theory. This quite literally touches everything. And as we bring this information into more common awareness, it changes everything it touches. The world is queer and always has been.

Making this world view accessible to our kids, not only makes their lives better, more sane, it resonates OUT, changing the present. And from there, it changes the future in ways that we can only guess.

Quite literally, truth heals. We may not know the specifics of where we’re going, but we can clear the path and open up to the highest good available. By acknowledging what’s happened and what is, we can heal through to the present.

What supports this kind of knowing and healing? We need our queer/trans/intersex, LGBTQI2S+ elders to connect with our kids. We need our queer families to hold these truths and pass them on to their kids at home, and when possible get them shared in the schools.

We need to pursue whole stories that address not just LGBTQI2S+ oppression, but the systems that were brought to this country through colonization and the impact they’ve had and continue to have to this day. Together we are stronger.

Here are 4 areas where you can put truth to action:

“While radical white-dominated queer movements often attempt to reject religion because of institutionalized homophobia and heterosexism or on the other hand create spiritual movements and communities that often appropriate Native practices, Native Two-Spirit/GLBTQ people insist that we already have a place within traditional religious and spiritual life. It is this part of our identities that many Two-Spirit movements emphasize. This is not a way to desexualize our identities in order to be acceptable to non-Two-Spirit/GLBTQ people, as non-Native radical queer movements might argue. It is a way to acknowledge our specific roles in cultural continuance. Two-Spirit oppositional politics are oppositional to colonial powers and to colonial values and epistemologies, including those internalized by Native communities. However, while radical non-Native queer movements formulate queerness as oppositional and antinormative, Two-Spirit critiques locate Two-Spirit and queer Native identities as integrated into larger Indigenous worldviews and practices. Two-Spirit activism works to mend and transform the relationships Native communities have with Two-Spirit and queer people. In this way, radical Two-Spirit politics are not oppositional in the way radical queer movements are; they seek to create and maintain balanced relationships and power dynamics in our communities as part of decolonial activism.”

4. Educate toward truth/children’s books and adult resources.

Children's Books and Adult Resources on Gender and Queerness and Indigenous History


Resources and References:


Maya Gonzalez is a ferociously quirky queer femme with a deep love for daily drag and dress up. She’s also an artist, progressive educator and award-winning children’s book illustrator and author. She has been a close ally of the trans community for over 30 years and her partner is trans. Her work focuses on art and story as powerful tools of reclamation and transformation both personally and culturally. Currently her primary tool of activism is creating and publishing radical children’s books that tell the truth of who we are and what we can be. She invites grown-ups and kids alike to do the same through her online school and free kids program that teach a holistic approach to creating and publishing children’s books.

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