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Becoming Two-Spirit | Excerpt from book on Native American Gay Identity and Social Acceptance

by Brian Joseph Gilley | Photos and additional info provided by DeShong Perry-Smitherman, Eiteljorg public relations manager | Aug 28, 2013


Traditional Navajo/Diné people recognize four genders and hold a respected place for same-sex unions within their culture.

The Two-Spirit man occupies a singular place in Native American culture, balancing the male and the female spirit even as he tries to blend gay and Native identity. At 12:30 p.m., Saturday, Sep. 28, learn more about the Two-Spirit identity during the screening of Two Spirits and a panel discussion at the Eiteljorg Museum. In his book, Becoming Two-Spirit, Indiana University professor Brian Joseph Gilley features Two-Spirit men who speak frankly of homophobia within their communities, a persistent prejudice that is largely misunderstood or misrepresented by outsiders. Here is an excerpt from the book. 

Gender Diversity and the Cultural Crossfire
Two-Spirit men are well aware that at one time in the history of Native America, mostly before European contact, sexual and gender diversity was an everyday aspect of life among indigenous peoples. The following historical overview of Native American gender diversity is intended to help frame the ways contemporary Two-Spirit men are in the cultural crossfire between contemporary constructions of Native identity and historical knowledge. As we will see throughout the book, the history of acceptance of sexuality and gender diversity within Native communities places Two-Spirit men’s desires at odds with contemporary community expectations. Two-Spirit men are well aware that at one time in the history of Native America, mostly before European contact, sexual and gender diversity was an everyday aspect of life among indigenous peoples. The following historical overview of Native American gender diversity is intended to help frame the ways contemporary Two-Spirit men are in the cultural crossfire between contemporary constructions of Native identity and historical knowledge. As we will see throughout the book, the history of acceptance of sexuality and gender diversity within Native communities places Two-Spirit men’s desires at odds with contemporary community expectations.

What scholars generically refer to “Native American gender diversity” was a fundamental institution among most tribal peoples. The fact that there were men among North America’s tribal peoples who preferred to do women’s work, dressed in a mixture of female and male clothing, and had sexual and domestic relationships with men is extensively documented in the academic and colonial –era literature. However, among Native societies these male-bodied gender-different people, referred to as “berdaches” in the academic and colonial literature, were in fact not considered men; rather, they were a separate or third gender (Roscoe 1993:336-349). Lang refers to the male bodied third-gender person as women-men, which I find a convenient descriptive term in lieu of the colonial term berdache (1998, xvi). Not to be confused with transvestitism, this third gender often embodied a mixture of the social, ceremonial, and economic roles of men and women. For example, among the Zuni there were men, women and lhamana. Lhamana was the third gender occupied by a male-bodied person. The lhamana dressed as women and performed women’s crafts such as weaving and potting, but also had the physical strength to fulfill certain male-oriented pursuits such as hunting big game and cutting firewood (Roscoe 1991:22-28).
- Becoming Two-Spirit, Brian Joseph Gilley, p 7-8

Gilley's panel and book signing is at 12:30 p.m., Saturday, Sep. 28 as part of the museum's Out West series. The signing takes place after the screening of the powerful documentary, Two Spirits. This film is about the brief life and tragic hate-crime murder of Two-Spirit teen Fred Martinez. 
 

 SEP. 28 OUT WEST SCHEDULE

12:30 p.m. Welcome by Gregory Hinton, Out West founder
12:45 p.m. "Two Spirits" film screening
1:45 – 3:30 p.m. Panel discussion
3:30 p.m. DVD/book signing Eiteljorg Museum Store
 
Two SpiritsTWO SPIRITS PANEL
 - Moderator: Jodi A. Byrd, Ph.D. (Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma), associate professor of American Indian Studies and English, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  - Lydia Nibley, director, Two Spirits
  
- Brian Joseph Gilley, Ph.D. (Cherokee of Oklahoma), associate professor of anthropology and director of the First Nations Educational and Cultural Center, Indiana University Bloomington; author of Becoming Two-Spirit
  
- Wesley K. Thomas, Ph.D. (Diné), chair/professor, School of Diné Studies, Education & Leadership, Navajo Technical College (Crownpoint, NM)

About Out West
Out West was conceived by author and independent curator Gregory Hinton. Hinton created the program series to illuminate positive contributions of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community to the history and culture of the American West.

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Help support the screening and discussion of the powerful film, TWO SPIRITS, an acclaimed PBS Independent Lens documentary that tells the story of the brief life and tragic murder of transgender Navajo teen, Fred Martinez. The film, including a panel discussion, will take place at 12:30 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 28.

To donate to this project, click
Power2Give. Chase Bank will contribute one dollar for every dollar donated. To learn more about the film visit the website: twospirits.org.

Photo #1 credit - Historic photo of Navajo couple from the collection of the Museum of New Mexico. Photographer: Bosque Redondo 1866. 

 

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