Some months ago a friend asked me for deeper information about two spirit Native American people. I replied that I knew the term and had some basic knowledge on the subject, but that I would be happy to do some study and expand my knowledge in this area.
Shortly after that I began my investigation for good sources of information. Almost immediately I discovered the following excellent resource:
Brown, Lester B, PhD, Editor. Two Spirit People: American Indian Lesbian Women and Gay Men. New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2011.
NOTE: The copyright date for this work is 1997 and is held by The Haworth Press, Inc., Binghamton, NY. It was simultaneously published in the Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services, Volume 6, Number 2 1997.
I highly recommend this volume to anyone who has interest in knowing more about this topic. This is a very extensive reference source and is also available for Kindle. Following are some brief excerpts from the beginning of the text which I offer here as an invitation for further study of this important subject.
NOTE from the Introduction: The terms American Indian and Native American are used interchangeably in this volume. They are intended to mean the same, referring to the indigenous peoples of the continental United States.
American Indian tribal groups have a variety of customs unfamiliar to us. One particular occurrence is alternative gender styles for females and males. Gender has always been viewed as a spiritual calling and not determined by a person’s anatomy.
American Indian cultures and societies have had and many presently have a variety of ways in which gender is expressed. Social services professionals need to understand that gender has not always been defined in dichotomies: boy/girl, man/woman. American Indian groups have at least six alternative gender styles: women and men, not-men (biological women who assume some aspects of male roles) and not-women (biological men who assume some aspects of female roles), lesbians and gays.
The early accounts of immigrants to this country from Europe contain many references to the ‘hedonistic’ nature of the way American Indians lived at that time (Angelino & Shedd, 1955). Most of these reports were written after 1700. In these writings newcomers failed to make any effort to understand and appreciate the new cultures they were encountering. In their haste to lay waste to the resources available in this hemisphere, they simply enslaved, killed or shunted aside any tribal groups that got in their way (Weeks, 1988). Those few newcomers who made efforts to observe what they encountered had mixed responses. However, most decided that American Indian groups needed civilization to save them.
Many of the newcomers to this hemisphere were from religious groups (Weeks, 1988). These clerics, of various kinds, and their strict followers very charitably proceeded to try to salvage the souls of American Indians. Although a number of behaviors bothered them, American Indians sexual practices proved to be most disturbing in their sensibilities (Roscoe, 1992).
American Indians had very simple beliefs about human sexuality and those beliefs were based on their experience. Briefly stated, sexual expression between women and men was essential for survival of the group; procreation was important. However, sexual expression was also fun and enjoyable irrespective of the partner’s gender. As a consequence, adults engaged in sexual activities with persons of the same and different gender (Callender & Kochems, 1986). Sexual play was play, and no one could be harmed by it. Children, exploring sexual play as they still do today in most families in this country (American Indian and others), were not punished for trying something adults did in their spare time for pleasure (Crooks & Bauer, 1990). Children grew up and became adults with very few ‘hang-ups’ about expressing themselves sexually (1-3, Kindle version).
The difficulty for Native Americans to be understood and not dismissed as savages is not a new problem. Sadly, it is an ongoing saga dating from the earliest times of this country.
To be continued in the next post . . .