Wednesday, 7 January 2015

two spirits, one body

Though I didn’t realise that there was any portrayal or awareness outside of Arthur Penn’s anti-establishment screen adaptation of Little Big Man, the special esteem afforded to members that did not fit into traditional gender roles that was not something hidden but rather respected and was an unsettling surprise for the early explorers and later anthropologists encountering Native American tribes.

Recognising and even valuing those whom had both female and male personality traits and sustained same-sex relationships was nearly a universal institution among groups in North America—which Europeans labeled derisively as berdache, from the French term referring to a male-prostitute or a sex-slave. Tribally, they had their own words to describe these individuals and assigned communal duties, including taking on the roles of singers, dancers, tailors, crafters, baby-naming authorities, fortune-tellers, and matchmakers, which were specially set aside for these experts. In some cultures, men and women would cross-dress to classify themselves as such—but it was not a requirement and no scarlet letter to identify themselves to others as butch or effeminate. In the 1990s, Indians eventually came to reject externally imposed terminologies and concepts like gay—and hetero-normative, which reflected the backward thinking that eclipsed aboriginal ways and which also got to give the definitive account—to bring Two-Spirit in as an overarching designation. I like Two-Spirit—simple and straightforward and not confusing like non-binary and does not sound politically frustrated.