It’s true, men and women had and do have traditional roles in Indigenous cultures (if you have a problem with that, remember that the violent patriarchy was a construct of the colonizers). It is also true but not widely known, that before colonization, people who were queer and/or transgender were revered in most Indigenous cultures. There are so many words in so many native languages for this, but the most widely used term nowadays is “Two-spirit” (popularized in the late 1990’s); these were people who were gifted by the creator to have the spirit of both a man and a woman inside them, therefore being able to take on roles like healing, mediating, and being visionaries. This term was created by a group of men, women, and transgender people who gathered in Winnipeg to create a term that would bring queer indigenous people a cross the land together, and be used in place of harsh colonial terms such as “homosexual” and “transsexual”. Two-spirited people were held to the highest respect, until our ways were stripped from us by means of force and loss of many lives.
Fast forward to today. At 18 years old, I have grown to be given the spirits of both a man and a woman inside of me. In our modern Indigenous culture, I was shown that you must stick to the roles you were assigned, or else you would bring on shame. So naturally, when I entered high school, I decided the best thing to do was deny any indigenous ancestry. In order to look white, I wore ivory skin tone makeup, and shaved off most of my hair. I was spat on, called every offensive name in the book for queers and natives, and got into a fight a few times. I started to skip classes to avoid harassment, and denied any opportunity to play my drum and sing with my people.
I shielded myself from my biological family in case they rejected me, having a deep rumbling fear of being turned away from my own culture; the fear grew louder and crippling anxiety began to seep into my everyday life. Through the first year of high school, I tried to figure out how to tell my parents I was queer. It ended up coming out by means of anger and rage, as denial of any Indigenous ancestry grew stronger. When I found the guts to come out to a couple family members as trans, it was not well received whatsoever. However, not a day later, a family member’s ex came to me with support. He had said this family member mentioned what I told them and didn’t take it very well, and he wanted me to know he supported me nonetheless (Thanks, dude!). With his support, and the endless support of other friends, I started to slowly come out as transgender.
I am part of the movement to reclaim being two-spirited, and to reclaim our honouring of difference. I acknowledge the fact that we were violently thrust into disrespecting such difference, and it was through no fault of our own at all. With that, I also say that we are capable of bringing back our ways again. I long for the day I can look every family member in the eye and see love for who I am, and for who my other two-spirited family members are. It’s true, men and women have traditional roles in Indigenous cultures; in neither of those roles does it include turning away our own for being queer. I’m not asking for two-spirited people to be revered for being queer, I’m asking for us to be respected again. This is why I stand here today, this is why I will fight tomorrow, this is why I will fight for two-spirits across the nation forever.