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Can a white, middle-aged, heterosexual mom of two be “Two-Spirited”?

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As her understanding of gender and sexuality have transformed, the author realizes that it’s going to take more than an understanding of biology to answer an age old question: Is it a boy or a girl?

  Did that make me a Tomboy?

Not if you were to ask the men in my life. I still recall the night a significant other referred to my sashay as “well oiled hips,” and my abandonment for pleasure a “soulful trip between the sheets.” With one short detour, my hair has always been long and wavy, a crowning glory to go with my kitty-kat eyes, and there’s no denying my penchant for girly-girl makeup, hippie chick cloths and love of flirtation. I’ve been on a quest to claiming an inner femme fatale, ever since I caught wind that integrating all aspects of a woman’s essence is at the heart of healing our wounds, sexual and otherwise.

  Does that make me a Goddess?

On the days I climbed the corporate ladder with the big boys, one would have hardly thought so. Those professional suits and squared shoulders were a testament to my desire to accomplish tangible results. I Am Capable, Hear Me Roar was the mantra of the times, though there was that one day I chanted “Ooh Rah!” when I was interviewing along with 20 former military men, all of us vying for the same position in sales and marketing. I closed each interview that day with, “I’m the best man for the job,” and was given the offer the next day.

  Did that make me a Dude?

My children are evidence of a softer, nurturing side, the one keen on preparing home cooked meals, snuggling under blankets and kissing imaginary monsters away. Love for children is a perpetual ache in the heart. Motherhood brings out the fiercely protective and deeply intuitive sides. It’s also the least controversial aspect of womanhood – everyone needs a mom – though what we do in the role is scrutinized, leaving us on an endless search for approval and answers to questions we never knew we’d ask, exhausted from the lifelong commitment.

  Does having a womb make me a woman?

The idea of gender used to seem simple to me. I was born female and never had doubt that the rest of me identified as female too, even when throwing a ball or a punch, pinning my partner with my body or his tie, swearing like a sailor or kissing the one in uniform. A few times, I had visceral reactions, and they were pleasant charges, to women obviously butch, the feminine in me responding to the masculine in them. None of them dislodged my sense of self.

These experiences are the closest I have to personally exploring the wide-open worlds of gender, though with age and exposure, my circle of friends and loved ones have found shelter sharing some of their secrets with me. In a related article called Will the Real Lesbian Please Stand Up, I explored the psychological and biological fluidity of women that accounts for their shifting sexual preferences. That tip of the iceberg rests upon an ancestrally rich heritage of spiritual traditions that hold a more sacrosanct view of gender and sexuality.

Mixed gender roles are part of the Native American traditions, with documented stories of ‘two-spirits’ found in dozens of tribes and every region of North America and native cultures. The term ‘Two-Spirits’ can be used abstractly, to indicate ‘contrasting human spirits’ or identify someone who embodies both masculine and feminine spirits within one body.

For the sake of clarification – I’m not an expert, only an intrigued student of life – one could think of women like me who are born and identify as female (female-female), men born and identify as male (male-male), women born female with strong masculine traits (masculine-female), and men born male with strong female traits (feminine-male). This is an example of a four-gender system, though through my reading I’ve come across many suggested classifications that have as many as nine genders.

One example is traditional Navajo culture. It describes five, the four above and an additional classification reserved for those labeled (inaccurately so) as ‘hermaphrodites,’ now also known as ambiguous genitalia.

Individuals born with ambiguous genitalia have external genitalia that don’t appear either male or female, genitals that aren’t well-formed, external organs don’t match the internal, or have characteristics of both sexes. Though rare, it’s consistent among humans and other species, suggesting to me at least that it’s more than a biological accident. I’m not one to argue with nature, and what interests me more is the focus away from the sexy bits and into the realm of spiritual experiences of gender.

What would happen if we embraced a Two-Spirited gender system in the mainstream social milieu? What if we understood that most people are comfortable on the outer edges of the male-female continuum, but many were just as naturally suited to love and play in the two-spirited realm?

Deborah Anapol, a long time advocate for expanding our views on sexualove, believes Queer Theory is mistaken when they assert that gender isn’t a useful concept. “The harm comes from focusing exclusively on polarities and valuing one polarity over another,” she explains, “rather than valuing the integration or transcendence of duality.” Basic polarities exist in nature. Male and female are part of the yin-yang and she believes that place patriarchy goes wrong is when the male is elevated over the female.

“Even though what is considered male and what is considered female is pretty arbitrary,” Anapol’s research into the topic suggests that indigenous cultures honor the different gender identities including androgyny. She also makes the rare distinction between harmony and balance of the genders.

“Balance has to do with quantities of different qualities,” she explains. “Harmony has to do with whether they work together synergistically or whether they are in conflict.” Thus, if we are seeking greater integration and harmony between males and females and everyone else, a minimum of four genders is more useful than our current binary system.

On matters of gender, sexuality and spirituality, it comes down to this for me: Some are born male and identify as such, some are born female and identify as such, and many are born queer-like and identify their own way too.

The idea of “Two-Spirits” suggests a deeper wisdom and compassion for what it means to be human, sexually and spiritually so. How our desires pulse is bigger than biology or the mind, neurochemicals and hormones, personal sexual experiences, aches and pleasures. Something grand, the Divine Architect of it all, must have known exactly what she was doing. To think gender fluidity is not part of the divine plan may really be a man-made fear, and “modern” at that.

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Contributor: bison

What the fuck. This article is riddled with borderline offensive shit. Squaw?? REALLY? As a Native person, this article CLEARLY doesn't know the real definition of two spirit nor did it even try to do it's research, lumping hundreds of different cultures into "Native American culture" lol no, get out.

Contributor: Teacookie

Ummm I'm from haplo decent as well. I don't find this offensive it's a compliment in a broad way. Indian or Native American is not completely accurate just as Asain is not accurate (funny technically we are asians not Native Americans). I don't expect others to be able to name off all the differnt sub cultures in an generic group. Whats wrong with squaw? Just because some people miss used it dose not mean it offensive like Bison's reply.

'Squaw' has a perfectly acceptable definition: it means 'woman', or 'wife' in the Algonquian language where it originated. The radical American Indian Movement (A.I.M.) has fairly successfully attached a false meaning to the word and spread the lie nationwide. They have then been able to use this fallacy to support a systematic removal of all place names that use this word. Phoenix is a recent victim of this offense. []

Instead of walking around with a chip on your shoulder and just waiting for a chance to play the victim, why don't you try to share which ever culture you are a part of? This article author is saying that she admire's a belif held by one of the Native American groups and has taken that into her life to improve it. Any one that is fully dediated to the history of a branch of their family that is "Native American" would know a smattering of their mother language. -_-

Bison is similar to African American's that spout off at any excuse to raise their hackles when they are not a part of their ancestors culture. Pathetic lip service, to a social structure and belif system they do not believe or participate in.

Contributor: Teacookie

fudge I can't edit the last paragraph, I had my hackles up as well. I am tired when it comes to cultural background, I was born in the USA, the "melting pot". I think they switched to saying we are a "soup" of cultures or some other simile that the government thinks will help us all get along. Plain and simple USA is a young country it's identity is in consant flux. How do we honor our heritage when we have so many grafts to our family trees and lack enough history in this country to firmly identifie with it.

Contributor: scaredlittleboy

No. Just no.

Contributor: Kat Shanahan

Holy hell, this article made my hair stand on end, although I'm not completely sure why. Like another commenter, I find the term "squaw" rather offensive (and I'm not Native). I also just don't think the author really understands the difference between "two-spirited" and, well, just being a tomboy of sorts. I'm a woman who laughs at raunchy jokes and climbed trees as a kid, too, but in my opinion, going to the extreme of calling oneself "two-spirited" because of a blurry line between masculinity and femininity is sort of ridiculous.

Also: from my understanding (or at least it's this way where I live): "two-spirited" is mainly a term used among Native peoples. It's not really clear by reading the article, but I do wonder: is the author of Native ancestry? If not...well, to be honest, I know of many Native people who would find the idea of a non-Native individual using their term to describe herself rather offensive as well.

Contributor: scaredlittleboy

She say's she's white, sooo.....I would say she's not claiming Native heritage. She's just appropriating a Native SPIRITUAL IDENTITY that she doesn't understand at all.

Contributor: Kat Shanahan

Ah, yes, I missed that part (probably because I was too busy going "...what the fuck is this?!" I agree....the whole appropriation vibe throughout this post is making me shudder. Especially when there's absolutely no need to appropriate any kind of cultural or spiritual identity to describe the dichotomy the author is talking about.

Contributor: scaredlittleboy


Contributor: biancajames

Blergh. I have a lot of Native blood, and I don't claim to understand the culture on any first hand level having not been raised in it (though my Dad is very much involved with it). I look like my Nordic mom and read as "White" though I value my Native heritage a great deal. I actually really liked this article and the concept of "two spirit" as I understand it (which is admittedly, from reading only). I also use the term genderqueer to describe myself, and I feel very strongly that my soul is both man and woman, even if most people see "femme lesbian" (I am not a lesbian, I am a femme with short hair and a heavy dose of masculine energy, but again, people make assumptions.) Two spirit just resonates strongly with me as an accurate description of how I feel.

The idea of cultural appropriation is a valid concern, but it can be more complicated than it appears on the surface. For example, I perform ritual work with deities who originated in Nigeria. This spiritual path is no longer practiced in Nigeria, and primarily in African and Latin diaspora, plus the worship became heavily synchrotized with Catholicism as a way for slaves in the 19th and 18th centuries to worship in secret. As a result there is a lot of dispute about the "correct" way to practice, but there's also a belief that "all roads lead to Rome" when the intent is connection with the divine. An outsider could very easily say that as a white person practicing spirituality with African origins I am "appropriating." However, within the community it is believed that practitioners receive a call, regardless of their race, ethnicity, whatever. So to dub this "appropriation" is actually incredibly offensive if you simply view it as "White person stealing African culture" without any true insight to a spiritual practice which transcends racial and cultural borders. I don't think that my mother goddess of African origin thinks I'm an asshole because I'm a white person who had the calling. (and yes, I'm fucking woo. deal with it.)

White cultural imperialism is problematic. However, it is also the way of cultures in the 21st century to evolve, mutate, disseminate, and grow. One true wayism is a hot topic in many communities (even the kink community where some people think that old guard trained leather protocol is the only way to go).

The one point I'd like to make to the folks offended by this piece is it's not productive to react with hostility. If you are actually interested in dialogue, you might want to approach it as "I know you mean well, but I find X problematic because of Y," and everyone benefits instead of just saying OMG THIS IS FUCKED UP etc...It's REALLY hard to know where someone is coming from when engaging on discourse on the internet. I recently used the wrong pronoun for a person I blogged about and they were very kind about correcting me instead of accusing me of being genderqueerphobic or whatever (btw, I AM genderqueer), and I was extremely grateful, as it was NOT my intent to be a dick, but an honest mistake on my part. Seriously, give people the benefit of the doubt.

Contributor: Tinamarie

One thing I always appreciate is when my articles get people discussing the topic. Would those who find my use of the word squaw believe me when I say that I deliberated over it for a long time? Ultimately, I used it because when I was a child, we sat 'Indian style' and used 'squaw' without any mal-intent (1970s). As one commentator said, the word itself means woman, and that's how I am using it here. Plus, the many question marks should serve as a clue that this isn't a definitive essay on two-spirits! It's opening up the dialogue to say, hey, there's another way - many in fact - to incorporate broader views of gender. If we get stuck on a few words or political correctness, how will we ever get passed our differences?

Bottom line - I'm glad people took time to comment, and welcome everyone who knows more about this to share their views and understandings of 'two-spirited' genders. Tinamarie Bernard

Contributor: Terra Fae

No. Find a word that you can use. I see myself as genderqueer. There are many other words you can use, taking words from a culture that isn't your own is GOING to upset people. I'm not at all Native; I'm white, female-assumed at birth, and I know a lot of people in the trans* community and a lot of people who would see this as cultural appropriation. It's my opinion that when it comes down to this sort of thing, intent isn't relevant when people are getting hurt. There is no reason to use that word when there are so many other words (including but nor limited too: non-binary, genderswitch, genderfluid, bigender, multigender, thirdgender, etc...) you can use. I hope you can understand where I'm coming from here



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