March 29, 2012

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

by Tinamarie Bernard

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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