Toward an End to Appropriation of Indigenous “Two Spirit” People in Trans Politics: the Relationship Between Third Gender Roles and Patriarchy

Originally posted at Culturally Bound Gender

When I say that transgenderism is culture bound, don’t get me wrong: I think every gender role and presentation is, in fact, dependent on culture.  The entire idea of gender, the roles that are developed and called “gender,” are based on the sex binary.  That’s why almost always, when you see gender roles, even if there are more than two, you can bet money that it’s just a matter of reclassifying people who don’t fit into a culture’s otherwise rigidly defined sex roles.

Which brings us to the indigenous people of North America.

I have a special kind of rage for any white person who claims to identify as a “Two Spirit” person.  It’s like wearing a hipster headdress: it proclaims loud and clear that you’re a white person who likes to appropriate American Indian culture while having little or nothing to do with the culture you’re appropriating.

The version of this that’s less enraging but more prevalent (think of it as the “dreamcatcher” of appropriation–common, misunderstood, and talked about in gross ways by all kinds of white people) is the white trans person who points to American Indian cultures as some kind of more accepting place for people with dysphoria/GID, because many of these cultures had a “third gender.”  This represents a misunderstanding of what, precisely, being two-spirit meant culturally, economically, and socially for many two-spirit people, and also represents a very limiting, naive, “all these people look the same to me” view of American Indian nations.

Before we start: lumping all non-gender-conforming people in indigenous North America into a single “third gender” or “berdache” or “two-spirit” label is problematic.  The cultures of pre-Columbian North America were incredibly distinct from each other, with significantly different gender roles to be observed even in Indian nations that were very close to each other.

What gets even more interesting when you look into the two-spirit phenomenon is where it doesn’t pop up–or doesn’t pop up with the same frequency.

Continue reading…

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