I was sent the link about an Indigenous trans woman from Monica of TransGriot. Willyssa Thunderpuss dreams of the opportunity to travel across Canada and the States promoting two spirited identities. Willyssa speaks quite openly of her experience growing in a traditional Aboriginal environment, or “living in the bush,” as she puts it.
As I read the far too brief account of her experiences, the following is what really garnered by attention, “I didn’t know what homophobia was until I left the reserve.” Growing up in a community that is respectful to trans, two spirited or gender queer bodies is not a common experience. We have so much invested in teaching children to perform their assigned gender, that “coming out” can be a traumatic experience. We are quick to correct for what we deem to be a mistake in a chosen activity or article of clothing because we have invested in maintaining a gender binary, even though we are socially aware that not all people can be defined so easily.
That one statement by Willyssa really gave me a moments pause. Even though she had to negotiate the stigma of being a woman and Indigenous, in a sexist and racist state, how much better is her self esteem because she was raised in an accepting environment? One of the fears that youth who are BTLG have, is that upon revealing themselves to their families, that they will be forced out of their homes. This is a very real fear as many homeless teens are in that position because their birth families refused to accept their TLBG identity. They quickly become swallowed up by the streets and are forced to do tricks to achieve and maintain subsistence. Many become addicted to drugs to deal with the pain and the rejection. This is a trap that Willyssa escaped because her grandparents and community accepted her from the beginning.
She states, “In my family, growing up gay, bi or transgendered wasn’t a big issue. When I was young, I was a little boy. But when I hit my puberty and my teenage years, I became more feminine and I lived my life as a female. I’ve always kind of lived a two-spirited life. I still go back home, and walk around being who I am. Nobody has anything negative to say.”
Two spirited people have always had a place in Indigenous communities. They are seen as having a gift and perform duties that are assigned to both genders.
Many tribes had rituals for children to go through if they were recognized as acting different from their birth gender. These rituals ensured the child was truly two-spirit. If parents noticed that a son was disinterested in boyish play or manly work, they would set up a ceremony to determine which way the boy would be brought up. They would make an enclosure of brush, and place in the center both a man's bow and a woman's basket. The boy was told to go inside the circle of brush and to bring something out, and as he entered the brush would be set on fire. The tribe watched what he took with him as he ran out, and if it was the basketry materials they reconciled themselves to his being a 'berdache'. (Roscoe, 1988)
I am still very much in the process of learning about Indigenous communities, however through the reading of first hand accounts like that of Willyssa, it seems to me that this is a far more healthy approach to life. It recognizes that a GLBT identity is not chosen, it is simply a part of who the person is and therefore; if we respect life, accepting them for who they are is a natural result. In my reading it is has become clear that colonization has had some affect on how acceptable a two-spirit identity is within indigenous communities, however it is my hope, that they will stand fast to their traditional values because they are clearly so much more advanced than that which the European colonizing culture has to offer.