Decolonization / Emotionally Present / Gender / Race/Ethnicity

For Non-Natives: On Two-Spirituality

This piece of writing is a call-out. If you are a non-native, you are not now and will never be Two-Spirit. You will never know what it is to be racialised as an indigenous person who also bears the experience of falling under the LGBT umbrella. This is especially true of white people, for we will never fully comprehend, let alone live, what it is to be racialised. You will never know what it is to be in a fight for rights you once had among your own people that were taken away by 200-500+ continuous years of attempted genocide. You will never comprehend the experience of covertly whispered teachings about inherent acceptance of sexual diversity and gender variance among your people before invasion began, drowned out by the shouting of internalised Catholic moralising among survivors of systematic rape, battery, and cultural genocide among your own family members. Even if, like me, you have experienced the terror of not knowing how your sexuality or gender will be perceived or twisted by adults with horrifying imaginations if this detail about you is communicated through the words of a child returning home with stories about a stranger they’ve just met, you will not know what it is to fear your own relatives spreading rumours in the only safe space you have in the world, alleging your perversions among people who have directly experienced it enough to believe it on a principle of self-defense, and come running for you until you are certain never to return to the place of your very origins. Even if, like me, these words reach deep into a multi-generational ancestral wound (as they should for almost all of us), or into a pain you experience directly in this lifetime (as I also do), you still do not know what it is to be in exile on your own ancestral lands, walking with this unbearable wound where once your ancestors walked before their lands were stolen from them, surrounded by living descendants of the thieves, hearing loudly the arrogance they cannot hear in their own voices as they speak about your identity using the past tense exclusively. You cannot possibly begin to comprehend the resilience and strength it takes to get up every day and continue that walk.

I have heard with my own ears, people with no claim to the lived experience of being an indigenous person, claiming to be Two-Spirit. I have even been told I am as well, and this has been at times coming from indigenous people, but not always. Sometimes they have been Two-Spirit themselves, but not always. I have heard and witnessed directly, people equating Two-Spirituality with an innately contrarian nature, as if simply existing as a sexually diverse or gender variant human being is to be automatically twisted and in opposition to the way things are meant to be done. I have not only heard but directly witnessed and even experienced (to the extent that this is possible for me as a white person who is queer and transgender) how immediately and persistently harmful this idea is to indigenous communities, and in particular to indigenous ceremonies. It doesn’t take a genius to see how that was fated to play out in real life: lather, rinse, pontificate, alienate, marginalise, kick back and watch it all break apart and burn itself down while breaking your own arm just to pat yourself on the back for how much more “woke” you are, move on, repeat—a process white people are particularly skilled at instigating where ever they walk into indigenous communities, for they don’t seem to feel like they ever have to act like they are going to stick around after the fallout.

And though this behaviour is in no way limited to white people as a race (though exceptions are extraordinarily rare), nor to people who fall under the LGBT umbrella (including but not limited to Two-Spirit people), it has been my observation over years now that those most disproportionately responsible for it are white people who have the experience of being marginalised in both settler and indigenous contexts for the audacity to exist as a sexually diverse or gender variant human being. While their sense of alienation in settler contexts is relatable to me; the manner in which they generally approach indigenous contexts with an intent to disrupt and agitate for treatment they were never entitled to, based on common self-centering (white-centering) misinterpretations of teachings about Two-Spirituality they were never entitled to receive (as people who are not and will never be Two-Spirit), is not. They may even have received these teachings, either sacred or profane, either culturally congruent or deliberately misleading, from a Two-Spirit person. But they do not question the authority of the people who confirm their internal biases and deepest desires to be relieved of white guilt, to be revered and respected for who they are (rather than being satisfied being treated as an equal for the first time), or even to “become native” (claiming indigenous identity based on a meandering family myth as a move to innocence), and so they intentionally (either consciously or unconsciously) insulate themselves from important opportunities for self growth by continuing to seek only the path of least resistance. White people generally already do this when invited into indigenous contexts (and so before long, often find their path straight back to white spaces), but white queers and white trans people are excrutiatingly skilled at expediting this self-regulating process because they are already so familiar with coping with and seeking outlets to avoid the pain of not belonging, whereas heterosexual and cisgender whites are generally not accustomed to this grief.

We have no business as non-native people, attempting to speak with authority on matters we know nothing about outside the script of our own fantasy narrative. Two-Spirituality is not a culturally universal concept among indigenous nations, let alone one of a single sexually diverse or gender variant human being in which two spirits reside, one being male and the other female—this is a fraudulent idea generated by whites who couldn’t keep their hands off a culture that does not belong to them. Even if there may be an ounce of truth to this narrative within some cultures (which I very much doubt), Two-Spirit is not its name. Even the idea that the phrase “Two-Spirit” is itself an identity, rather than an important cultural responsibility and the beginning of a journey to learn a deeper truth, is yet another myth, constantly reinforced by white people seeking to assimilate indigenous lives into the folds of a predominantly white LGBT political movement. Whether it is because we seek the presence of indigenous peoples among our pride parades to grant us permission to be struggling on their stolen lands for our own self-centered agenda with a colonial government, to relieve us of the secret guilt of so thoroughly alienating indigenous peoples by virtue of overtly excluding their realities from both our priorities and our concerns, to reinforce our own stereotypes of what it is to be Two-Spirit by being able to witness indigenous people perform repetitions of our myths for us, or to have indigenous people available to perform some other emotional labour, the fact remains that the inclusion of Two-Spirituality in the long version of the LGBT acronym is entirely symbolic.

Like much about what I’ve been able to witness of settler nations’ attempts to reconcile with indigenous peoples, particularly within Canada, the desire from which action springs is not one of empowering indigenous peoples to achieve sovereignty for the second time, so much as it is a seeking of more codified ways to disempower indigenous peoples to comfortably assimilate themselves into white supremacy, so that what remains of their indigenous ways can be broken into pieces and each fragment claimed as a part of a shared cultural institution. Unless and until the rest of the LGBT umbrella shifts its priorities towards indigenous peoples, from a desire to alienate them from each other, to a desire to support Two-Spirit people in the search for the words their ancestors once spoke for their place as sexually diverse or gender variant people within their cultures of origin, and a desire to empower Two-Spirit people to reclaim their rightful place in the ceremonies and self-governance of their people, then the inclusion of Two-Spirituality under the same umbrella as non-native LGBTs is doomed from the start to serve only to perpetuate harmful nonsense about indigenous peoples and how their cultures of origin view sexual diversity and gender variance. LGBTs (particularly white LGBTs) standing at the precipice of indigenous spaces (which is truly all of them on this stolen continent), need to decide whether they want to build communities or continue destroying them.

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