As we split and split and split again as we try to accept the differences that have always threatened to divide the human race, we run the risk of ending up in a lot of pockets, each with its label, none really a part of the whole.
So I find it interesting to discover that 152 Native American tribes, including our neighboring Navajos, have historically recognized and accepted Two Spirits as part of their community, often considered spiritually gifted, and given important ceremonial roles.
The simplest explanation is that the tribes recognize, and honor, four genders, rather than two. The four may be defined as the masculine man, the feminine woman, the feminine man and the masculine woman—but I think it may go further than that.
The second two genders wear either male or female clothes, perform either male or female duties (and these are usually specifically defined in these traditional communities), but also have special ceremonial and spiritual functions.The second two genders are not expected to change. They are, from birth, what they are. If nothing else, this wisdom prevents the agonizing of parents over boys who don’t seem boyish (according to very narrow rules) or girls who don’t seem girlish (within the same kind of limited rules.)
Now that we are, almost in spite of ourselves, in the midst of a cultural revolution, spurred on rather than thwarted by the madness in Washington, we may see that finally—finally—our fixed ideas of what makes a boy or a man, a girl or a woman, are breaking up.
Two Spirits have always walked among us, unrecognized and, at least in the past, often reviled.
But who has not known girls and women who break the mold? Girls who hate pink, boys who won’t play sports, or the agonized efforts that go into trying to make them conform?
The Two Spirit tradition among the tribes—this term replaced the earlier “berdache”—was nearly destroyed by tribal children’s forced attendance at church-run, state-regulated boarding schools where they were prevented from speaking their languages, wearing their traditional clothes or practicing their historical ceremonies. The result, after 150 years, was the generational trauma that yet did not quite destroy these remarkable people.
Do you know any Two Spirits? Certainly I do. Indeed some of my closest friends walk that sacred path.
It might be worth considering their contributions to the world we share.