As They Are: Two-Spirit People in the Modern World

American Indian traditionalists tend to see a person's basic character as a reflection of their spirit. Androgynous or transgender persons are seen as doubly blessed, having both the spirit of a man and the spirit of a woman, since everything that exists is thought to come from the spirit world.

A feminine male who preferred to do women's work (gathering wild plants or farming domestic plants) was logically expected to marry a masculine male, who did men's work (hunting and warfare). Because a family needed both plant foods and meat, a masculine female hunter, in turn, usually married a feminine female, to provide these complementary gender roles for economic survival. The gender-conforming spouse of two-spirit people did not see themselves as "homosexual" or as anything other than "normal".

In the 20th-century, as homophobic European Christian influences increased among many Native Americans, respect for same-sex love and for androgynous persons greatly declined. Two-spirit people were often forced, either by government officials, Christian missionaries or their own community, to conform to standard gender roles. Some, who could not conform, either went underground or committed suicide. With the imposition of Euro-American marriage laws, same-sex marriages between two-spirit people and their spouses were no longer legally recognised. But with the revitalisation of Native American "red power" cultural pride since the 60s, and the rise of gay and lesbian liberation movements at the same time, a new respect for androgyny started slowly re-emerging among American Indian people.

Here we proudly share with you: As They Are: Two-Spirit People in the Modern World

A Film by Mike Garrido and Tarek Tohme Featuring: Elton Naswood (Najajo) Ben Lucero Wolf (Kiowa) and Richard Eric Dearmore (Paiute) Special Thanks to Evan Hughes, AIDS Project Los Angeles and the Red Circle Project

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Bernard Alvarez | Roanoke, VA |

(C) Bernard Alvarez 2020