Because I was so torn for a long time, afraid I wouldn’t be able to be myself in Metis spaces because I was queer and in queer spaces because I was Metis, because I’d never seen a queer Native person do that before. Because I only just met another two-spirited person offline for the first time last weekend, and there were things I could talk about that no one else would get.
Because being two-spirit means coming from a place. It’s being treated as a sexual object for white men and getting propositioned on the street—if they ask at all. It’s finding a way to explain yourself to your grandparents that won’t make them say “that’s a lot of white man’s bullcrap.” It’s knowing your grandma can’t talk about the abuse she got from the nuns and her foster mother. It’s government policies that have directly targeted people like you, both in your ethnicity and your gender and sexuality, for genocide and assimilation. It’s legacies of adoption and trying to find a history that’s been torn away from you. It’s being the kid who everyone just knows can sit at the men’s and the women’s table. It’s elders translating traditional words as “faggot” because that’s the only English word they were taught for it. It’s stories of people trying to protect people like you from the extra abuse they were singled out for at residential schools, and it’s stories of people who forced others out of their own communities because the white folks in charge told them they were sinful.
Do you understand that the practice of the past 500 years in North America has been to kill as many indigenous people as possible, assimilate the rest, and to further the process by stealing the culture for themselves so that we can no longer lay claim to it? That on one hand indigenous religious practices were legally forbidden and continue to face persecution, while white people bastardize versions of them that are made partly from badly-translated anthropological reports and partly from their own fantasized idea of Indians, and then sell that spirituality for money? Get rid of the Indians, and whatever shiny fragmented and distorted remnants are left can be taken by white people.
And thanks to genocide, disgust, and appropriation, when us queer Natives go looking for people like us, what we find is a lot of whispers and sermons and advising of murder and watered down white misconceptions. And we try to knit together an existence and an understanding of ourselves with what we have, from our nation and the pan-Indian movement and the stuff colonizers forced on us. And that’s where two-spirit came from: a sheer, emotional cry, an attempt to express all of that confusion in a phrase we could use to recognize each other.
It has nothing to do with having a male and female spirit. That was one of the conceptions someone mentioned as being traditional, as an example of how people like us were traditionally part of our communities, but it was never, ever intended as a definition. It’s a mirror, or a rope to the past, reminding us that we are part of a tradition that extends to the present surviving through colonization, a reminder that we may not know the exact words our nation used for us but they exist or existed and they are unique.
A non-Native saying they call themself two-spirit because someone told them about it they “identify with the term” is like a cis straight person saying they like to call themselves gay because they looked it up in the dictionary and really connected with the meaning of being happy and festive, and then going around and telling people that’s what being gay means and expecting queer people to be okay with it. And non-Native POC, while you may not have the same institutional power as white people, it doesn’t let you off the hook of appropriation. White supremacy is just using you to further our genocide. Don’t give in to it.