Guest blog by Patricia Saunders
I had an interesting discussion today with a friend that I wanted to share with you. It all started with the question of the Native American concept of “Two-Spirits.” It’s one that a lot of people don’t understand and that the LGBT community doesn’t really have a “spot” for. It is a concept that I think deserves discussing though because I think it is something that some people may be struggling with.
Native American’s have a different approach to gender identity than the Western world does. Gender is something that is connected to your “spirit”, not your personality, orientation or gender identity. It has little to do with how you dress, and in fact not all Two-Spirits dressed as the opposite gender. The Two-Spirit is viewed as a completely third gender, both male-bodied and female-bodied are the same gender. It is probably what would be termed “Omni or bi-gendered” if those terms hadn’t been absorbed into the Trans label. And for those that feel that they are a balance or mix of both genders, trying to force them into that label is like trying to identify a bisexual as gay or lesbian.
In Native cultures, historically, the Two-Spirit has been seen to have a connection to the spirit that the average male or female doesn’t have. They have been seen in many tribes as possessing magical or spiritual powers. They married and interacted with both genders sexually without stigma. A male-bodied Two-spirit could go out and hunt in the morning with the men and come back and cook with the women. Now in today’s society that may not seem odd, but in a culture with strict gender roles it was a testament to how uniquely these individuals were seen. It is a concept that has, since the 1980s been embraced by native LGBT peoples in a way that the mainstream LGBT community has seemingly been unable to.
Let me give you an example. A friend of mine identifies as a “Queer straight female.” Her explanation usually ends up being “I was a gay man in a past life” or “A gay man in a woman’s body.” She is not Trans as she feels that her body is correct and there is no desire to change her physical identity. She feels perfectly comfortable in women’s clothing, wears her hair long and styled, and is perfectly happy that way. But inside she identifies with the gay male, not in a sympathetic way but in an empathetic. She “gets it”. Where does this leave her in the LGBT spectrum?
Another friend, the one that prompted this conversation, said he struggles with where he fits and who he is. As he put it to me “I feel equally comfortable stripping a rifle as baking a quiche.” He considered transitioning because of the close affinity to the female but knew that wasn’t him. He hates dressing as a woman, likes the fact that his body is genetically male, but doesn’t feel that he fits into any of the classic identifications. My response was “You are a beautiful, sensitive intelligent person and who cares about the rest.” But that’s hard in a society that wants labels.
So where do these people and those like them fit? It used to be under the Q in the GBLTQ designation but “Queer” isn’t politically correct in the community anymore. Unfortunately the loss of that descriptive has left many people feeling like they have to pigeon-hole themselves into one of the four accepted letters. Heaven forbid you are trying to explain it to a potential partner. How do we make this segment of the community feel whole and accepted? I don’t have the answer, I wish I did. Do you?
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Since when did “queer” fall out of favour? I use it all the time to identify myself and see it used everywhere in books, articles etc …
Perhaps it is a cultural difference – since I see it used in Australia all the time. Have the Americans dropped it?
As a straight ally who is not closely tied in with the LGBT(Q) community, could you give me a little insight into the dropping of the Q. I didn’t realize “queer” had fallen out of favor. I don’t want my ignorance to lead to offense. Thanks.
I don’t think there is an “official” answer to your question because the concept of the “LGBT(Q) community” itself is a vague and theoretical one. There is no grand counsel that makes decisions, and the truth is that the “community” is as diverse on opinions as is the heterosexual “community”.. When Patricia submitted her blog, I went to look up “Q” because I had not understood it to stand for “Queer”, but I understood it to mean “Questioning”. As it turns out, according to what I could find it means both… or either…
For some of us, the word “queer” is not benign and brings up the same gut wrenching feelings as “faggot”. Several years ago, some started using the word in an embrace of being different and as a means to diffuse its emotionally violent past. For me personally, I can respect their point of view and support their decision to transform the word to a place of personal power, but I could never do it, or use the word for myself. For me personally, If someone were to refer to me as “queer”, the same feeling comes over me as if they referred to me a “fag”. I love the last line of Trish’s blog, because it is SO true…”I don’t have the answer, I wish I did. Do you?”
Thanks, this is helpful. I have a friend who happily refers to herself as “queer,” and I didn’t realize there were such mixed reactions.
Thanks for posting this! I’m like your female friend who identifies very strongly with gay men. I thought I was a little weird – or as they used to say “queer” – for that 🙂 Recently, I’d begun considering saying that I was Bi, though probably only a .5 on the Kinsey scale, just because it seemed really wrong to identify as “straight” considering how strongly I identify with gay men. You may get some crap from people about this post, I’ve certainly heard some nasty things said about women like me from LGBT people, but I appreciate what you said. Very much.