Rainbow and Red

Queer American Indians from New York to San Francisco are showing both their spirits


| December 16, 2004


While mainstream America's hang-ups about homosexuality are well-known, well-documented, and entrenched, Native American communities and their queer members are struggling with the past to make sense of the present and potentially forge a more tolerant future. Young American Indians are learning that, prior to Christian colonization, in many tribes an atypical gender or sexual orientation was not only considered acceptable, 'two spirited' individuals were bestowed with both ceremonial and social status.

To be two-spirited is to have both male and female characteristics, which allows freedom of movement between the societal roles and spaces that restrict 'straight' men and women. Two-spirited individuals often prospered in their communities because of their ceremonial clout, and they were even allowed to take lovers (even those who self-identified as heterosexual) and adopt children.

Not all tribes recognize this practice, and even the ones that did now claim that reverting back to these traditional practices is all but impossible. Still, many American Indian activists have used this pre-existing framework of tolerance and acceptance as a starting point for negotiating their queer identities, inside and outside their communities.
-- Brendan Themes

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