Content Warning: This article contains mentions of racism, colonialism, and anti-trans violence directed at Native, Indigenous and Two-Spirit people.
We want to dedicate this month to the countless trans, non-binary and Two-Spirit Indigenous people whose experiences and cultures continue to be erased.
The Western Gender Binary
Two-Spirit is an umbrella term that describes the spectrum of gender diverse identities specific to Indigenous people. It usually refers to people who have both a masculine and a feminine spirit. While the term was only popularised in the 1990s, gender and sexual diversity existed long before the Western creation of the gender binary.
Many conservatives believe trans and non-binary identities to have been a recent invention. However, this could not be further from the truth. In fact, it is the Western gender binary that is a recent fad, not transgender people. Trans and gender diverse people have existed since the beginning of time.
During colonial times, the Western world was not capable of understanding the complexity of gender and sexual variance. However, Indigenous trans people predate colonialism. The erasure of trans and Two-Spirit people seeks to create the notion that they never existed in the first place. Historically, many of them were healers and teachers whose descendants continue to preserve their cultures to this day.
The history of Indigenous communities is complex. Colonialism eradicated many gender variant Indigenous communities as well as important aspects of their diverse cultures. Even to this day, Indigenous trans and Two-Spirit lives are lost. Racism and colonialism stripped people of colour, especially Black and Indigenous groups of their homeland, forced them into slavery and caused mass genocide.
In the US, but also in countries like Australia and Canada, people are living on stolen land. Therefore, many Native activists are demanding their Indigenous lands to be returned to Indigenous communities, given that many are still suffering the consequences of colonialism.
Violence against Indigenous Trans and Two-Spirit People
Trans Native communities experience anti-trans violence through the layer of race and ethnicity. According to the Transgender Law Center’s research, since 1990, at least 25 trans and Two-Spirit people have been killed or went missing. When including Puerto Rico, this number increased to 40. The majority were people between the ages of 16 and 25.
However, the victims are likely to be many more as there is a serious lack of media coverage on missing and killed Indigenous trans and Two-Spirit people. Reporters are also likely to misgender victims and therefore, contribute to the erasure of Indigenous and Native trans folk.
Out of the gender variant and Indigenous victims, research found 82.5% of them to be ‘violently killed’. The majority of these cases remain unsolved. Over half (52.5%) of the victims identified as transfeminine, 10% as transmasculine, and a quarter as Two-Spirit.
“For Indigenous communities, the legacy and ongoing violence of colonization adds a deeper layer to anti-trans violence.”
Not all Native communities are the same!
In this research the term Two-Spirit describes any gender variance. Nevertheless, Transgender Law Center acknowledges that the term does not encompass all identities and is not an accurate reflection of all Native and Indigenous tribes. Many communities use other expressions to define a similar concept. Each nation and tribe has its own unique language.
Moreover, each Native American community has a different relationship to the US and so do Aboriginal Australians in Australia as well as First Nations in Canada. They also all have different gender expressions and presentations.
Long before colonialism and mainstream discourse on gender affirming healthcare, pronouns, and trans rights, Indigenous and Native gender variant people were teachers, healers, nurturers and artists. If you would like to learn more about Indigiqueer histories, visit the Transgender Law Center and them magazine.
Queerness and trans identities have always been a part of Indigenous and Native communities. However, colonialism destroyed many aspects of their cultures, leading to their erasure. Nevertheless, trans and Two-Spirit people are still thriving and teaching the future generations to come about their long-lost, gender variant cultures.