By Lisa P.
When my daughter first discovered that her father was trans, she excitedly said, “I think you are a Two Spirits person!” I was familiar with the concept, although not specifically the term, because I knew certain indigenous communities historically embraced persons born with both a feminine and a masculine “spirit.” The idea, however, intrigued me, and perhaps like me you have explored this side of your life, since “the unexplored life is not worth living,” (quoting Socrates). So, for this short essay, I decided to look out my window into the “two-spirit” world.
If you look up “Two-Spirit” in Wikipedia, the entry will provide you with an extensive description of the etymology of the term as well as its historical roots within indigenous communities. What I found particularly interesting were the two sides of the issue presented by different indigenous communities: some absolutely have not welcomed gender variance, while others have embraced it to the point of prescribing a tribal role for two-spirit persons. The former position recognizes that one should not romanticize life in indigenous communities. Moreover, while we can celebrate the latter, we should also acknowledge that creation of a specific “role” may not be particularly freeing for individuals who simply want to live their life, free of rigid forms of gender expression. Finally, the article also mentions that the term “Two-Spirit” was developed for (and therefore meant to be used by) indigenous communities, as a “pan-indigenous term”. If non-indigenous people use the term to apply to themselves, there is the risk of white appropriation of an indigenous concept not meant for non-indigenous audiences.
With that being said, I would like to say that I am using the term here (and using quotation marks around it when using it outside the indigenous community context) to conceptualize something that many transgender persons (including crossdressers), including me, feel about themselves. We internally sense both a male self and a female self, and we struggle to find balance between those “two spirits”. If we are forced to be only male, we are unfulfilled and suffer (sometimes horrible) dysphoric feelings. We want and need to be able to express ourselves as females.
Although I suffer from gender dysphoria, I do not hate my male self and (as I have written before) I happily embrace the many wonderful roles I have played throughout my life because I was born as a male. I often remind myself that while I dislike the dysphoria (intensely), and work actively to alleviate it, I still find meaning and purpose derived from and based upon my male life. In that sense, I definitely feel tension between my “two spirits” – between my male spirit and my female spirit. Throughout each day I feel the pull (dare I say “jerk”) of my female spirit on my conscious self because my male spirit has dominated my life. In addition, being married to a wonderful woman who expressly desires to be married to a man and not a woman, I get boxed in by expectations that I will look, act and be perceived as a male. Yet, despite the constant tension created by my need to be feminine, I still cannot say that I will ever fully transition. I am in that position because I don’t hate my male spirit — I just wish my female spirit had free reign to be all that she wants to be, whenever she wants to be. My solution so far has been to go as far as possible to change into a more feminine person (physically and socially), with the definition of “as far as possible” being determined by whether those who have always perceived me as a male can continue to do so. Whether that will be far enough is another story (with “far enough” being defined by whether I can effectively live socially — when I am able and choose to do so — as a woman).
I have never believed that our “two-spirit” position is a choice. I don’t think any cisgender person could or would do the things we do, unless forced to do so. That is, they couldn’t and wouldn’t do them unless they were under duress or coercion. Why then they think we “choose” to do these things is beyond my comprehension. We do these things because we have one spirit (our feminine spirit) within us that dies a slow death whenever she is prevented from being expressed by us. No one wants to feel dead inside.
My daughter spoke a truth, because she saw that I had a female spirit that needed to fly free. Live, Lisa, Live!
May all of us continue to express our “two-spirits” as long as we need, so that we live fully as “two spirits,” complete to ourselves.
Post Script — When available, I plan to watch the documentary “Being Thunder” about Sherenté Mishitashin Harris, a Two-Spirit member of the Naragansett tribe, who came out when they (Harris identifies as non-binary) knew they wanted to dance like their mother as well as their father in tribal pow-wows. It premiered at the Inside Out Film Festival in Toronto and I understand will get distributed more widely in 2022.