A Story To Be: Queer, Trans, & Indigenous

I grew up knowing who I was culturally. I was born and raised to be Diné (Navajo), but I was not allowed to be queer or trans (specifically non-binary femme). Those were identities that I was not meant to explore in my household or even in school. My memory is not the best, unfortunately, and so memories of my childhood come and go. Yet, I do remember instances of encouragement(?) to be something else.

I have a memory of playing with Barbie dolls, styling their hair, changing their clothes, all different kinds of Barbies. Then, another memory of the dolls suddenly gone and replaced with Hot Wheels. I remember wearing a wedding dress in jest, my grandma laughing, yet my mother afraid. These small instances could very well be moments when I learned to hide parts of myself. Hiding them away from the gaze of my own Diné society and that of the colonizers. They were moments of homophobia and transphobia.

I realize now that I never truly felt myself for a long time.

To Be In A (Colonized) World

I grew up during a time in which the (colonized) world forced you to be a certain way. In some ways, this (colonized) world exists for many LGBTQ2S Natives. Even in this day and age, it seems impossible to be queer, trans, and Indigenous. Yet, I exist, there has to be a possibility.

When I was in college, I was introduced to a very specific word, ‘two-spirit’ that could convey the possibility. I learned that Dr. Myra Laramee (Fisher River Cree Nation) shared the phrase, ‘two-spirit’ in lieu of the offensive and outdated word, berdache. Since I wrote, An Ever Changing One, I have learned that  ‘two-spirit’ is a complicated identity that, personally, is meant to disrupt colonial social restrictions on gender and sexuality. It is often mistaken to mean something else and claimed by individuals who do not quite understand the historical and cultural significance of such an identity. The phrase was shared by a Native person for other Natives. It is a word meant for empowerment and a beginning for many Indigenous Peoples to reclaim an existence denied to them.

I considered this phrase a possibility for myself, but it still did not feel right. Two-spirit did not convey my own complexity. It is an identity that I could claim, but it does not feel right when I communicate myself in English. My own language had a very particular and unique phrase that felt right and empowering, but it was not easily translatable in English and even then, the translation could be a misinterpretation or miscommunicated.

In my community, the specific cultural phrase means “one who transforms” or “one who is constantly changing”. Personally, we/they are the embodiment of change. This social positionality is specific and unique to my own Diné culture and heritage that two-spirit does not adequately convey.

Unlearning

Colonialism is insidious and even the most traditional of us are forced to learn thoughts, words, and behaviors that are in oppositional of who we are.

It is not just Indigenous Peoples that are impacted by colonialism. I find that how the current society understands and conveys ‘gender’ and ‘sexuality’ is one of the most apparent forms of colonialism. We are forced to perform and exhibit the social restrictions of gender and sexuality that are based on toxic masculinity. In spite of this, coming to know and communicate myself took time and energy.

I had to unlearn what it meant to be a man, what it meant to be a woman, what it meant to be in this time and space. It was a mess. I felt that I was in the middle of a battle against the me I thought I knew, the me I wanted to be, and the me I was forced to be. Yet, in this messy battle, I was learning to become. My becoming myself meant a rejection of what settler colonialism has told me or has forced me to be.

I often wonder and imagine a future, or even a past, of what it feels like to exist in a world that is not trying to force you into something but allows you to become someone. If I could describe my experience being a queer-trans-Diné person, it would be a story of becoming. A story about how I learned who I am, who I have been, and who I will be. A story to be. 

self-portrait declaring a purpose.
reclaiming an indigenous queer existence. photo credit: Amber B. Scott (Diné)

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