This is a post by Angela Brightfeather reprinted here with permission from the Durham Gender Alliance Yahoo Group clarifying another member’s understanding of the Native American concept of people known as “Two Spirits.” This is not presented as LDS doctrine but to show LDS members how other societies have reacted to the presence of the transgendered in their midst. The main point to highlight here is that each person in these Native American tribes was respectfully allowed to state which gender they identified as. It also clarifies that issues of gender identity are separate from sexual orientation, and also that transgenders/transsexuals are not the same as cross dressers or transvestites or female impersonators or drag queens. If these Native American tribespeople are descended from Book of Mormon peoples then it can’t hurt to be informed of their viewpoints on this important issue.
In an early effort to legitimize being GLB, a number of progressive gay people and sources who are Native American (NA), back in the 70’s decided to call themselves Two Spirits, noting that it was their right to be gay because gay people had always been known of in NA tribal life that way. This was of course a falsehood and what it actually referred to was the gender diverse people in the nations that we now refer to as Transgender, who also may have happened to be gay as a sexual afterthought. In other words, they were born as one gender, but lived as another gender.
This came directly from different tribes and in different ways; i.e., the Navajo practice that before a child has declared who they want to be, they must go through a ceremony, usually around puberty. Up to that time they are never referred to as “he” or “she.” They are called the first or third child or the youngest or oldest member of a family, on a day-to-day basis. However, any male-or female-born person who gives any indication as being the gender opposite their birth sex, is noted by the family and given a chance to choose how they wish to live their life. At the right time, the family invites the entire family and tribe to what we might call a naming ceremony or rite of passage ceremony. They have a big party and feast and gather sagebrush into a large circle, in the middle of which is a bow and arrow or a club and a wicker basket or a clay bowl. The child is put inside the circle and the circle is set on fire. Before the entire circle goes into a blaze, the child picks the object that defines how he or she wants to live for the rest of their life. If it is a male and he picks the clay bowl or basket, which are female items, then he becomes a she from that moment on and is taken to a hogan and dressed as a woman and named by one of the family, usually a grandmother. The opposite is true for a girl. After that time they are known by their official tribal name and work with either the women or the men. They are known within the tribes as a “Nadle” (Nad-lee).