Last week, I presented at my first conference (like a grown up!). It was Oxford’s Women’s Studies Symposium. The presentation was over a paper I wrote as a culminating project for my Women and Cross Cultural Perspectives class. Here’s the abstract:
This paper explores the evolution of third gender identities in the Navajo, Zuni, and Lakota in North America. Prior to European settlement, each tribe possessed a different term for and conception of third gendered individuals. Though it is tempting to consider Native American tribes as enlightened and accepting of non-binary sexualities, the treatment of third gendered individuals within these groups (and the roles they were expected to fulfill) was as unique as each individual tribal identity prior to European settlement. Though each tribe possessed distinct, defined third-gender identities before European settlement, individuals which identified as third gendered became much less common as a European gender binary was either forced on Native American tribes or accepted as part of an intentional effort to seem more European. However, since the 1970s these identities have reemerged in the form of a pan-Indian two-spirit identity intimately tied to Native American activism surrounding health care, land rights, and the AIDS epidemic. In part, this is the result of LGBT Native American individuals who have been alienated from the Euro-American dominated LGBT movement in the US. This modern two-spirit identity, though outwardly similar to the traditional third genders, is actually quite different for many of the tribes: third gendered people were typically conceived of as engaged in heterogendered sexual partnership; this is not true with the modern two-spirit person. The paper concludes with a summary of the two-spirit movement as it stands, in the words of two-spirit individuals.
If that sounds like your cup of tea, the paper is available here.