When you hear the angry rhetoric from politicians about preserving gendered bathrooms and abolishing transgender rights, you might think, "If things are still this tough for transgender people today, I can't imagine how bad they were in the past." While that's not always wrong, it's not always right, either.
Hundreds of years ago, some Native American tribes actually held a deep respect for people who identified themselves as outside the gender binary -- or as they were called, "two-spirits." It was believed that such people were especially important, as they could participate in all aspects of Native life, rather than those reserved for one gender. In fact, some tribes saw it as crucial to recognize the balance between one's masculine and feminine sides.
Two-spirits were often free to express themselves in ways that many transgender people today still cannot. A transgender Zuni princess named We'wha even served as Native American cultural ambassador to Washington back in the late 1800s. Perhaps someday, modern America will become as socially enlightened as Native tribes of three centuries ago. But, uh ... baby steps, America.
For more on the subject of Two Spirits, pick up a copy of Two-Spirit People: Native American Gender Identity, Sexuality, and Spirituality.
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