Two Spirit People

Brown, Lester B. (Editor). (1997). Two Spirit People: American Indian Lesbian Women and Gay Men. Binghampton, NY: Haworth Press.

Although somewhat dated, this text is still highly relevant, particularly since there has not been a great deal of scholarly research on Two Spirit identities and this was one of the first. Editor Lester Brown (deceased) was an emeritus faculty member of the Department of Social Work and former chair of American Indian Studies at California State University, Long Beach.

Two Spirit People explores Native American Two Spirit identity (which Westerners might term gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and/or bigender) in terms of identity, social services, and HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. The text is respectful and inclusive, using tribally-specific terms and seeking input from Native American collaborators, some of whom contributed as co-authors.

The writing is dense and scholarly; chapters are peer-reviewed articles that were co-published simultaneously in the Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services. While there is ethnographic content, the focus is public health; identity is important inasmuch as it affects social services.

Of particular interest to folks seeking to learn more about gender variance outside the gender binary are the first two chapters in the Identity section. “Women and Men, Not-Men and Not-Women, Lesbians and Gays: American Indian Gender Style Alternatives,” written by Lester Brown, describes Two Spirit identity as a spiritual calling and discusses historical colonial accounts, tribally-specific terms, sexual behavior, gender expression, and the organization Gay American Indians (GAI) which began in San Francisco during the 1960s.

“Gender Selection in Two American Indian Tribes,” written by Little Crow, Judy Wright, and Lester Brown, explores cultural norms among Two Spirit people in the Santee Dakota and Lakota tribes. The article discusses the failure of the DSM-IV to consider non-Western gender identities in its classification of transgender identities. In addition, there is brief mention of the importance of providing social services without ethnocentric bias.

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About Charlie McNabb

Archivist, Folklorist, Librarian, Legend Tripper, and Queer Activist
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