On nearly every continent, and for all of recorded history, thriving cultures have recognized, revered, and integrated more than two genders. Terms such as transgender and gay are strictly new constructs that assume three things: that there are only two sexes (male/female), as many as two sexualities (gay/straight), and only two genders (man/woman).
Skoptsy were a Christian religious sect with extreme views on sex and gender. The community, discovered in 1771 in Western Russia, believed that Adam and Eve had had halves of the forbidden fruit grafted onto their bodies in the form of testicles and breasts. Therefore, they routinely castrated male children and amputated the breasts of women to return themselves the the state prior to original sin. Sex, vanity, beauty, and lust were considered the root of evil.
Long before Cook’s arrival in Hawaii, a multiple gender tradition existed among the Kanaka Maoli indigenous society. The mahu could be biological males or females inhabiting a gender role somewhere between or encompassing both the masculine and feminine. Their social role is sacred as educators and promulgators of ancient traditions and rituals.
In pre-colonial Andean culture, the Incas worshipped the chuqui chinchay, a dual-gendered god. Third-gender ritual attendants or shamans performed sacred rituals to honor this god. The quariwarmi shamans wore androgynous clothing as “a visible sign of a third space that negotiated between the masculine and the feminine, the present and the past, the living and the dead.”
Prior to colonization, the Ankole people in what is now Uganda elected a woman to dress as a man and thereby become an oracle to the god Mukasa.
Among the Sakalavas of Madagaskar, little boys thought to have a feminine appearance were raised as girls. The Antandroy and Hova called their gender crossers sekrata who, like women, wore their hair long and in decorative knots, inserted silver coins in pierced ears, and wore many bracelets on their arms, wrists and ankles.
Two Spirits interweaves the tragic story of a mother’s loss of her son with a revealing look at the largely unknown history of a time when the world wasn’t simply divided into male and female and many Native American cultures held places of honor for people of integrated genders.
Fred Martinez was nádleehí, a male-bodied person with a feminine nature, a special gift according to his ancient Navajo culture. He was one of the youngest hate-crime victims in modern history when he was brutally murdered at 16. Two Spirits explores the life and death of this boy who was also a girl, and the essentially spiritual nature of gender.
Two Spirits tells compelling stories about traditions that were once widespread among the indigenous cultures of North America. The film explores the contemporary lives and history of Native two-spirit people — who combine the traits of both men and women with qualities that are also unique to individuals who express multiple genders.
The Navajo believe that to maintain harmony, there must be a balanced interrelationship between the feminine and the masculine within the individual, in families, in the culture, and in the natural world. Two Spirits reveals how these beliefs are expressed in a natural range of gender diversity. For the first time on film, it examines the Navajo concept of nádleehí, “one who constantly transforms.”
Read the rest at PBS.
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