Primitive Indigenous Cultures and Gender Identity

Primitive Indigenous Cultures and Gender Identity

May 13, 2016, 11:00:07 PM Opinion

Two spirits are better than one!


I’m sure everyone has heard all the brew-ha-ha about who may use which public restrooms. I’m one of those people who thinks we can often learn valuable lessons from our ancient hunting and gathering predecessors. I know they didn’t have public restrooms back in pre-history and I’m not suggesting we all pee and poop in the woods like our ancestors did. I am suggesting we might look at the subject a bit differently.


Some believe that biology determines our sex……whether we are born male or female, and that gender roles are purely a construct of society. In other words, people are responsible for deciding what’s appropriate for males and females as far as how we adorn ourselves, what skills we should cultivate, what interests we should have and who we should choose as a mate.


In modern western culture, due to the influence of the Bible, we have only two somewhat narrowly defined gender roles. Males provide and protect and females nurture. Males are strong, confident and stoic while females are gentle, sensitive and emotional. The only fly in the ointment is that not everyone fits one of these stereotypes. Some girls are interested in hunting, fighting and weapons as some boys are interested in cooking, crafts and housekeeping.   


In our society we have a long history of labeling those who don’t fit traditional gender roles as some sort of aberration. They get treated as though they’re afflicted with a disease or condition that needs to be cured or corrected. They’re considered unwholesome and vaguely evil. Some worry they’re bent on committing vile acts with decent people to drag them down to their level of depravity. It’s still hard for many to imagine anyone leading a normal, happy and productive life unless they can adapt to the role their biological sex has dictated to them by their genitalia. 


Some American Indian tribes like the Cherokee, Navajo and Cheyanne may have gotten the concept of gender right ages ago. People we once thought of as primitive, godless savages may have had a better understanding of the difference between gender and biological sex. The Navajo for instance recognized four distinctly different gender identities instead of two. Those who fell outside the Eurocentric norm of male/female gender identities were actually revered and respected rather than looked down upon as freaks. It was thought that when masculine and feminine attributes were both conspicuously reflected in one body, the individual was inhabited by two spirits rather than one. The female and the male spirit. This was not only considered an advantage but a gift from the spirit world bestowed only upon the worthy.


Two spirited people, those born one biological sex but who identify with the opposite gender were known to the Navajo as “nadleehi”. Other tribes had different words and these were in no way derogatory but merely intended to describe the confluence of male and female in everyone that sometimes results in a “two spirited” person. Native Americans had no words like queer, fag or dyke as they had no reason to insult or belittle those fortunate enough to possess both a male and female spirit.


Today many still believe biological sex and gender are one in the same. They believe that the hand of God determines if you’re born with an appendage between your legs or a cavity. Narrow minded, truly un-enlightened, bible thumping bigots would reduce the entire gender identity issue to one and only one consideration…… plumbing. It doesn’t matter how effeminate one might be physically, or how inept at fighting or hunting or sports……or if one has a have a gift for nurturing and an interest in cooking, sewing and beadwork. If you have an appendage hanging down, you are a male. You should be interested in what other men like and cultivate “manly” skills and abilities. If not, you’re a weak, sinful and ultimately unforgivable misfit and an abomination in the eyes of God. 


How could we have come so far technologically when so many are still so backwards when it comes to a basic understanding of what defines us as humans and differentiates us from less evolved, less intelligent creatures?  For me the bottom line is this: biological sex does have a lot to do with gender identity……. but not everything. Perhaps we need to move more in the direction of private stalls and gender-neutral public restrooms or……add a couple more genders so everyone can feel comfortable when nature calls!

Published by Bill Hoover

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