The Power to Say, NO and to Chart a New (and old) Path!

Photo credit: J. Davis

Jenny Davis, a scholar and citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, recently published article titled “Refusing (Mis)Recognition: Navigating Multiple Marginalization in the U.S. Two Spirit Movement.” Davis wrote and published this article as an Assistant Professor of Anthropology, American Indian Studies, and Gender & Women’s Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign where she is the director of the Native American and Indigenous Languages (NAIL) Lab.

In this article, Davis examines the term Two-Spirit “…an Indigenous identity by using both unifying/mass terms (Native American, glbtiq [gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, intersex, queer]) and culturally & community specific terms (specific tribe [Nation-specific] names, Two Spirit). Rather than selecting a ‘right’ term, such conversations highlight the constant, simultaneous positionings negotiated by Two Spirit people in their daily lives, and the tensions between recognizability and accuracy, communality and specific­ity, and indigeneity and settler culture, and the burden multiply marginalized people carry in negotiating between all of those metaphorical and literal spaces.”

Davis’ study shows how Two-Spirit people float, somewhat, effortlessly between the multiple and interlocking layers of identities that are global and at the same time may or may be

Photo credit: J. Davis

Nation/culturally-specific. Individuals are showing up and being, considering and/or conceiving themselves as Indigenous, either male- or female-assigned, while having an Indigenous (global), Nation-specific and/or western (colonial) understanding(s) of gender and/or sexual identity. In other words, individuals may show up a glbtiq+/Indigenous/ Nation-specific person, a Two-Spirit person or use a word in their language that names, accounts and identifies themselves as those who embody diverse (or non-normative) sexualities, genders, and gender.

However, key to understanding Davis’ central argument is the ever present and encompassing identity of one’s Indigeneity that draws upon Audra Simpson’s concept of the politics of refusal; whereas, “the politics of refusal … ‘stands in stark contrast to the politics of cultural recognition’ while also standing as a rejection of anthropological assumptions ‘that the colonial project is complete.’” Basically meaning that while we (Two-Spirit people), at times, may appear to stand with and beside our non-Indigenous glbtiq+ brothers and sisters while at the very same time, we (Two-Spirit people) stand apart from and distinct from our non-Indigenous glbtiq+ brothers and sisters because our unique positionality as Indigenous people and by asserting our Indigeneity Two-Spirit are refusing and/or rejecting to be lumped in or being categorized as an individual who is solely named or identified as an glb and/or tiq+ person. Thereby, this assertion stands in direct opposition to ‘politics of cultural recognition.’ If Two-Spirit people were using ‘politics of cultural recognition,’ they would be accepting, maybe even demanding, non-Indigenous people to see and accept them within non-Indigenous/colonial ways, frameworks and lenses. By asserting Indigeneity first and foremost, Two-Spirit are refusing to be penned-in by colonial structures and is a way to affirm one’s own self and communal sovereignty (of body and of land).

Davis ends with, “Yet these individuals’ use of non-Native terminology — the generalizing Native American/Indian, Two Spirit, and queer — were not used simply as a compromise to reach non-Native audiences; rather they signaled multiple levels of community membership, each of which genuinely represented one part of these speakers’ sense of themselves. In doing so, they bridge local, tribally specific understandings of Indigenous gender variance with wide-ranging contemporary discourses of sexuality and multitribal identity, reflecting the complex ground on which Two Spirit people stand.”

As any good Indigenous scholar, Davis ends where they began by showing how Two-Spirit people are Refusing (Mis)Recognition as Two-Spirit people navigate multiple marginalization in the U.S. Two-Spirit movement – and do it somewhat effortlessly and with grace and beauty.