Powwow

By Clyde Ellis; Luke Eric Lassiter et al. | Go to book overview

BRIAN JOSEPH GILLEY


11.
Two-Spirit Powwows and the Search for
Social Acceptance in Indian Country

Ben, a Two-Spirit Chickasaw, nervously paced the floor in his yellow southern cloth dress as he and Jim eagerly awaited the drum and singers. The previous year’s drum had shown up late and acted in ways that were taken to be overtly homophobic. Jim reassured Ben that his drum would arrive shortly and “blow the doors off” the small Park Service mess hall–turned–powwow arena. Ben, along with the other Two-Spirit men dressed in various styles of powwow regalia, were participating in the fourth annual Green Country Two-Spirit Society retreat powwow, held every July. I Over the last four years the powwow had grown from a smallish affair with few people dressing in regalia and a couple at the drum into an event with an amazing number of people “dressed” and a large group of non-Two Spirit friends and family. A chorus of “lulus” rang out as Jim’s friends brought in the blanket-covered drum and began to set up. Shortly after the singers seated themselves at the drum, Gerald the emcee began the powwow with “I want to welcome all you ladies, gentlemen, and transgenders.”

Ben and Jim are part of a movement among gay Native men seeking access to traditional social practices while desiring the freedom to express their sex and gender identity.2 Two-Spirit identity draws on the belief that they are of “two spirits” or essences –part male and part female. Individuals may lean more toward femininity or masculinity in their social, sexual, and cultural practices. Although gays and lesbians in America are gaining more acceptance, many gay Indian men feel alienated from their Native communities. As a result they also feel estranged from participating in the traditional cultural practices of their tribe, ceremonial communities, and mainstream Native cultural events. While many Two-Spirit men do participate in community events, they feel they must hide their orientation and attempt to “pass” as “straight.”

In an effort to bring together their Native, sex, and gender identities in social practices, Two-Spirit men organize cultural events geared toward their specific needs. In this way the powwow – as a portable, universal symbol of Indian

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