“You don’t quite realize how much you want to slip a shirt on … until you’re told not to.”
- Raven Two Feathers
Two young Emmy Award-winning filmmakers hope their 40-page comic-based zine, “Qualifications of Being” will inform and empower young people who are Two Spirit or trans.
The zine was created by two authors that are a proud part of the LGBTQIA+ community. Raven Two Feathers, Cherokee/Seneca/Cayuga/Comanche, and illustrator Jonny Cechony, non-Native, worked with Longhouse Media to produce the zine with financial support from the Snoqualmie Tribe, Indigenous Showcase, and the Potlatch Fund.
In “Qualifications of Being,” Two Feathers, 23 — who uses the pronouns he/him/they/them/their — shares his/their journey as a transgender and Two Spirit person.
Illustrated by Cechony, Two Feathers narrates a journey that starts as an assigned female gender at birth, continues into a “tomboy” childhood, and journeys into scenes from school, when Two Feathers, seated with girls, “felt very off,” having been separated into gender-specific groups.
Two Feathers also explains the difficulties he/they faced during puberty, including struggling with body changes that defied his/their identity.
The zine features simple explanations of transgender and Two Spirit, as well as a page of resources: helplines, websites, networks, videos, and books.
Researching to understand
In the zine, Two Feathers explores his/their life as a transgender person and how he/they became involved in the LGBTQ2IA+ community. He/They came out to his/their family on his/their 22nd birthday, and as written in the zine, the family “burst forth with immense support and enthusiasm.”
Two Feathers learns about a Two Spirit dinner organized by a co-worker, and in the zine, discusses the struggle of coming to terms with whether or not to attend.
The zine contains a series of life events in Two Feathers' life and outlines the struggles as well as the triumphs, the ups, and the downs.
Ultimately Two Feathers' explorations result in a real coming to terms.
Two Feathers writes of “the normalcy of not needing to explain who you are,” adding, “To feel such calm brought on a peace I never thought possible with this mind-body disconnect.”
About Two Feathers and Cechony
Two Feathers attended school in Alaska and in Seattle and earned a BFA in film production at Santa Fe University of Art & Design. He/They worked as assistant director, sound mixer or location manager on nine short films and produced a documentary short. He/They live in the Seattle area and sing women’s and men’s songs with a Native Two Spirit drum group.
Cechony, 22, has worked as a sound mixer or boom operator on several films. This project was a first for him and “I wanted to be respectful through the entire process.” Individuals depicted in, say, the Two Spirit gathering is generic. Indigenous iconography was vetted and reviewed, he said. And the website acknowledges that “Qualifications of Being” was “created on occupied Coast Salish lands.”
“This has been a great project for me,” Cechony said. “I had drawing capability, but this is the first time I’ve worked on a publication.” Next, he said, is a print edition and an audiobook.
“The goal of this project is to be informative and helpful. We want this to be a resource for people who are figuring out who they are, and for those who have relatives who don’t know where to start.”
How to get the zine and how to connect with 'Qualifications of Being'
'Qualifications of Being' website / Get the zine
The term Two Spirit
Indian Health Service defines Two Spirit this way:
Though Two Spirit may now be included in the umbrella of LGBTQ, The term "Two Spirit" does not simply mean someone who is a Native American/Alaska Native and gay. Traditionally, Native American two spirit people were male, female, and sometimes intersexed individuals who combined activities of both men and women with traits unique to their status as two spirit people.
The term Two Spirit — an Indigenous term given to those who were born to fulfill ceremonial and community roles traditionally held by either women or men — emerged at the third annual Native American/First Nations Gay and Lesbian Conference in 1990 in Winnipeg, Canada as a way to reclaim an identity – one that had always existed but was not always understood by newcomers — to this continent.
Not all tribes use or recognize the term, some examples are the Crow tribe's term Badé, the Dine’s Nádleehi, the Lakota’s Winkte, and the Zuni’s lhamana.
Indian Health Service defines transgender this way:
Transgender people have a gender identity that is different from the one associated with their birth sex. Those who are transgender can have special health concerns compared to those who are not transgender.
Today, estimates of the population of transgender people in the United States range from 700,000 to 1.3 million; advocates believe the population is greater but that many don’t identify themselves out of fear of transphobia — and the estimated population just includes adults.
Indian Health Service - Two Spirit
Indian Health Service - Transgender
8 Things You Should Know About Two Spirit People
Indian Country Today article by Tony Enos
Two Spirit Journal
Features community information on Two Spirit societies and groups in the United States and Canada, organizations, online resources, and Two Spirit films and books.
“Two Spirits” (Fertigova Films, 2008)
Follows Joey Criddle, a Two Spirit man who with other LGBTQ Native Americans is fighting to “reclaim the place of honor that many Two Spirits once held prior to colonization...as he leads parallel lives -- one as a co-director of the Two Spirit Society of Denver and the other as a father attending the Mississippi wedding of his Pentecostal son.”
“Two Spirits” (Riding the Tiger Productions, 2009)
Tells the story of Fred Martinez (1985-2001), a Navajo teen who was murdered because he was nádleehi. “Fred Martinez was a Navajo boy who was also a girl,” the film’s tagline states. “In an earlier era, he would have been revered. Instead, he was murdered.” The film’s website features film clips, blogs, study guides and video extras on gender diversity. A map explores gender-diverse cultures around the world.
Ma-Nee Chacaby, an Ojibwe-Cree activist, talks about Two Spirit identities on YouTube
Acclaimed Two Spirit persons of the 19th and 20th centuries
We’wha (1849–1896), Zuni
We’wha was lhamana – a man who took on male and female social and ceremonial roles at various points in his life. We’wha was a noted weaver and potter, and in 1886 was part of the Zuni delegation to Washington, D.C., where he met President Grover Cleveland.
Osh-Tisch (1854-1929), Crow
Osh-Tisch, whose name means “Finds Them and Kills Them,” was known for battlefield bravery in the June 17, 1876 Battle of Rosebud Creek.
Hastiin Tłʼa (1867-1937), Dine’
Hastiin Tłʼa, or Hosteen Klah, was an influential weaver, traditionally a Dine’ woman’s role; and ceremonial singer, traditionally a Dine’ man’s role. He demonstrated Dine’ weaving at the 1892 World Expedition in Chicago; collaborated in the founding of the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian in Santa Fe, New Mexico; and authored “Navajo Creation Myth -- the Story of the Emergence,” published by the Wheelwright Museum.
Richard Arlin Walker, Mexican/Yaqui, is a journalist living in Anacortes, Washington. He has written for Indian Country Today since January 2003. Follow him on Twitter @rawalkerjr, and LinkedIn richardarlinwalker. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Vincent Schilling contributed to this report