That's What She Said: Two-Spirit Pride
- Dawn Dumont | July 29, 2016
When I was nineteen and studying for a History final, my friend Derek came out to me. Without any intro, he blurted out: “I’m gay.” “Oh go on,” I replied. I didn’t believe him and thought that he was just trying to make himself more interesting, like when he claimed to have a gluten allergy or an ability to see in the dark. Also, it was three a.m. and I thought he might be trying to get out of studying (I still suspect this.)
After my initial skepticism, I was supportive of my friend. We went to gay clubs together and I stood by while he learned to navigate the new waters. I liked the vibe in the clubs; I felt safe and accepted there as a First Nation person. The only downsides were that no guys hit on me, the DJ’s played too much House music and also, no women hit on me. (What the hell?)
I didn’t understand why it took Derek so long to come out – why would you pretend to be something you weren’t? You would just make yourself unhappy and disappoint the people you fooled. Like that year I wore blue contacts and told everyone who asked that they were my real eyes.
Later that summer, Derek and I were in Regina and needed a place to stay. I knew my parents would be in the city as at that time they attended the local casino with the regularity of dedicated employees. I told him: “I’ll call my parents, they’ll let us crash at their hotel room.” We showed up and threw our bags on the floor and claimed the TV remote. Then my dad pulled me aside and told me that we couldn’t stay. “But why?” I whined. My dad didn’t say anything but I saw his gaze drift to Derek. I was shocked, disappointed and enraged – like when I open the fridge to discover that my boyfriend has eaten all the ice cream. (Again!) I angrily replied to my dad, “Fine, we’ll get our own hotel room – now, lend me a hundred dollars and I’ll be on my way.”
This may seem insane but it wasn’t until that moment that I understood that not everyone was accepting of gay people. My mom had always spoken openly about her liberal views, telling colourful stories about hanging out with her gay girlfriend, her stripper friend and her friend who ran over her husband with a car. I had thought my dad’s silence was tacit agreement with this open attitude. Now I realize he was probably tuning her out and focussing his attention on the hockey game.
Back in the olden days, gay people were known as the two-spirited. They had a special status in communities. But as Christianity creeped into First Nation communities and the colonial attitude that heterosexual patriarchy is best began to rule the day – this status was lost. It’s not an accident that this attitude is a part of the assimilationist agenda. When you’re trying to destroy a culture, it’s important to discourage acceptance of diversity within it. If you can convince a person that being different is wrong, then it’s not hard to get them to believe that they’re wrong for being different from mainstream Canadian society.
I should have known that life was hard for gay people on the reserve. When I was kid, I heard gay slurs bandied about as insults. If you were out as a gay person, then your sexuality became your identity, sometimes it was even added to your name as in, “Gay Norman” or “Gay Jean.” I cannot imagine how difficult it was to make the choice to come out: suffer in silence or expose themselves to ridicule, ostracism and often, violence. Many people chose a third option - suicide among gay Indigenous people is one of the highest rates of suicide in Canada.
Last month, Beardy’s and Okemasis First Nation held a gay pride festival. Just an hour north of Saskatoon, band members and leadership marched alongside one another to support and celebrate diversity. They are the first band in Saskatchewan to hold a gay pride event.
I hope that other First Nations soon follow suit. The horror of shootings that took place in Orlando still reverberates through our world and the pain of their families and friends will not and should not be forgotten. As well, neither should the millions of daily slights that occur across North America. Homophobia and other forms of intolerance against diversity are painful reminders that we still have a long ways to go to return to where we started.