"It's a boy!" "It's a girl!" Those are the first words assigned to us as we enter the harsh light of day from the confines of the crowded comfort of the womb that carried us.
But it's not always true, is it? Sure, most of us may be genetically singular in our chromosomal gender, be it XX or XY, but the sliding scale of actual gender is remarkably complex. Add to that centuries of religiously entrenched gender roles, a deep-rooted fear in the "other," and centuries of imperialism which spread the very religions that demonized anything outside the typical binary gender roles, and the scale becomes overweight and off-tare.
However, many of the indigenous peoples of this continent see gender a bit differently. When we (Native Americans--from hundreds of tribes) are born, we are not a simple assignation of the exterior appearance of our sex. Instead, we are seen as a spirit which has a body, and that is not the determining factor of our gender. Our spirit decides that later on in our life. We are either of one spirit, meaning our inner self is guided by one manifestation of our soul, or we are two-spirited, meaning we are of two enmeshed spirits inhabiting a body, and can operate as one, the other, or both.
The colonial term for this phenomena is "berdache" or "passively gay." This is a pretty insulting term that many native people have since adopted for educational purposes, but it's a far cry from what it actually means to be two-spirited.
To be two-spirited can mean that a person is male with female qualities, female with male qualities, female gendered but male presenting, male gendered but female presenting, or any vast combination therein. Two-Spirited people in antiquity were often considered magical or "lucky" because of the acute understanding they have of people as a whole. To be in a relationship with one was considered especially fortunate because some tribes believe that communing with a Two-Spirited person in a sexual manner was to be gifted with the magic of the person themselves. In the Navajo tribe, to be TS is to be a gifted whole. Many TS Navajo are artisans and healers, making use of their special gifts.
This is not always the case. Not every tribe has a history of Two-Spirited people, and with Christian missionaries and Imperial Colonists came a diminished acceptance of the Two-Spirited people, and the marginalization of gay and trans indians.
In the last sixty or so years, a movement to come back to the earth and shun the religious proclivities of the white man has led to a resurgence of the acceptance of the TS people. That's not to say this hasn't been met with strong opposition from surrounding communities.
On June 16, 2001, Fred Martinez, a Two-Spirted or Nadleehi Navajo, 16, was brutally murdered in a hate crime off-res in Cortez, Colorado by Shaun Murphy, a notorious local boy who later bragged that he "beat up a fag." It was twice a hate crime. He was a person of color and transgendered. The acceptance afforded to him on the res was nowhere to be found just minutes outside the border. Not at his school, or even at his funeral, where there was a truck emblazoned with the words "God Hates Fags."
In addition to being two-spirited, Fred Martinez was also of a winged clan, so even though his spirit no longer inhabits a body, the Navajo believe that he's found rest in flight.
For more information, I HIGHLY suggest watching this documentary.
Here's a short clip from another doc.