We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Becoming Two-Spirit

Gay Identity and Social Acceptance in Indian Country

Brian Joseph Gilley

Publication Year: 2006

The Two-Spirit man occupies a singular place in Native American culture, balancing the male and the female spirit even as he tries to blend gay and Native identity. The accompanying ambiguities of gender and culture come into vivid relief in the powerful and poignant Becoming Two-Spirit, the first book to take an in-depth look at contemporary American Indian gender diversity. Drawing on a wealth of observations from interviews, oral histories, and meetings and ceremonies, Brian Joseph Gilley provides an intimate view of how Two-Spirit men in Colorado and Oklahoma struggle to redefine themselves and their communities.

The Two-Spirit men who appear in Gilley’s book speak frankly of homophobia within their communities, a persistent prejudice that is largely misunderstood or misrepresented by outsiders. Gilley gives detailed accounts of the ways in which these men modify gay and Native identity as a means of dealing with their alienation from tribal communities and families. With these compromises, he suggests, they construct an identity that challenges their alienation while at the same time situating themselves within contemporary notions of American Indian identity. He also shows how their creativity is reflected in the communities they build with one another, the development of their own social practices, and a national network of individuals linked in their search for self and social acceptance.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press


pdf iconDownload PDF (22.9 KB)
pp. vii

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (48.4 KB)
pp. ix-xii

I did not set out to write a book about Two-Spirit men and social acceptance. Rather, the research for this project began as an interest in how Native peoples were dealing with the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The focus changed the first evening I went to a meeting of the Green Country Two-Spirit Society, whose official mission is to design and implement ...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (36.7 KB)
pp. xiii-xiv

I owe a great deal to the men of the Green Country Two-Spirit Society and the Two-Spirit Society of Denver. Although they go unnamed for their own protection, I have thanked them personally and "in the right way." In particular I would like to thank the people whom I have named — Ben, Sheila, Glen, Mick, and Andy — in the book. Although their ...

read more

1. Seeking Self- and Social Acceptance

pdf iconDownload PDF (117.5 KB)
pp. 1-22

Any illusions I had about reaching that moment in an ethnographer's fieldwork when the host population considers you "one of them" came crashing down when I was relegated to the "straight men's room." I had been conducting research on Two-Spirit (gay American Indian) men for not quite a year.1 I was visiting Denver, Colorado, to conduct ...

read more

2. From Gay to Indian

pdf iconDownload PDF (137.5 KB)
pp. 23-50

Most gay Indians in the 20th century found their refuge in closeted isolation on reservations and rural Native communities or in the non-Native-dominated world of the gay underground in cities. Some of the people in this book are in their late forties and early fifties, and they remember what it was like to be involved in a popular gay culture that ...

read more

3. Adapting to Homophobia among Indians

pdf iconDownload PDF (163.3 KB)
pp. 51-86

All of the Two-Spirit men in this book have had to, at one time or another, keep their sexual orientation a secret or attempt to "pass" to avoid bringing attention to their difference. Two-Spirit men have dealt with this necessity in various ways, both within Indian and non-Indian social contexts, such as denying one's orientation or "butching it up" to ...

read more

4. The Aesthetics of an Identity

pdf iconDownload PDF (202.6 KB)
pp. 87-132

What Two-Spirit means, being of both male and female spirits, is almost never debated. But how to be Two-Spirit is something that elicits emotion, opinion, and at times outrage. I have seen the men in this book struggle with the various ways Two-Spirit is both a way to think of oneself and a set of ideals that one must meet. Ideals are complicated by ...

read more

5. Cultural Compromise at Work

pdf iconDownload PDF (145.9 KB)
pp. 133-164

The ways in which Two-Spirit men see themselves as unwanted by their communities can overwhelm how they see themselves as Native peoples. At the same time, Two-Spirit organizations such as the Green Country Society and the Denver Society focus on giving Two-Spirit men the opportunity to "be Two-Spirit." Being a Two-Spirit man, as I ...

read more

6. Mending the Hoop

pdf iconDownload PDF (87.0 KB)
pp. 165-180

Two-Spirit men's efforts at cultural compromise go largely unnoticed by their tribal communities. Two-Spirit men also feel that they have an obligation to their individual tribes and Indian people in general. While Two-Spirit sexuality and gender identity is structurally denied expression in mainstream Native society, the men are actively attempting to ...

read more

7. Difference and Social Belonging in Indian Country

pdf iconDownload PDF (67.3 KB)
pp. 181-190

As the members of the Green Country and Denver societies would agree, Two-Spirit people do not represent an alternative form of Indianness. Rather, they are and see themselves as committed to formally accepted community standards of social behavior and moral responsibility. Nonetheless, Two-Spirit people represent a contradiction ...


pdf iconDownload PDF (74.1 KB)
pp. 191-200

Works Cited

pdf iconDownload PDF (65.6 KB)
pp. 201-208


pdf iconDownload PDF (63.3 KB)
pp. 209-213

E-ISBN-13: 9780803257979
E-ISBN-10: 080325797X

Page Count: 218
Publication Year: 2006