July 17, 2007

Gay Indians find themselves in city

Going Far From Home to Feel at HomeMr. VanWanseele is gay, a fact he was open about but knew many other members of the Kumeyaay Nation would never accept.

So Mr. VanWanseele moved to New York City, a place where American Indians are virtually invisible and where the teeming streets and the forests of buildings could not be more different from the expansive vistas of his reservation.

But New York is a place where he could be who he truly was: a proud Indian and a proud gay man. His story parallels the stories of other gay American Indians who have moved to New York. Coming from different tribes with different traditions and histories, they have forged a small community and started a branch of a growing national organization built on shared experiences.
More on their organization:The name of the Two-Spirit Society is meant to convey the idea that a gay Indian has both masculine and feminine qualities along with traditional cultural values, Mr. VanWanseele said.

The group has only about 15 members, but it works to raise enough money to pay for community outreach projects and cultural offerings, like classes focusing on traditional American Indian dance. The group also maintains a Web site, ne2ss.typepad.com, that has recorded more than 60,000 hits since 2005, Mr. VanWanseele said.

There are similar Two-Spirit groups with larger memberships in San Francisco, Denver, Phoenix and Tulsa, Okla.
Who's to blame:The bias that many gay Indians say they have experienced from other Indians is a legacy of the encounter between Indians and white European colonizers, according to Brian J. Gilley, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Vermont, who is the author of “Becoming Two-Spirit: Gay Identity and Social Acceptance in Indian Country.”

Historically, in many tribes, individuals who entered into same-sex relationships were considered holy and treated with utmost respect and acceptance, said Dr. Gilley. “Prior to European contact, sexuality was not a determining factor in someone’s identity,” he said. “It was the role in the community. Gender was tied to that role. Who you had sex with was not a concern. The Europeans come, Native American societies are thrust in rapid change, and some societies incorporate European ideals quickly.”

And because the European settlers, influenced in part by their religious beliefs, were largely intolerant of homosexuality, they helped reshape long-held practices among many Indians, Dr. Gilley said.

1 comment:

russell said...

Writerfella here --
Fascinating article, as writerfella made the very same observations about acculturation all the way back into the late '50s. Where such changed attitudes and intolerances occur mostly are on reservations or even in mostly-Native communities nearby to but not on reservations. But writerfella himself encountered very little of such devolved and transplanted discriminations because the Wichita, Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache reservation in Oklahoma was dissolved by the Dawes Act long before the turn of the Twentieth century. The various Kiowan families more or less were scattered and confined to their 160-acre allotments and so their senses of culture, charity, and community could not be attacked en masse. So, while their manners, mores, and methods did change after losing their former free state, certain of their older matters remained the same. Among the Kiowan medicine clans, apparently there was some high degree of homosexuality, but it was honored and respected and even feted, as many of such medicine men were warriors of the tribe. And so it was with writerfella being from the Spider medicine clan, when he revealed his own gay existence, hardly anyone took any particular notice at all. Thus it has remained to this date. That writerfella has lived off and on in Los Angeles and in other states, after service in the USAF during the Viet Nam Era, only means that writing jobs in films and TV plus educational pursuits took him to such places, and he always has returned home to Oklahoma. writerfella once visited some of those lost Native gay souls in L.A. and NYC. His observations were that they had become like cacti, defending against all comers no matter how innocuous, innocent, or incidental. Alas, what wasteful and enervating expenses of ego, energy, and emotion...
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'