Because of the repression of two-spirit roles, many American Indians and people of indigenous descent look to the past and present for traces of these roles or for inspiration that could help to re-create two-spirit ways. I trace my matrilineage to the seminomadic Rarámuri of my grandmother’s pueblo, Namiquipa, Chihuahua, and have noted that contemporary Rarámuri ethnography confirms continued two-spirit roles, such as that of the na’wi or man-woman. Concho, Apache, and Pueblo Nations also held sway over northern Chihuahua and likely interacted with the Rarámuri. The Rarámuri may have also made use of the trade routes that reached far into the Southwest and into Central Mexico from Paquimé centuries after the turn of the first millennium. Some archaeological records indicate a complementary rather than a hierarchical gender system at Paquimé from 1200 to 1450 c.e. and at other ancient pueblos of the Southwest. While Christine S. VanPool and Todd L. VanPool suggest that these complementary genders may have been echoed among ancient Paquimé dwellers, they find no decisive archaeological proof that speaks for or against two-spirit presence at Paquimé. What do the direct descendants of related ancient Pueblo cultures have to say about two-spirit ways?
Contemporary Native American historiographical debates help explain why Mexican and Spanish-era Southwestern literatures do not record the two-spirit traditions that later U.S. oral ethnographies show. Referring to Pomo survival of historical Russian, Spanish, and Euro-American attempts at genocide on the Pomo Nation, queer Pomo scholar Greg Sarris interrogates both historical relationships of non-native authors with their native subjects and the relationship of contemporary readers with these texts. Whether the author is a Spanish priest of the sixteenth century or a gay white activist recovering “his” gay American roots through Native American experience, Sarris reminds readers that “representatives from the dominant culture exploring the resistance of subjugated people are likely to see little more than what those people choose or can afford to show them.” For this reason contemporary indigenous authors may provide gender insights that could not have been shared easily during more homophobic periods of colonization. Historical native informants were sources of wildly clashing narratives about “sodomy” and transgendered ways. Depending upon the methodology and political stance writers choose, two-spirit histories can be interpreted as being nonexistent, oppressed, or exalted.
Working from oral tradition, Laguna Pueblo author Leslie Marmon Silko makes positive two-spirit statements that would have been very difficult to make during Spanish colonization. Silko confirms that Pueblo history is based upon stories and that “a great deal of the story is believed to be inside the listener; the storyteller’s role is to draw the story out of the listeners. The storytelling continues from generation to generation.” In this sense Pueblo history is ultimately best understood inside a storied Pueblo cultural context not available to nonPueblo peoples and researchers. While Silko demonizes two gay characters in Almanac of the Dead: A Novel, she articulates her own enthusiastic version of Laguna Pueblo two-spirit peoples in Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit: “Before the arrival of Christian missionaries, a man could dress as a woman and work with the women and even marry a man without any fanfare. Likewise, a woman was free to dress like a man, to hunt and go to war with the men, and to marry a woman. In the old Pueblo worldview, we are all a mixture of male and female, and this sexual identity is changing constantly. In sacred kiva ceremonies, men mask and dress as women to pay homage and to be possessed by the female energies of spirit beings.”
A key element in this discourse is to note that all Pueblo are a mix of masculinity and femininity. Therefore it is not abnormal for anyone to express both masculinity and femininity in appropriate community arenas. By expressing complementary genders in one body, two-spirits exercise flexible gender rights that everyone can utilize as well when the need arises. Silko further notes that Pueblo men in sacred kiva spaces can become possessed by female spirits, momentarily and appropriately embodying mixed gender energy. Although Christianity and colonial laws made these fluid gender realities difficult to express publicly, this fluidity survives in oral traditions and among some Pueblo traditionalists. Given Silko’s celebration of the power and honor of female creativity in her Laguna Pueblo tradition, it is not surprising that men who commit to female ways would also be honored or that reversed female to male identification could also find a home in the Pueblo world. Community and partnership, not gender stratified domination and submission, are the values that she transmits about Pueblo marriage, noting that married people were free to have sex with other people if they so chose. Again Silko’s sources are mainly the oral traditions that she has gleaned from her own family and her medium of transmitting this two-spirit history is storytelling.
— Gabriel S. Estrada , “Two-spirit Histories in Southwestern and Mesoamerican Literatures,” Gender and Sexuality in Indigenous North America, 1400-1850 (2012)