Self-Care is Making Your Own Representation

First things first: I’m Native American.  More accurately, I’m Choctaw and white.  I’m also two-spirit.  Take a quick guess to see which of these things are hard to find representation of in media.  If you guessed anything but white, you’re correct. This is why when my friend Nate asked if I wanted to join them on a Dungeons and Dragons podcast, Carpe DM, I not only said yes but decided to make my character, Dee, Native American and two-spirit like myself. Okay, so, technically America doesn’t exist in DnD. Whatever, it’s fantasy, and if I want my lizard to be like me, she’s like me.

Before I get into how this has helped me, and hopefully others, I should probably explain what it means to be two-spirited, as there is a lot of conflicting information on the internet.  Two-spirit is a term that is only as recent as the year 1990, when it was created for use by all Native American tribes as an pan-Indian term replacing the word berdache, which is a slur, and to separate ourselves from words that are not our own, meaning those used in the LGBT acronym.  Many, if not all, tribes in the Americas had pre-colonial identities/genders that could not neatly be divided into cisgender/heterosexual men and women.  I say identities/genders because these are defined as genders, but aren’t what many people would otherwise call a gender.  Someone that would otherwise identify as cisgender isn’t necessarily unable to be two-spirit; if they aren’t straight they can still be two-spirited despite it being defined as a gender.  What these identities specifically mean to each tribe and individual vary, but the general idea is that someone has a spirit that is both masculine and feminine at the same time.

It is possible to compare these identities to anything that would be considered LGBT.  However, an LGBT Native and a two-spirited person are not one in the same.  An LGBT Native may not be two-spirited, and a two-spirit person may not identify as LGBT.  I consider myself to be both two-spirited and LGBT, personally, I use the acronym LGBTQ2, which stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, and Two-spirit.  Some two-spirited people may choose to use terms outside of two-spirit to define their identity as well, for instance I consider myself to be gay and nonbinary as well as two-spirited.  I define Dee as being two-spirit first and foremost, but also being a nonbinary lesbian.

People that are adequately represented in media may have difficulty grasping why representation is so important. Before I started embracing my identity as a two-spirited person, I identified somewhere around being a gay transgender man.  Still not the best in terms of looking for representation, but I’d be lying if I said that during that time I didn’t feel more represented in that respect than I do now.  It’s lonely to not be able to turn on the TV or engage with really any media and see people deliberately making characters that are like you. Realizing that so many people don’t care to tell stories about you is really lonely.  It really shouldn’t be too much to ask to be able to see yourself in characters.  Acceptance is something that all humans crave in some amount.

The only representation of two-spirited people in media outside of books I could find was a 4 minute segment in a TV show about being LGBT (Gaycation, Season 1 Episode 4) and a documentary prompted by a child that was killed in a hate crime (PBS Independent Lens: Two Spirits).  I’m sure you can imagine how it feels to mostly be represented through documentaries and other educational resources.  It’s good that these things exist to educate those that aren’t aware, but it evokes this odd feeling of being watched.  It makes me feel singled out as different and I’m not really sure how I feel about it. I did some searching and I found some fiction novels listed as being about indigenous LGBTQ2 characters.  I haven’t had the chance to read any of them myself, so I can’t recommend them, so there are possibly a few novels about two-spirited people.  That’s about as good as you’re going to get for most representation, though.

I know just one character isn’t much in the grand scheme of things, I know, but sometimes the little things can count.  Seeing yourself in media, any media, where someone like you is allowed to just exist and live their life means a lot, even if you’re the one making that media.  The goal with representation should always be making people feel less alone, and if it can do that without alienating the people you’re trying to represent, then you’re doing a good job.  As of writing this I haven’t gotten around to a point in Carpe DM where I feel it would be realistic for Dee to talk about being two-spirit, but I promise a moment like that will exist, and I hope that any two-spirited listeners enjoy that moment. Despite that, just making Dee has made me a lot more confident in my identity and in who I am as a general person. I hope that her existence helps others as well.

That’s what I hope to do with Dee.  I want people to be able to recommend Carpe DM to their two-spirited friends as good representation as my friends and I do with media that has LGBT representation. Feeling alone in this harsh world is tough, but just a small message telling you that being who you are is okay can help a little bit. And that little bit is sometimes all that you need to carry on, even if it’s from yourself.

This #MVPride guest post was contributed by Knives M. Thank you!
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