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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Q&A: Twin Soul Artist Jamie John


This pride month, local news online We spoke to LGBTQ and two-spirit relatives about what it means to be queer in the Indian nation, finding joy through cultural connection, and their hopes for the next generation of LGBTQ and two-spirit Indigenous people.

The following interview is with Jamie John, a citizen of the Ottawa Grand Traverse Band and Chippewa Indians. John is a bispiritual, trans and queer multidisciplinary artist, ritual dancer and Midwyn Inn water bearer.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

What does a two-spirit identity mean to you?

This will be my personal definition, I do it just to say that I don’t speak for other two spirits, I don’t speak for two spirits in different countries. Duality is all about being able to take responsibility and teaching at the same time and occupy the ritual spaces of our men and women.

I can be trans and trans male, be a jingle dancer, or still be a water carrier, or be able to tend a fire, but also serve at my ghost dinner, or sit female and twin soul in the hut. But also rituals like fasting for a young male. Duality means respecting both men and women and everything in between.

What does pride mean to you as an Aboriginal people?

So I think June is particularly vulnerable because a word is missing. Because it’s Indigenous Month and Pride Month, commemorating the Stonewall protests and rebellion in New York in the sixties. I think in general that Pride Month has become an opportunity for rainbow capitalists to seize on our queer and trans liberation movement and choose how we seek justice, which saddens me.

It also pissed me off a little, because I wanted to emphasize that the roots of anti-queer attitudes, of homophobia and transphobia, of the oppression we often face through legislatures, ignorance, medical negligence, all stem from this desire to deprive those The bodily autonomy of people whose gender cannot police has increased the violence that has occurred since the arrival of Europe, especially against our trans and bi, queer, and even cis characters who have taken on more masculine roles women, and Aboriginal societies.

So being able to get to the roots where trans liberation is tied to the anti-colonial movement, disability justice is tied to trans liberation, that requires liberating black trans women, that requires abolishing prisons, that requires uplifting our black people through mutual aid Relatives, advocating for trans safety with a fundraiser. I think if we can identify the root of all these things as colonialism and capitalism intertwined, I think we’ll have a better time at Pride celebrations.

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I didn’t go to many pride events this year because I live in a fairly rural town. I am a very openly transgender person. I write about trans people. I make art about trans and queer people, and I live in a small town that isn’t conservative, but its progressives definitely lack meaningful activism. These conservative attitudes still permeate the culture where I currently live, the culture I call home, and I don’t feel a little unsafe attending many Pride events.

But that being said, I think getting out there and being able to talk about these things gives me hope for other trans people, other Indigenous trans people, and other Indigenous queer people like me. I want to be able to provide them with a sense of safety or support, or provide them with someone to see who is trans, or who speaks out about being trans or queer, but still has a deep connection to where they came from, for their country , for their family.

What makes you feel most authentic?

I think being able to make a whole connection with other queer native and trans native people. It’s nice to be seen as a whole, not just a part or neither. I don’t have to worry about being seen as male or female because we don’t actually have those strict concepts. We’ve done our part to eliminate these things. I feel safe, my cultural decorum is respected, my situation and my origins as an Anishinaabe are recognized. These relationships are different because you have multiple connection points. I think being able to have that makes me feel real.

What challenges do you face as a twin/queer Native?

There are strict gender roles that are passed down, and they don’t really ask or question why or where these binaries came from, which leads to a lot of denial –. Denying trans people and two spirits, Aboriginal people and their right to participate in rituals the way they want. It denies their wholeness and duality. Choosing to honor only a part of your Spirit is not truly honoring the Spirit at all.

I am a ritual dancer. Gender categories have always made me uncomfortable. I wouldn’t call myself a female jingle dancer because I’m not really a woman, but there is no male jingle dancer category. Would I still fit in if I called myself that? These are the things we face within the community.

Outside of the community, I think there are many different problems. I think, and this may just be my opinion, but I think the term “two spirits” should only be used for Aboriginal people. I think it’s because, through loss of language, loss of land, loss of culture and tribe, we’ve lost a lot of understanding of these ritual roles that twin souls and trans people are now recapturing. We have lost a lot of understanding of how these people fulfill their roles in the community. We didn’t lose it, but it was deliberately buried for a long time.

The two spirits are the beginning of our path and our commitment to take these things back for ourselves. So it’s just a term for Aboriginal people, and I want to keep it that way. I know it’s not perfect, but it’s what I like to use for myself. I feel like the word faces a lot of misconceptions and gets misunderstood as being just trans, or just queer, or you have to look a certain way, or you have to act a certain way or present a certain way to be two spirits ,but it is not the truth.

Other issues outside of the community are the complicit anti-trans attitudes or ignorance that fuel the anti-trans behavioral legislative machinery currently underway. This is inevitable with the increase in fascist violence that we have felt for so long. I do worry about that. I feel like trans people have been sounding the alarm that this is going to happen for a while now. Currently, non-trans people and other non-gender non-conforming cisgender people are only just beginning to understand the implications and implications of mass legislative violence like this one.

Duality is all about being able to take responsibility and teaching at the same time and occupy the ritual spaces of our men and women.

How do you incorporate your identity into your work?

I drew a lot of Anishnabe’s stories, or rather I drew a lot of inspiration from Anishnabe’s stories. I’m intrigued by this aspect of metamorphosis. My art will change from a human form to a spirit, to a bird, an elemental, a mermaid, a deer, or a plant, and it will all be the same spirit or the same being. I think there’s something really weird about this deformation aspect.

I’ve also written a lot of poetry about being a trans-Indigenous individual, which I think people will like or dislike, but it’s fine with me. But writing about my experiences living as trans, queer Anisinabager, and Korean-American has been so helpful in finding community and the creative process. Heal through the act of writing it down.

What advice would you give to two other spiritual and queer Aboriginal kids?

As you grow, you’ll be able to define for yourself what it means to be double-spirited. Perhaps the most difficult thing is that it does come with time, and I can’t speed it up for you.

It will be tough, but with the support of your ancestors, you will come out stronger. I know you are, and to find the joy that keeps you connected to your culture, whether it’s through ritual, through prayer, through dance, through art making, or even through talking to your trans and queer elders, Find what fills you with joy and connects you to your country. I keep thinking about these things when I’m feeling a little bit down.

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about the author

Neely Bardwell
author: Neely Bardwelle-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Neely Bardwell (descendant of the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians) is a reporter for Native News Online. Bardwell was also a student at Michigan State University, where she majored in policy and minored in Native American studies.


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