Shepherd TSOSie (they/them), is Diné and from Lók’aah Niteel. They are an independent researcher and writer, focusing on Diné gender and sexuality. They live and work in North Carolina with their wife and cats.
Dilbaa is the Diné word for a fourth-gendered person who’s biological make up is female but they live out their daily life as a male, in other words they are a Male-bodied Female. Because colonization has made it so that myself and other Dilbaa have had to hide that side of themselves our history has also experienced erasure.
Many Indigenous non-binary people had to learn about their gender systems from books. Not unlike them, I learned about Dilbaa from ethnographic records I found in an archive and in books written about Diné people often written from a non-Indigenous, non-Diné perspective.
However, current literature on the topic of Indigenous gender systems is rich and comes from the perspective of actual Indigenous 2SLGBTQIA+ lived-experiences, and has been discussed by scholars, artists, writers, and filmmakers like Dr. Deborah Miranda, Carrie House, Dr. Wesley Thomas, Dr. Lisa Tatonetti, Dr. Leanne Simpson, and Dr. Kim TallBear.
Indigenous scholars, writers, and artists have all contributed to and intervened into narratives that have historically erased our unique role in our communities. Here I will highlight what interventions are taking place in literature, ephemera, and maybe a little music and some film talk about how we Indigiqueers, Two-Spirit baddies have always been here and have always been doing the labor of dreaming our worlds, and communities into being for everyone. I will also delve into how research methodologies can be transformed to be restorative to our communities.
Historically, research (ethnographic and otherwise) conducted within and on Indigenous communities resulted in further “othering” of non-binary genders. Given the research on gender variance in ceremonies, it’s also safe to assume that reclaiming/reworking/indigenizing gender systems and attempts-to-understand should also take place in our sweat lodge, the hogan, the tipi. Gender variance has always had a place within our ceremonial practices; for example the Diné third and fourth gendered community members “danced” important roles in ceremonial reenactments. Taking on a central role in re-building our world in a ceremonial context.
With this blog/space I’d like to “dream” or imagine how and where third and fourth-gendered people like me hold space for each other (other non-binary/Two-Spirit Indigenous people) and what roles do we take up in our post-apocalyptic existence where knowledge of our experience has nearly been wiped out.
To help me dream (because dreaming should always be done in community) I’ve identified several scholars/artists who’ve done work in the area of Indigenous gender understandings and have influenced or pushed me to think more deeply about my own work. I will utilize teachings and teachers (past and present) to discuss the expansive definitions and identities located within Pre-colonial, and decolonized Indigenous gender systems and perhaps more importantly, how we in the present can use all this information/data looking forward.
My teachers (current and past, this list will change as my research continues):
All the nadleeh/dilbaa past, present, future, above, below, all around
Lisa Tatonetti and artist Jolene Nenibah Yazzie and Dr. Chris Finley
Carrie House and Dr. Wesley Thomas and Hosteen Klah
Dr. Deborah Miranda and Dr. Kim TallBear
Louise Tsosie and Harry Tsosie
Beth Brant and Dr. Leanne Simpson
Joshua Whitehead and Billy Ray Belcourt