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 warrior, in other words they are a Male-bodied Female. Along with nádleeh (along with asdzáá and hastiin, the Diné gender system includes four genders, I chose dilbaa for the title of this blog for several reasons one: the word is roughly translated to warrior woman. According to Dr. Wesley Thomas, dilbaa is another name for female-bodied nádleeh, and it’s the least documented gender of our gender system. Finally, 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. I want to use this blog to write dilbaa into the story, into the history because they’ve always been here, and I want to dream dilbaa into the future.
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 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 work on gender is done in community, and I have many to thank and recognize. I have benefitted personally from knowing you and my work is a result of what you’ve generously given to me. Ahé’héé Stephanie Yazzie, Hastiin Klah, Charlie (a contemporary of Klah’s, he was a gifted weaver and hataałi, as well), Rex, Nate, Lyncia, Eden, Dana, my nalís, my aunties, my partner Libby Coyner, shímá Pearl, my sibs Tam and Neomie, the Wingbeat88 team for giving me a platform, and many scholars (and artists/creatives!) I’ll list just a few here:
Dr. Wesley Thomas
Dr. Deborah Miranda
Dr. Kim TallBear
Jolene Nenibah Yazzie
T’aa íiyisíí ahé’héé for reading and dreaming with me!