draws conclusions about Cherokee gender constructions
based on gender in other tribes, but lacks this sort of
analysis when it comes to male-embodied Cherokee
Two-Spirit people. While broad generalizations cannot
be made, the fact that in some traditions male-embodied
Two-Spirits engaged in simulated menstruation could
suggest that similar practices may have existed among
Cherokees (Gay American Indians & Roscoe 38, 1988).
Certainly many contemporary Two-Spirit Cherokees go to
great length to ensure their physical bodies reflect
their gender identities. Regardless of Perdue's
interpretation, her book provides important information
about Cherokee Two-Spirits that we can use to understand
who we are in the present.
Walter L. Williams' The Spirit and the
Flesh only marginally speaks about Cherokees, but he
cites a manuscript by C.C. Trowbridge that mentions
male-embodied Two-Spirits. Williams quotes this excerpt
from the Trowbridge manuscript: "There were among them
formerly, men who assumed the dress and performed all
the duties of women and who lived their whole lives in
this manner" (4, 1992). During the roundtable
"Indigenous Politics and the Question of Same-Sex
Marriage" at What's Next for Native American and
Indigenous Studies? David Cornsilk mentioned that
this particular document goes on to suggest that
marriage was practiced by all Cherokees, including
Two-Spirit people (Kauanui 2007).
In my own archival research, I stumbled
across a reference to Cherokee same-sex union ceremonies
in John Howard Payne's manuscript on Cherokee life. John
Howard Payne was a EuroAmerican actor and playwright who
lived for a period of time with Chief John Ross in order
to document Cherokee customs. Payne mentions this union
ceremony more than once in his manuscript, which
describes a particular performance to formalize
"perpetual friendship." I am including a long excerpt
from his account in order to offer this information to
other Cherokee Two-Spirits uncovering our histories.
Seeing the process of looking to our past as an Old
Folks Dance not only means looking to our histories and
elders, it also means sharing that information with
other Two-Spirit people as an act of reciprocity. Payne
documents the following same-sex union ceremony:
Taking an opportunity sometime during that feast, when
the people were seated in the council house, they arose,
walked toward the fire, and then turned and commenced
dancing around the fire…each having on his best
clothes. While dancing, in the presence of all the
people, who looking, they exchanged one garment after
another till each had given the other his entire dress,
even to legings, mocasins etc. and thus each of them
publicly received the other as himself, & became thus
pledged to regard and treat him as himself while he
lived. Sometimes two women, and sometimes a man and a
woman contracted this friendship. Thus when a young man
and woman fell in love with each other but were hindered
from marrying, either by relation or by being of the
same clan, they bound themselves in perpetual
friendship. While dancing round the fire as above
stated, the man threw his blanket over the woman, and
the woman as soon as convenient threw hers to the man.
The man also, having prepared a cane sieve, & hung it by
a string over his shoulder, gave her that. He also
presented her with a pestle to pound corn with. The
mortar he had for her at home (Volume III, 49-50, ca
While Payne makes sense of this as a
friendship ceremony, I doubt very much that it was a
ceremony only to cement a "friendship." The fact that
Payne mentions opposite-sex couples in love, but not
able to have children because of clan laws, suggests
that the same-sex couples were likewise in love. Perhaps
what was common to both opposite-sex and same-sex
couples in this arrangement was the fact that they would
not be bearing biological children. The fact that the
opposite-sex ceremony is not terribly different than
contemporary "traditional" Cherokee marriage ceremonies
leads me to think that the same-sex ceremonies were
likewise a public ceremony to define a loving, romantic,
What does all of this mean to us now? I think we must
decide that in our own lives and communities. Should I
ever have a public union ceremony, for instance, I
certainly would want to incorporate aspects of this
older same-sex union. It is my hope that uncovering this
bit of information will be useful to Cherokee Two-Spirit
people who are part of ceremonial communities in
re-weaving our places within our traditions, and for
those who are working to document both same-sex
relationships and complex gender systems in Cherokee
traditions in order to work against the internalization
of dominant culture's values around these issues.
Putting aspects of our past into practice is part of an
ongoing Old Folks Dance that honors our history and
rebalances our present and future.
Another way of thinking about our work as an Old Folks
Dance is to look at the values contained in our
traditional stories. Cherokee stories talk about beings
that were the most hated, (like Buzzard), the most
mocked, (like Water Spider) and sometimes the most
feared (like Uktena and Stonecoat), and how they were
the ones that created the world, our lifeways, and
formed the landscapes of our homelands. It is important
to remember people from our history (like Sequoyah) and
present (like Wilma Mankiller), who have had to overcome
skepticism, prejudice, and disdain—and how important
they are to our survival and identity as a people.
These stories are precedent for our identities as
Cherokee Two-Spirit people.
Aside from historical accounts of Cherokee Two-Spirit
people and traditional stories, we also have artists and
writers who have gone before us, like the playwright
Rollie Lynn Riggs, whose play Green Grow the Lilacs
was the basis for the musical Oklahoma, or the late
Vickie Sears, a writer/activist/psychotherapist and
author of Simple Songs: Stories. We are also
blessed to have living writers and scholars such as
Daniel Heath Justice. Justice's fantasy series The
Way of Thorn and Thunder creates a central place for
Two-Spirit people, and his scholarship honors our
intellectual and artistic history. Cherokee Two-Spirits
are building places our future by looking to our past,
dancing an Old Folks Dance to rebalance the present.
Wa'do for all the blessings you give us.
Wa'do for our food, our water, our homes, our
friends, our family.
Wa'do for bringing us to this place and time to do
Help us not be afraid.
Help us walk duyuktv.
Help us continue our language and our lifeways.
Help us do the work that we need to do to heal
ourselves, our communities, and our world.
... (continue reading)