The Bay Area American Indian Two-Spirits (BAAITS) is a community-based volunteer organization that is a safe place and community for LGBT and Intersex Native Americans in and around the Bay area. It is ran by all volunteers who come together to socialize, network, and explore their rich heritage through activities and events. They have monthly Powwow Potlucks where there is open discussion, along with conversation regarding the planning of events, Fundraisers, and the Annual Two-Spirit Powwow, which is their biggest event. Looking at “Romancing The Transgender Native: Rethinking the Use of the ‘Third Gender’ Concept,” by Evan B. Towle and Lynn M. Morgan, they approach the idea of the “third gender” and how society and anthropologists have taken that term in as an umbrella term for many other identities. Through research they have discovered that in more cases than not, cultures around the world have produced their own dialogue and vocabulary to express those that identify outside of the two set terms to express gender. Within the Native American culture Janis Walworth states, “[…] transgendered people were not only accepted but revered” (479). From the beginning gender variation was accepted and looked at as immensely powerful within the community. Two-Spirits is defined as people who hold both male and female spirits. It is ultimately an umbrella term to represent the LGBT and Intersex Native Americans. Within the culture it has always been accepted and continues to be. However, through time and the transition of power and society, this early recognition of gender variance began to diminish. The term “Two-Spirited” became very culture specific and within the article Towle and Morgan bring up this point of terms not being universally accepted.
With that, it is important that cultures continue to carry on a sense of community so that people can continue to have a sense of identity. With Two-Spirited being associated with the arguably too broad term of “third-gender,” it is important that cultures continue to create spaces where they can carry on their own beliefs within the topic, because society is continuously putting it down. BAAITS is a great example of a specific culture living in their own beliefs and making it available to those who also feel as if they connect to the identity. With their annual Powwow, it brings people together within the Bay area and brings a sense of belonging and identity that can be difficult to find. In addition, their monthly meetings include discussions that are open forums along with letting the community come up with ideas for upcoming events that they would like to see happen. They have held fundraisers that include drag shows, auctions, and many more fun activities that are becoming more and more popular.
Throughout this course we discuss the history of transgender and different communities built around this identity. The Two-Spirits are considered one of the first accepted gender variances on North American land, which Kessler and McKenna state in their work Gender. Through the European take over, much Native American culture was no longer accepted and washed out. That is why BAAITS, along with many other Two-Spirit programs, are very important to society in that they carry on the beliefs of their heritage for the people that identify within that term. It also makes a point, that people should not feel pressured to live within two specific terms to identify their gender. With more support and awareness it can hopefully help change society back to how it used to be.
Visit their website at: http://www.baaits.org/
Phone Number: 415-865-5616
Towle, Evan B., and Lynn M. Morgan. “Romancing The Transgender Native: Rethinking the Use of the “Third Gender” Concept.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies (n.d.): 469-97. Rpt. in N.p.: Duke UP, 2002. Print.