TULARE’S TWO-SPIRIT PEOPLE

Early readers of TULARE, Zack Tolliver, FBI #10 now on pre-order at Amazon, have been puzzled by the concept of a Two-Spirit person, as personified among the Yokuts in the novel. I have leaned on an essay by Deborah A. Miranda, of the Ohlone-Costanoan Esselen Nation, Chumash. Her title, Extermination of the Joyas : Gendercide in Spanish California, is indicative of the comprehensive nature of her subject, much more than needed for our purposes, but fascinating.

The subject touches many of us today, with similar barriers to understanding in present societies. The concept for the Yokuts, and many indigenous Americans, was simple, yet at the same time complex and important enough to be inculcated into their very culture. In short, they saw three genders.

The Spanish first called the third-gender people joya, then jotos, Spanish for homosexual or faggot. To them, men dressed as women and consorting with men were an affront to God and required punishment. “The idea that a man would choose to dress and work as a woman with other women — and that the community accepted and in fact benefited from that choice — was inconceivable to the Spaniards.” – Miranda.

Yet the people living this role had a particular function within the society. They were the undertakers, and death, burial, and mourning rituals were their particular province. “The journey to the afterlife was known to be a prescribed series of experiences with both male and female supernatural entities, and the ’aqi,” (an Ineseño word), “with their male-female liminality, were the only people who could mediate these experiences. Since the female (earth, abundance, fertility) energies were so powerful, and since the male (Sun, death-associated) energies were equally strong, the person who dealt with that moment of spiritual and bodily crossing over between life and death must have specially endowed spiritual qualities and powers, not to mention long-term training and their own quarantined tools.” – Miranda.

The threshold of death and what came after was the specific realm of the joyas and their extermination brought an immediate and desperate cultural crises. And they were exterminated. The Spanish often used dogs, 250 pound mastiffs, whose jaws could crush bones even through leather armor, to kill them. And so the acquiescence to and support of joyas among the Yokuts (and Chumash) went underground, and the Spanish/Catholic rituals of death were substituted, at least on the surface.

With indigenous cultural revitalization comes the re-emergence of two-spirit people within the tribes, claiming roles of caretakers of culture and spirituality. The two-spirit person today is viewed within the tribes with respect for the “necessity of our roles as keepers of a dual or blended gender that holds male and female energy in various mixtures and keeps the world balanced.” – Miranda

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