The Rev. Evan Noodin Smith writes that, "Within the church there have been very few attempts to start acknowledging Two-Spirit people."
Gender identity and sexual orientation don’t exist in a vacuum. Both are powerfully shaped by racial privilege and oppression. We asked several LGBTIQ2S+ members of The United Church of Canada to reflect on how race complicates the search for social justice—and on the challenges of finding welcome in the church if you are marginalized in more ways than one.
I identify as Two-Spirit, queer, and trans. There are times when these identities feel like a holistic way of identifying my place on the gender-sexuality spectrum. Yet they are also three distinct identities, and though my queerness is often easily explained, my trans and Two-Spirit identities can feel far more complicated.
There have been great strides in the church around sexual identity, but the complexity of gender identity is something that the church has only begun to explore. And, because of lack of understanding, it has only been in very recent years that I have begun speaking about my trans identity.
It feels even more daunting to try to speak about being Two-Spirit, but it is something that I feel strongly I have to do. The church has caused immeasurable damage to Indigenous communities. When the lack of real understanding of Indigenous culture and teachings is paired with a colonial, conservative, and anti-sexual notion of what and how queer and trans people should be and act, it feels at times impossible to begin explaining what it means to be Two-Spirit.
But as I look around at the suicides of so many LGBTIQ2S+ and Indigenous youth, I see a volatile situation. So, despite the emotional labour it takes for me to explain Two-Spiritedness, I have no choice.
Within the church there have been very few attempts to start acknowledging Two-Spirit people. With only one or two exceptions, I cannot recall a time when I felt like Two-Spirit people were named by the church, let alone lifted up for the gifts we carry.
Being Two-Spirit is not about sexuality, or even gender presentation, but about our spirits. As a Two-Spirit person, my spirit is both male and female. This duality of personhood allows me to understand more about the duality of life. It means that I have a role to play in the community because I am often able to see two different sides of a conflict.
Within the United Church, however, Two-Spirit people are often lumped in with the LGBTQ community, which fails us in at least two different ways. First, it fails to recognize that being Two-Spirit doesn’t necessarily make you lesbian, gay, or bisexual. There are many Two-Spirit people who are heterosexual. Second, it fails to recognize not only the spiritual nature of being Two-Spirit, but also the teachings around the role of Two-Spirit people and the unique gifts we could bring to the church.
As the church continues on its path to reconciliation, I believe that Two-Spirit people have an important role to play. Part of the gift of being able to see “both sides” is that many of us have a strong understanding of both settler and Indigenous perspectives. We are gifted in ways that allow us to walk between the two communities and act as spiritual guides to ensure that both sides feel they are being heard and respected.
My hope is that through education and the lifting up of Two-Spirit people, the path of reconciliation will be easier, more fully actualized, and will not leave anyone behind. Miigwetch.
— The Rev. Evan Noodin Smith is a minister with The United Church of Canada at Toronto Urban Native Ministry.