Winyanktehca: Two-souls person
Paper presented to the European Network of Professionals in Transsexualism, August 1994
Marjorie Anne Napewastewiñ Schützer, MA psy.
I am 'Sihasapa', 'Lakota', or rather, that is to say that I am of the Blackfoot tribe. We are one of seven tribes of the Sioux nation. I am Native American. An old Lakota word, "Winyanktehca," has today been contracted to the simple word, "winkte," meaning, 'two-souls-person,' or more directly meaning, 'to be as a woman.' (I would like to suggest that in this speech, I will make use of the word 'winkte' synonymously for 'gender-crosser,' in either direction.) I am 'Wakan' - to my people I am sacred and mysterious, I am a spirit person. The Grandfathers tell me this. I have my feet rooted in the earth of my ancestors and my spirit soars with them in the "land above the pines." The anthropologists call me 'Berdache,' but this is wrong. This word has come a long way from its beginnings in Arabia. It means "kept boy" . . . that, I am not. The Western medical community calls me 'transsexual', but this is not entirely true either. I am 'winkte,' I am a gender-crosser. My people see me as multidimensional and I do not have to fight for a place in my society to be accepted. I already have a place, a very special and sacred place. In my culture I represent a profound healing, a reconciliation of the most fundamental rift that divides us, human from human - gender.
I was called through a vision, by "Anog Ite", (Double Face Woman) from out of the womb, to be that which I am. She offered me a choice. Lakota deities never order. My gender transformation was called for by the Spirits. She blessed me with skills of a supernatural kind. One of our 'Wicasa Wakan.' or Medicine Men of today, John Lame Deer, says in his book, Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions, 'winkte' are men who dress like women, look like women and act like women. They do so by their own choice or in obedience to a dream. They are not like other men, but 'Wakan Tanka', the Great Spirit, made them 'winktes' and we accept them as such. To us a man is what nature, or his dreams, make him. We accept him for what he wants to be. That's up to him. In our tribe we go to a 'winkte' to give a new born child a secret name. They have the gift of prophecy, and the secret name a 'winkte' gives to a child is believed to be especially powerful and effective. In former days a father gave a 'winkte' a fine horse in return for such a name. If nature puts a burden on a person, it also gives a power and that which I produce with my hands is "highly desirable." Anog Ite has set my feet on both sides of the 'line' and I can see into the hearts of both men and women. We are hunters and we keep the house, we cook and do beadwork. I . . . have chosen the path I have walked. In the Lakota language there are no personal pronouns and a child is simply a child until the age or four or five, when he or she shows that which they are. I have a place also, in this . . . your society.
My people have always held their 'winkte' in awe and reverence and before the 'white-man' came to the 'new world' we were many. But our numbers shrank and we began to hide within ourselves as our religious systems were attacked and shattered by western attitudes. Because of the impact of white ridicule we had all but disappeared. Because of the enormous difference between European societies and Native American societies, differences which theoretically rules out any comparison of their respective sex and gender roles, we must ask ourselves, "What is being lost?" Is it possible that within a Native American interpretation we see something that a Western point of view cannot? Being Lakota, I know myself as something precious and the dignity in such knowing pulls me to my full tallness. Being 'winkte' however, allows me the full capability of achieving a strong ego identity, originality, and an active inner life, which is characteristic of adult individuation and personality development.
We are "shamans." We are called upon to bestow secret and powerful names on the new born, names which represent 'long-life' and which could lead to fame. Sitting Bull, Black Elk, even Crazy Horse had a secret 'winkte' name which only a few people knew. These names are often very sexy, even funny, very outspoken. You don't let a stranger know them; he would kid you about it! We were consulted to divine the success of proposed battles. We were tied closely to the war complex, we were even a crucial part of it. We treated the wounded we had custody of the scalps and carried these into camp. We ran the victory dance that followed the raiders' return. Some tribal councils decided nothing without our advice. We were called upon to conduct burials. There are certain cures and uses for herbs known only to 'winktes'. The most sacred of our ceremonies, the Sun Dance, could not begin without our selecting and raising the poles to be used. But even more significant it was believed that our power could extend beyond the individual to affect others. The prosperity and even their existence as a people, in some Native American Societies, depended upon their 'winkte'. One of the major aspects which distinguishes 'winkte' in our native culture, is a preference for the work of the other sex. This key trait, in the Native American perspective, was perhaps of the least importance to western society, since whites do not value women's worth anyway. The crossing of these boundaries requires an unusually strong endowment with power . . . and those who allow themselves to see us with their spirit eyes . . . they can see this.
What has Western civilization lost by its apparent lack of a counterpart to 'winkte'- by, indeed, bending every social institution to the task of stigmatizing gender mediation? More than the waste of the individual's potential which suppression entails, there is the loss of the "winkte spirit guide" who serves men and women alike with the insights of the intermediate position. This raises the question whether men and women today can ever achieve mutuality and wholeness, as long as men who manifest qualities considered feminine, and women who do the same in male realms, are seen as deviants to be criminalized and stigmatized. The fear of being associated with this deviant status stands before every man and woman who would seek psychic integration, regardless of their emotional and sexual orientation. It is made all too apparent through the observation that, in societies which make a minimum use of sex as a discriminating factor in prescribing behaviour, as opposed to those that maximize sex distinction, that we see 'winktes' become not only open and prevalent, but even necessary. Western images of men and women are not as flexible as 'oyte ikce' (native people). Violent outbursts of hatred or anger toward 'winkte,' comparable to expressions of western homophobia, have never been recorded in Native American history. However, a biological and not a social definition of gender continues to inform both popular and scientific western thinking. But being male biologically and "acting like a man" are not necessarily the same thing. 'winkte' are not branded as threats to a rigid gender ideology; but rather, we are considered an affirmation of humanity's original pre-gendered unity - we are representatives of a form of solidarity and wholeness which transcends the division of humans into men and women. 'winkte' transformation was not, and is not, a complete shift from his or her biological gender to the opposite one, but rather an approximation of the latter in some of its social, and of course today, its physical aspects, effecting an intermediate status that cuts across the boundaries between gender categories. As long as our perceptions continue to be filtered through a dual gender ideology and arbitrary distinctions based on biological sex are held, 'winkte' patterns cannot be appreciated for what they really are. That is, the appropriate and intrinsic behaviour of a third gender. From a dual gender perspective, 'winkte' can only imitate the behaviour of one or the other of the two "real" genders, an imitation which is invariably found inferior and counterfeit. Those behaviours inappropriate for an individual's biological sex, like cross-dressing, are consequently singled out. But comparisons of male to female 'winkte' to women, invariably reveal more about the speaker's view of women (usually a negative one) than they do about 'winkte'. In light of the "discovery" of the third gender, all such accounts must be re-evaluated. Everyone can take inspiration from a society where individuality and community are not always at odds.
In our work we must remember . . . the most important objective we are called upon to realize with our clients is to make available to them this sense of wholeness and inner solidarity. In fact that very wholeness and solidarity which all humans are seeking. It is only through our understanding that 'winkte' status transcends the boundaries of a gender category that is biologically and not culturally and socially defined, that we attain an intermediate gender status, biologically the same but culturally redefined. In many ways, socially, legally, psychologically and even in this day and age, physiologically, western tradition still ignores the individual motivations of our 'winkte', stressing instead categories and labels for these people in the name of our own convenience.
Such sexual diversity has always been considered one sign of a lower social development. In fact, the response of 19th century Victorian America, like the Spaniards before them, to native sexuality is much the same as we see world wide today and this exposes in everyone of us, a central contradiction in our basic belief system. In fact when seen in the light of traditional Native American values it is impossible to rely entirely on a western analysis without distorting this fantastic phenomenon altogether. This is, with out a doubt the key where 'winkte' itself must be understood if one is to comprehend the reasons individuals adopt it.
With the recognition of the third gender status the problem of the transsexual or the gender-crosser model becomes clear. For example, the man who becomes a woman contributes to society as a woman. But with a deep understanding of the 'winkte' position, new, unique and rare contributions to society become possible. Society can only benefit by recognizing three, instead of two, genders. Such a reorganization of gender geometrically increases options for individual identities and behaviours. The third gender role of 'winkte,' one which has existed openly within the framework of everyday Lakota culture, is one of native North America's most striking social inventions.
At one time, I believed it was a wise person who was able to recognize their own limitations and was then able to operate within those limitations. However I am now convinced that quite the contrary shall be considered as the fact. It rather the wise person who is able to be aware of all of their own possibilities and to then operate at the outer limits of those possibilities. We owe it to our profession, to our clients and to ourselves, to recognize our own possibilities and then in response to that recognition to move ourselves around the "medicine wheel" of life so as to experience those who come to us for help while we ourselves are standing at a different vantage point, my challenge to you today . . . is to simply . . . "think primitive."
Citation: Schützer, NapeWasteWin (1994) Winyanktecha - Two Souls Person Conference of the European Network of Professional on Transsexualism, Manchester, England, Published by co-ordinated of the gender team, Free University Hospital Dept. of Endrocrinology/Andrology, P.O. Box 7057, 1007 MB Amsterdam, The Netherlands
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