Countless queers have used New York City as an escape from homophobic home lives. Kevin VanWanseele and Harlan Pruden are no exception.
Both American Indian men – from the Kumeyaay Nation and Cree, respectively – fled their homes to start new, “gay” lives in the Big Apple. Although, as we’ve previously discussed, their sexuality transcends European definitions.
The name of the Two-Spirit Society is meant to convey the idea that a gay Indian has both masculine and feminine qualities along with traditional cultural values.
Though many American Indian nations once revered two-spirit folk, colonialism changed the political playing field. Dr. Brian Gilley of the University of Vermont explains:
Prior to European contact, sexuality was not a determining factor in someone’s identity. It was the role in the community. Gender was tied to that role. Who you had sex with was not a concern. The Europeans come, Native American societies are thrust in rapid change, and some societies incorporate European ideals quickly.
Though not all tribes and nations adopted the Europeans’ strident, puritanical ideals, many began alienating their two-spirit members. And, like so many of colonialism’s influences, the legacy continues to force members out, like VanWanseele and Pruden.
Moving to New York, however, both men found comfort in the North-East Two-Spirit Society, which meets every week and has sister branches across the country. Pruden, who left his Canadian home after anti-gay threats became too much to handle, remarks:
The Two-Spirit Society really points to the fact that Native American traditions are living, breathing cultures and how the traditions of the past are completely relevant today.
Aside from self-respect and honoring their history, the Two-Spirit society members have found something else: power and strength.
VanWanseele tells Walker: Going back home was almost like going back into the closet.
Being in New York City created a running community to empower us and being involved with the Two-Spirit Society made going back home easier for myself. Now I’m totally comfortable there.
An American tradition continues with the first Americans.
Sort of makes us misty. Or, it would if we had tears, which we don’t.