Converting the Two-Spirit
by Stephen Measure
Dr. Herbert shook her head slowly from side to side as she read her receptionist’s note about her next appointment. She did her best to not scowl, but the sides of her mouth seemed to drop of their own accord.
“Concerned about daughter’s gender identity.”
She willed her scowl to go away, but it simply wouldn’t budge. Parents like this enraged her to no end. Concerned about their daughter’s gender identity? Well, she was concerned about their parenting skills! Didn’t they understand how important gender identity was? Didn’t they understand they had a duty to affirm their child’s beliefs, whatever they might be?
And if they were “concerned”, that probably meant they wanted her to help change it. Didn’t they know that was illegal?
The fact was some people just shouldn’t be parents, Dr. Herbert thought. There should be a license required, and one of the requirements for that license should be an acceptance and support of gender identity. If a person wanted to be backwards and bigoted, then let them do so alone, with their children safely removed from their home by child services.
Her thoughts were interrupted by a knock at her door. Dr. Herbert sighed and swiveled her seat away from the computer and toward the chairs in the center of her office. Steeling herself to face the conservative neanderthals, she hid her scowl and said, “Come in.”
The door opened and three people walked in, an adult man and woman followed by a teenage girl. They were all white, which somehow matched Dr. Herbert’s negative preconceptions of them perfectly. The woman was stocky and the man quite large. He had the look of an ex-jock, Dr. Herbert thought, which made her dislike him even more. The two adults were dressed in business casual, their polo shirts tucked into slacks, making them look like they’d come straight from a Republican convention. The teenager followed a few steps behind them, her long blond hair spilling over the shoulders of a trendy band’s t-shirt. She had her arms folded tightly and a death glare fixed at her parents’ backs.
The trio sat down, the girl between her parents, and the room settled into an awkward silence, which Dr. Herbert had no intention of breaking. She liked to force her patients to begin the conversation. It was a good way to understand the power dynamics in a relationship. She was surprised when the woman, instead of the man, started talking.
“Thank you for meeting with us,” the woman said. “My name is Monica, and this is my husband, Peter.” She gestured toward the man sitting on the other side of their daughter. “And this is Cassidy,” she said, pointing at the teenage girl.
“I’m happy to meet you,” Dr. Herbert lied. “Now please tell me why we’re here?” She already knew, of course, but she refused to be the one to say it.
“It’s Cassidy’s gender identity,” Monica said.
“Okay,” Dr. Herbert said, doing her best to not scowl. “And why do you want to talk about Cassidy’s gender identity?”
“Because it’s wrong,” Monica said, “and we need help convincing her it’s wrong. You see—”
But Dr. Herbert cut her off with an upraised hand. “Let’s stop right here,” she said. “I want to make it clear that the American Psychological Association has an official position that attempting to change a child’s gender identity is harmful to them. And, I’ll add, it’s actually illegal in this state for a therapist to try.”
“But you don’t understand,” Monica began.
“Oh, I understand completely,” Dr. Herbert said. “I understand that if you have a problem with your daughter’s gender identity, then the problem lies with you.”
“No,” Monica said. “You don’t understand. Let me explain—”
“There’s nothing to explain,” Dr. Herbert said. “A person’s gender identity is an innate part of themselves. Asking your daughter to change her gender identity would be like asking her to cut off her arm. It can’t be changed, and it’s wrong for you to even think that it should be.”
Exasperated, Monica threw up her arms. “But she identifies as a two-spirit!”
Dr. Herbert froze. She looked at Cassidy, at white, white Cassidy.
“Oh …” she said, “… well that’s different.”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you!” Monica said. “If she identified as a boy or as non-binary or as anything really, we’d be totally fine with it. But we’re white. We don’t have a drop of Native American blood in us, yet she claims to be a two-spirit.”
Dr. Herbert turned to Cassidy. Speaking softly, she said, “Cassidy, do you understand why it’s wrong for you to identify as a two-spirit?”
“No,” Cassidy said, defiantly.
“Cassidy, you’re white,” Dr. Herbert said. “And the two-spirit gender identity is only for Native Americans. It’s part of their religious culture. It’s a Native American belief that someone has both a male spirit and a female spirit inside their body. When you identify as a two-spirit, you are stealing their culture. It’s cultural appropriation, and that’s really wrong for a white person to do.”
“You’re talking about it as if it were my choice,” Cassidy said. “But I am a two-spirit. That’s my gender identity. Are you trying to tell me I should change my gender identity?”
“Maybe there are other ways you could express it,” Dr. Herbert said. “Why not call yourself non-binary, or gender-fluid? Wouldn’t that be close enough?”
Cassidy shook her head. “Those aren’t my gender identity. I’m a two-spirit, someone with both a male spirit and a female spirit inside them. That’s what I am.”
“But only Native Americans can be two-spirits,” Dr. Herbert said.
“I know,” Cassidy said. “So, since I’m a two-spirit, that means I’m a Native American.”
Dr. Herbert was taken aback. “Wait,” she said. “I thought your mother said you didn’t have a drop of Native American blood in you?”
“That’s right,” Monica said, nodding. “All our ancestors are from Europe.”
“Cassidy,” Dr. Herbert said, “you can’t just claim to be Native American. That’s not reality. And since you’re not Native American, that means you can’t be a two-spirit.”
“But I don’t have XY chromosomes,” Cassidy said, “yet that wouldn’t stop me from identifying as a boy, would it?”
“Well, no,” Dr. Herbert said.
“So not having Native American DNA can’t stop me from being a two-spirit either,” Cassidy said. “Either gender identity trumps DNA or it doesn’t.”
“See, this is what she does,” Peter said, speaking for the first time. “She keeps twisting us up with logic.”
Dr. Herbert smiled sympathetically at Peter. What a good, conscientious man, she thought. “I know you’re doing your best,” she told him. Then she paused for a moment to think before turning back to Monica. “Usually in situations like this we just let social shaming take care of the problem.”
“We’ve tried,” Monica said. “All of her friends rejected her weeks ago, and we’ve been encouraging her teachers to call her a bigot to her face, but nothing is working.”
“Hmm,” Dr. Herbert said. “Do you think maybe she doesn’t understand why cultural appropriation is so wrong? Maybe she hasn’t woken up to her white privilege?”
Monica held up her hands helplessly. “We’re doing everything we can. We’ve been making her repeat the anti-whiteness affirmation I learned in college to herself in the mirror every morning, but I don’t think it’s helping.”
Dr. Herbert turned back to Cassidy. “Could you tell me the affirmation you repeat every morning?”
Cassidy rolled her eyes and spoke in a monotone voice, “I hate my white skin. It is the ugliest thing in the entire world. Everything bad that has ever happened and everything bad that will ever happen is my white skin’s fault. I could spend my entire life trying to atone for the sins of my white skin, and it wouldn’t be enough. I hate my white skin.”
Dr. Herbert clapped. “That’s wonderful. But, Cassidy, I wonder if you’re paying attention to the words?”
“Given all the privilege you get from your white skin, can’t you see how wrong it is to steal something from a marginalized culture like Native Americans? Can’t you see that it’s wrong for you to claim to be a two-spirit?”
“Can’t you see that you’re misgendering me?” Cassidy said. “Isn’t misgendering wrong too?”
“Yes, misgendering is also wrong,” Dr. Herbert said. “But don’t you think there are degrees of wrongness? Like rape is wrong—it’s horrible really—but murder is still worse, right?”
Cassidy smirked. “So, what you’re saying is it’s okay for you to rape me because at least it isn’t as bad as murder?”
“Yes,” Dr. Herbert said. “Wait, no! That’s not the way I wanted it to sound.”
Peter spoke, “Maybe it’s more like a misdemeanor versus a felony?”
“No, no,” Dr. Herbert said. “I think it’s best if we move away from crime analogies.”
“Do you see?” Monica said to Dr. Herbert, pointing at Cassidy. “What are we supposed to do? Social shaming doesn’t work, and any time we try to reason with her, she ties us up in knots. But we can’t have her keep claiming to be a two-spirit. That’s just wrong.”
Dr. Herbert leaned back in her chair, folded her arms, and studied Cassidy.
“Yes,” she said. “This is a difficult problem.” She pondered the situation for another moment. “Perhaps it would be appropriate to take a … less standard approach.”
At these words, Cassidy’s gaze fixed on Dr. Herbert’s face, Cassidy’s eyes alert and attentive.
“Cassidy,” Dr. Herbert began slowly. “Can you prove that you’re a two-spirit?”
“I identify as a two-spirit,” Cassidy said. “And my gender identity is innate and only knowable by myself. That proves that I’m a two-spirit.”
“Does it though?” Dr. Herbert asked. “You’re clearly a very logical person, so let’s be logical about this. A two-spirit is a part of Native American culture. It’s something that only Native Americans can be. Yet, you claim to identity as a two-spirit, and you claim that that makes you a two-spirit and therefore makes you a Native American.”
“Right,” Cassidy said. “Go on.”
“But whether or not you are Native American is part of reality,” Dr. Herbert said.
“Just like whether I am a girl or a boy,” Cassidy said.
“Yes, but let’s not get distracted here,” Dr. Herbert said. “My point is this: Whether or not you are a Native American is part of reality. And each of us have an equal right to determine what reality is, don’t we?”
“I guess so,” Cassidy said.
“But when you claim that your gender identity is a two-spirit, and you claim that reality itself should be determined by your identity, can’t you see the privileged position you place yourself in? Can’t you see what power you are claiming over your parents and over everyone else?”
“Please explain,” Cassidy said.
“Let’s just imagine that gender identity didn’t exist,” Dr. Herbert said. “Now, in that world, how would you decide if someone was Native American or not?”
“By their DNA, I guess.”
“Right, by real physical proof. And that’s something that I could verify, right? And your mother could. And your father.”
“I guess so.”
“So in this imaginary world where gender identity didn’t exist, all of us would have an equal ability to determine whether someone is Native American or not.”
“Or a boy or a girl.”
“Right, but then you introduce gender identity, and you claim that you identify as a two-spirit, and you claim that your gender identity is more important than the physical proof itself. But think about what that does to everyone else. Can your mother verify your gender identity?”
“Can your father?”
“So, what you’re asking is for everyone else, everyone in the entire world, to give up their right to determine what reality is and instead to defer that decision entirely to you. Can’t you see what a privileged position you are claiming for yourself? Can’t you see how much power you are demanding over others? Power to define reality itself! Now tell me, Cassidy, do you think it’s fair for someone to demand that much power over the whole world?”
“I guess not,” Cassidy said. “So what are you asking me to do?”
Dr. Herbert paused, noticing how intently all three of them were waiting for her next words. She tried to choose them perfectly. “What I’m asking you to do,” she said, “is to be fair. What I’m asking you to do is to check your privilege. I’m asking you to give up this unfair power you have demanded over others and to return to an equal ground with everyone else. And the way to do that is to return to what is actually provable. Not just what you personally claim to be the truth, but what you can actually prove to be the truth.”
“And what does that mean about my gender identity?” Cassidy asked. “Are you saying I should … change it?”
“Well, what gender can you actually prove you are? What does your DNA say?”
“That I’m a girl,” Cassidy said. “So you’re saying I should change my gender identity to match what my body proves my gender is?”
“Yes,” Dr. Herbert said. “In this case, I think it’s for the best.”
“And you’re helping me make that change? You’re counseling me and guiding me to change my gender identity from a two-spirit to a girl?”
“Yes, I hope what I said will help you accept that you are a girl.”
Monica and Peter both turned questioning looks to Cassidy, who nodded. “Okay, that should be enough,” she said to them. “Arrest her.”
Dr. Herbert grabbed the arms of her chair. “Wait, what?”
Cassidy stood. She pulled her hair back into a ponytail and put on glasses, the “teenage girl” replaced by a woman years older. Monica and Peter rose to their feet as well. Monica displayed a police badge to Dr. Herbert while Peter lifted her to her feet.
“You have the right to remain silent,” Peter began as he placed Dr. Herbert’s hands behind her back and handcuffed them.
“I don’t understand what’s happening!” Dr. Herbert said.
“… you have the right to an attorney …” Peter continued.
“Why are you doing this?” Dr. Herbert asked. “What did I do wrong?”
“You know quite well that it’s illegal for a therapist to try to change someone’s gender identity,” Cassidy said.
“What?” Dr. Herbert said. “But that law was only supposed to apply to conservatives! It wasn’t supposed to apply to people like me. I have good intentions!”
Cassidy shrugged. “The law is the law.”
“But it was cultural appropriation!” Dr. Herbert said.
The three officers didn’t respond. They started walking Dr. Herbert out of her office.
“It was cultural appropriation!” Dr. Herbert repeated. “How could you expect me to ignore that? You shouldn’t be arresting me. You should be thanking me. It was cultural appropriation! White people can’t be two-spirits! It isn’t allowed!”
Update 09/06/2023: Fixed typos.