Submitted by: Kairyn Potts

“Are you a girl or a boy?”


That’s what they used to say to me at school. Except I could hear venom in their voices. It wasn’t so much a question as it was an accusation, a kick to my stomach, a kick to my spirit.

Aba washded, Kairyn magebchut, Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation cha de ha himouchet. That means, “Good day. I’m called Kairyn. I come from the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation” in my language.

I remember watching the boys play together in the backyard, wrestling, throwing rocks at each other, laughing as they hurt each other. I remember staying indoors, braiding my mom’s hair, listening, and singing along to Shania Twain and Mariah Carey.

“Why do you sound like that?”

They would say that to me when they heard me speak, as if my voice being slightly higher was a direct attack against them.

They yelled that at me when I swayed my hips a little bit or there was too much of a hop in my step.

I remember looking in the mirror as a kid and hating what I saw. I started to question everything about myself. I analyzed my body, my face, with microscopic attention, picking apart everything I was.

Except that the microscope didn’t belong to me. Neither did that ignorance, nor the place that they were birthed from.

You see, I heard the term Two-Spirit for the first time when I was four years old. I ignored it at the time because I was too young to understand.

I remember my mom would tell the older boys to stop picking on me. She would hold my hand, calling me her “baby” and her “superstar.” My mom’s hair was long, dark, and strong. It fell from her head and reached all the way down to her knees. I watched in awe as it bounced around, silky and flowing, as she walked in the sunlight. I remember thinking that my mom was the most beautiful person I’d ever laid my eyes on. But her beauty wasn’t just physical – you could feel her beauty radiate from the inside just like you could feel the warmth from sun rays on a summer day.

Life moved by so quickly from those times I spent together with my mom. I was apprehended, taken from my home, ripped from my mom’s arms, and placed in a home out of town with an affluent white family. My mom was destroyed, shattered that she was without her children. Her coping mechanisms were unhealthy and ultimately led to her contracting HIV, which opened her up to a whole host of different diseases. One, in particular, was cancer.

It would be a year between the time I was taken from my mom and the time I got to see her again. Except, the woman I laid my eyes on wasn’t my mom. Or at least, it didn’t feel like her.

Her once long hair that flowed like a powerful river current was now a short, buzzcut. Her plump, soft, golden skin that smelled and felt like the inside of a rose was now grey, gaunty, and dry. The sun rays that once beamed from her like a raging fire were now barely visible, whittled down to a pilot light, flickering in front of me, about to burn out.

Losing my mom was a tough lesson. I had to learn how to be brave. How to survive.

I came out to my friends and family when I was 17 amidst homelessness, depression, and self-doubt. I stopped caring about what people thought of me because I didn’t expect to live past the age of 25 anyway.

I’m 27 now, and the bravest thing I have ever done is to continue my life when I felt that I couldn’t.

My culture has specific teachings about gender, sex, about identity. I belong to the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation. I am Wood Stoney.

I was taught that I am Two-Spirit. I am Winkte:  “a male-bodied person who moves through the world like a woman.” I was taught that I am a gift from the Creator – one who walks between both worlds. One who is neither man nor woman, and yet both at the same time when I need to be. I am not one spirit but two, like fire and ice. I am spiritually attuned, able to channel the energy of masculine and feminine and house them in my body to keep me strong. I was taught that because of this, I am closer to Waka Ade, the Creator, and am essential to my community. The Elder told me that I was always loved and that there was not one time in my life that I was without love.

When I told my aunty that I was gay, she told me that no, I was Two-Spirit. I am what the Nakota call Winkte, what the Cree call Ayakwe, and what the Ojibwe call Niizh Manidoowag. I am Two-Spirit.

She told me, “Remember how beautiful my little sister was, your mom? When she passed away her spirit didn’t leave, it just lost its physical form. That spirit didn’t just disappear though, that strong powerful beautiful feminine spirit. She said it’s still here, it’s inside of you now. That’s your second spirit, it keeps you strong.

And just as naturally as rivers flow, as grass grows, and as the sun rises, everything started to make sense. It was so simple, and yet so complex, just like nature. It all started to click.

How could women, girls, femme people, and femininity, in general, be something that was weak, undesirable, and disgusting? How could femininity be a negative aspect of who I am, as if it’s some type of curse that has made me weak, when I was raised by women and all the most powerful and strong people in my life are feminine?

I realized then that my femininity was always a conduit of strength for me. A provider of life, a sacred power source within me, one that helped to keep me strong when I felt like giving up.

The long hair, the turquoise dresses, the makeup, the beaming sunshine smiles, the higher-pitched voice, and the gentle and swaying walk… those were just whispers of power yet to be fully embraced. They were sparkles of light in the darkness showing me where to go.

I no longer run from my femininity – I embrace it. I celebrate it.

My relationship with my spirits is a ceremony within myself, one where I am dancing, free and happy as myself.

There are so many evils in the world, colonial powers that aim to destroy, unravel, and assimilate the teachings that have made me strong. Their binaries, their religion, their schools, their laws, their country. They exist to remind me that I should not be who I am, who I am should not have survived.

But I am dancing outside of that world. I am a spiritual being that exists in another plane, one where those boxes don’t exist. Where I am as free as the air that I breathe, as the trees dancing in the wind, as mother moon shining down on me.

“Are you a girl or a boy?”

That’s what they ask me, with venom in their voices. It’s no longer a kick to the stomach though, it’s no longer a dampener on my mood.

Instead, I smile and I reply, “I am Two-Spirit.” There is beauty in our history, and we as Two-Spirit people keep it alive every day.