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Warning: This poem contains controversial topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It features reference to rough justice, anxiety, self-recrimination, alternative sex/gender dynamics, caregiving skills, revenge, spirituality, reference to past gaybashing, blessed with suck, unwelcome outing of a transperson to self, identity issues, what genders mean, two-spirit dress modes, Kenzie's new name, and other challenges. If these are touchy topics for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.
The morning after Kenzie's rescue,
he learned that Blair and most of
the other Iron Horses would
be riding out on an errand.
"I didn't realize that you were
actually superheroes," he said.
"We're not," Joseph said. "We're
tribal warriors. Sometimes that means
we do things that make people think of us
as superheroes, other times supervillains.
But we're all still the same people,
doing what needs to be done."
"I guess that makes sense,"
Kenzie said with a nod.
"Don't worry, we won't
leave you all alone," Ron said.
"Kyle and I are staying here
to keep you company while
the others go hunting."
"Okay," Kenzie said.
"I appreciate that."
It scared him how much
he wanted the bikers to find
the gaybashers and beat
the shit out of them.
He didn't try to stop them.
Ron sat with Kenzie and
told him stories or played
rhythms on the chair seat.
Henry had stayed behind too,
taking the opportunity to restock
the supplies on his motorcycle.
He talked about hoop dancing
and other interesting things.
Kyle peeked into the room
from time to time, although
he wasn't particularly adept
at taking care of injured people.
Ron was, though, and Kenzie
marveled at his skill.
"How did you get so good
at this?" Kenzie wondered as
Ron helped him to the toilet.
"My grandparents taught me,"
Ron said. "First I learned child care,
then elder care, and those cover most
of the skills needed to take care of
adults who are sick or injured."
"Huh," Kenzie said. "I can
hold a bottle and change a diaper,
but that's about it. I never even
considered elder care."
"That's all right, you can
learn," Ron said. "The skills
are useful in many contexts."
Kenzie tried to be gracious
about it, but it was difficult.
He feared feeling so helpless and
vulnerable, which made everything
more awkward. He didn't like
being dependent on other people
for so many personal needs, either.
It was nice to have company,
though, instead of everyone
avoiding him because he
wasn't up to doing much.
Ron taught Kenzie more about
traditional methods of pain control,
from distraction to mental fortitude.
Kenzie loved the way it gave him
a sense of power over his own body,
even though he wore out after a while
and went back to the pain pills.
Later that evening, the Iron Horses
returned from their errand.
"You don't have to worry about
your attackers anymore," Joseph said
to Kenzie. "They are in no shape to bother
anyone for a good long time. The one who
threw you out of the truck won't be walking
straight again, unless he finds a healer."
"Good," Kenzie snarled. "At least now
those fuckers can't hurt anyone else."
"They really can't," Joseph said, petting
Kenzie's shoulder. "We made sure of it."
"I wonder about something, though,"
said Ben. "One of the men got bitten
by a fox. That can't be coincidence, and
it takes a lot for the spirits do something
so conspicuous. Can you think why
that might have happened?"
"Tall guy with short blond hair,
a strong face, and broad shoulders?"
Kenzie guessed, frowning.
"That sounds like him," Ben said.
"What did he do to you?"
"He's the one who lured me out
to where the others could get me,"
Kenzie said. "His name is Amaziah,
but everyone calls him Amazing.
He's very charismatic."
Ben gave a dark chuckle.
"After the way Fox painted him up
for a target, he may find that
his luck has changed."
Kenzie smiled. That
would be poetic justice.
Blair lingered after the others
drifted away. "Do you recall
James Distant Thunder?"
she asked Kenzie.
"He loaned me one of
these buffalo robes, right?"
Kenzie said, his hand drifting
down to stroke the rough brown fur.
"That's right," Blair said. "Thunderbird
told him to give me a blessing for one
of the people who attacked you."
"A blessing?" Kenzie squawked.
"A blessing of truth," Blair said.
"The leader has been trying very hard
to pretend manhood, having been born
with a penis, but she is really a woman
and will no longer be able to deny that."
"Wow," Kenzie said. "That's gotta hurt.
It's hard enough on people who choose
to come out. Getting outed is worse."
"Thunderbird does not like liars,
less so those who lie to themselves,
and least of all hypocrites who assault
holy people," said Blair. "Storm spirits
are very fierce. This is why we try
to avoid offending any of them."
"Holy people," Kenzie said slowly.
"Am I really that? I don't feel special."
"Some tribes believe that all two-spirits
are sacred, because they know the mysteries
of both men and women," said Blair. "Others
think they are just ordinary people. You may not
be trained as a medicine person, but when I look
at you, the last thing I'd think would be ordinary."
"I know some weird things have happened to me,
but does that make me sacred?" Kenzie said.
"The spirits think that you are worth
protecting," Blair pointed out. "So there
must be something inside you beyond
shapeshifting and a nose for trouble."
"I don't even know what I am,
not really," Kenzie said. "I couldn't
do college the usual way, so I've been
studying arts and crafts. I've snuck into
a few gender studies classes, but I hardly
understand what's in the book, let alone
how it applies to me personally."
"So let's explore that," Blair said.
"What do masculinity and femininity
mean to you? How do you express
your gender in how you act?"
Kenzie rambled about manhood
for a good ten minutes before Blair
gently nudged him toward womanhood
and then listened to that as well.
"I don't know as much about this
as I probably should," Kenzie concluded.
"That's okay," Blair said. "You can learn
more, and try different things to find out
what feels right to you. Some two-spirits
divide their hair or makeup into masculine
and feminine sides. Some cross-dress,
some mix garments from different genders,
and some use styles just for two-spirits."
Blair showed Kenzie some pictures of
other two-spirit people. He laughed at
the divided hairstyles. "That looks so silly."
"Some people think so," Blair said. "You
can always choose something else yourself.
You have enough hair to try all of the styles,
and see which of them you like the best."
"I like the clothes, though," Kenzie said wistfully.
"Skirts are so comfortable in hot weather, and
the short ones make for really free motion."
One hand plucked at his borrowed tracksuit.
"This is okay, but it's not really ... me, you know?"
"I know," Blair said. "I'll ask around for clothes
that might suit you. Even if you can't figure out
what you want immediately, we should be able
to find something that's not hopelessly off-track."
"Thanks," Kenzie said. "I never really had
anyone to help me with this stuff before.
I think I could get used to it, though."
"That's good," Blair said. She patted him
on the hand, then left in search of clothes.
After Blair came Smoking Breath.
Kenzie was amazed at how these people
never seemed to leave him alone for
more than a few minutes. If he asked
for privacy, someone left the door ajar
and sat outside on a chair in the hallway.
"I have a gift for you," said the medicine man
as he took the space Blair had just left.
"Okay," Kenzie said, holding out a hand.
Smoking Breath chuckled. "This is
not a gift to hold in your hand, but a gift
to hold in your heart," he said. "It came
to me when I communed with the spirits for
justice. Among our peoples, your name
will be Kenzie Two Foxes."
"Oh," Kenzie said softly. "Oh, that fits."
Then he hesitated. "Does it matter that
I can do more shapes than just fox?"
"No, it only matters what the spirits told me,
and what fits you right now," Smoking Breath said.
"If you need a new name later, I am sure that
someone will tell me when the time comes."
"Thank you so much," Kenzie said. It
helped, being named and not just labeled.
"I'm not used to getting all this support, and
I still don't really know what to do with it, but
I think that it helps. It's like each little piece
makes it easier to see the whole picture."
"A quilt is made of many pieces,"
Smoking Breath said, sweeping a hand
over the whirling star quilt that someone had
loaned to Kenzie earlier. "Only when they
come together can you see what they make."
"I love this design," Kenzie said. His fingers
followed the rainbow swirl of tiny diamonds.
"I've seen lone star quilts before, but never
this kind of swirly pattern. It's so pretty."
"Star quilts are sacred," said Smoking Breath.
"There are many legends about the Star People
and the crafts they inspired. You will see quilts
with the whirlwind, and some with eagles or
other animals worked into the design."
"I'd like that," Kenzie said shyly. "I want
to learn more, but ... I don't really belong here."
The medicine man tsked gently. "Fox thinks
that you belong, therefore you belong," he said.
"All people were once newcomers here, even mine.
It took us many years of wandering and inventing
to learn how we should live in this world and
make a comfortable life for ourselves."
"Really?" Kenzie said. "How?"
So Smoking Breath told him
the Omaha creation myth, and
after that, other stories about
stars and quilts and spirits.
He was just finishing up a tale about
Nonoma, the Cheyenne Thunderbird,
when Blair and Ron came in with
their arms full of colorful cloth.
Smoking Breath slipped out
to make way for the other two.
"Do you really think this will help?"
Kenzie said, looking at the offerings.
"I hope so," Blair said. "If not, then
we'll try something else. It is not easy
bearing two spirits, but it is worthwhile.
The Creator would not have given you both
if you did not have the strength to handle them."
"It's just so hard trying to work out what I am,
what I want or need, when half the time
I don't even know how to explain it,"
Kenzie said. "It's exhausting."
"Of course it is," Blair said.
"That's why we're here to help.
If what you need is learning about
two-spirits, or a Kinsey scale of gender,
then that's what we'll do. It's up to you."
"I think just having words for this
is helping," said Kenzie. "Nothing
I found in college really felt right."
"Then I'm glad we could give you
words that fit better," Blair said.
"Yeah," Kenzie said. "So what
did you find in the way of clothes?"
Blair laid out an assortment of
ribbon shirts, explaining how some
of them had a masculine button-up style
and others the feminine scoop necks.
Ron had a stack of jeans, khakis,
and a couple of different skirts.
"The trick will be finding anything
you like that will match," Blair said.
"At least the jeans will go with most stuff,
but we couldn't find a denim skirt for you."
"Maybe try picking one thing you like,
or ruling out stuff you definitely don't,
rather than trying to look at everything
all at once," Ron suggested.
"This is maybe a bit much,"
Kenzie said, pointing to a skirt with
rainbow ribbons over peach calico fabric
that had dancing lizards on it.
"Okay," Ron said.
"We'll set that one aside."
"This one's nice," Kenzie said
as he picked up a red ribbon shirt
with black pawprints on it.
"That's from Kyle," said Blair.
"He thought the pawprints could
pass for fox as well as wolf."
"Yeah, I can see that," Kenzie said.
"Fox prints are a little skinnier, but
on a shirt it doesn't show much."
There wasn't anything to match
the red shirt except jeans, though, and
the thought of wearing a rigid waistband
over fresh stitches made Kenzie cringe.
"What about the other skirt?" Ron said.
When he held it up, Kenzie could see
white flowers embroidered over
a dark green background, edged
with green and yellow ribbons.
"Hummingbird is a powerful totem."
Kenzie looked closer and saw that
there was, indeed, a tiny hummingbird
visiting one of the flowers. He held up
the skirt. It wrapped around so that
the front panel overlapped the back,
allowing free movement. It would
probably come down to his knees.
"Yeah, I could wear this," he said.
"Green tends to look good on me."
"Let's see if we can find anything
to go with it," Blair said as she
sorted through the shirts. "Usually
women make a ribbon shirt and skirt
together, if they're not wearing a dress,
so pairing separate garments is harder."
"White would match the embroidery,"
Ron said, snagging a plain t-shirt.
"Last resort," Blair said. "Here,
this ribbon shirt is green."
It was a lighter shade of olive,
decorated with several shades
of green ribbon, but the darkest of
the ribbons almost matched the skirt.
"I think that will work," Kenzie said.
"Would you help me into it?"
"Sure, we can do that," Ron said.
Blair held up a hand. "It's getting late,"
she said. "Kenzie, do you want
to change into this now, or save
the new outfit for tomorrow?"
Kenzie glanced at the clock. "Oh.
Yeah, tomorrow makes more sense.
Will there be supper soon?"
"There should be," Ron said.
"Ben is making cornbread and
campfire chili with jerky. I can
bring you a tray while Blair
hands back the extra clothes."
When supper came, Kenzie
needed some assistance in
managing it, because the cuts
on his back limited how well he
could use his arms right now.
Ron made sure that nothing got
knocked onto the floor, and most of
the food made it into Kenzie's mouth.
Kenzie didn't like being helpless,
but he did appreciate being cared for.
* * *
Superheroes, supervillains, and vigilantes each deal with challenges in their own ways. Superheroes have a certain moral authority that supervillains and vigilantes typically lack, but they don't have the official authority of police. The difference between superheroes and vigilantes can be subtle, but usually vigilantes play rougher. The Iron Horses don't actually belong to any of these categories. Instead, they are tribal warriors, which means they're outside the U.S. authorities but they do have intertribal cultural authority -- which is separate from the tribal police, by the way. Many of them also have additional, very serious authority by virtue of having performed the Sun Dance. Like a seminary or doctorate degree in mainstream culture, it grants people a lot of respect.
Caregiving skills span children and elders. If you know how to take care of those groups, you can generalize to handle adults who are ill or injured. While being unwell sucks, it is somewhat less miserable if you have care from a sympathetic and competent person who doesn't add insult to injury. An interesting facet of most Native American cultures is their deep respect for elders. As a result, some of them teach elder care as methodically as they teach child care, so that many people learn it growing up. You almost never see that in the mainstream, so it really sticks out.
Historically, most tribes recognized one or more extra sex/gender identities beyond the common man and woman. Each tribe had its own categories, terms, and customs. Some were homosexual or bisexual; some were transgendered; some blended sex and gender in unique ways. Many cross-dressed; others mixed the clothing, hairstyles, and other markers of both genders; while some tribes had symbols especially for those other genders. Often such individuals were considered lucky or sacred, and many of them became medicine people, because they held the gifts of both men and women. In contemporary culture, intertribal life has made it useful to have a name spanning all of those concepts, and people came up with "two-spirit." Today they even have their own powwows, although they are also honored guests at many other powwows and ceremonies.
Hairstyle is one way to express gender. Historically, people often chose the hairstyle of their social gender, as in this male-bodied person presenting as a woman. One modern two-spirit uses drag as a means of connection, creating a dual hairstyle. Here is an example of another half-and-half hairstyle with an androgynous mask.
There are many modern symbols too. This one has a figure-8 with points in opposite directions. This two-spirit flag is a rainbow with a medallion of faces in the middle, while this one is a rainbow with an image of two feathers in the center. That pair of feathers is a popular symbol among two-spirits; although not restricted to them, it is fading in popularity among others as it grows among them. Here is a different-colored rainbow flag with a sacred hoop on it. This T-shirt has a sun symbol and the words "Two Spirit."
The ribbon shirt is primarily a masculine garment, its feminine counterpart being the ribbon dress. In tribes where both men and women wear ribbon shirts, it is common to distinguish them with stylistic features; for example, a man's shirt more often has an open yoke in front while a woman's shirt has a solid neckline. Women's ribbon shirts are most often seen with a matching skirt, essentially a variation of the ribbon dress in two pieces. Today the lines have blurred, though. A two-spirit might wear a masculine shirt with a feminine skirt, or conversely, a short dress over leggings or trousers. Ribbon clothing has spread far beyond its original locale to become a popular type of casual clothing for tribal people.
This is Kyle's pawprint ribbon shirt in a typical masculine cut. Here is a ribbon dress. A woman's ribbon shirt often has a closed front. Women frequently make a ribbon shirt and skirt as a matched set.
Ribbon applique lends itself very well to displaying pride flags, most of which consist of simple colored stripes. L-American tribes seem to have picked up only the rainbow flag, which often appears in two-spirit regalia. T-American tribes often use ribbons to depict all the different pride flags. This is the ribbon skirt with lizards.
See Kenzie's green ribbon shirt and the skirt he chose to go with it.
Enjoy an Omaha creation myth and a legend about the Cheyenne thunderbird Nonoma.
Campfire Chili is extra yummy with chopped jerky used for some or all of the meat. Here is a recipe for Indian Corn Bread.