While studying sexology, I am lucky enough to really delve into topics that I am passionate about and that interest me. My last piece focused on an aspect of sexuality and culture and I choose to write about, the Indigenous idea of 'two spirited' people and discuss the First Nations Australian LGBTQIA+ community.
What surprised me was how little research has been done on the sexuality of Aboriginal people pre colonization and I am now thirsty to know more!!
I thoroughly enjoyed researching this piece and learning more about this topic. I hope you also enjoy the read too
The Australian Aboriginal LGBTQIA+ community
Within many Indigenous cultures worldwide, 'two-spirited’ is a term and a concept that has been accepted and understood to describe gender diverse people ("Two Spirit: The Story of a Movement Unfolds – Kosmos Journal", 2021). This term can reflect the ideas within specific Indigenous communities that are related to sexuality that conversely are not tied to the European binary construct of gender (Ristock et al., 2017). First Nations people have a diverse concept of gender that stretches beyond our western experiences of binary ("Trans Mob — TransHub", 2021). Furthermore, the First Nations people of Australia continue to be connected to Indigenous cultures throughout the world.
The history of the First Nations transgender community before and after the colonization of Australia is complex and has not been heavily researched amongst scholars (Kerry, 2014). What has been discussed by Oscar Monaghan in Coloring the Rainbow: Blak queer and trans perspectives (2015) is the significance of gender and sexuality in the colonization of Indigenous communities worldwide.
The diverse gender roles and sexuality of Indigenous cultures played a vital role in the justification of settlement as ‘hetero-patriarchal’ colonialists viewed such cultures as deviant and perverse (Hodge & Dino 2015).
This blog will discuss the Indigenous LGBTQIA+ communities within Australia, paying particular focus to the transgender Indigenous community namely the Sistergirls and Brotherboys. It will explore the challenges that Australian Indigenous queer people face, specifically acceptance within their own culture, feelings of isolation, and means to gain visibility within the community, and access to health care.
Sistergirls and Brotherboys - Australian Indigenous transgender and acceptance within their culture
Brotherboy is a term used by Australian Indigenous people who are female assigned at birth and identify as male. Sistergirls is a term used to describe male assigned at birth Indigenous Individuals who choose to identify as women with the largest population being specific to the Tiwi Islands (Anae, 2020). Both Sistergirls and Brotherboys are said to have been a part of the Australian Indigenous community long before European settlement (Anae, 2020).
The transgender community of Indigenous Australia face many challenges.
There is an incapacity of understanding toward Indigenous transgender people within their own culture and acceptance from their elders plays a vital role in determining their own cultural identity (Anae, 2020). There are strict cultural practices within Indigenous communities that are defined by or are for male or female gender roles specifically, and identifying as transgender often means going against these cultural practices (Jens & Korff, 2021).
The cultural practice of playing the digeridoo is discussed by Brotherboys as Taboo. This practice is specific to males in the Australian Indigenous culture. Brotherboys feel the need to ask permission to practice the digeridoo from their elders even though they identify as male (Anae, 2020). Contrary to this, there anecdotal evidence indicating that Sistergirls did not participate in male roles like hunting or fishing and were seen as women, sisters, mothers, and auntie's who contributed to the female roles within their tribes (Riggs & Toone, 2016).
A thematic analysis by Braun and Clarke (2006) studied the themes of acceptance and rejection of Sistergirls within contemporary society. This study indicated that some Sistergirls initially felt compelled to hide their identity from their families due to fear of rejection, however when coming out the validating experiences within their family gave them a sense of place within their culture. This study conversely discussed the experiences of rejection in coming out and the connection to being the subject of violence which had lasting emotional effects, like poor health and wellbeing of the Sistergirls (Riggs & Toone, 2016).
The lived experiences of the Brotherboy community within Australia in a paper by Nicole Anae (2020) discusses that being transgender risked family and cultural acceptance. Like the Sistergirls, the Brotherboys also experienced both acceptance and rejection by family depending on their geographic location (Anae, 2020).
The Australian Indigenous transgender community and access to healthcare within Australia
There is a question of whether the Australian Indigenous LGBTQIA+ community access health care for Aboriginal people or for Queer people. Do they access gender sensitive health care or care that is culturally appropriate? There is a need for appropriate health care for Aboriginal Australians that identify under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella (Uink et al., 2020). There has been documented studies on the health and wellbeing of young Aboriginal Australians and separately the young LGBTQIA+ community but little is documented on the intersectionality of both these marginalized groups (Uink et al., 2020).
Both minority groups experience stigma and their own challenges when it comes to mental health and wellbeing. A significant struggle that transgender teens experience is an increased risk of mental health issues as opposed to the general youth. (Claes et al., 2015). Transgender adolescents experience mental health issues such as non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI), low self-esteem, and suicidal ideation. (Leon et al., 2021). In parallel to this, the racism young Indigenous Australians experience also underpins the health and wellbeing of this minority group. Their experiences of racism correlate to anxiety, depressions, suicide risk and poor mental health (Priest et al., 2011).
The intersectionality theory framework highlights the care needed for individuals of multiple minority groups (Corus & Saatcioglu, 2015). Being seen in the health care system as both queer and Aboriginal is an important concern amongst this minority group (Uink et al., 2020). There is however a rise in services to the Aboriginal LGBTQIA+ community with the introduction of online platforms for people living at this intersection and is a step towards effective health care and connection to culture within this minority group (Uink et al., 2020).
Representation and visibility of the Indigenous LGBTQIA+ community in contemporary Australia
Representation through social identity and visibly of the Australian Indigenous LGBTQIA+ community is still something that is developing in Australia's modern culture. When European settlement occurred the fabric of the Indigenous culture was changed by re-characterizing new cultural norms that were held by the dominant culture. This is still felt in today's modern society (Farrell, 2017).
A large part of the activism and representation of the Indigenous LGBTQIA+ community is through social media, stories, and blogs (Farrell, 2017). Facebook groups like Blak rainbow have inspired the blog an online platform the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) Rainbow archive (Farrell, 2017). This blog is a platform created by a Queer Indigenous academic named Andy Farrell. It aims to share historical and contemporary content that educates and prioritizes the Indigenous LGBTQIA+ community and highlights the diversities in this minority group ("ATSI Rainbow Archive", 2021).
Through such research and in the creation of the ATSI Rainbow archive it became abundantly clear that there was limited content and representation of the Australian Indigenous LGBTQIA+ community. As such, the literature is not always complemented by historical and academic research and thus social networking platforms like Facebook have begun to create a space for the intersection of Indigenous people and the LGBTQIA+ communities to have a voice and to network (Farrell, 2017). It allows such subcultures like the Sistergirls and Brotherboys a chance to connect, interact and actively create a history together, which may have not been possible without social media because of the limitation of community distance (Farrell, 2017).
Colouring the Rainbow Black – Blak, Queer and Trans Perspectives, a ground breaking book of 22 stories from members of the First Nations LGBTQIA+ community also aims to represent and create visibility of these subcultures. It looks at the relevance of traditional culture, colonization and highlights the lived experiences of queer Indigenous people (Hodge & Dino 2015).
Let's sum it all up!
Even though little academic research has been completed on the history of Aboriginal transgender individuals and the sexuality of Indigenous Australians, it is evident that European colonization played a large part on re-shaping Australia's heteronormative and mono normative ideas of gender and sex. The intersectionality of the LGBTQIA+ Aboriginal community can be described as a sub-culture of two minority groups. Thematic research has been completed on the Sistergirl and Brotherboy communities, and there is evidence that there is both acceptance and rejection of transgender people within their own cultures.
This acceptance or rejection can have an impact on these individuals' feelings of connection to culture which plays a vital role in Australian Indigenous people's sense of self. Access to appropriate health care for the LGBTQIA+ First Nations people can also be difficult. Visibility as queer and as Aboriginal and access to health care that caters to both minority groups is vital. There are new services in health care and a rise in online platforms that now cater to the Indigenous LGBTQIA+ community.
A large part of creating visibility of the LGBTQIA+ Australian Indigenous community is through social platforms, stories, and blogs. Such platforms give the people of this community a voice, a chance to create a history and to connect with each other to feel a sense of belonging.
Image by Dylan Mooney @dylanmooney__
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