Clucky the Two-Spirit Chicken
I remember the first time I met a person whose gender I could not determine. I was about ten, and working checkout at the store. This person came in, and I became very nervous, sweaty even, because I HAD TO DECIDE WHETHER TO SAY SIR OR MA’AM!
I made the wrong choice, and I watched the person cringe, then shrug, a daily occurrence for them, no doubt. It only occured to me later that I didn’t have to choose. I could have just said “Thanks a lot! Have a nice day!”
Why did I get so stressed out about deciding? Why did it matter so much to choose which gender?
A friend of mine told me some time ago that many peoples of Africa and Native America have specific words for people born not 100% masculine or feminine. One such word is a term of respect; the Two Spirit is respected as having great, special wisdom, and often becomes a priest, medicine-person, or shaman.
I, my friends, have met a chicken-shaman.
My artist-friend Bill Christman trucks in all forms of junk. The heavier and weirder the better. He turns the junk of the world into beautiful things. His work reminds me of Howard Finster, but without all the preaching written on it. He is the guy responsible for the Museum of Mirth at the City Museum.
One of the more noticeable of his works is the giant chicken outside of his art-gallery/concert venue, Joe’s Café.
One of the less noticeable things is Clucky. On first glance, Clucky looks like any other chicken, hatched in someone’s backyard near Mr. Christman, among other, regular fowl. But hatching with both male and female characteristics soon caused Clucky trouble with the other chickens; they pecked confusedly at Clucky when normal gender protocols were not followed. Clucky retaliated, first by fighting back, then by running away.
Clucky found a home in Bill Christman’s garden of sculptural wonders, a loner, King/Queen of a fabulous, noncompetitive paradise, where no one except the squirrels or pigeons competed for the food the humans provided.
I have never met a more well-adjusted, calm-looking chicken in my life.
This bird has a brain the size of a peanut; this means that there is no room for idle deliberations about gender expression. All Clucky knows about “gender identity” is the difficulty in being accepted by some of the other chickens. (some of the chickens paid Clucky no mind) Clucky had no choice about hatching with both heel-spurs and egg-laying apparatus. Clucky was not deluded or sinful. Clucky was just a chicken who was born a little unusual.
In the Gospel of Thomas 22, Jesus, upon seeing some babies nursing, remarks; “What these little ones who are nursing resemble is those who enter the kingdom.” They said to him “So shall we enter the kingdom by being little ones?” Jesus said to them “when you make the two one, and make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside and the above like the below, and that you might make the male and the female be one and the same, so that the male might not be male nor the female be female… an image in place of an image— then you will enter the kingdom”
Seems to me that Jesus was trying to explain that we shouldn’t get so hung up on sorting people by gender and other physical identity markers. Beauty standards differ from culture to culture; things that disgust certain cultures about certain bodies are seen as lovely by others. Our bodies are temples, but they are also dust; just vehicles for our souls. So why do people fight so hard against “believing in” the existence of those who have “atypical” bodies? It is a medical fact that many babies are born with both sets of external parts, and the parents, mortified, just make a random choice at birth and do surgery. A nonbinary person may be able to hide their reality easier than someone born with one leg, for example. But that unusualness does not make a nonbinary person or a one-legged person worth less. They had no choice in the matter any more than Clucky did.
If you have met a two-spirit person (or chicken) you cannot deny that two-spirit people exist; they are not figments of my imagination, your imagination, or their imagination. They are real. I know quite a few, (some of them my students) and the ones I know happen to be beautiful inside and out. Like Clucky.
Many cultures, including the Greeks (think of Sophocles’ Tiresias) acknowledged that twin-spirits not only existed, but had special wisdom to impart. But hey, we don’t have to treat anyone like shamans or fortunetellers. All nonbinary and trans people ask for is the basic respect that everyone deserves. Just treat them like they are real humans, and listen to what they say, rather than claiming they don’t or shouldn’t exist. You know, the Golden Rule.
UPDATE: Clucky the Chicken was killed in a tragic accident a couple years after I wrote this.
RIP, esteemed two-spirit chicken.