CharlieAmáyá Scott (She/her/they/them): Is Gendered Beauty a Western Construct? Lessons From an Indigenous (Diné) Trans Femme
Hi, Charlie! Can you introduce yourself and tell us about your platform?
CharlieAmáyá (She/her/they/them): My name is Charlie Amáyá Scott. I’m known on social media as Diné Aesthetics. My English pronouns are they/them or she/hers. I am going to be a third-year Ph.D. student at the University of Denver. I am interested in the intricacies of the internet, higher education, and settler colonialism.
My area of study is similar to what I post online. It’s celebrating and advocating for Black, brown, and Indigenous Peoples, particularly those who are queer and trans. I’m trying to address things like rainbow capitalism, cultural appropriation, misrepresentation, and college access. In celebration of Pride month, I’ve been focusing a lot more on queer and trans folk and the marginalization that they experience both within and outside different Native Nations. To empower and educate others, I talk about my experiences as a queer trans-femme and how they have influenced my life
I know that you are currently a doctoral student who aims to challenge settler-colonial narratives. How have colonial narratives impacted Indigenous ideas around gender identity? As you’ve majored in ethnic studies, can you please tell us about some of the original thoughts on gender that the Diné people have historically had?
Charlie: I frame settler colonialism as a system of technologies and land ownership that affects social relations. Also, it’s rooted in ideologies that have removal, displacement, elimination, and genocide of Indigenous presences at its core. So, for example, particularly within the context of the U.S, you have all these different institutions of violence like the church, the state, and residential schools that were used to colonize, to inflict violence, and to erase Indigenous understanding.
So, when it comes to settler colonialism, it’s difficult not to talk about gender identity. Euro-Americans had a particular understanding of gender, and they forced that understanding on Kelly and my ancestors. Although we’re both from different Native Nations, our ancestors have experienced a type of gender violence very much rooted in a euro-expansion of gender identity. How we understand “man and woman” now is very much framed by Christianity and Europe. However, my community’s understanding of gender is more like positionalities. Because if we say “gender,” that’s using a framework of colonization to understand who we are.
In this process of remembering who we are, we have to dismantle Eurocentric understanding as absolute. Ideas of gender and binaries don’t really conceptualize anything in my culture. The term “positionalities” is a much better term because there were specific roles and responsibilities that each person had. There was generational knowledge that was shared with community members through ceremonies and daily activities. So, from a Eurocentric perspective, we could describe the different positionalities as four genders. There were four distinct positionalities that we know of.
We had the Asdzááan, who were the caretakers and performed at ceremonies that reflected “womanhood.”
We had the Hastiin who perform roles that we would typically associate with manhood.
Then, we had two distinct positionalities which were the Nadleehí and the Dilbaa. They had very unique responsibilities.
Each of these 4 roles had things that they could and could not do, but they all worked together to make a holistic community. In regards to the Nadlééh, they were known as spiritual leaders. They were the cultural gatekeepers of water. They performed rites of the dead in passing. They had very specific roles that other people couldn’t do. These positionalities were centered around communalism rather than individualism, and they created a world view of balance. However, upon settler colonialism, the roles of the Dilba and Nadlééh were not passed on as they should have been. Settler colonialism has affected the balance. The Navajo Nation or the Diné today is out of balance because we don’t really know who we are as much anymore. We are working to claim it back because it was denied to us. We have to come back to who we are because it was denied to us. A rebirth of balance is needed, and it’s slowly coming back. I’m really happy to be a part of the process.
Is the term “gender identity” or “queerness” a Western idea? And in your professional opinion, is it an inclusive description of two-spirit individuals and their human experience?
Charlie: The difficulty of undoing settler colonial logic around gender is difficult. The way we understand gender identity and queerness now belongs to a Western reality. When we think of gender studies and queer studies and the way it’s presented in academia, it very much comes from a Western framework of self and knowing. But when we bring in Indigenous ideas of knowing, gender ideas become destabilized, and academia does not like that. A lot of times, English cannot even convey the ideas of identity and positionalities within Indigenous cultures because the language itself is so limited. With that said, Western ideas like to categorize and simplify things. So, we have no words to even express who we fully are in English. That’s why I always say “my English pronouns” because pronouns in my language don’t exist and operate in the same way. Pronouns in my language emphasize relationships to other folks. That’s why queerness and gender identity don’t really explain the concept of being Two-Spirit. That’s why I say LGBTQ+ and Two-Spirit. So, undoing colonial-settler logic is beautiful because people get to claim autonomy and identify in a way that aligns with their cultural and generational knowledge. We get to use our community understandings of self. Through this, we’re refusing to be identified in a way that is not consensual.
On your platform, you frequently speak on self-image. In what ways can modern beauty standards rooted in Western gender binaries impact the self-image of Indigenous Two spirit individuals?
Charlie: In Western gender binaries, they’re so many limited ways of expressing yourself. Particularly, toxic masculinity is so limiting when it comes to Native men’s fashion. I used to study pictures of Diné from the 19th and 20th-century pictures, and it’s so fascinating the fashion of Native men. It was long hair. It was jewelry. It was accessories, and I can only imagine the colors they wore! And as we learned about silversmithing, accessorizing expanded so much more. My ancestors would wear so much jewelry. They would have their hair tied up in buns. They would have earrings and belts. With Native fashion from our folks, you would see so much accessorizing, and I blame the Western gender binary for deteriorating that.
For example, if you think about the residential school experiences, it’s hard for Native people to talk about because of the bodies that were discovered. Now, like 800 bodies have been discovered with unmarked graves at these schools. We have photographs of them at those schools. A Diné man who was forcibly named Tom Torlino went into that school. He had long hair, accessories, jewelry, and then after going to these schools, you just see this image of his hair cut, and it’s slick back in a suit. So, these colonizers wanted there to be nothing that conveyed the esthetic of our people. Western gender binaries messed up our evolution, our growth, and our evolution of fashion.
And now, it’s so interesting to see my jewelry worn by non-Native folks. It’s like - your ancestors took that away from me, and now you’re using it as fashion??? We were ridiculed for self-expression. You erased that from us, you colonized us, and you limited us, and then, you take it for yourselves. So much has been taken from us, and we’ve been villainized for our culture. So, when we say a non-Native person wearing those things just for an outfit, it feels like a mockery.
On your website, you describe your 26th birthday as pivotal. In what ways have you evolved since your early 20s?
Charlie: My 26th birthday is when I had a sense of peace that I had never felt before in my life. My 26th birthday was pivotal because I started to learn to love myself, and I started to see the beauty in myself. There was an awareness of who I was, who I am, and who I am becoming. I’m so excited and hopeful again. I spent a year with my community and being with myself, and then I decided to share that with the world. There’s been a lot of growth and a lot of caring for myself.