Two spirits, one purpose 

Gay and lesbian American Indians look to the past to shape a better future on the reservation

Page 7 of 7

Before joining the Montana Two Spirit Society, Farand Gunnels didn't know much about traditional native culture. The only exposure he had came from his macho uncles. Growing up in Billings, the light-skinned boy with soft brown eyes always felt like an outsider.

"I kind of shut down who I was. I tried to be invisible, quiet," says Gunnels, now 36. "I felt like I couldn't tell anyone. I felt like I had to live a lie."

He stared when he first spotted Barrios more than five years ago.

"He just kind of glowed to me," Gunnels says. "I was just like, wow, he's such a beautiful person. He's native."

As Gunnels stayed up late with the others telling stories during that first gathering more than five years ago, something shifted.

"I was them," he says. "It was so powerful."

Gunnels is now freshly educated about two-spirit history. Armed with the knowledge that people like him have always existed, much of the fear he once had about embracing Crow culture has disappeared.

For instance, a woman traditionally makes the feast when her husband is given an Indian name. When Gunnels was named, his partner David cooked the feast. He had been accepted.

"I'm being put on the path to learn about my tribe," Gunnels says.


At home in Browning, Barrios cuts, colors and perms his client's hair from his kitchen, watching traffic whiz by on the way to or from Canada. Barrios talks freely about sex and he passes out condoms to women who come to him for haircuts, suggesting they give them to their teenage children.

Barrios says his house is one of the only places Blackfeet GLBTQI people in crisis can go.

"I never turn nobody away," he says. "You don't know if you turn them away what they're going to go do."

About 14 people meet informally for occasional Blackfeet Two Spirit Society gatherings. Barrios says the local group marched in a parade through Browning recently—a first. He says the crowd cheered.

It's evidence that two-spirit people are slowly getting their message out, and gaining acceptance. But having had their history erased once, Barrios is committed to never letting it happen again.

"We need somebody to carry on that history and make sure that it's documented," he says.

To that end, the Montana Two Spirit Society is looking to expand. Ideally, the group will conduct outreach on all seven Montana reservations, Barrios says, to let GLBTQI youth know they aren't alone.

"You do have family," Barrios says. "We take care of one another."

In the meantime, Barrios' house smells like fresh laundry. A half-packed suitcase sits on the couch beneath a mirror given to him by Holy Old Man Bull; white buffaloes are etched into its stained-glass edges. Barrios just returned from a Seattle Pride conference and the International Two Spirit Gathering in Colorado. He must leave again the next day for a Montana Gay Men's Task Force meeting in Missoula that aims to curb HIV and hepatitis C transmission. The grand dame of Montana's two-spirit movement says he's not going to slow down until GLBTQI people are again safe in their


"We've carried our heads down for so many long months, for such a long time," he says. "We've been swept under the rug, to the corners. It's time we stand up and be proud, and show who we are."

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