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Beyond the Binary: Retelling the Diné Creation Story
Long ago, when the corn stalks were tall and plentiful, and the animals spoke freely, First Woman made a journey across the land. She hiked mesas and climbed canyon walls. She listened and studied all of creation to learn how every living being coexisted.
First Woman noticed that all creatures had a choice about who they could be and who they could love. First Woman wanted this for her people, the Diné, too. From a stone of turquoise, First Woman fashioned a penis, and then she asked the yucca plant for its fruit, which she put inside the turquoise penis. Next, First Woman picked up a white shell and made a vagina, and in the vagina, she placed a small red shell for the clitoris. She asked the yucca plant again for its fruit and put that inside the clitoris. She then combined herbs with various kinds of water from the four directions and placed that mixture deep inside the vagina and the penis.
Then First Woman went to the Diné and commanded that upon reaching a certain age, every child would experience a ceremony of transformation in which they could choose a vagina, a penis, both, or neither. For this was First Woman’s gift: a choice to be, to love, and a small power of creation. For some, the power of pregnancy. For a select few, the power to call forth rain. And for everyone, the power to create bonds that last a lifetime.
At least, that is how I would rewrite the story. The one that is published and shared widely today is not as inclusive toward our Intersex, Queer, and Trans relatives. That story—collected by outsiders, like Washington Matthews in 1897 and later rewritten by Paul G. Zolbrod in 1984—fits within a narrow framework of a strict gender binary. First Woman supposedly only creates a penis and a vagina, and she commands that those two can only attract each other. This version enforces a cisgender-heteronormative narrative—one that was never there before.
The story I write is the story that I believe. It is a story that my body tells me and celebrates who I am—a Trans-feminine Queer Diné.
My body remembers.
It remembers the stories told long into the night.
But what are those stories? What are those stories that were silenced and taken from my people? Or the stories stolen from us and rewritten to fit into this restrictive narrative that refuses people like me?
My body hears.
It hears the prayers sung before the rising of the sun.
I never experienced that destined ceremony of transformation. My choice was taken away from me, and I was forced to be a man, forced to refuse the gift of First Woman, and forced to never hear the prayers and lessons that were meant to be shared with me in this ceremony of transformation. But is it too late?
All around me are moments. Moments
that sing to me. that reach to me. that know me.
Deep within my body, my memory, and my soul, I exist. I was celebrated and I was revered by my community. We all were. Each one of us a part of the whole within a community. Along with the power of creation, we were given the power to choose. Yet over the centuries, those were taken away from me, whether by my community or by colonizers.
It was only a few decades ago that our ancestors’ hair was cut and their mouths washed with soap for speaking our language in schools dedicated to “civilizing” us. Our traditional clothes were replaced with collared shirts and dresses. The gender binary was introduced and violently enforced.
Today, people stare with open mouths or disgust at those brave enough to disrupt the gender binary by simply wearing a dress. They defend the men who want their hair long, but not the Trans women or femmes who want the same. They “pray the gay away” through ceremonies and family discussions. They want you to be Diné, but not Queer, not Trans, not anything else.
Now, it is up to me to heal the stolen parts of myself, reattach them, and become whole again. In a way, at age 27, I am conducting my own ceremony of transformation, a ceremony rooted in a love and care of self, celebrating my Queerness and my Transness and being Diné.
My entire life, I was taught by my family and my community to value and celebrate our language and culture. But what of the Diné history that is Queer and Trans, the one I know existed before it was silenced and erased? I read the translated versions of my stories and they feel so wrong. Although I am not fluent in my language, my body remembers in its own way. There is a rhythm that beats across my homeland. It is soft, but it is there, waiting for me to dance along. There is a humming in the air, and a synergy waiting to be caressed. And it starts with a retelling of these stories and a celebration of my body. My Trans-feminine Diné body.
Like First Woman and First Man, I, too, was made from the ears of corn, mixed and mingled among its variations. Made and shaped by their hands and the divine. The wind breathed life into me, as it did for my mother and her mother and those who came before, and as it will do for those after my body returns to the Earth. My choice was stolen from me, but not anymore.
I have spent years learning and unlearning what it means to be Diné and to be Queer and to be Trans in this world—this world that denied me First Woman’s gift. Now I am reclaiming this gift. I know who I am, and with this knowledge, with this ceremony of transformation, I am regaining my power of creation—starting with myself and our stories, until, finally, there’s a world that celebrates people like me.
Charlie Amáyá Scott is a Diné scholar born and raised within the Navajo Nation. Charlie reflects, analyzes, and critiques what it means to be a Diné, Queer, and Trans in the 21st century on her personal blog, dineaesthetics.com, while inspiring joy and justice to thousands on Instagram and TikTok at @dineaesthetics.