Chevi Rabbit is an award-winning human rights activist living in Edmonton, Canada. She is many things: Makeup artist, president of the Maskwacis Two Spirit Society and the director of the movement, Hate to Hope. We chatted with Chevi over email about what it means to be two spirit, why she started Hate to Hope and the work she’s doing to help transgender folks.
Amanda: Can you explain what two spirit means for those who are unaware?
Chevi: Two spirit people have both a male and female spirit within them, and are blessed by their Creator to see life through the eyes of both genders.
Two spirit is not a ‘new-age’ movement. While the term two spirit was coined in 1990 In Winnipeg, Canada as a means of unifying various gender identities and expressions of Native American/First Nations/Indigenous individuals, the term is not a specific definition of gender, sexual orientation or other self-determining catch-all phrase, but rather an umbrella term.
Being a gay native is oftentimes confused with being two spirit. While the two may have parallels and intersections, they are not the same. Gay specifically is about attraction to a person of the same sex. Two spirit is more about the embodiment of two genders residing within one person and can be describe as gender fluid.
A: What are some struggles you’ve had trying to be recognized as both trans and two spirit?
C: That’s a great question. I feel that identifying as two spirit comes with a cultural expression and that is okay, but there is a large percentage of first nations who do not associate with the cultural aspects of two spirit. When it comes to identifying as a trans woman, we are reinforcing gender stereotypes. I am very fluid in how I identify my gender at the moment. As a transgender woman, I’m on hormones and will eventually have bottom surgery. But since I am Cree and intouch with both my male and female side, I consider myself two spirit as well.
“I began to find my voice and rebuild my self worth.”
A: Tell us about Hate to Hope and why you started it.
C: I never identified with just my male side. I have always been super feminine, using fashion and makeup to play with my gender expression. Some days I’m more creative than others. One night I was walking from my dorm room to get snacks. When I crossed the sidewalk, there was a car in front of me filled with men who were transphobic. At first they thought I was female, but when they realized I was trans they started saying things like, “oh, you’re just a fucking faggot.” It was so embarrassing, because I never encountered that type of aggression in public before. There were so many people around who could hear me being verbally assaulted. The only thing I could think of to say was, “thank you.” I walked away, not realizing that one of the men had gotten out of the car, and before I realized it he was attacking me.
It would have been much worse if it wasn’t for the help of the brave bystanders who had witnessed it. Six people came and rescued me, and within five minutes, three police cars came. I was very shaken up, and called my parents, crying that I was beaten up for how I looked. I was never the same after that. My life forever changed and all my plans altered. As weeks past, I developed a major anxiety disorder. My creativity and fearlessness diminished over time.
Three months before, I was living with my partner outside Edmonton and communiting to university. I was also working full time as a makeup artist. I had no friends outside of work and school. My best friend was my partner of three years and I was devoted to him. Unfortunately, he wasn’t faithful when he worked up north in the oil and gas sector, and I found out the hard way about his infidelity. My dream of the perfect romance and life we were building together started to unravel. When we broke up, I moved into a dorm and put my belongings into storage.
It was a big shock to have my life drastically change. I was scared, sad and feeling hopeless about my life when I was walking to the store that night. Then bam – I was assaulted, followed by a media storm.
Although I put on a brave face for people, I was falling apart. I felt that I was failing. My grades started to drop and my anxiety was so bad that I was was afraid to walk the crowded halls at school. After a meeting with my family and school officials, we agreed that it was best that I take some time off from school and get therapy.
During this time, I started Hate to Hope, a rally to raise awareness of hate, bigotry and discrimination. Through starting the movement, I began to find my voice and rebuild my self worth. Hate to Hope gave me something meaningful to do and a chance to interact with people. Now, I spend my time talking to schools and leaders lobbying for change.
A: Is there anything else you’ve been working on?
C: Right now, I’m working with Toronto-based film director Rafaela Galindo on Hate to Hope, my gender identity and basically who I am. Torward the end of summer a crew will film where I grew up in Ponoka, my indigenous roots in Maskwacis, AB and then follow many of my passion projects in Edmonton. The film will be used to educate people on the lives of two spirit Canadians making a positive difference.
Find Chevi on Instagram @chevirabbit