This Native American Trans Beauty Queen Is Reviving an Ancient Tradition
Before white settlers came, tribes revered those who embodied both genders. This year’s Miss International Two Spirit is bringing that reverence back.
Photos by Ashley Porton
Sage Chanell had always dreamed of playing the female role in her tribe’s stomp dance.
It’s a ceremony that women more or less run, using shells on their legs to keep time while men chant. Playing an opposite-gender role is not an option. As a not-yet-out transgender Shawnee woman in the 1990s, Chanell was too scared to challenge her tribe’s rules. Instead, she discreetly held shells in her hands and chanted along with the boys.
But this May, on a makeshift stage at a retreat center in Nacogdoches, Texas, her worries melted away. Wearing a fall-colored Seminole patchwork skirt, ruffled shirt, and moccasins, the thirty-year-old triumphantly stomped onto the stage at the Miss International Two Spirit competition, her legs covered in shells. In a headdress framed by ribbons, she moved her feet in an intricate pattern, in a rhythm she knows by heart.