Queerying My Ancestry

October 21 5 min read

When I came out of the closet, I left the church too. Did you?

I grew up very Christian. I went to church every weekend, I even joined Christian youth groups. My deepening knowledge of myself, my ancestors, and my spirit needed to find a safer place to fully exist. So when I finally busted out the closet in college, I, very purposefully, left Christianity. 

My friends started reminding me that my “ancestors weren’t always Christian; just because your mom is Christian, doesn’t mean you have to be.” 

So, I began looking deeply in my family history, and deeply in ancestral practices. 

I learned that my Black family were enslaved in the southern United States and also in the Dominican Republic but originally was from a conglomerate of West African countries. I learned that my ancestors who were enslaved were forced to practice Christianity and had their traditional religions forced into secrecy. Before enslavement, my ancestors were able to practice their African Traditional Religions (ATR) in public, without fear of persecution. These ATR’s had several things in common, some of which included ancestor reverence, connection to nature- often through deities that represented aspects of nature, and connection to the 'ashe', or spiritual energies that connect us. I recognized that these practices were true to my spirit.

meme by cleopatra-tatabele

I learned that my Indigenous family were enslaved by the Spanish and Columbus, and then was forced to flee colonization and lived in rural areas of the Dominican Republic and they identified as Taino. Even before there was a border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the entire island in Taino language was traditionally referred to as “Ayiti” which translates to “Land of Mountains.” Taino people were also not allowed to practice their traditional religion in public- it was outlawed by Christian missionaries who aimed to convert my ancestors. I learned more by joining communities of people who practised their Taino beliefs. Similarly to ATR’s, these ceremonies included animism, ancestral and Earth and nature reverence. I recognized that it was my right to connect to the cultures that colonizers tried to disconnect me from.

Taino people intermixed with enslaved Black people who also fled from colonizers and slavers. This intermixing caused an intermixing of religions all throughout the diaspora. These religions in the Caribbean have so many African, Indigenous, and Spanish influences such as Santeria, Voodoo, Palo, Rastafarianism, and Zemism. I found comfort in learning and knowing that the practices of my ancestors survived enslavement and colonization. 

I found spiritual communities that held me in my healing, that accepted my queerness, and honoured me as a two-spirit person. I found a home that accepted all of my identities and ancestry.

I was reminded that my ancestors were queer. My ancestors were trans and gender non-conforming. I learned that in my culture, there were several genders before colonization. I learned in my culture that gender differences were celebrated as sacred. 

In Taino, there are several terms for gender diverse and queer people. However, one of my favourite terms is “Biyama Koyaha” which is a Taino mix of Arawak and Lokono language that loosely translates to “sacred Two-Spirit life is here!” Learning about this term reminded me that my ancestors always celebrated queerness and gender diversity. Our queerness and gender diversity was actually inherently sacred. We created a connection between cishetmen and cishetwomen in our communities. For example, in Taino culture and many Indigenous cultures, the sun is “masculine” and the moon is “feminine”, but two-spirit people are the dawn and dusk, we are the connectors between these energies, and that connection is sacred. 

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My queerness helped drive me to study, to search. I was told by spiritual elders to search within as well. I created my first altar guided by a welcoming community and visions I had, and I learned different forms of divination to guide me in my life. I recognized that my path was both in traditional African religions of the diaspora and Indigenous animism. I didn’t feel lost anymore, I had my guides, I had my paths, I had my ancestors behind me.

Tips for connecting with your ancestry:

  • - Find your ancestry (Family oral history, DNA tests, genealogy studies)

  • - What did your ancestors practice before Abrahamic religions? 

  • - Connect with a modern community who practice what your ancestors practised 

  • - Create an altar according to that practice 

  • - Learn a divination tool to guide you (Ie. Tarot, pendulum, dream journaling, etc.) 

Cleopatra Tatabele
« Cleopatra Tatabele (They/She Pronouns) is a two-spirit, Black and Taino educator, healer, and facilitator born and raised in Leanne territory AKA “So-called NYC”. They believe that by honouring our Black and Indigenous Ancestors we will be able to heal by any means necessary. Follow their work on IG @Afrobrujx » All posts →