Maria Mocerino

Marca Cassity is a two-spirit trauma therapist who specializes in Native American and queer-related trauma. As Cassity grew up on the Osage reservation in Oklahoma in the 70s, they experienced the trauma of two-spirit erasure in their Native community and of homophobia and assimilation genocide in the wider culture. They pursued a career in healthcare as a result, beginning in the late 1980s through a medical system that was inherently and openly homophobic.

“My passion is for all LGBTQ people especially two-spirit people,” Cassity said. “I can speak to the fact that two-spirit people and LGBTQ people have their own specific brand of trauma in systemic homophobia and transphobia.”

“My passion is for all LGBTQ people especially two-spirit people,” Cassity said. “I can speak to the fact that two-spirit people and LGBTQ people have their own specific brand of trauma in systemic homophobia and transphobia.”

After completing a BSN at the University of Oklahoma, Cassity worked as an emergency room nurse. They continued their clinical training at the Native American Health Center of San Francisco, and at the Indian Country Child Trauma Center at the University of Oklahoma under Dr. Dolores Bigfoot. Currently, Cassity works as a therapist in private practice in Portland, Oregon and sits on the Advisory Council on Diversity for the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). Soon, they will be launching one of  the first studies on psychedelics and the trauma of being transgender in a transphobic society. Alongside their clinical work, Cassity is a critically acclaimed songwriter.

In this interview, Marca Cassity shares their experience growing up as a queer, two-spirit individual on the Osage reservation in the Bible Belt, how ayahuasca led them to become a trauma therapist specializing in Native, two-spirit, queer and LGBTQ related trauma, and the inclusion of Native Americans, two-spirits, LGBTQ and BIPOC people in psychedelic research.

I had been a first responder at the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, and I had moved to Boulder, Colorado to take time to heal.

MM: How did you get involved in psychedelics?

MC: I was in my thirties when I had my first experience with ayahuasca. I had been a first responder at the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, and I had moved to Boulder, Colorado to take time to heal. I had a hearty case of cumulative PTSD. I was welcomed into a Brazilian community in Boulder, working with Santo Daime or what most people know as ayahuasca. In a conscious, supportive setting, this medicine enabled me to re-experience, grieve, purge, and gain insight into my trauma as a Native, two-spirit person, and as an emergency room nurse.

Erasure and silence are forms of queer trauma, for many people, often within their own native tribe. Erasure is also a trauma for Native American people.

MM: When did you begin your recovery from queer trauma?

MC: I began my recovery from queer trauma in the late 90s. I left Oklahoma and first landed in the music and consciousness scene in Boulder, and eventually San Francisco. Erasure and silence are forms of queer trauma, for many people, often within their own native tribe. Erasure is also a trauma for Native American people. For people who are queer and Native, that’s a lot of erasure to deal with. After doing intensive work in EMDR therapy and mindfulness meditation, as well as plant medicines in different capacities for many years, I received healing from an Ecuadorian ayahuasquero from a long lineage of shamans. He told me that he wanted me to return to my people and be myself. For most of my life, my queer identity had been exiled at home. “To return,” he said, “will help them and will help you.”

MM: Tell us about the Osage reservation that you’re from.

MC: I grew up on a reservation in Northeastern Oklahoma. My ancestors have lived on this land for thousands of years. However, upon first contact with the White Europeans, there were thousands of Osages living throughout the Midwest, including in Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma. Over time, they were restricted to smaller and smaller areas, starved by limited hunting, sick from illnesses, and finally placed onto what is our current reservation. Then, in 1906, the US government forced something called “enrollment” upon my ancestors.

Osages who had already been violently removed to a collectively owned reservation were now forced to declare who their tribal members were, and divide the land, with each member receiving an allotment. By the time this happened, there were only about 2000 Osages left. My great-grandmother, who helped raise me, was one of those people. In other words, our tribe has experienced something close to genocide.

MM: You were born in 1967. What was it like growing up as a gender non-conforming individual in your Native tribe, at that time?

MC: I’ve always been a gender non-conforming person. As a child, I was called a “tomboy.” I took pride in that. It allowed me to express my gender in a way that was somewhat more comfortable for me. However, it was in high school that I realized that I was gay. Two girls in my high school came out. I immediately realized why I had always felt different.

Homosexuality had only been removed as a psychological disorder from the DSM, by the American Psychiatric Association, in 1973.

This was happening at the height of the AIDS crisis. My reservation is in the bible belt. Thus, the reservation and neighboring town where I went to high school were, and still are, dominated by intensely conservative Christianity. Homosexuality had only been removed as a psychological disorder from the DSM, by the American Psychiatric Association, in 1973. I learned quickly that being a tomboy child is one thing, but expressing my two-spirit, queer  adult self, which at the time took the form of butch lesbian, was dangerous.

With terror, I witnessed these two innocent girls from my high school come out and be physically and emotionally attacked mostly by the students and some faculty of my high school as well as by the adults in my hometown. I began to feel the trauma of systemic homophobia then.

I was already living with a lot of intergenerational trauma within my family. My tribe had experienced something near genocide. That produces a lot of dysfunction because the people are coping with that history. There was mental illness, alcoholism, and domestic violence within my family system that I was dealing with, for example. To come out as gay, on top of that, was intense. At the age of 19 circumstances led me to be out of the closet before I was ready, and the response of the adults in my community was so disturbing it led to me to drop out of college, where I was majoring in music. At that point, I became quite self-destructive as I believed what society was saying to me, that I was pervert, and a deviant who deserved to die.

MM: What is the history behind two spirit, as a gender, within the Native American community?

MC: When the Europeans arrived, they wrote about gender non-conforming people in over 120 tribes. Europeans used derogatory language for them, such as the term “berdache,” but this documentation proved their existence. “Berdache” was a slang term used for male transvestites or sex between males in their French and Spanish societies. In Arabic, it means “slave” or “kept boy.”

In the 1970’s the Gay American Indian movement and other such movements started standing in their power along side the Civil Rights Movement. They were not only fighting for representation in mainstream culture but in their own native communities that had been colonized by Christianity.

In the 1970’s the Gay American Indian movement and other such movements started standing in their power along side the Civil Rights Movement. They were not only fighting for representation in mainstream culture but in their own native communities that had been colonized by Christianity.

The only terms that two-spirits had in written history were derogatory ones employed by Europeans. In 1990, a gathering was held amongst Native leaders and academics in Canada. This event marked a shift. Queer and transgender Indians started calling themselves “two-spirit” in their language going forward. Two-spirit has since become an umbrella term for all Native American LGBTQ people.

The erasure and oppression of queer/trans people in Native communities is a product of colonization. To be out as queer, nonbinary, and two-spirit is an act of decolonization.

I learned about all of this on a deeper level when I was working with Native American clients as a therapist-in-training in San Francisco in 2010. The two-spirit leadership was becoming more vocal and empowered, and a new sense of pride and celebration was gaining momentum. The erasure and oppression of queer/trans people in Native communities is a product of colonization. To be out as queer, nonbinary, and two-spirit is an act of decolonization.

I come forth in my Native identity so strongly, because I know that “assimilation genocide” is real. It means taking people’s way of life and traditions away from them. I have European ancestry too, so I have white privilege as well as the trauma of erasure and genocide. That has been quite complex to navigate, finding a community in which that very specific set of intersections (queer, non-binary, Native, white-appearing) can be seen and held.

In my class, it was stated by a psychiatric nurse specialist that “all homosexuals have bad parental figures, which is probably why they are the way the are.

MM: Before becoming a queer trauma specialist, you first began your medical career as a nurse?

MC: I had not come out as gay yet while I was studying at the University of Oklahoma Nursing School in 1991. In my class, it was stated by a psychiatric nurse specialist that “all homosexuals have bad parental figures, which is probably why they are the way the are.” I panicked in the classroom as she spewed this and students jumped in to express their homophobia. I graduated, somehow, and kept trying to rescue myself by rescuing others.

I became a nurse to prove my worth on the planet as a queer person. Becoming an emergency room nurse, literally pulling people back from the dead, including those who would hate me as a “homosexual,” helped me have self-esteem. Then, the Oklahoma City bombing happened, and that along with all that had come before, is what eventually led to this healing path with plant medicines, as well as my path back to music.

My colleagues at the first and only training for BIPOC clinicians for MDMA-assisted therapy were from different walks of life: community organizers, transformational festival DJs, afrofuturists, ayahuasqueros, traditional indigenous healers, doctors, therapists, and psychiatrists.

MM: You were invited by MAPS to train as a clinician in their BIPOC MDMA-assisted therapy program. What did you learn about inclusion and diversity in the clinical psychedelic world?

MC: We have a long way to go when it comes to making psychedelic-assisted therapy safe and equitable for BIPOC and LGBTQ/Two-spirit people. My colleagues at the first and only training for BIPOC clinicians for MDMA-assisted therapy were from different walks of life: community organizers, transformational festival DJs, afrofuturists, ayahuasqueros, traditional indigenous healers, doctors, therapists, and psychiatrists. There is a movement of clinicians coming forward who believe in this work.

MM: Since you are on the Advisory Council on Diversity for MAPS, can you talk about the objective of this committee, and what sorts of issues you were trying to address?

MC: MAPS is in an exciting and complex position. The FDA, DEA, and mainstream channels across the country are starting to understand, from the research, that psychedelics can be therapeutic. For example, MDMA-assisted psychotherapy is showing amazing results for treating PTSD. Thus far, most of the research participants in Stage III research have been cisgender, heterosexual, and white.

To have more equity and diversity, MAPS will have to build trust within marginalized communities due the history of harsher criminalization of people of color in the drug war, as well as the history of unethical research in the United States with POC.

To have more equity and diversity, MAPS will have to build trust within marginalized communities due the history of harsher criminalization of people of color in the drug war, as well as the history of unethical research in the United States with POC. There is also a need for recognizing the history of plant medicine on the planet, as not just beginning with white men in the 1960s. It makes sense that BIPOC people and queer people would need BIPOC and queer clinicians who have cultural competence and humility in the work.  MAPS is in the position of needing to focus resources on these issues, while also staying focused on navigating the FDA and DEA to keep the research moving as we head towards legalization.

I had received an artist grant that year from the Osage Nation Foundation to make Songs From the Well, an album of resilience songs that I recorded with producer Julie Wolf in Berkeley, CA.

MM: Finally, to go back to the fateful ayahuasca ceremony you had with the shaman who told you to go back home. You decided to return to your Native community openly as a two-spirit person. How were you received?

MC: In 2014, at the age of 47, I was invited to sing a song I had written about my heritage at the inauguration of the Osage Nation Chief and Congress. I had received an artist grant that year from the Osage Nation Foundation to make Songs From the Well, an album of resilience songs that I recorded with producer Julie Wolf in Berkeley, CA.

I sang wearing a black ribbon shirt that would more usually be worn by men. I don’t wear make up, and I had very short hair, which was pretty queer for that part of the world. I felt incredibly vulnerable, but I was representing the gender non-conforming people of my tribe. Allies in tribal leadership who invited me to sing, are recognizing the value of two-spirit people, although there is still much work to be done. We had a special election in 2017 and the people of the Osage nation voted to pass marriage equality, but by only 52%.

It is important to me to help empower our LGBTQ members, as I had no one in my youth, so I stepped through my vulnerability and sang that day. I represented two-spirits, I walked away knowing who I am, and that I don’t have to save people anymore to prove my worth.

If I can reach a Two Spirit person or queer kid with my words and remind them of their worth, that makes my heart beat stronger.

Art by Mariom Luna.



Psychedelics & Native American Heritage Month Featuring Sutton King in conversation with Bia Labate Wednesday, November 25th from 12-1:30pm PST REGISTER FOR THIS EVENT...

Did you enjoy reading this article?

Please support Chacruna's work by donating to us. We are an independent organization and we offer free education and advocacy for psychedelic plant medicines. We are a team of dedicated volunteers!

Can you help Chacruna advance cultural understanding around these substances?

Become a Chacruna Member

To make a direct donation click the button below:


Take a minute and buy our books and goods: