Osage artist Marx Cassity reclaims Two-Spirit culture with album ‘2Sacred’

After decades-long careers spanning music, nursing, and therapy, Marx Cassity’s latest project, 2Sacred, has no shortage of life experience to share with the next generation. Marx, a Two-Spirit artist, grew up on an Osage reservation in Oklahoma in the 1970s where they discovered queerness, while also witnessing the open hostility to the few other queer people around them. Ultimately, music became a primary means for escape and healing.

On November 5th, they will release their newest album, 2Sacred, and it represents an entirely new era for their artistry, as it is the first album where they will be professionally known as Marx Cassity, the name they’ve taken to embody historical gender diversity. Musically, the album is a transition from their folk rock roots to electronic rock tinged with pianos and synthesizers. But most important is the album’s message for at-risk queer youth, “You are not alone”—lyrics which crown the lead single, “How Long.”

INTO spoke to Marx about 2Sacred, the influences behind their music, and their message of hope to queer Native American youth.

Given that your genre and style has evolved over time, how did you approach the music within 2Sacred?

My album 2Sacred, out November 5, was inspired by the fact that in 2020, 33% of Native LGBTQ+ youth attempted suicide. In my previous albums, I performed under my given name “Marca,” but I placed an “X” in my name for this project to pay honor to the fact that gender diversity has always existed throughout history. As Marx, I wrote this album for those youth, as well as my young, tomboy self who survived listening to all that ‘80s music.

After writing on that acoustic guitar, that was easy to travel with for all those years, for this album I returned to piano and brought in organ and synth vibes of the ‘80s. We made a music video for one of those songs, “How Long,” that speaks to surviving through connection with community and ancestors.

How does the larger context of Osage culture and the lingering effects of historical trauma play a role in your art?

Part of historical trauma for LGBTQ+ Natives is the colonization of gender and sexuality. I am Osage and Kaw, and we have a word, mixoge, that means “a man guided by the moon.” Our language holders tell me this can be used to describe gender diverse people across the spectrum. So, diversity of gender and sexuality is nothing new for Osages but it has been heavily impacted by settler colonialism. Many of us are on a mission to reclaim this heritage, to decolonize gender and sexuality, and I attempt to do this through music.

Photo credit: Marx Cassity

You’ve mentioned embracing your age with the 2Sacred album, while you also make music to speak to the next generation. How do you balance those two ideas on your new album?

In many ways, I created 2Sacred for my younger self, but from all of my lived experience. It’s been healing for me personally, but the vision has always been that this hopefully helps others who can relate. Even though so much has changed over the last several decades, I know a lot of young queer and trans people who are struggling. In the song “The Dawn,” I literally sing about being in service and sacrificing for the coming generations:

Head into the storm

The Buffalo of thunder nations

In the lighting sacrificing 

For the coming generations

In my fifties, and with all of my lived experience, I’m resourced enough to make this album (I’m so grateful to NDN Collective for giving me a Radical Imagination grant that has made it all possible) and to step into some visibility, even though it’s incredibly vulnerable. My greatest hope with all of this is that my being out as a Two-Spirit person and singing about it makes it safer for others in their local communities, especially in places like Oklahoma where in some areas it can still be dangerous to be out.

What is a piece of pop culture or media that is not explicitly gay, but that helped you learn about your queerness?

In 1984, Eurythmics were nominated for a Grammy for Best New Artist. I was 17 and a huge fan, and watched on TV. This was before the internet, and there were no openly queer folks on TV. I was in a vacuum, in the bible belt of Oklahoma, and so scared after witnessing those two girls come out in high school and be attacked by my entire hometown.

Watching Annie Lennox step on stage and sing “Sweet Dreams” in full masculine drag was like a miracle before my young teenage eyes. Again, there was no YouTube, to go back and watch it again. I got to see it one time, for those 3 minutes and 28 seconds, and it was glorious. It signaled to me that there were others that could understand me, somehow.  

What do you think queer pop culture needs more of now?

I’m a therapist and I work all week long with 2SLGBTQ+ clients. One thing that is needed is empathy within our queer and trans communities: celebrating and uplifting each other across differences within our own communities, finding ways to dialogue and give feedback that is not contemptuous and not attacking each other, whether that be in person or on social media.

Lateral violence is violence. It causes a specific type of trauma that is very isolating, shame-filled, and dangerous. Also, the people that hate us look in at that and celebrate the in-fighting. So yeah, let’s cultivate more empathy please. I believe in restorative justice and nonviolent communication as a way of putting that empathy into action. Pop culture has a huge power to influence, so any way it can integrate and role model some of these ideas would really help 2SLGBTQ+ communities and people to thrive, even as we continue to face challenging socio-political landscapes. 

Photo credit: Marx Cassity

2Sacred is out on November 5.

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