Jozi Tall Chief is making history as the first admitted intersex/transgender to run for a seat in the Osage Nation government.
“I am the first intersex/transgender candidate in our tribe and I am making history by not only drawing attention to our tribe and issues,” said Tall Chief, “But we are enlightening our people to the old tradition, which we call today ‘Two-Spirit.’”
Tall Chief always felt in her heart that she was a woman but for the first 25 years of her life she lived as Alex Joseph Tall Chief V.
Tall Chief was born intersex, or as she puts it a “birth defect.” Intersex means Tall Chief was born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definition of female or male.
“People around here think I was born a male and one day woke up and decided to wear women’s clothes but that isn’t the case,” Tall Chief said.
After she was born her parents took her to the doctor who told them to raise Tall Chief as a male.
Tall Chief said she tried to be what her parents wanted her to be but she knew she was different. And her parents ridiculed her for it.
Luckily she had her grandparents Alex Tall Chief III and Juanita Roanhorse Tall Chief who loved her unconditionally.
“My grandparents were more in tune to the old traditional ways and believed you love someone no matter what,” Tall Chief said. “Also having a big family helped.”
When Tall Chief was 25, she was watching the Joan Rivers’ TV show and Rivers special guest was Caroline “Tula” Cossey, a transgender model. Tula had an intersex condition known as Klinefelter’s syndrome – where instead of having the XY male chromosome pattern, she possessed the genotype XXY.
The explanation of Tula’s condition opened Tall Chief’s eyes since she had never been educated on her condition. Tall Chief slowly began being herself and started dressing like a woman.
“It was scary at first but I was willing to fight since I had fought my entire life to be me,” Tall Chief said. “And after I began dressing like a woman I started blazing a trail for others and now I am blazing a trail to be the first transgender candidate.”
She supports gay men and lesbians but doesn’t see herself as either.
“I never felt in my head or heart that I was either one of those – I guess you could say I am a different bird.”
Tall Chief has now been living as a female for nearly 25 years.
Taking a Stand
Tall Chief is trying to make a stand for herself and others because she feels the tribe is moving backward and it is time to move forward and join the rest of the world.
“What I have is a birth defect and it shouldn’t make or break someone,” she said. “Everyone has a cross to bear but no matter what we have to bear we should have the right to stand up for our people and ourselves and make a difference, or at least try.”
Tall Chief believes that her condition, along with two-spirited, gay, lesbian and bi-sexual people, have not been accepted or talked about in the Osage community.
“It hasn’t been accepted and I think that is why people think things of me and others hide who they really are.”
Tall Chief said things are not just black and white; there are shades of grey too.
She admits that she isn’t running because she is transgender or supports the LGBT community, she is running because she sincerely cares about her Osage people.
Brittany Novotny, a transgender attorney in Oklahoma City is excited to see that there are other transgender people in Oklahoma that are paying attention to their local community.
“I’m glad she (Jozi) is letting herself get involved in her community and not letting her transgender path stand in her way,” Novotny said.
In 2010, Novotny became the first openly transgender political candidate in Oklahoma history, running for the Oklahoma House District 84 seat. During her campaign Novotny made sure it wasn’t overshadowed by her personal story.
“I hope Jozi can do a balancing act between talking about who she is openly and keeping a focus on what issues she is concerned about,” Novotny said.
Running for Congress
Politics never did interest Tall Chief nor was it something she wanted to pursue.
“I didn’t want to fight with people, sling mud or step on anyone’s toes and I felt there was better-educated people out there,” Tall Chief said. “And of course my transgenderism set me back.”
But in the last 10 years, Tall Chief has had some concerns and thought about running. But it still didn’t appeal to her but her great-great-great-grandpa Peter Big Heart quickly changed her mind.
“Just before my grandmother died in 2008 my grandpa Big Heart came to me in a dream and told me I had to show the people the way to go,” Tall Chief said. “I was like ‘that isn’t me I don’t have the desire to be a leader’ and he said ‘we aren’t asking you we are telling you to be a leader.’”
Four years later, Tall Chief decided to put her name in the running for the Third Osage Nation Congress.
“When I first went to file at the Election Office I thought ‘boy they (other candidates) are going to rip me to shreds and it almost made me turn around and go home,” Tall Chief said. “But then I talked to my neighbor and she said ‘you’ve been ripped to shreds your whole life and at least now it is for a good cause.’”
She admits no one has said anything to her face yet but is expecting it once the election draws closer.
However, she hopes that once people get to know her they will realize she is just like anyone else.
Her grandmother Juanita Roanhorse Tall Chief taught her everything she knows. She taught her Osage words and instilled a lot of values in her and she wants to share those with the people.
“I feel like the old ones (ancestors) and Wah Kon Tah (God) are watching over me and guiding me,” she said. “I feel like they are pushing me and I know it might sound crazy to people.”
She admits that even though she doesn’t have a degree she does have a lot of experience in the real world and living in Osage County her whole life.
“Her heart is in the right place and so is her head,” said Stephanie Erwin, Osage.
Erwin is a friend of Tall Chief and believes she has a lot to offer the Osage people. She said she has visited with Tall Chief at great lengths about issues within the tribe.
“I believe everyone has something to bring to the table,” Erwin said. “Jozi knows the issues and I think she would be a great congress person.”
Tall Chief said she is an “open book” and if anyone wants to share their concerns or ask her questions she is more than willing to talk with them.
“It doesn’t matter what you classify me as I still have the love for my Osage people,” Tall Chief said. “And the most important thing is what is between my ears rather than any other part of my anatomy.”