What Does Two-Spirit Mean?

Two-Spirit is a term that originated within Indigenous North American cultures to describe individuals who embody both masculine and feminine spiritual attributes. It’s a complex term that is rooted deeply in the identity, history and traditions of indigenous people.

Traditionally, every Native American tribe has different parameters for gender roles and norms. Ranging from culture to culture, some tribes recognized and revered the existence of two or more genders, often than not, beyond the binary of male and female. The term Two-Spirit was coined in a 1990 Native LGBTQ conference in Winnipeg and was employed to reclaim and unify various gender identities and expressions of Native American or First Nations people.

In essence, “Two-Spirit” implies a balance of masculine and feminine qualities within an individual or the presence of both a male and female spirit in a single person. It works as an umbrella term encompassing a diverse array of Indigenous sexual and gender identities. It can refer to people who might classify themselves as either multigender, third-gender or non-binary, but the meaning can slightly vary in different communities and individual experiences.

Two-Spirit individuals in many tribes are often regarded with profound respect and served significant social roles. They may have been healers, mediators, and leaders, honored for their abilities to understand and balance both feminine and masculine perspectives. They were believed to link the dichotomy between the physical world and the realm of spirit.

However, it is important to note that not all tribes or Indigenous people identify with or accept the term Two-Spirit. As with many cultural concepts, interpretation and utilization of this term can differ widely among Indigenous communities or individuals. Also, not all Indigenous people who might fall under this term’s purview in terms of their sexual orientation or gender identity use it, as they may prefer other self-identifying labels.

Furthermore, understanding “Two-Spirit” in the contemporary context involves acknowledging the ongoing impacts of colonialism, racism, and homophobia on Indigenous people’s lives. The term is a symbol of resistance to the imposition of Western gender roles and serves as a healing tool for some.

Remember, the term “Two-Spirit” is specific to Indigenous people and shouldn’t be co-opted by non-indigenous people who might identify with its definition. Using this term while not being an Indigenous person could be seen as cultural appropriation, an act not well-received by the Indigenous communities.

In summary, “Two-Spirit” is an Indigenous term reflecting complex cultural interpretations of gender, status, spirituality, and societal roles. It is a unique embodiment of identity that has a traditional and historical significance, manifested diversely across various Indigenous tribes. It demands understanding, acceptance, and profound respect, like all identities beyond the binary realms of classification.