You may have heard the term “two-spirited” tossed around without really knowing the meaning – perhaps because it has often beenco-opted by non-natives.
Two-Spirit is a modern umbrella term to describe Indigenous peoples who embody bothfeminine and masculine energy and have traditionally held anumber of important social and spiritual roles in their tribes.
“As I’ve been told, if morning is masculine and evening is feminine, then two-spirit people are dusk,” the two-spirit Cherokee musician said.Tony Enos says HuffPost. “We were then, and still are, the keepers of balance in our living Indigenous cultures.”
The term was invented by Myra Laramee in 1990 at a Native American and First Nations LGBTQ conference in Winnipeg, Canada (although the conceptexisted in indigenous cultureslong before that) to unite diverse queer identities and expressions among Indigenous peoples.
“The term was intentionally introduced by Indigenous people in an effort to find common ground and help educate about traditional teachings in a contemporary context,” said Geo Neptune, two-spirit passamaquoddy artist.explained in a video for Them.com.
Tribal nations have their own terms and understanding of what it means to be two-spirited. Some individuals prefer to use words from their native languagesrather than adopting the pan-Indian term “Two-Spirit,” according to the Indian Health Service website.
Prior to colonization, Indigenous communities embraced Two-Spirit identity. But the Europeans homophobic attitudes and binary understanding of gender to its erasure.
“The traditional place and role we held among our people has been taken away from us and considered an ‘abomination’,” Enos said. “The modern two-spirit movement is a reclaiming of this traditional role and place among our people.
The role of two-spirits
Historically, Two-Spirit people were honored members of their tribes and held roles such as visionary, artist, healer, matchmaker, advise and warrior. These people often performed functions that were traditionally assigned to men and women.
Matthew Reed, a Two-Spirit from the Laguna Pueblo Tribe, told HuffPost that according to his father, the Two-Spirit in their community would live and dress “according to who they were called to be.”
For example, a Two-Spirit no one can hunt and wage warwhile taking on household chores like cooking or raising children.
Being Two-Spirit is also “the spirit of our connection to our history, our culture, our traditions and the lands in which we live”, human rights activist Albert McLeod, co-director of Two-Spirited People of Manitoba, told USA Today“but also the spirit of inclusion in our families, our communities and our nations.”
“A lot of people assume it’s specifically about gender identity or biological sex,” he continued. “But I think it has a deeper meaning in terms of spiritual connection to the land and our peoples.”
For Reed, being Two-Spirit means honoring traditions and being of service to others, he said.
“It’s not necessarily a statement saying ‘I’m here,’ but rather ‘how can I help?'” he said. “Whatever roles were taken away from us during the conquest, it is not for others to restore them, but rather for Two-Spirit people to take back in their communities. For me, this means participating in our traditional ceremonies [and] preserve our heritage by learning and teaching.
Enos also cited the two-spirited gift of being able to “see the world through the lens of both a male and female spirit.” For him, he says, being Two-Spirit also means “caring for our young and our elders.”
Importantly, with hundreds of Indigenous tribes comes “hundreds of different traditions, languages, songs, prayers, and even roles for Two-Spirit people,” Enos added. “We are not a monolithic people.
PSA: the term is reserved for indigenous peoples only
In a 2018 Billboard interviewsinger Jason Mraz has opened up about his sexuality and experiences with both men and women, using the word “two-spirited” to describe his identity.
“It was like, ‘Wow, does that mean I’m gay?’ And my wife made it for me. She calls it ‘two spirits,’ which is what Native Americans call someone who can love both man and woman. I really like that,” said Mraz told the publication.
he later apologized on Twitter “for misunderstanding and misuse of the term.”
Two-Spirit is “not a poetic way for non-Indigenous LGBTQ people to express themselves,” as Neptune explained in the Them.com video.
Reed said non-Indigenous people who claim to be Two-Spirit “are reminiscent of the colonizers and conquerors who took our identity away from us.”
“We welcome allies, but two-spirit is for Indigenous peoples only,” he said. “A non-native would or should not claim to be of Navajo descent because they felt kinship.”