Before we break down what it means to identify as two-spirit, it’s important to note that it is solely and exclusively a Native American gender identity. Period.
Otoe-Missouria and Choctaw journalist and activist Johnnie Jae puts it plainly on Twitter: “If you are NOT Native….you are NOT Two-Spirit. If you are NOT Native….you do NOT get to claim Two-Spirit identity. You are NOT entitled to Two-Spirit identity. The term Two-Spirit is not an umbrella term for LGBTQ identities.”
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According to Jae, two-spirit is a term used to “identify, reclaim and revitalize very specific identities, histories, legacies, and power that go far beyond just sexuality and gender identity for Indigenous peoples.”
And though it was only formally adopted in 1990 at the third annual Native American Gay & Lesbian Gathering, the term two-spirit has roots that date back centuries.
So what does it mean exactly? According to sex coach and writer Katherin Winnick, two-spirit, by definition, can be used to describe an Indigenous person who possesses two kinds of spirits: It can be masculine-masculine, masculine-feminine, feminine-feminine, or feminine-masculine. Sometimes you will see the “2” of two-spirit in the term LGBTQ2.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN TWO-SPIRIT, QUEER, DEMIGENDER, BIGENDER, AND GENDERFLUID
Two-spirit is an umbrella term that encompasses all gender and sexual diversities outside the classic binary genders. The most appropriate gender identity to compare it to would be queer (which is also a generic umbrella term).
But because of the number “two” in two-spirit, the term is now often used (outside of the Indigenous community) interchangeably with demigender, bigender, and gender fluid—aka how people identify when they experience themselves across multiple spectrums of gender.
But, again, two-spirit is a gender identity strictly for the Native American community. So any non-Indigenous people who use the term are partaking in cultural appropriation.
Winnick also notes that in aboriginal culture, two-spirits were highly regarded individuals, as they were considered as having special qualities and were often assigned important roles in society.
WHAT IDENTIFYING AS TWO-SPIRIT LOOKS LIKE
Like all other gender identities, there is no single way someone who identifies as two-spirit looks. For example, an AMAB (assigned male at birth) two-spirit could love dressing like a female to express their feminine side, but at the same time, they also don’t want to completely abandon their male side.
It could also work the opposite way, as in an AFAB (assigned female at birth) two-spirit could love dressing more masculine, but also not want to completely negate their feminine side either.
HOW TO SUPPORT FRIENDS OR PARTNERS WHO IDENTIFY AS TWO-SPIRIT
According to Winnick, sometimes younger people who identify as two-spirit may have a hard time finding the balance between their male and female side. Don’t be judgmental and if you can, help them explore both.
As always, offer love and support and patience with anyone exploring their gender identity.
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