What Does Two-Spirit Mean? This Indigenous Gender Identity Goes Back Centuries

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    What Does Two-Spirit Mean? This Indigenous Gender Identity Goes Back Centuries

    If you’re asking yourself what it means to identify as Two-Spirit, the first thing you should know is that it’s a term solely to be used by Native American and Indigenous people. Two-Spirit people are essential to their communities, and their history is rich and nuanced. Using the term Two-Spirit as someone who isn’t Native or Indigenous is cultural appropriation, period.

    As Otoe-Missouria and Choctaw journalist and activitist Johnnie Jae tweeted, “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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    Although it was only formally adopted in 1990 at the third annual Native American/First Nations Gay and Lesbian American Conference in Winnipeg, Canada, the term “Two-Spirit” has roots that date back centuries. According to Jae, it’s a term used to “identify, reclaim, and revitalize very specific identities, histories, legacies, and power that goes far beyond just sexuality and gender identity for Indigenous peoples.” So, what exactly does it mean?

    Being Two-Spirit Transcends Gender Binaries

    “Two-Spirit differs from terms such as gender-fluid or genderqueer because it is a Native-specific term that is used to signify gender and sexual orientation variance in First Nations (Canada) and Native Americans (USA),” says Dr. Roger Kuhn (Poarch Creek), a therapist who specializes in sexuality studies. “Two-spirit is an addition, not a replacement, for Indigenous languages which may already have a term for gender and sexual orientation variance. Two-Spirit is a term created by and to be used only for Native people.”

    Katherin Winnick, sex coach and writer, says a Two-Spirit person possesses two inner spirits that transcend gender binaries. They can be masculine-masculine, masculine-feminine, feminine-feminine, or feminine-masculine. Sometimes you will see the “2” of “Two-Spirit” in the term “LGBTQ2.” According to the Indian Health Service, in most tribes, Two-Spirit people were considered neither men nor women, and occupied a “distinct, alternative gender status.”

    Winnick also notes that in aboriginal culture, Two-Spirit people were highly regarded individuals, as they were considered as having special qualities and were often assigned important roles in society. According to Dr. Kuhn, Two-Spirit people historically wore several hats as mediators, caretakers, firekeepers, spiritual advisors, medicine people, and more.

    “Many Two-Spirit people continue to play significant roles in their communities and in larger Native circles, including ceremonial spaces,” says Dr. Kuhn. “They also continue to play similar roles as their Two-Spirit ancestors, such as mental health counselors and therapists, medical personnel, community organizers, activists, artists, designers, and teachers.”

    There’s a Difference Between Being Two-Spirit and Being Queer, Demigender, Bigender, and Gender Fluid

    “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.

    Two-Spirit People Still Play Important Roles In Their Communities Today

    According to the Indian Health Service, Two-Spirit roles and many other Native traditions disappeared or went underground following the conquest of Native land by white settlers and government agents. But today, there are still many Native people who identify as Two-Spirit and who continue to be honored by their communities. “Our stories exemplify the strength, courage, bravery, and resiliency of Indigenous people,” says Dr. Kuhn. “Despite attempted genocide, thousands of our ancestors perishing due to colonial disease and government systems that continue to decimate the environment and break treaties, we as a people, as a community, as a hyper-eroticized subset of the sexuality spectrum have survived, and we are thriving.”

    Related Words:
    Queer
    Demigender
    Bigender
    Gender-fluid

    Not All Two-Spirit People Express Themselves The Same Way

    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 person 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 person could love dressing more masculine but not want to completely negate their feminine side either.

    The Two-Spirit Flag Is a Symbol of Unity

    Just like there’s a pride flag for most other gender identities and sexualities, there is a Two-Spirit flag, too. It’s a traditional rainbow pride flag with two feathers on the front middle, symbolizing both masculine and feminine identities. They’re held together by a circle, which, according to the University of Northern Colorado Gender & Sexuality Resource Center, “represents the unification of masculine and feminine identities into a separate gender.”

    Community is Essential When Supporting Your Two-Spirit Friends or Family Members

    According to Winnick, sometimes younger people who identify as Two-Spirit may have a hard time finding the balance between their male and female sides. Don’t be judgmental, and if you can, help them explore both. According to the Canadian National Collaborating Centre For Aboriginal Health, research indicates that Two-Spirit people in both Canada and the US are more likely to experience mental health issues like depression and anxiety, as well as abuse substances like drugs and alcohol as coping mechanisms.

    Dr. Kuhn says one of the most crucial aspects of supporting Two-Spirit people is to listen to their stories, “and help them navigate vital life-saving care such as sexual health prevention and treatment, housing, mental health, education, and access to culturally relevant spaces for healing, connection, and ceremony.”

    He also stresses the importance of community to cultivate a sense of belonging. “Two-Spirit gatherings such as the annual Montana Two-Spirit Gathering and the BAAITS powwow create community wherein Two-Spirit people can express their culture and their sexuality.” As always, offer love, support, and patience to anyone exploring their gender identity.

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    Published at Thu, 21 Oct 2021 18:46:00 +0000

    https://www.cosmopolitan.com/sex-love/a35255268/two-spirit/

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