Two-Spirit (also two spirit or twospirit) is a modern umbrella term used by some indigenous North Americans to describe gay, lesbian, bisexual and gender-variant individuals in their communities.[1][2] The term was adopted in 1990 at an Indigenous lesbian and gay international gathering to encourage the replacement of the anthropological term berdache.[2][3] It is a spiritual role that is recognized and confirmed by the Two-Spirit's indigenous community.[4][5] While some have found the term a useful tool for intertribal organizing, not all Native cultures conceptualize gender or sexuality this way, and most tribes use names in their own languages.[3][6] While pan-Indian terms are not always appropriate or welcome, the term has generally received more acceptance and use than the term it replaced.[3]

Third and fourth gender roles traditionally embodied by two-spirit people include performing work and wearing clothing associated with both men and women. Not all tribes/nations have rigid gender roles, but, among those that do, some consider there to be at least four genders: feminine woman, masculine woman, feminine man, masculine man.[4]

The presence of male-bodied two-spirits "was a fundamental institution among most tribal peoples"[7] and, according to Will Roscoe, both male- and female-bodied two-spirits have been documented "in over 130 North American tribes, in every region of the continent."[8]

Terminology Edit

Before the late twentieth-century, non-Native (i.e. non-Native American/Canadian) anthropologists used the generic term berdache to identify an indigenous individual fulfilling one of many mixed gender roles in their tribe, but that term has now fallen out of favor. Anthropologists primarily used it to identify feminine Native men. Its etymology, however, has meant that it is now considered outdated and potentially offensive: it derives from the French bardache (English equivalent: "bardash") meaning "passive homosexual", "catamite"[9] or even "male prostitute". Bardache, in turn, derived from the Persian برده barda meaning "captive", "prisoner of war", "slave".[10][11][12][13] Spanish explorers who encountered two-spirits among the Chumash people called them "joyas", the Spanish for "jewels".[14]

Use of berdache has generally been replaced by the self-chosen "two-spirit", which, in 1990, gained widespread popularity during the third annual intertribal Native American/First Nations gay and lesbian conference in Winnipeg.[15] Two-spirit is a pan-Indian term chosen to express the Native/First Nations' distinct approach to gender identity and variance in contrast to the imposed non-Native terms of berdache, "gay", "lesbian", and "trans".[16][17][18]

"Two-spirited" or "two-spirit" usually indicates a Native person who feels their body simultaneously manifests both a masculine and a feminine spirit, or a different balance of masculine and feminine characteristics than usually seen in masculine men and feminine women.

Most Indigenous communities have specific terms in their own languages for the gender-variant members of their communities and the social and spiritual roles these individuals fulfill — including Lakota: ''wíŋkte and Navajo: nádleehé.[19]

Definition and historic societal role Edit

Catlin - Dance to the berdache

Drawing by George Catlin (1796-1872) while on the Great Plains, among the Sac and Fox Nation; the image depicts a ceremonial dance to celebrate the two-spirit person.

The elders will tell you the difference between a gay Indian and a Two-Spirit,' [Joey Criddle] said, underscoring the idea that simply being gay and Indian does not make someone a Two-Spirit.[5]

Two-spirit individuals are viewed in some tribes as having two identities occupying one body. Their dress is usually a mixture of traditionally male and traditionally female articles, or they may dress as a man one day, and a woman on another. According to Dr. Sabine Lang, a German anthropologist, many tribes have distinct gender and social roles.[20] Some specific roles sometimes held by male assigned at birth two-spirits include:

  • conveyors of oral traditions and songs (Yuki);
  • foretellers of the future (Winnebago, Oglala Lakota);
  • conferrers of lucky names on children or adults (Oglala Lakota, Tohono O'odham);
  • potters (Zuni, Navajo, Tohono O'odham);
  • matchmakers (Cheyenne, Omaha, Oglala Lakota);
  • makers of feather regalia for dances (Maidu);
  • special role players in the Sun Dance (Crow, Hidatsa, Oglala Lakota).

Some studies of two spirit identities among biological males explain them as a "form of social failure, women-men are seen as individuals who are not in a position to adapt themselves to the masculine role prescribed by their culture"[21] and that two-spirit people lost masculine power socially, so they took on female social roles to climb back up the social ladder within the tribe. However, Lang argues that the problem with the "failure" approach "probably lies, inter alia, in the fact that the women-men's ambivalence in both role and status is over-looked".[22] Lang disputes a supposed example of women being considered inferior to men in Lakota society from R. B. Hassrick's studies:

That Lakota men did not like to be called "heart of a woman" in council meetings (Hassrick 1989:133) is less likely to mean that women were regarded as inferior than that the warrior's role was sharply set off from the woman's role (see DeMallie 1983): a warrior clearly held the status of "man". Because the Lakota winkte (upon whom Hassrick's interpretations are based) were culturally defined as "non-men", the norms valid for the masculine role were therefore not applied to them.[22]

Lang later says "men made to wear women's clothes for the purposes of humiliation are everywhere ... distinguished from women-men".[23]

Cross dressing of two-spirit people was not always an indicator of gender identity. Lang believes "the mere fact that a male wears women's clothing does not say something about his role behavior, his gender status, or even his choice of partner..."[24]

Male-bodied two-spirit people, regardless of gender identification, can go to war and have access to male activities such as male-only sweat lodge ceremonies.[25] However, they may also take on "feminine" activities such as cooking and other domestic responsibilities.[26]

Two-spirits might have relationships with people of either sex.[27] According to Lang, female assigned at birth two-spirits usually have sexual relations or marriages with only females.[28]

In most tribes a relationship between a two-spirit and non-two-spirit was seen for the most part as neither heterosexual nor homosexual (in modern-day terms) but more hetero-normative; European colonists, however, saw such relationships as homosexual. Partners of two-spirits have not historically viewed themselves as homosexual, and moreover drew a sharp conceptual line between themselves and two-spirits.[29]

Although two-spirits have been both respected and feared in many tribes, the two-spirit is not beyond being reproached or even killed for bad deeds. In the Mojave tribe, for instance, two-spirits frequently become medicine persons and, like all who deal with the supernatural, are at risk of suspicion of witchcraft, notable in cases of failed harvest or of death. There have been instances of murder in these cases (such as the female assigned at birth two-spirit named Sahaykwisā).[30] Another instance in the late 1840s was of a Crow male assigned at birth two-spirit who was caught, possibly raiding horses, by the Lakota and was killed.[31]

Among the Apache, the Lipan, Chiricahua, Mescalero, and southern Dilzhe'e have alternative gender identities.[32][33] One tribe in particular, the Eyak, has a single report from 1938 that they did not have an alternative gender and they held such individuals in low esteem, although whether this sentiment is the result of acculturation or not is unknown.[34][35]

Among the Iroquois, there is a single report from Bacqueville de la Potherie in his book published in 1722, Histoire de l'Amérique septentrionale, that indicates that an alternative gender identity exists among them.[36]

Many, if not all, tribes have been influenced by European homophobia/transphobia.[37][38][39][40][41] Some sources have reported that the Aztecs and Incas had laws against such individuals,[42][43] though there are some authors who feel that this was exaggerated or the result of acculturation, because all of the documents indicating this are post-conquest and any that existed before had been destroyed by the Spanish.[40][44] The belief that these laws existed, at least for the Aztecs, comes from the Florentine Codex. According to Dr Nancy Fitch, Professor of History at California State University, Fullerton,

There is evidence that indigenous peoples authored many codices, but the Spaniards destroyed most of them in their attempt to eradicate ancient beliefs. ... The Florentine Codex is unquestionably a troubling primary source. Natives writing in Nahuatl under the supervision of the Spanish Fray Bernardino de Sahagún apparently produced the manuscript in the 1500s. The facts of its production raise serious questions about whether the manuscript represents the vision of the vanquished or of the colonizers ... colonization of the natives' minds loomed large in the Spanish project ... To make matters worse, while it appears that the original manuscript was completed in Nahuatl some time around 1555, no evidence of it remains. Authorities in New Spain confiscated his manuscripts in 1575, and at various times, the Spanish monarchy ordered him to stop his work. The earliest known version of the manuscript is, thus, Sahagún's summary of it written in Spanish. In 1585, he published a revised version of the codex, which, he argued, corrected some errors and integrated some things ignored in his earlier summary. Sahagún's revised version is the manuscript commonly known as the Florentine Codex.[45]

–Nancy Fitch, The Conquest of Mexico Annotated Bibliography

Historical accounts Edit

Don Pedro Fages was third in command of the 1769–70 Spanish Portolà expedition, the first European land exploration of what is now the U.S. state of California. At least three diaries were kept during the expedition, but Fages wrote his account later, in 1775. Fages gave more descriptive details about the native Californians than any of the others, and he alone reported the presence of homosexuality in the native culture. The English translation reads:

I have submitted substantial evidence that those Indian men who, both here and farther inland, are observed in the dress, clothing and character of women - there being two or three such in each village - pass as sodomites by profession.... They are called joyas, and are held in great esteem.[46]

Media representation Edit

The 2009 documentary film[47] Two Spirits, directed by Lydia Nibley, tells the story of the hate-murder of 16-year-old Navajo Fred Martinez. In the film, Nibley "affirms Martinez' Navajo sense of being a two-spirit 'effeminate male', or nádleeh."[4]:168 Martinez' mother defined nádleeh as "half woman, half man".[4]:169

Tributes Edit

In 2012, a marker dedicated to two-spirit people was included in the Legacy Walk, an outdoor public display in Chicago, Illinois that celebrates LGBT history and people.[48]

Self-identified two-spirits Edit

Two-spirit societies Edit

Among the goals of two-spirit societies are group support; outreach, education, and activism; revival of cultural traditions, including preserving the old languages, skills and dances;[2] and otherwise working toward social change.[53]

Some two-spirit societies (past and present) include: 2Spirits of Toronto in Toronto, Ontario; the Bay Area American Indian Two-Spirits (est. 1998) in San Francisco, California;[54] Central Oklahoma Two Spirit Natives in Oklahoma City; the East Coast Two Spirit Society and the NorthEast Two-Spirit Society in New York City; the Indiana Two-Spirit Society in Bloomington; Minnesota Two Spirits; the Montana Two-Spirit Society in Browning; the Northwest Two-Spirit Society in Seattle, Washington; the Ohio Valley Two Spirit Society of Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and Southern Illinois;[55][56] the Portland Two Spirit Society (est. May 2012) in Portland, Oregon;[57] the Regina Two-Spirited Society in Regina, Saskatchewan; the Texas Two Spirit Society in Dallas; the Tulsa Two-Spirit Society in Tulsa, Oklahoma; the Two-Spirit Society of Denver in Denver, Colorado; and the Wichita Two-Spirit Society in Wichita, Kansas.[53][58][59][60]

References Edit

  1. Medicine, Beatrice (August 2002). "Directions in Gender Research in American Indian Societies: Two Spirits and Other Categories". Online Readings in Psychology and Culture (International Association for Cross-Cultural Psychology) 3 (1): 7. ISSN 2307-0919. Retrieved 2016-06-25. "At the Wenner Gren conference on gender held in Chicago, May, 1994... the gay American Indian and Alaska Native males agreed to use the term "Two Spirit" to replace the controversial "berdache" term. The stated objective was to purge the older term from anthropological literature as it was seen as demeaning and not reflective of Native categories. Unfortunately, the term "berdache" has also been incorporated in the psychology and women studies domains, so the task for the affected group to purge the term looms large and may be formidable.". 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 A Spirit of Belonging, Inside and Out. The New York Times (8 Oct 2006). Retrieved on 28 July 2016.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "Two Spirit 101" at NativeOut: "The Two Spirit term was adopted in 1990 at an Indigenous lesbian and gay international gathering to encourage the replacement of the term berdache, which means, 'passive partner in sodomy, boy prostitute.'" Accessed 23 Sep 2015
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Estrada, Gabriel S. 2011. "Two Spirits, Nádleeh, and LGBTQ2 Navajo Gaze." American Indian Culture and Research Journal 35(4):167-190.
  5. 5.0 5.1 A Spirit of Belonging, Inside and Out. The New York Times (8 Oct 2006). Retrieved on 28 July 2016. "'The elders will tell you the difference between a gay Indian and a Two-Spirit,' [Criddle] said, underscoring the idea that simply being gay and Indian does not make someone a Two-Spirit."
  6. "Two Spirit Terms in Tribal Languages" at NativeOut. Accessed 23 Sep 2015
  7. Gilley, Brian Joseph (2006: 8). Becoming Two-Spirit: Gay Identity and Social Acceptance in Indian Country. ISBN 0-8032-7126-3.
  8. Roscoe, Will (1991). The Zuni Man-Woman, p.5. ISBN 0-8263-1253-5.
  9. Definition of "bardash" - Collins English Dictionary. Retrieved on 7 June 2015.
  10. Steingass, Francis Joseph. A Comprehensive Persian-English dictionary, including the Arabic words and phrases to be met with in Persian literature. London: Routledge & K. Paul, 1892. p. 173
  11. Jacobs, S.; Thomas, W.; Lang, S. (Eds.): Two-spirit people: Native American gender identity, sexuality, and spirituality, page 4. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997.
  12. Roscoe, W.: Changing ones: Third and fourth genders in native North America, page 7. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998.
  13. vulnerable, The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. Accessed: March 24, 2007.
  14. Kent Flannery; Joyce Marcus (15 May 2012). The Creation of Inequality. Harvard University Press. pp. 70–71. ISBN 978-0-674-06469-0. 
  15. Error on call to Template:cite book: Parameter title must be specifiedEncyclopedia of gender and society. SAGE (2009). Retrieved on 6 March 2015.
  16. Jacobs, S. (1997), pp. 2–3, 221.
  17. Lang, S.: Men as women, women as men: Changing gender in Native American cultures, page XIII. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1998.
  18. Roscoe, W. (1998), p. 109.
  19. Burrus, Virginia & Keller, Catherine (2006). Toward a theology of eros: transfiguring passion at the limits of discipline Transdisciplinary theological colloquia. Fordham University Press. ISBN 0-8232-2636-0, ISBN 978-0-8232-2636-8. p. 73.
  20. Lang, Sabine, Men as women, women as men: changing gender in Native American cultures'.'
  21. (Lang, 28)
  22. 22.0 22.1 (Lang, 29)
  23. (Lang, 341)
  24. (Lang, 62)
  25. Inventory of Aboriginal Services, Issues and Initiatives in Vancouver: Two Spirit – LGTB. Retrieved on 2007-07-01.
  26. Page 72 -
  27. Stryker, Susan (2004). Berdache. Retrieved on 2007-07-01.
  28. Lang, S. (1998), pp. 289–298.
  29. Lang, S. (1998), pp. 208-212.
  30. Lang, S. (1998), pp. 164, 288.
  31. Walker, James: Lakota Society, edited by Raymond J. DeMallie, p. 147. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1982.
  32. Lang, S. (1998), pp. 291–93.
  33. Jacobs, S. (1997), pp. 236–251.
  34. Lang, S. (1998), pp. 202–203.
  35. Roscoe, W. (1998), p. 15.
  36. Roscoe, W. (1998), pp. 250-251n.43. (vol. 3, p. 41)
  37. Jacobs, S. (1997), p. 206.
  38. Roscoe, W. (1998), p. 114.
  39. Lang, S. (1998), pp. 119, 311–313, 322.
  40. 40.0 40.1 Trexler, R. : Sex and conquest: Gendered violence, political order, and the European conquest of the Americas, pp. 155–167. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1995.
  41. Swidler, Arlene: Homosexuality and World Religions, pp. 17–19. Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 1993.
  42. Lang, S. (1998), p. 324.
  43. Spencer, Colin: Homosexuality in History, p. 142. London: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1995.
  44. Greenberg, David: The Construction of Homosexuality, pp. 165–168. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988.
  45. Fitch, Nancy: General Discussion of the Primary Sources Used in This Project, The Conquest of Mexico Annotated Bibliography. Accessed: June 14, 2008.
  46. Error on call to Template:cite book: Parameter title must be specifiedFages, P., Priestley, H. I., & Museo Nacional de Arqueología, Historia y Etnografía (Mexico) (1937). (HathiTrust limited search only) A historical, political, and natural description of California pp. 33. University of California Press. Retrieved on July 2014.
  47. Two Spirits (2009). IMDb (21 June 2009). Retrieved on 7 June 2015.
  48. Victor Salvo // The Legacy Project. 2012 INDUCTEES. Retrieved on 7 June 2015.
  49. Gloria Kim, "Why be just one sex?". Maclean's, September 8, 2005.
  50. Sorrel, Lorraine, "Not Vanishing," review in "Off Our Backs." Washington: Mar 31, 1989. Vol.19, Iss. 3.
  51. Kent Monkman: Sexuality of Miss Chief. Retrieved on 7 June 2015.
  52. "Aboriginal music awards host two-spirited performer". CBC News, September 11, 2014.
  53. 53.0 53.1 Lipshultz, Hanna (2007). "Berdach to Two-Spirit: The Revival of Native American Traditions" (PDF). Discoveries (Ithaca: John S. Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines) (8): 31–32. Retrieved 2016-07-18. 
  54. Alpert, Emily (December 5, 2004). Rainbow and red: Queer American Indians from New York to San Francisco are showing both their spirits.. In the Fray, Inc..
  55. Thomas, Wesley K. (June 26, 2006). Welcome!.
  56. Harrell, Helen (August 9, 2009). Out in Bloomington: Boy Scouts raise debate.
  57. Rook, Erin (September 19, 2012). Portland Two Spirit Society: Finding family and a connection to history in shared identities. Brilliant Media.
  58. Two-Spirit Leaders Call on Washington to Include Native Women in Re-Authorization of VAWA (December 18, 2012).
  59. Two-Spirit gathering at Portland State University, Wednesday, May 26, 2010 (2010).
  60. New Mexico GSA: Resources § Native / First Nations. New Mexico Gay–Straight Alliance Network.

Sources and further reading Edit

  • Cameron, Michelle. (2005). Two-spirited Aboriginal people: Continuing cultural appropriation by non-Aboriginal society. Canadian Women Studies, 24 (2/3), 123–127.
  • Jacobs, Sue-Ellen; Wesley Thomas, and Sabine Lang (Eds.). (1997). Two-spirit people: Native American gender identity, sexuality, and spirituality. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0-252-02344-7, ISBN 0-252-06645-6.
  • Lang, Sabine. (1998). Men as women, women as men: Changing gender in Native American cultures. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. ISBN 0-292-74700-4, ISBN 0-292-74701-2.
  • Medicine, Beatrice. (1997). Changing Native American roles in an urban context and changing Native American sex roles in an urban context. In S.-E. Jacobs, W. Thomas, & S. Lang (Eds.) (pp. 145–148).
  • Roscoe, Will. (1991). The Zuni man-woman. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. ISBN 0-8263-1253-5.
  • Roscoe, Will. (1998). Changing ones: Third and fourth genders in native North America. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-17539-6.
  • Roscoe, Will; & Gay American Indians. (1988). Living the spirit: A gay American Indian anthology. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-01899-1.
  • Schaeffer, Claude E. (1965). The Kutenai female berdache. Ethnohistory, 12 (3), 193–236.
  • Schultz, James W. (1916). Blackfeet tales of Glacier National Park. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.
  • Schultz, James W. (1919). Running Eagle, the warrior girl. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  • Spanbauer, Tom. (1991). The man who fell in love with the moon: A novel. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press. ISBN 0-87113-468-3.
  • Trexler, Richard C. (1995). Sex and conquest: Gendered violence, political order, and the European conquest of the Americas. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-3224-3.
  • Qwo-Li Driskill, Chris Finley, Brian Joseph Gilley, and Scott Lauria Morgensen, Eds. (2011) Queer Indigenous Studies: Critical Interventions in Theory, Politics, and Literature. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.
  • Wolf, Rope. Two-spirit: Belonging (film)

Archival resourcesEdit

External links Edit


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