Two-Spirit: Gender as an Expression of Spirit
While gender identities are pretty widespread at this point, there are a few culturally distinct gender identities that pertain only to certain ethnic groups. One of these is known as Two Spirit. It’s only for indigenous Native American peoples, and it pertains to a very specific and important role in their culture. It pertains to individuals within the society that fulfills one or several mixed gender roles found traditionally among many Native Americans.
That might sound a little confusing to some, so to narrow it down to more layman terms, it’s a general term used to describe gay, lesbian, bisexual and gender-variant individuals in their communities. It was created in 1990 to replace a more insulting term, and is also a spiritual role recognized by the Two-Spirits community.
However, don’t assume that this term can be used with all Native American tribes. Not all tribes conceptualize sexuality and gender the same way, and many of them have words for such gender identities in their own language. Always be sure of the proper term before making too large of an assumption.
But for tribes that do use this term, Two-Spirit individuals are people who usually perform and behave in both gender roles, including work or clothing that can be associated with either gender. The idea is that Two-Spirits embody and manifest both masculine and feminine qualities, though not necessarily in equal amounts.
In some tribes, Two-Spirit individuals are seen as having two identities within one body. This may be a difficult concept to understand, but it is not too different from some other ideas we may be familiar with. Two-spirit is similar to the notion of being able to fulfill either gender role at any time one pleases, or to be a little of both at any time.
Like any notion of gender society in the culture you may be used to, it’s important to understand that other cultures have them as well, and have even had them accepted long before many others.
In the tribes that use Two-Spirit to define individuals of this gender identity, they perform many roles in both male and female areas, and relationships between Two-Spirits and other individuals of any gender is usually not seen as heterosexual or homosexual, but rather something unique from both of those.
That being said, sexual orientation does not make an individual a Two-Spirit. It’s about embodying aspects of being both masculine and feminine. Regardless of sexual orientation, Two-Spirits are a unique element in their tribes, and regarded as unique. Just as effeminate males or masculine men in our society aren’t necessarily gay or lesbian, neither are Two-Spirits in their own tribes.
Knowing how other cultures treat such gender identities is important to possibly learning how to better handle our own. As always there is something to be learned from other societies, things that could help improve our own in a way that could spark a revolution grand enough to put an end to intolerance and bigotry for good.
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