Long before European colonization of America, Native Americans lived in harmony with the fact that members of their various communities had a gender identity different from the majority.
Long before European colonization of America, Native Americans lived in harmony with the fact that members of their various communities had a gender identity different from the majority. In several Amerindian languages, we find words that characterize what we have now translated, in French, to be bispiritualité, and in English, to be Two-Spirit.
The meaning of the words varied slightly from one language to another. Among the Cree, the terms used can be translated as “men who wear women’s clothes” or “women who wear men’s clothes”. On the Ktunaxa (pronounced “TOO-nah-HA”) nation’s1 side – which has been in British Columbia for more than 10,000 years – a term meaning “women in roles that are perceived as masculine” was used. These are just a few examples. Two-Spirit is found in over 130 tribes across North America.
Overall, we observe that the terms used by indigenous communities considered the existence of at least four genders:
- masculine men
- feminine women
- feminine men
- masculine women
Families viewed it as an honour to have two-spirited people in their midst. These individuals usually had specific roles to play: doctors, warriors, ambassadors, and spiritual leaders. In fact, it was believed that these people communicated with supernatural powers through their dreams or visions.
Native communities were also open to the clothing choices of two-spirited people. Thus, what we today call transsexuality, MTF (male to female) or FTM (female to male) transformation was both commonplace and accepted. However, European colonization, religious missions, and cultural assimilation tools had the effect of making progressively invisible, marginal or perverse what was once a character normally accepted by indigenous societies. Today, LGBTQ members of aboriginal communities and other identity groups (queer, pansexual, etc.) tend to reclaim the term and meaning of two-spirit, and gain new followers outside of Native American circles. Nowadays, there as elsewhere, a phase of explanation, sensitization, education, or even of battle is underway.
In the past, two-spirited people were also the guardians of tradition. They were storytellers, they passed on history, they created feather headdresses, organized weddings, gave first names. In short, they were a vast source of knowledge. Today, two-spirit is a concept that allows people to reconnect with ancestral traditions, with those related to spiritual identity or gender identity. The term “two-spirited” first appeared within aboriginal communities in the early 1990s, in an effort to reclaim these traditions. The goal was also to replace the previously used designation berdache, with a more inclusive term that could be used by the general public.
Thus, associations that include lesbian (L), bisexual (B), gay (G), transsexual (T), queer (Q), questioning (Q), two-spirited or Two-Spirits (2 or 2S) and all others whose identity is marginalized from the mass (+) tend to use the acronym “LGBTQQ2S +”.