Two-spirited people could be born as male, female, or intersex.”. The name “two-spirits” comes from the combining of aspects from both the male and female genders. That being said, the history of the name isn't quite that simple. The literal translation for many tribes would be “man-woman”, but this is not the intention of the word itself. The Navajo tribe’s translation means “the one is changing” or “transformed,” describing the ongoing change that the individual is going through (this links to the special spiritual connection that two-spirited people are also connected to). Two-spirited individuals are often identified as a completely separate gender, and sometimes this new third gender is split into smaller pieces. Relative to the tribe, these people’s genders may differ for two-spirited people depending on their assigned gender at birth.
Two-spirited people are thought to be gifted because they hold traits of both genders. Historically, male two-spirited people often married other men and took on “womanly” roles, while the female two-spirits often married other women, partook in warfare (Munn), and typically cross-dressed. There are also rituals that take place for two-spirited children teaching them how to do the work that both roles usually assume, allowing them to be multifaceted. Two-spirits were “the visionaries, the healers, the medicine people, the nannies of orphans, [and] the care givers,” (Munn). They are essential to society and highly respected. “Multi-gendered adult people were usually presumed to be people of power. Because they have both maleness and femaleness totally entwined in one body, they were known to be able to 'see' with the eyes of both biological men and biological women,” (Munn). An example also given in this article, is that a two-spirited man could take on the gender identity of a woman, but still have the strength of a man, thus giving him an advantage when looking for a partner, because he could be more productive.
I found this to be particularly interesting considering the negative connotation gender identity can have in our country right now. It is interesting that some people can have such opposing viewpoints than those who founded their country. Sandra Laframboise and Michael Anhorn say that, “their [two-spirits’] childhood was marked by acceptance and understanding by the whole tribe,” and I fail to see why acceptance is something so hard to come by in our culture.
Everything, in Native American culture, is thought to have come from the spirit world. This makes a two-spirited person all the more lucky to have inherited both spirits. This often puts two-spirited people in high religious positions. People regularly look up to them as religious guides and teachers (Williams).
Something that is often confused with the term two-spirited, is sexual orientation. It is not synonymous with a“gay/homosexual/transgender/transexual native American”, as these terms do not exist in Native languages. While their sexual preference often leaned towards same-sex, it does not limit the term’s meaning. These relationships are, however, not seen as same-sex because two-spirit was an entirely different gender.
The term berdache refers to the Arabic word “bardaj” meaning “kept boy” or slave. This term spread to Western Europe and later became a derogatory term that the Spanish and French used for male transvestites. Not only is this term not politically correct, it also implies that two-spirit refers to sexual orientation rather than gender.
Today, the term “two-spirit” is used more to reclaim Native American identity. LGBTQ+ Native Americans use this term to identify, rather than the outdated term berdache. Many two-spirited rituals are no longer practiced today due to European colonization and the attempt to terminate indigenous culture. Tribes that do still practice these ceremonies but are often too afraid to say so due to the negative impact it brings on their culture from outsiders. It is now used as an umbrella term for the Native LGBTQ+ community combining a more modern twist on the term two-spirit with historical importance.