What Two-Spirit Means To Native Americans

The term Two-Spirit has an inherent binary of male/female. And although these gender binaries can do harm, as they are more or less a generalization of a large group of individuals, for some Native Americans, that term is empowering. In the video linked in this blog post, we can see how empowering the term Two-Spirit is for Charlie, a Two-Spirit drag queen. 

The video also brings up the relatively outdated term Berdache. As Charlie explains in the video, anthropologists used to label Two-Spirit Native Americans as being Berdache. The Spanish colonizers of the Americas were the ones to start using the term Berdache to refer to some Native Americans. So in a sense, the term Two-Spirit is a reclamation of Native American gender fluidity and the pride that comes with that for many. 

However, Joshua Whitehead, a Canadian First Nations poet and novelist, sort of “pushes against” the term Two-Spirit in his 2018 letter in which he withdrew his Lambda Literary Award Nomination. He says in his letter, “I also note the appropriation of Two-Spirit genealogies by settler queerness to mark it as a reminder that Western conceptions of ‘queerness’ have always lived due in part to the stealing of third, fourth, fifth, and fluid genders from many, although not all, Indigenous worldviews.”

Although Whitehead identifies as Two-Spirit, it is very interesting to read about his perspective of the term. Regarding the quote in the above paragraph, he seems to dislike this binary that the term Two-Spirit creates. Nonetheless, I think it’s extremely important to remember that the LGBTQ+ community is often portrayed as a community that was “created” by white people, but this is far from the truth. The LGBTQ+ community would be nowhere near where it is today without the huge strides that Native Americans and Black Americans have made for centuries.     

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