Two-Spirit is Exclusive

Written on 07/13/2021
Jayme Tucker

(Disclosure: I, the author, am not Indigenous, nor do I claim to be an expert in any way regarding the Two-Spirit role and identity. This article stands as a primer and collection of links for further reading and learning from Indigenous academics, authors, and Two-Spirit folk themselves.)

The LGBT+ acronym is a living document in that it is still being written. New words to describe the experience of being are added to it, and the current lineup of LGBTQIA2SPD+ includes one that is not an inclusive term.

2S stands for the Indigenous identity of Two-Spirit, a simple name for a complex role and identity. It is exclusively an Indigenous identity and reserved for those who are Indigenous. It is heavily frowned upon for LGBT+ folks who are not a part of an Indigenous community to use the Two-Spirit term for themselves, as it trivializes an identity that is more than being queer.

In Oglala Lakota history, Two-Spirit people were blessed with the spirit of both a man and a woman, and they were healers and elders held in high regard. This included people who were assigned male or female at birth, as well as intersex folks.

The Siksika term aakíí’skassi referred to male-bodied people who performed traditionally feminine roles like weaving and pottery, while the Ktunaxa term titqattek referred to female-bodied people who took on masculine roles like healing and hunting.

The Two-Spirit identity could refer to sexuality, gender, community roles, and spirituality, as many tribes believed that Two-Spirit people were blessed. They often were the storytellers and medicine people for their community, as well as the roles they took on in their tribes.

After the colonization of Canada, many Two-Spirit people were referred to as berdache, an anthropological term to describe homosexual males. Records of Two-Spirit people became few as the residential schools systematically assimilated Indigenous children and attempted to erase cultural traditions to “civilize” Indigenous families.

In the 1990s, at a conference in Manitoba, the English term Two-Spirit was brought forward as a reclamation of the identity to replace berdache, and the term has been embraced by Indigiqueer youth and elders alike.

It is important to recognize that not all queer identities are inclusive. Two-Spirit folks can be queer, but not all queer people can be Two-Spirit. It is an exclusively Indigenous term, and to use it as a synonym for queer dilutes the importance of Two-Spirit in Indigenous culture.

Next week, we’re going over some non-binary terms!

Jayme D. Tucker is a journalist, writer, and performer settled on unceded Syilx territory. They're queer, tall, and tired of answering all the same token questions when they come out; So they're answering those questions and more for thehub.LGBT Kelowna. They've written for Daily Hive Calgary, won a scholarship for fiction writing with Eat North, and is the founder of The Queer Agenda, a non-profit social group focused on sober friendly, all-ages networking for LGBTQ2IA+ individuals (currently on COVID hiatus).