Two-spirit refers to people who are part of any Indigenous American native group and who identify as having both feminine and masculine traits.

Two-spirit includes people who are part of an Indigenous culture, such as Native Americans and Alaskan Natives, who identify as having traits of both feminity and masculinity.

Each native culture has its unique vision about sex, sexuality, and gender, as well as traditions and perspectives about the world we live in. The term two-spirit is also used to describe the spiritual or gender identity of an Indigenous person.

This article will review the history and meaning of two-spirit, its impact on society, the issues with this term, and how people can find support and resources to get more information.

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Two-spirit is an umbrella term used to unify different gender expressions and identities in the Indigenous people. The term two-spirit does not refer to a specific gender, but it includes a great variety of people who do not conform to the classic gender binary.

This is because several Indigenous cultures traditionally recognized alternative genders with both masculine and feminine or unique traits. Two-spirit aims to represent the different gender identities that people in Indigenous communities have, which also have a spiritual significance.

In Indigenous communities, two-spirit people have consituted specific roles in both spiritual and work practices. Two-spirit can have variations among different Indigenous cultures, but the term was originally used to refer to people who embody both masculine and feminine traits.

Learn more about types of gender identity.

The term two-spirit is a modern word for describing the concept of a feminine and masculine spirit living in the same person. However, this concept has a long history in Indigenous cultures, which have recognized that people have masculine and feminine spirits that can live in harmony with their masculine or feminine beings.

Historically, two-spirit people used to play important functions in their culture and often had a special status in their community. They are individuals who are seen as having two different identities living in one body.

Many Indigenous cultures believe people are born gender-neutral with both feminine and masculine spirits and that people can determine themselves when they are old enough. Having the spirits of two genders is a special gift for Indigenous cultures, and people with this gift held respected positions in their communities.

Indigenous groups do not always agree with the term two-spirit. This is because there are several different Indigenous cultures, such as Native American, Alaskan Native, and First Nations cultures, which can have different views about gender and sex.

For this reason, the term two-spirit, while promoting unity under one umbrella term, may not reflect the diversity in views among the various Indigenous communities.

The term two-spirit may perpetuate the dominance of non-Indigenous perspectives and stereotypes. This is because the term “two” in two-spirits may emphasize the two-gender binary system, classifying two-spirits people as individuals who have characteristics of both the two genders of the binary system typical of the colonizers’ culture.

The term two-spirit helps identify the unusual challenges that Indigenous individuals whose identities fall outside the gender binary face. This includes the complex combination of challenges that come from being part of a gender or sexual minority, which can include discrimination as well as the intergenerational trauma that Indigenous communities face.

The effect that Western colonization and the consequent trauma have had on Indigenous people has caused damage to many of their traditions, including forcing Indigenous communities to understand the gender expression and sexuality of their colonizers.

Two-spirit people are today working to restore the traditions of their ancestors.

This situation can cause two-spirit people to have a higher risk of exposure to trauma, violence, and stress, as well as mental health challenges and substance misuse. The recognition of two-spirit people may help reduce their risk of receiving discrimination and improve their life quality.

There are several online resources that help people learn more about two-spirit communities and the problems that affect them, including:

  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides several online webinars about transgender identities in Indigenous communities and two-spirit people.
  • The University of Winnipeg keeps an archive of two-spirit resources, including documentaries and information about Indigenous communities’ history and organization.
  • WeRNative is a website that offers resources to Indigenous youth about two-spirit and LGBT Indigenous communities.

Two-spirit is an umbrella term referring to some Indigenous people who are part of the LGBTQIA+ community. Two-spirit people have both feminine and masculine traits, and this links to Indigenous beliefs that both a masculine and a feminine spirit can live in one single body.