Two-Spirited People

Two-Spirited People: The Native meaning

Hello everyone!

Two Spirit flag

Two Spirit flag

Today, as the title announces, I will be discussing the concept of two-spirited people. I am aware that some people might be somewhat offended by or disagree with this post. But who cares, I am writing it anyways. There is no political agenda or personal agenda on my part. I just want to share the native way of looking at homosexuality or transgender individuals, as it teaches us a lesson in acceptance, respect and seeing the beauty in everyone. Remember the native poem I have posted more than once.

May there be beauty above me, may there be beauty below me, may there be beauty in me, may there be beauty all around me.

What does two-spirited mean?

Our society often refers to individuals as being either male or female. On forms and questionnaires, oftentimes, one has to choose one or the other. Yes we are beginning to see (and it’s just a beginning) a widening of this sexual identity definition with other categories such as “other” (well really what does that even mean?) or “transgender”. Transgender refers to an individual who does not identify with or abide to the traditional male or female role and expectations or identifies with a gender other than the one given at birth. For some, this is a hard concept to grasp. Some will go as far as denying the existence of transgender individuals, seeing them as weird or unnatural.

However, for the Native people, they have been using the term Two-spirit person for a loooong time. They are referring to a person who is considered to be neither a man or a woman. In other more natural terms, someone with both a masculine and a feminine spirit inside of them, living in the same body. Europeans who colonized the lands and nations of the natives, used the term “berdache” to refer to those individuals. It is now perceived as having a negative connotation. Thus I will use the term Two-spirited people.

two-spirited individual

The gift of the Two-Spirited people

Evidence shows that prior to colonization, the Native people believed in cross gender roles. Two-spirited people then performed both gender roles at ceremonies. And guess what? The beauty of it all is that feminine males or masculine females were often regarded with a lot of respect. Imagine that 🙂 Two-spirited people were seen as having a gift. Rather than emphasizing their homosexuality, Native people focused on the gifts those individuals had. Their spiritual gifts. The balance that they had between the female and male spirit. Indeed, they would be seen as being double blessed, as they had both the spirit of a man and the spirit of a woman. Others then often looked up to them, as leaders, spiritual leaders. Women married women, men married men and they were looked upon as a third or even a fourth gender. In almost all Native cultures, they were honored and revered. Thus Two-Spirited people were often seen as the medicine man, the healers, the teachers and the visionaries.

Some tribes might still even have a name in their traditional language for Two-Spirited individuals. For example, the Lakota people (Sioux) refer to them as “winkte”, the Mohave as “alyha” and the Cheyenne as “he man eh”. Those words used do not have a sexual connotation and do not refer to one’s sexual orientation. In fact, such concepts or words did not exist in traditional languages. Gender would be a more appropriate term to use as it has no connection to a person’s sex or social identity.

Two-spirit and childhood

Some tribes had ceremonies performed during one’s childhood to see if a child was truly two-spirited (after, for example, a boy was observed being disinterested by traditional boy activities). The ceremony was also to see how the child would be brought up. For example, one ceremony involved placing the child (boy or girl) in the middle of a circle made of brush. In the center would be a bow (a man’s object) and a basket (a woman’s object). Once the child was inside the circle, the brush would be set on fire and the child was observed to see which object he would pick to bring with him. If they picked the object associated with the opposite sex, then the child would be considered to be two-spirited.

One ceremony involved placing a child in the center of a circle of people singing involving the whole community and distant relatives. On the day of the ceremony, the child was brought to the middle of the center and the singer began to sing the ritual songs (the singer was hidden). If the child danced in a manner characteristic with the other sex, he would be considered to be two-spirited (after four songs). Some might think of those ceremonies as being simplistic but they represented traditional ways of doing things. They allowed the child to follow their path in a very simple manner. it was not about sexual identity but rather about finding out and following one’s path in the life he/she was given by the Creator.

Children considered to be two-spirited would often worked with healers often two-spirited themselves, and they were taught women and men’s work (their ability to do both was valued). Most of all, they were accepted and respected by the whole tribe. As I said earlier, they were often called upon to later be healers themselves, dream interpreters or singers and dancers.

two spirit dancers

Well there is a lesson in there

Just think for one second about what I just described. Can you imagine if it reflected the world we live in? If two-spirited children were cherished, and respected, as opposed to bullied? A world in which everyone is respected and two-spirited people in general are seen as blessed? Sometimes, I think that our ancestors had it right. Well no, not sometimes. Always. It was a simple world, where discrimination based on gender did not take place, as both men and women, the life givers were respected. Yes, for a time there was slavery. I won’t deny that. But is it me or was it just a simpler time? Respect was given and received. The land was cherished as was nature. And everyone was seen as having a gift that they could share with the world. Wow.

All my Relations

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38 thoughts on “Two-Spirited People

  1. Ed

    Hi Emily,

    Very powerful content you have here. Like you said at opening some will be offended and some not. Hopefully more will fall in the latter category.
    I have never heard of the Two-Spirited people before so this was educational for me. Thanks

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      Thank you Ed. Yep I am aware that not everyone will like this but as you said it is powerful and people should know that part of history to have a complete picture

      Reply
      1. Bedoske

        Hiy Hiy for this site. I am two-spirited also and really appreciate this information. It is not that I did not know this information, it is because lots of folks have called out on this issue. Some were two-spirited people who do not believe there are two spirited people, that we are just queer. Now that would be another interesting topic..Who is two spirited and who is just lgbt

        Reply
    2. JAMES BROWN

      My maternal Grandmother was Cherokee royalty. We have traced our line to the Trail of Tears. She knew the second she saw me after birth that I am two-spirited. As a child I was was able to spend summers with her and our tribal Shamans to embrace my inner self and develope the gifts I inherited from from her as she could communicate with the spirit world. How wonderful it was to have that from such a young age… Jim

      Reply
      1. Emily Post author

        How wonderful indeed James! You seem to have had a childhood filled with guidance and acceptance. And such a great and powerful heritage you have. Thanks for sharing with us. All my Relations

        Reply
    3. Ryn

      I must say thank you to whoever authored this story. I honestly dont see how anyone could be offended by this story if everything said is true I actually learned quite a bit and had no clue about any of this but it was very powerful, enlightening and educational. Unfortunately for me I’m just a single spirited person but I am glad to have been educated in the way things were and should be these days. Thanks again

      Reply
      1. Emily Post author

        thank you Ryn! I am so glad you appreciated this post. We are all related, all have our strengths and something to bring to the world. All my Relations.
        Emily

        Reply
  2. Lis

    Even though, two-spirited people can be a controversial subject in modern society. I have never understood why people have to be so judgemental. What does it matter if people are different? Surely if we were all the same the world would be a pretty boring place to live in.

    We are at the end of the day individual and in my opinion two-spirited people are no different from everybody else. In fact, the term two-spirited sounds empowering and beautiful.

    Lis.

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      Absolutely Lis. We are all individuals, people and we come from the same place. And you are right, the world would be quite boring otherwise!

      Reply
  3. Derek

    This is a great post. I really like the term “two-spirited people.” These native views are very similar to mine. I believe in nature and evolution. Nature provides checks and balances.

    There is a huge over population problem that causes a very negative impact on the Earth. Human beings are on the top of the food chain. There is no other creation that could evolve fast enough to knock us down. As a result, we are our own predators. Natural disasters and wars break out as Nature’s way of balancing the human population. But wars and disasters also have a negative impact on the environment.

    I believe that homosexuals are a more evolved human being. Nature’s ultimate check to the unbalanced population. People are absolutely born gay. I find it ridiculous for people to argue otherwise. Personally, I respect homosexuals a lot because they are solving a problem beyond my DNA’s comprehension.

    I hope my point came across here and that I didn’t accidentally offend anybody. I meant no disrespect.

    Again, great post! It really got me rambling on… 😛

    Derek

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      Hi Derek
      I think I know what you mean if you are looking at it from an evolution perspective? Humans have the power to destroy one another and are basically at the top of the food chain as you say. It is up to us to make sure we live in a world filled with respect and harmony. But sometimes we don’t do such a good job….

      Reply
  4. Kristina

    Thank you for this beautiful post. I have always felt connected to the American Natives and this only made me fell even more in awe of their wisdom. I cannot understand why one group of humans think they have the right to treat another group with disrespect hate when we all actually need each other.
    Namaste, Kristina

    Reply
  5. William L. Corbiere

    Hello Everyone! I am a North American Aboriginal and gay. I do not believe that a person is born gay. This in my opinion. It’s a conditioning that was forced upon me as a child. I tried to be “straight” but could not find myself to be truly honest with myself. I consider myself masculine, gay and a very proud Ojibwe man. I was legally married to my best friend several years ago, whom also is a loving man. He has been my best friend and husband and will remain that way much till we grow old together. We do not like that term two spirited. I do not mind other people using it. That is just me, and feel better just getting this off my chest.

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      Thank you William for sharing your view and personal experience. I really appreciate it. If you read this, do you find yourself being truly honest with yourself now? And good for you to get it off your chest 🙂

      Reply
  6. Laura

    I always loved American Indians. Winnetou was my first love. But in those books these things are never mentioned. I didn’t know they were so really open-minded. Wise indeed, why wonder!?

    I don’t quite understand something in your article: “Children considered to be two-spirited would often worked with healers often two-spirited themselves” What do you mean worked with healers? Like a patient with a shrink?

    Laura

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      hi Laura
      they were quite open-minded and respectful of everyone and differences.I am sorry if that sentence was not clear. I meant that children worked with healers to be trained to be healers themselves.

      Reply
  7. Eitan

    Very interesting way of looking at things.
    I just read in a book that accessing both your male and female sides gives you an advantage, it allows you to look at things from 2 perspectives and come up with new solutions others couldn’t.

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      very good observation Eitan! Accessing both sides would give you balance, a sense of equilibrium. Both males and females are celebrated in the native culture, for the contributions they make

      Reply
  8. kitty clark

    WOW. Great information. I love the way you explain things. It has only been a wonder to me, now you explained it so well, I am understanding a lot. I have always respected life in all forms, except a pesky mosquito, otherwise I am with nature entirely. I have always said that to me, land is more precious than gold. I stand by that to this day. I try to be with nature as much as possible. It is good for the soul. Thanks for the post. It is very informative and interesting. I’ll be back to see your next posting. Good Luck to you….Kitty

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      thank you Kitty! I speak from the heart when I write. And you are right, the land is much more precious than gold or money. it is where we came from, it gives us life. Please do coming back to visit!

      Reply
  9. Chris

    Good article. Years ago when I was young I often thought that all people had both feminine and male spirits in them. In some people one was stronger than the other. In others they are equal giving them great ability to see the world and great understanding of the world.

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      hi Chris
      I think that is a good way of putting it. We all need balance of the 2 energies, within ourselves and within our society. In most of us, one is stronger than the other but to have both equally there is a gift

      Reply
  10. Jake

    good article over all but keep in mind that a person is not “transgendered” they are Transgender. Saying a person is “Transgendered” is like saying i am “Metised” they are not words.

    Reply
  11. Darla S.Harrison

    I am a Sicangu / Cheyenne / Arapaho Two Spirit woman. I recently married a beautiful Two Spirit Navajo woman this month. We married the whiteman’s way and will have a Traditional / Spiritual Ceremony Pipe and Blanket Ceremony in June 2015. A very well written and informative article. Wopila tanka (many thanks ).

    Reply
  12. Willyssa

    Great article! Thanks for sharing this valuable information. Education and awareness is finally coming around on this subject and on transgender people as a whole in society which is great to see!

    A few additions on the role of Two-Spirit people: Two-Spirit people were also warriors, caretakers of the elderly and parentless children, artists, providers, family counsellors, and peace-keepers. They were the dreamers and artists that shared their gifts and knowledge with their families and communities and many are still playing this role in their communities today.

    Thank you for this article.

    Willyssa
    9th International Two-Spirit Princess 😉

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      You are welcome Willyssa, the princess! 🙂
      You are absolutely right, Two-spirited people did have many roles, all positive within the community, all about helping the community. Such a beautiful way of seeing people, as having strengths, gifts and a purpose. How it should be. All my Relations

      Reply
  13. Prakash

    A deep thanks to you for THIS precious article from a Two-Spirited man – it moved me to tears, reminding my brothers and sisters in my previous life … from my heart and soul I know it is TRUE … again thanks for sharing and standing up ! <3

    Reply
  14. Ruby Taylor

    I do understand that I was a male native in my past life and was/am a peace keeper of my tribe, I am this still today, so I figured that this is why I am today because of my male needs are in me as well as the female I am today, so I am by and love the touch of both men and Woman, If I could find another woman to spend my life with I would indeed…I feel strongly about both but do favor the one,, I have many more past lives that the doors are endless but only went as far as the life before thus one to find out why I was feeling the way I was, something unfinished from my life before is what I found out, still trying to figure out what that is and I am following my culture,,

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      so good to hear Ruby! I truly believe that sometimes we are familiar with something because we have experienced it before, just not in this present life. It does seem like you have found balance within yourself, which is always good. Wishing you the best on your path. All my Relations

      Reply

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