|T-S, T-s: Two Spirit / Two Spirited|
GLBTQ: Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer
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Defining Terms – Aboriginal and Two-Spirit: For the purposes of this project, we use the term Aboriginal to refer to First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples (as per the Canadian Constitution Act, 1982, cited in First Nations Centre, 2007). This definition includes all status, non-status, and people of blended ancestry that choose to self-identify as Aboriginal (Guimond, 2003; Siggner, 2003a and 2003b). Some Aboriginal people use the term Two-Spirit to refer to all sexual and gender variance among people of Indigenous North American descent: in other words, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or queer identities. The term Two-Spirit has multiple contemporary meanings and also highlights historical elements regarding the possible positions of Two-Spirit peoples in their communities and their place in the sacred circle (Beaucage, 2010; Wilson, 1996). The term was coined at the Third International (Two-Spirit) Gathering in 1990 in Winnipeg, Manitoba (Meyer-Cook & Labelle, 2004, p. 31; Roscoe, 1998, p. 109). Walters, Evans-Campbell, Simoni, Ronquillo, and Bhuyan (2006) emphasize the political implications for some people who have chosen to use the term Two-Spirit. The authors indicate that the term is used to reconnect with specific (Indigenous) Nation traditions related to sexual and gender identity; to move beyond Eurocentric binary categories of sex and gender; to state the fluidity and non-linear nature of identity processes; and to fight against heterosexism in Aboriginal communities and racism in LGBTQ communities. Furthermore, Wilson (1996) emphasizes that Two-Spirit identity affirms the interrelatedness of all aspects of identity - therefore including gender, sexuality, community, culture, and spirituality. It is important to note that the term Two-Spirit is not easily translated into Indigenous languages and is also not used in a uniform or widely accepted way. Fieland, Walters and Simoni (2007) explain:
To some … the term refers to a person with GLBT orientation. To others, it denotes an individual with tribally specific spiritual, social and cultural roles that are not defined at all by sexual orientation or gender role. Still other Natives employ the term in a highly contextualized way. For example, one Navajo activist refers to himself and n’dleeh (in italics) when interacting with other Navajos, as “Two-Spirit” when interacting with non-Navajo Natives, and as “gay” when interacting with non-Native GLBT individuals” (p. 271).Thus, what became important in our research was to ask participants how they self-identify regarding their Aboriginal identity, sexuality, and gender.
"Tafoya (1997) affirms that North American Aboriginal Two-Spirit people are confronted with issues of a cultural nature. She reports that among the 250 Aboriginal languages spoken in the United States, at least 168 have terms to denote individuals who are considered to possess both male and female spirits and thus be neither male nor female. Roscoe (1987) compiled more than 200 different terms used by Aboriginal groups to denote these “not-men” and “not-women.” In anthropological writings, the most common term used to describe these individuals is “berdache.” Tafoya (1997) cites Jay Miller as developing a six-gendered Aboriginal model: hypermasculine (warriors and athletes), ordinary male, berdache, amazon, ordinary female and hyperfeminine. Brown (1997) argues that American Indians have at least six alternative genders: men and women, not-men (a biological woman who takes on various masculine roles), not-women (a biological man who takes on various feminine roles), lesbians and gay men..."
Brown, L. B. (1997). Women and men, not-men and not-women, lesbians and gays: gender style alternatives. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services, 6 (2), 5-20. Abstract.
Roscoe, W. (1987). Bibliography of berdache and alternative gender roles among North American Indians. Journal of Homosexuality, 14 (3/4), 81-171.
Tafoya, T. N. (1997). Native gay and lesbian issues: The Two-Spirited. In B. Greene (Ed.), Ethnic and cultural diversity among lesbians and gay men (pp. 1-9). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publication.
The Aboriginal response to colonization is one of “decolonization,” which is a process that involves establishing Aboriginal self-government, land claims, justice systems, economic development, and strengthening and sustaining culture and language. In the United States, indigenous scholars write that when decolonization addresses language, it must go beyond the indigenous languages. They assert that changing Canadian English, and, by inference, French, words that refer to Aboriginal people is an act of decolonization (Yellow Bird, 1999).
The continued use of Indian, American Indian, and Native American maintains counterfeit identities for Indigenous Peoples. As part of decolonization of Indigenous scholarship and thinking, I suggest these terms must be discarded in favor of more empowering descriptors. To me, ceasing to call Indigenous Peoples Indians, American Indians, or Native Americans is more than an attempt at “political correctness,” or a change in semantics. It is an act of intellectual liberation that corrects a distorting narrative of imperialist “discovery and progress” that has been maintained far too long by Europeans and European Americans.“Two Spirit or Two Spirited,” is a term that is new to the gay and lesbian vocabulary, although most Canadians are unaware of its existence as are most gay and lesbian and aboriginal communities. However, in certain sectors of the gay community, federal and provincial governments, and Aboriginal organizations, it is being becoming known and formally recognized as a culturally appropriate way to describe Aboriginal people who may be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. The awareness, acceptance and adoption of this term is increasing in North America and there are now a number of papers, articles, books, and films about this phenomenon. Gay, Two Spirit, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal researchers have become aware of this “naming/re-naming process”. It has caused them to explore the history of indigenous peoples in an attempt to understand its significance. “Two Spirit” can now be found on the Internet and in some dictionaries. Where did it come from?
A number of papers by Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal authors have identified that the term was introduced into the Aboriginal gay and lesbian community in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 1990, at one of a series of annual international (primarily Canada and the United States) gatherings (Medicine, 2002). This is correct – the third gathering in 1990 was sponsored by the Nichiwakan (friend) Native Gay and Lesbian Society in Winnipeg. At the time some Aboriginal people had alliances with the gay community and strongly identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual. In the “Two Eagles” newsletter, of June 1990, a number of organizations were listed: Gay American Indians, San Francisco; American Indian Gays and Lesbians, Minneapolis; WeWah and BarcheAmpe, New York; Nichiwakan Native Gay and Lesbian Society, Winnipeg; and Gays and Lesbians of the First Nations, Toronto.
The Manitoba gathering was held in August and in the fall edition of Two Eagles, there were five letters from people who had attended. Three of them refer to “Two-Spirit(ed) womyn, mothers, daughters, person, people, and brothers.” In the earlier summer edition of Two Eagles and in other writings prior to the ‘90 gathering there is no record of the term “Two Spirit.” In 1991, the organization in Toronto changed its name to “2-Spirited People of the 1st Nations.” Some authors have their own opinions as to why this change occurred (Hasten, 2002),
The term “berdache” problematized by quotation marks throughout this paper, has itself come under scrutiny. From the French word bardash, it follows a chain of ancestry back through Italian, Arabic, and Persian variants meaning, in all cases, “kept boy” or “male prostitute” (Jacobs 1983). It is not difficult to understand, then, why contemporary gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered native North Americans have rejected the label and why its application with regards to women makes no sense at all. The term Two-Spirit was coined as an alternative in 1990 by an organization known as Gay American Indians, during the third Native American/First Nations gay and lesbian conference in Winnipeg, Manitoba.Hasten is a bit off the mark because the term was introduced by an Aboriginal Traditional Teacher at the gathering which took place near Beausejour, Manitoba. It was adopted by the participants who found meaning in it and identified with its origin and significance. Hasten discusses the term “berdache,” which was used by early colonizers and academics to describe the diverse gender roles and sexuality they observed among Aboriginal peoples. It must be stated that it was never used in any Aboriginal or Native American communities (Deschamps, 1998). Still, she challenges the concept of a “third gender” and “institutionalized homosexuality” among Aboriginal people and concludes,
The fact is that cultures providing “berdache” status likely did so in order to avoid the designation of homosexuality by shifting genders, and did in most cases prohibit the equivalent of “homosexual” behavior: Homogendered sexual activity was not acceptable, and two males who both identified as men could not freely engage in sexual activity under any circumstance. Therefore, if homosexuality has ever been “institutionalized,” and if there have ever been more than two genders, it has apparently not been among the peoples native to North America.Others have speculated that it was created by Aboriginal gays, lesbians and bisexuals to act as a shield in order to distance themselves from the stigma and homophobia experienced by non-Aboriginal gays, lesbians and bisexuals, and as a way to distance themselves from AIDS stigma, which was linked to being gay. Some Aboriginal communities saw AIDS as a “gay plague and a white man’s disease” (Beaver, 1992).
Two Spirit groups volunteered to host a gathering in their traditional territory organized the Annual International Two Spirit Gatherings, which began in 1988. The gathering was moved out of city centres into campsites which brought the people closer to the earth. Two Spirit people, along with their supportive partners and family members, travelled across North America to attend, learning the culture and traditions of the host group, as well as sharing their own. For a few days each year, a safe space is created where people can share, laugh and heal together. The sweat lodge and other sacred ceremonies are held, which brings spiritual knowledge, growth and strength to people who may otherwise be excluded from the circle.
There is enough evidence in the historical record and in Aboriginal cultures today that demonstrates that Two Spirit people are distinct and function in their communities. Words that describe them, their roles in society and their stories were shared through many aboriginal languages. When Aboriginal children in residential schools were forbidden to speak their language and taught to fear and feel ashamed of their culture and traditions, being Two Spirit became a liability. As their place in the culture eroded, Two Spirit people learned to assimilate and hide who they were. Many aspects of the culture, like the sweat lodge, Potlatch and Sundance, were deemed to be pagan Devil worship and were outlawed. Aboriginal people preserved these important traditions by hiding them from the colonizers and waited for the day when they could be restored. It is the same for Two Spirit people, who are restoring themselves and being restored by their families, communities and leaders. The practice of naming and re-naming is an Aboriginal tradition; people are given spiritual names when they are children and again when they are adults. Today, many Aboriginal people have both spirit names and English or French names. The Two Spirit decision to adopt a new name by discarding the term “berdache,” and to become distinct from the broader gay, lesbian and bisexual community is not based in fear and uncertainty. Instead re-naming or self-naming as Two Spirit is an act based in spirituality, empowerment, tradition and a process of decolonization. Eventually it too may be discarded, when traditional names like winkte (Lakota), nadleeh (Navajo), lhamana (Zuni), and ogokwe (Ojibway), are used every day in a respectful way.
There are a number of categories which can be used to define gender and sexual orientation of Aboriginal people, some are related to Two Spirit orientations. The majority tend not to disclose their orientation(s) and identify only in their peer group, or be ambiguous about it. They reside in urban, rural, and First Nations, Metis, and Inuit communities. These categories are presented here because they are relevant to promoting healthy sexuality for Two Spirits and safer-sex for all Aboriginals.
MSM or WSW: Heterosexual Aboriginals who have emotional and sexual relationships with the same gender. Many are married and keep this part of their life hidden and only identify as heterosexual;This analysis, and the use of these categories, shifts depending on context, and alludes to the ambiguity present in the lives of all gay, lesbian and bisexual people of all ethnicities.
Bisexual: Aboriginals who have emotional and sexual relationships with both genders. Many are married and identify as heterosexual, but may also be ambiguous about their bisexual orientation;
Neutrals: Aboriginals who have emotional and sexual relationships with the same gender who never disclose their orientation;
Gay or Lesbian: Aboriginals who have emotional and sexual relationships with the same gender who only identify as gay or lesbian;
Two Spirit: Aboriginals who have emotional and sexual relationships with the same gender, who only identify as Two Spirit (having the attributes and spirit of both male and female);
Two Spirit (Traditional): Aboriginals who demonstrate their identity primarily through culture and spirituality. They have emotional and sexual relationships with the same gender;
Two Spirit/GLBT: Aboriginals who have emotional and sexual relationships with the same gender, who identify using one, either or both definitions;
Transgender: Aboriginals who are biologically male or female who are partially or completely the other gender. They identify as transgender, heterosexual or as a Neutral would and may have emotional and sexual relationships with heterosexuals or same gender partners. They may opt to have sex reassignment surgery;
Two Spirit (Transgender): Aboriginals who are biologically male or female who are partially or completely the other gender. They identify as Two Spirit and may have emotional and sexual relationships with heterosexuals or same gender partners;
Two Spirit (Asexual): Aboriginals who demonstrate their identity primarily through culture and spirituality. The may be emotionally and sexually attracted to the same gender but are not sexually active. They also may identify as Two Spirit;
Indigenous (GLBT): Aboriginals who fulfill various traditional (Two Spirit/GLBT) roles in their culture and identify using indigenous language identifiers such as “winkte” (Lakota). They have emotional and sexual relationships with the same gender.
McLeod A (2003). Workshop: Addressing Homophobia in Relations to HIV/AIDS in Aboriginal Comunities. In: 2-Spirited Prople of the 1rst Nations (2003). Transforming Generations: 15th Annual Two-Spirit Gathering, Final Report. Internet: http://www.2spirits.com/TwoSpiritGatheringReport2003.pdf .Beaver S (1992). We Are Part of A Tradition, A Report To The Royal Commission on Aboriginal People. 2-Spirited People of the 1st Nations, Toronto.
Deschamps G (1998). We Are Part of A Tradition, A Guide on Two-Spirited People for First Nations Communities. 2-Spirited People of the 1st Nations, Toronto. Internet: http://www.2spirits.com/WeArePartOfTradition.pdf - Word Document,
Hasten, LW (2002). In Search of the “Berdache”: Multiple Genders and Myths. Internet: http://www.laurenhasten.com/berdache.htm .
Medicine B (2002). Directions in gender research in American Indian societies: Two spirits and other categories. In W. J. Lonner, D. L. Dinnel, S. A. Hayes, & D. N. Sattler (Eds.), Online Readings in Psychology and Culture (Unit 3, Chapter 2), Index, Center for Cross-Cultural Research, Western Washington University, Bellingham, Washington USA. Full Text.
Yellow Bird, M. (1999). Indian, American, and Native Americans: Counterfeit Identities. Winds of Change: A Magazine for American Indian Education and Opportunity.
The term "Two-Spirit" was presented and discussed as follows. (Adapted from Lang (1998) and Tietz (1996)): "A modern English term which encompasses a variety of roles, gender identities and sexual behaviors - namely:Towle EB, Morgan LM (2002). Romancing the Transgender Native: Rethinking the Use of the “Third Gender” Concept. GLQ; A Journal of Gay and Lesbian Studies, 8(4): 469–497. Reference & Excerpt.
contemporary Aboriginal people who are gay or lesbian;
contemporary Aboriginal alternative genders;
the tradition of institutionalized gender variance and alternative sexualities in Aboriginal (tribal) cultures;
traditions of gender variance in other cultures;
transvestites, transsexuals, and transgendered people;
and drag queens and butches.
Appropriate Terms. "Quite recently, the label "two-spirit" caught on with many American Indians who are openly not, or not exclusively, heterosexual. The label is not "traditional," and even if it were for some nations, it could not possibly be traditional for all the hundreds of American First Nations. Furthermore, why "two-"? Rasmussen's Inuit acquaintance had 16 souls. At the conferences that produced the book, Two-Spirited People, I heard several First Nations people describe themselves as very much unitary, neither "male" nor "female," much less a pair in one body. Nor did they report an assumption of duality within one body as a common concept within reservation communities; rather, people confided dismay at the Western proclivity for dichotomies. Outside Indo-European-speaking societies, "gender" would not be relevant to the social personae glosses "men" and "women," and "third gender" likely would be meaningless. The unsavory word "berdache" certainly ought to be ditched (Jacobs et al. 1997:3-5), but the urban American neologism "two-spirit" can be misleading..."
Two-Spirit Peoples: "The term most often used in the anthropological literature, berdache, presents a host of problems. It comes from the French (via the Persian, Italian, and Spanish) bardache, meaning a young boy who is kept as a passive sexual partner. European explorers, encountering indigenous gender categories that were confusing and shocking to them, used this term. However, the aboriginal two-spirit man and the European "boy kept for unnatural purposes" are obviously quite different, and it is for this reason that "many native American gay, lesbian, transgender, and other two-spirit people consider the term 'berdache' derogatory and insulting", writes Sue-Ellen Jacobs, co-editor along with Wesley Thomas and Sabine Lang of Two Spirit People: Native American Gender Identity, Sexuality, and Spirituality..."
International Encyclopedia of Men and Masculinities: Hybrid / Third gender / Third Sex: These terms refer to gender roles other than the two typical for male- and female-bodied people within a culture. The term ‘third gender’ is used as an alternative to the absolute contrast of binary genders (Herdt 1994a). A third gender may include body modification and/or cross-dressing. It may involve taking on the role of the ‘opposite’ gender completely or being a hybrid of both. A third gender may also be a completely different role, involving behaviours expected of neither men nor women in a culture...
"--and we are still here": from berdache to two-spirit people (1999). (Alternate Link): "When we gathered people together for two invitational conferences on "Revisiting the 'North American Berdache Empirically and Theoretically," our aim was to create a dialogue between indigenous/Native people and academics who had written about them. The conferences, funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, provided the start of collaborative work that took place over the course of five years and resulted in publication of our edited book, Two-Spirit People: Native American Gender Identity, Sexuality, and Spirituality. One of the most important outcomes of the five-year conversation among participants was the realization that the term berdache was no longer acceptable as a catch-all for Native American (indigenous peoples of the United States of America) and First Nations (indigenous peoples of Canada) gender and sexual behaviors. The Native participants concluded that the term was insulting and part of the colonial discourse that continues to be used by select scholars who appropriate indigenous people's lives in various ways. Native people were talking about this issue long before non-Native academics noticed. The most active resistance to using berdache for sexual and gender diversity in North American aboriginal communities occurred at the Third Annual Native American Gay and Lesbian Gathering, where attendees decided to change the name of their future gatherings to The International Two-Spirit Gathering. At the center of our investigation into the terms we use is a shared determination to reintegrate the word berdache into our respective writings, but using it clearly and precisely in its original meaning: "kept boy" or "male prostitute." In this paper, we explain our rationale for integrating the use of berdache into our writings about two-spirit people, explore how the self-naming and academic research issues can be accommodated collaboratively, and draw some conclusions about past and future research into Native American sexualities and gender diversity... The word two-spirit will not work in all areas. It is suited more to Natives who live in large multiethnic urban environments; those who live in rural or reservation areas have their own terms to identify non-heterosexual people in their communities. Two-spirit is a cultural and social Native term, not a religious one. Some traditional people will not utilize the term two-spirit to refer to anything associated with religious spiritual events. The term spirit has a different meaning than is intended by this label, and furthermore the meaning varies from tribe to tribe. A person who identifies as two-spirit off the reservation will not necessarily be seen or identified as a two-spirit person at home (on the reservation), but will be identified by the term that is used within the community.(FN5) However, with the increasing disappearance of Native languages today, that term could be gay, lesbian, homosexual, and so forth, which is not surprising, since English is the lingua franca in the pan-Indian world of the 1990s." Source: American Indian Culture and Research Journal. 23(2): 91-107.
The Two-Spirit Tradition: See the section "Native American Tribes' Words to Describe Their Two-Spirits" for a listing of words for Two Spirited individuals.
Indigenous Literature with a Queer/LGBT/Two-Spirit Sensibility: "A Note About Terminology: Indigenous people identify same-sex eroticism and non-dualistic concepts of gender by many names, and we have attempted to respect that diversity here. Different communities have different terms and understandings—such as winkte and koskalaka (as per Allen) among Lakotas and nádleeh among Navajos—that do not always translate into Eurowestern concepts of sexuality and gender. As most of these concepts are tribally-specific and thus not universal, we have generally kept with the inclusive acronym LGBTQ, the broader “Queer,” or the contemporary pan-Native “Two-Spirit.” The latter is a contested term, as it collapses cultural differences into a binary concept that is not equally applicable or relevant to all Indigenous communities. Nevertheless, many contemporary Native people embrace the concept of Two-Spirit, so we acknowledge it here along with LGBTQ and Queer. The term “berdache,” however, is a different matter. It is used by some of the secondary sources (particularly Will Roscoe), but it is strongly disliked by most LGBTQ/Queer/Two-Spirit people, and is generally perceived as an insult."