Traditionally, Native American two spirit people were male, female, and sometimes intersexed individuals who combined activities of both men and women with traits unique to their status as two spirit people. In most tribes, they were considered neither men nor women; they occupied a distinct, alternative gender status. In tribes where two spirit males and females were referred to with the same term, this status amounted to a third gender.
Before white settlers came, tribes revered those who embodied both genders. Playing an opposite-gender role is not an option. Instead, she discreetly held shells in her hands and chanted along with the boys.
N ative Americans have often held intersex, androgynous people, feminine males and masculine females in high respect. The most common term to define such persons today is to refer to them as "two-spirit" people, but in the past feminine males were sometimes referred to as "berdache" by early French explorers in North America, who adapted a Persian word "bardaj", meaning an intimate male friend. Because these androgynous males were commonly married to a masculine man, or had sex with men, and the masculine females had feminine women as wives, the term berdache had a clear homosexual connotation.
As the car slowed down and pulled up to a security gate at the NoDAPL resistance camp, the elder rolled down her window and asked a young volunteer where she could find the two-spirit camp. That weekend, Little Thunder and other two-spirit leaders were officially welcomed by the Oceti Sakowin leadership in a grand entry ceremony organized by Lakota activist Candi Brings Plenty. It was the first time Little Thunder had been home in 32 years. I had never dreamt I would live to see that happen.
Mockup art for Two Spirit flyer, Portland Oregon. Listen Listening A new sign affirming tribal members could compete in the gender category of their preference debuted at this year's annual Siletz Pow-Wow.
For most who are not a part of or familiar with this community, entertainment media can be the only window into the lives and experiences of two spirits and the people in their lives. And this is the power that media has to shape narratives and share lives that are usually unavailable to most. This hard-edged and gritty independent film presents a troubling yet deeply humanizing portrait of life behind bars a precursor to Orange is the New Black.
As an umbrella term it may encompass same-sex attraction and a wide variety of gender variance, including people who might be described in Western culture as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, transgender, gender queer, cross-dressers or who have multiple gender identities. Two-spirit can also include relationships that could be considered poly. The term is a translation of the Anishinaabemowin term niizh manidoowagtwo spirits.
Gender and sexuality are concepts being embraced by traditional Native American tribes. Katherine Davis-Young finds out why. Growing up, she feared harassment or violence if she were to reveal her transgender identity. Dozens of Two-Spirit organisations have formed around North America in recent years.
Male berdaches have been documented in over tribes. They were sometimes referred to with the same term for male berdaches and sometimes with a distinct term—making them, therefore, a fourth gender. Because so many North American cultures were disrupted or had disappeared before they were studied by anthropologists, it is not possible to state the absolute frequency of these roles.
Two-Spirit also two spirit or, occasionally, twospirited is a modern, pan-Indianumbrella term used by some Indigenous North Americans to describe Native people in their communities who fulfill a traditional third-gender or other gender-variant ceremonial role in their cultures. While this new term has not been universally accepted—it has been criticized by traditional communities who already have their own terms for the people being grouped under this new term, and by those who reject what they call the "western" binary implications, such as implying that Natives believe these individuals are "both male and female"  —it has generally received more acceptance and use than the anthropological term it replaced. Cameron writes, "The term two-spirit is thus an Aboriginal-specific term of resistance to colonization and non-transferable to other cultures. There are several underlying reasons for two spirited Aboriginals' desire to distance themselves from the mainstream queer community.