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Two-spirit people (also two spirit or twospirit) is an umbrella term sometimes used for what was once commonly known as berdaches //, indigenous North Americans who fulfill one of many mixed gender roles in First Nations and Native American tribes.
Third gender roles historically embodied by two-spirit people include performing work and wearing clothing associated with both men and women. The presence of male two-spirits "was a fundamental institution among most tribal peoples." According to Will Roscoe, male and female two-spirits have been "documented in over 130 North America tribes, in every region of the continent."
Before the late twentieth century, the term berdache was widely used by anthropologists as a generic term to indicate "two-spirit" individuals; however, this term has become considered increasingly outdated and considered offensive. (Based on the French bardache implying a male prostitute or catamite, the word originates in Persian barda: برده meaning "captive, prisoner of war; a slave.") Spanish explorers who encountered two-spirits among the Chumash people called them "joyas", Spanish for "jewels".
Use of the berdache term has widely been replaced with two-spirit, which itself gained widespread popularity in 1990 during the third annual intertribal Native American/First Nations gay and lesbian conference in Winnipeg. Two-spirit is a term chosen to distinctly express Native/First Nations gender identity and gender variance, in addition to replacing the otherwise imposed terms of berdache and gay.
"Two-spirited" or "two-spirit" usually indicates a person whose body simultaneously manifests both a masculine and a feminine spirit. The term can also be used more abstractly, to indicate presence of two contrasting human spirits (such as Warrior and Clan Mother) or two contrasting animal spirits (which, depending on the culture, might be Eagle and Coyote). However, these uses, while descriptive of some aboriginal cultural practices and beliefs, depart somewhat from the 1990 purposes of promoting the term.
Koskalaka is another word used in some languages for a two-spirit person or berdache.
Definition and historic societal role
These individuals were sometimes viewed in certain tribes as having two spirits occupying one body. Their dress is usually a mixture of traditionally male and traditionally female articles. According to Sabine Lang they have distinct gender and social roles in their tribes. In some tribes, male-bodied two-spirits held specific active roles which, varying by tribe, may include:
- healers or medicine persons
- conveyors of oral traditions and songs (Yuki)
- foretellers of the future (Winnebago, Oglala Lakota)
- conferrers of lucky names on children or adults (Oglala Lakota, Tohono O'odham)
- nurses during war expeditions
- potters (Zuni, Navajo, Tohono O'odham)
- matchmakers (Cheyenne, Omaha, Oglala Lakota)
- makers of feather regalia for dances (Maidu)
- special role players in the Sun Dance (Crow, Hidatsa, Oglala Lakota)
Some feel the two spirit identity may be explained as a “form of social failure, women-men are seen as individuals who are not in a position to adapt themselves to the masculine role prescribed by their culture” (Lang, 28). Lang goes on to suggest that two-spirit people lost masculine power socially, so they took on female social roles to climb back up the social ladder within the tribe.
Cross dressing of two-spirit people was not always an indicator of cross acting (taking on other gender roles and social status within the tribe). Lang explains “the mere fact that a male wears women's clothing does not say something about his role behavior, his gender status, or even his choice of partner...” (62). Often within tribes, a child’s gender was decided by depending on their inclination toward either masculine or feminine activities, or their intersex status. Around puberty clothing choices were made to physically display their gender choice.
Two-spirit people, specifically male-bodied (biologically male, gender female), could go to war and have access to male activities such as sweat lodges. However, they also took on female roles such as cooking and other domestic responsibilities.
Two-spirits might have relationships with people of either sex. Female-bodied two-spirits usually had sexual relations or marriages with only females. In the Lakota tribe, two-spirits commonly married widowers; a male-bodied two-spirit could perform the function of parenting the children of the husband's late wife without any risk of bearing new children to whom a new wife might give priority.
Partners of two-spirits did not receive any special recognition, although some believed that after having sexual relations with a two-spirit they would obtain magical abilities, be given obscene nicknames by the two-spirited person which they believed held "good luck," or in the case of male partners, receive a boost to their masculinity. Relationships between two "two-spirited" individuals is absent in the literature (with the sole exception of the Tewa tribe). As male-bodied two-spirits regarded each other as "sisters," it is speculated that it may have been seen as incestuous to have a relationship with another two-spirit.
It is known that in certain tribes a relationship between a two-spirit and non-two-spirit was seen for the most part as neither heterosexual nor homosexual (in modern day terms) but more "hetero-gender," Europeans however saw them as being homosexual. Partners of two-spirits did not experience themselves as "homosexual," and moreover drew a sharp conceptual line between themselves and two-spirits.
Although two-spirits were both respected and feared in many tribes, the two-spirit was not beyond reproach or even being killed for bad deeds. In the Mojave tribe, for instance, they frequently became medicine persons and were likely to be suspected of witchcraft in cases of failed harvest or of death. They were, like any other medicine person, frequently killed over these suspicions (such as the female-bodied two-spirit named Sahaykwisā). Another instance in the late 1840s was of a Crow male-bodied two-spirit who was caught, possibly raiding horses, by the Lakota and was killed.
According to certain reports there had never been an alternative gender among the Comanche. This is true of some Apache bands as well, except for the Lipan, Chiricahua, Mescalero, and southern Dilzhe'e. One tribe in particular, the Eyak, has a single report from 1938 that they did not have an alternative gender and they held such individuals in low esteem, although whether this sentiment is the result of acculturation or not is unknown.
It has been claimed that the Iroquois did not either, although there is a single report from Bacqueville de la Potherie in his book published in 1722, Histoire de l'Amérique septentrionale, that indicates that an alternative gender existed among them (vol. 3, p. 41). Many, if not all, tribes have been influenced by European homophobia/transphobia.
It has been claimed that the Aztecs and Incas had laws against such individuals, though there are some authors who feel that this was exaggerated or the result of acculturation, because all of the documents indicating this are post-conquest and any that existed before had been destroyed by the Spanish. The belief that these laws existed, at least for the Aztecs, comes from the Florentine Codex. According to Dr Nancy Fitch, Professor of History at California State University, Fullerton,
There is evidence that indigenous peoples authored many codices, but the Spaniards destroyed most of them in their attempt to eradicate ancient beliefs. ... The Florentine Codex is unquestionably a troubling primary source. Natives writing in Nahuatl under the supervision of the Spanish Fray Bernardino de Sahagún apparently produced the manuscript in the 1500s. The facts of its production raise serious questions about whether the manuscript represents the vision of the vanquished or of the colonizers ... colonization of the natives’ minds loomed large in the Spanish project ... To make matters worse, while it appears that the original manuscript was completed in Nahuatl some time around 1555, no evidence of it remains. Authorities in New Spain confiscated his manuscripts in 1575, and at various times, the Spanish monarchy ordered him to stop his work. The earliest known version of the manuscript is, thus, Sahagún’s summary of it written in Spanish. In 1585, he published a revised version of the codex, which, he argued, corrected some errors and integrated some things ignored in his earlier summary. Sahagún’s revised version is the manuscript commonly known as the Florentine Codex.
— Nancy Fitch, The Conquest of Mexico Annotated Bibliography
The 1964 book Little Big Man by Thomas Berger, adapted into the 1970 western film Little Big Man, directed by Arthur Penn, stars Dustin Hoffman as a white man who is adopted into a Cheyenne group in the mid-1800s. The film features a character named Little Horse (played by Robert Little Star). The Cheyenne accept Little Horse as a "hee-man-eh," a class of persons who are neither traditionally male nor female. The novel describes Little Horse as anatomically male but displaying mannerisms more typical of women and self-identifying as female. While Hoffman's character is initially wary of Little Horse and rejects her sexual overtures, the two eventually form a close friendship.
The 2009 documentary film Two Spirits, directed by Lydia Nibley, tells the story of the hate-murder of 16-year-old Navajo Fred Martinez, nádleehí - a male-bodied person with a feminine nature.
- Anima and animus
- List of transgender-related topics
- The red road
- Two-Spirit identity theory
- Gilley, Brian Joseph (2006: 8). Becoming Two-Spirit: Gay Identity and Social Acceptance in Indian Country. ISBN 0-8032-7126-3.
- Roscoe, Will (1991). The Zuni Man-Woman, p.5. ISBN 0-8263-1253-5.
- Steingass, Francis Joseph. A Comprehensive Persian-English dictionary, including the Arabic words and phrases to be met with in Persian literature. London: Routledge & K. Paul, 1892. p. 173
- Jacobs, S.; Thomas, W.; Lang, S. (Eds.): Two-spirit people: Native American gender identity, sexuality, and spirituality, page 4. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997.
- Williams, W.: The spirit and the flesh: Sexual diversity in American Indian cultures, page 9. Boston: Beacon Press, 1986.
- Roscoe, W.: Changing ones: Third and fourth genders in native North America, page 7. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998.
- vulnerable, The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. Accessed: March 24, 2007.
- Kent Flannery; Joyce Marcus (15 May 2012). The Creation of Inequality. Harvard University Press. pp. 70–71. ISBN 978-0-674-06469-0
- Jacobs, S. (1997), pp. 2–3, 221.
- Lang, S.: Men as women, women as men: Changing gender in Native American cultures, page XIII. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1998.
- Roscoe, W. (1998), p. 109.
- Burrus, Virginia & Keller, Catherine (2006). Toward a theology of eros: transfiguring passion at the limits of discipline Transdisciplinary theological colloquia. Fordham University Press. ISBN 0-8232-2636-0, ISBN 978-0-8232-2636-8. p. 73.
- Conner, Sparks, and Sparks, eds. (1997) Cassell's Encyclopedia of Queer Myth, Symbol, and Spirit: Covering Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Lore.
- Lang, Sabine, Men as women, women as men: changing gender in Native American cultures'.'
- "Inventory of Aboriginal Services, Issues and Initiatives in Vancouver: Two Spirit – LGTB". Retrieved 2007-07-01.
- Page 72 - http://vancouver.ca/files/cov/aboriginal-services-inventory.pdf
- Stryker, Susan (2004). "Berdache". glbtq.com. Retrieved 2007-07-01.
- Lang, S. (1998), pp. 289–298.
- Hermaphrodeities The Transgender Spirituality Workbook. Raven Kaldera. p. 44.
- Lang, S. (1998), p. 295.
- Lang, S. (1998), p. 185.
- Lang, S. (1998), pp. 208-212.
- Lang, S. (1998), pp. 164, 288.
- Walker, James: Lakota Society, edited by Raymond J. DeMallie, p. 147. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1982.
- Williams, W. (1986), pp. 39, 48.
- Lang, S. (1998), pp. 291–93.
- Jacobs, S. (1997), pp. 236–251.
- Lang, S. (1998), pp. 202–203.
- Roscoe, W. (1998), p. 15.
- Roscoe, W. (1998), pp. 250-251n.43.
- Jacobs, S. (1997), p. 206.
- Williams, W. (1986), pp. 14, 39, 148, 187–192, 209–210, 228, 304n.29.
- Roscoe, W. (1998), p. 114.
- Lang, S. (1998), pp. 119, 311–313, 322.
- Trexler, R. : Sex and conquest: Gendered violence, political order, and the European conquest of the Americas, pp. 155–167. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1995.
- Swidler, Arlene: Homosexuality and World Religions, pp. 17–19. Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 1993.
- Williams, W. (1986), p. 148.
- Lang, S. (1998), p. 324.
- Spencer, Colin: Homosexuality in History, p. 142. London: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1995.
- Greenberg, David: The Construction of Homosexuality, pp. 165–168. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988.
- Fitch, Nancy: General Discussion of the Primary Sources Used in This Project, The Conquest of Mexico Annotated Bibliography. Accessed: June 14, 2008.
- Gloria Kim, "Why be just one sex?". Maclean's, September 8, 2005.
- Sorrel, Lorraine, "Not Vanishing," review in "Off Our Backs." Washington: Mar 31, 1989. Vol.19, Iss. 3.
Sources and further reading
- Cameron, Michelle. (2005). Two-spirited Aboriginal people: Continuing cultural appropriation by non-Aboriginal society. Canadian Women Studies, 24 (2/3), 123–127.
- Conley, Craig. Oracle of the twofold deities.
- Hawkins, Philip Colin. (2012). New World Sodom: Biblical Tales of Conquest and Acculturation. Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, 15. http://ejhs.org/volume15/NewWorld.html
- Jacobs, Sue-Ellen; Wesley Thomas, and Sabine Lang (Eds.). (1997). Two-spirit people: Native American gender identity, sexuality, and spirituality. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0-252-02344-7, ISBN 0-252-06645-6.
- Lang, Sabine. (1998). Men as women, women as men: Changing gender in Native American cultures. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. ISBN 0-292-74700-4, ISBN 0-292-74701-2.
- Medicine, Beatrice. (1997). Changing Native American roles in an urban context and changing Native American sex roles in an urban context. In S.-E. Jacobs, W. Thomas, & S. Lang (Eds.) (pp. 145–148).
- Roscoe, Will. (1991). The Zuni man-woman. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. ISBN 0-8263-1253-5.
- Roscoe, Will. (1998). Changing ones: Third and fourth genders in native North America. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-17539-6.
- Roscoe, Will; & Gay American Indians. (1988). Living the spirit: A gay American Indian anthology. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-01899-1.
- Schaeffer, Claude E. (1965). The Kutenai female berdache. Ethnohistory, 12 (3), 193–236.
- Schultz, James W. (1916). Blackfeet tales of Glacier National Park. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.
- Schultz, James W. (1919). Running Eagle, the warrior girl. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
- Spanbauer, Tom. (1991). The man who fell in love with the moon: A novel. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press. ISBN 0-87113-468-3.
- Trexler, Richard C. (1995). Sex and conquest: Gendered violence, political order, and the European conquest of the Americas. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-3224-3.
- Williams, Walter L. (1986). The spirit and the flesh: Sexual diversity in American Indian cultures. Boston: Beacon Press. ISBN 0-8070-4602-7.
- Williams, Walter L. & Toby Johnson. (2006) Two Spirits: A Story of Life With the Navajo. Maple Shade, NJ: Lethe Press. ISBN 1-59021-060-3
- Qwo-Li Driskill, Chris Finley, Brian Joseph Gilley, and Scott Lauria Morgensen, Eds. (2011) Queer Indigenous Studies: Critical Interventions in Theory, Politics, and Literature. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.
- Wolf, Rope. Two-spirit: Belonging (film)
- Bruce McKinney Papers, 1908-2000, in the Kenneth Spencer Research Library of the University of Kansas Libraries
- Claude E. Schaeffer fonds, at the Glenbow Museum
- Robert Lynch Papers, 1963-1989, at the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections of Cornell University Library
|Look up two-spirit in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- Pruden, Harlan. (April 2013). Two-Spirit Resource Directory
- Directions in Gender Research in American Indian Societies: Two Spirits and Other Categories by Beatrice Medicine
- Berdache on glbtq.com
- The Spirit and the Flesh: Sexual Diversity in American Indian Culture by Walter L. Williams
- Two Spirits, documentary about Fred Martinez, a nádleehí, who was murdered at age 16
- NativeOUT.com - Two Spirit blog, resources, and multimedia
- American Indian Gender Crossers