What it means to identify in an indigenous context
What is two-spirited? Who is two-spirited? The term two-spirited is a label used by indigenous people that identify within the LGBTQ spectrum. There was no term for LGBTQ in the times before colonialism, and the term was coined in the 1990s as a way to identify indigenous LGBTQ people. The people who identify within the two-spirited community are people who come from all walks of life.
Before Christopher Columbus brought hatred into the Americas, Native Americans accepted LGBTQ people, and most were seen as spiritually gifted individuals. The two-spirited possessed the gift of being able to take on the roles of both man and woman.
Males who were two-spirited in First Nation societies, pre-contact, were seen as shamans, medicine men, and took on many female roles. Females who were two-spirited in pre-contact indigenous societies also took on many male roles, such as hunting big game animals and protecting the community.
As a Mi’kmaw man who identifies as two-spirited, I feel a sense of empowerment and pride in my sexual orientation. The ideology surrounding being two-spirited creates a sense of belonging for people like me, who fall under the intersectionality of a queer indigenous person living in Canada.
When I first came out of the closet, at the age of sixteen as gay, the sexual orientation didn’t resonate within me at the time. But when I found out what two-spirited was when I become older, I felt a sense of pride telling strangers that I am two-spirited - and I am still proud.
“Saying that I’m two-spirited makes me feel closer to my culture- it’s our own term, and it’s a broad label which makes it easier. It isn’t gender specific. It isn’t judgmental or used as a slur. It’s comfortable. It feels like home, versus being called a lesbian,” Mariah Joe of Halifax tells me, when I ask her what being two-spirited means to her.
“Being able to be me is more comfortable than trying to be someone else. I love being able to express my full self by identifying as two-spirited.” Yvette Sylliboy comments on her two-spirited orientation.
My main adjective of writing this article is to educate the reader on what and who is two-spirited. Although it may seem unimportant to Eurocentric heteronormative members of the public, I feel deeply within myself that it is important to educate the general public of two-spiritedness.
Being two-spirited assists indigenous queer folks in finding the piece of the puzzle that hasn’t fit into these colonial LGBTQ terms that were imposed on us. Two-spiritedness heals indigenous queers by decolonizing the hatred that we’ve suffered from European settlers who labeled our shamans, medicine men, and warrior women as gay, lesbian, and transgender. Although LGBTQ terms complete the puzzle for many, my puzzle is pieced through embracing my two-spiritedness. Welalioq. Thank you.