Two-Spirit, The American Third Sex

George Catlin (1796-1872), Dance to the Berdache.

Catlin_-_Dance_to_the_berdacheDrawn while on the Great Plains, among the Sac and Fox Indians, the sketch depicts a ceremonial dance to celebrate the two-spirit person.
pic-25 Gay Native Americans call themselves Two-Spirits and have historically been considered a third sex, though they did not suffer castration, which was not common in the Americas.  Two-Spirit People is an English term that emerged in 1990, out of the third annual inter-tribal Native American/First Nations gay and lesbian conference, in Winnipeg, to describe Native Americans who fulfill one of many mixed gender roles found traditionally among many Native Americans and Canadian First Nations indigenous groups. The mixed gender roles encompassed by the term historically included wearing the clothing and performing the work associated with both men and women.
 pic-17A direct translation of the Ojibwe term, Niizh manidoowag, “two-spirited” or “two-spirit” is usually used to indicate a person whose body simultaneously houses a masculine spirit 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.
Prior to western contact, many American Native tribes had third-gender roles. These include “Berdaches” (a derogatory French term for genetic males who assumed a feminine role) and “Passing women” (genetic females who took on a masculine role). The term Berdache in not a Native American word; rather it was a European definition covering a range of third-gender people in different tribes. Not all Native American tribes had Transgender people.
pic-07 These individuals are often viewed as having two spirits occupying one body. Their dress is usually a mixture of traditionally male and traditionally female articles. They have distinct gender and social roles in their tribes.
alan-valdez-hispanic-native-americanTwo-spirited individuals perform specific social functions in their communities. In some tribes male-bodied two-spirits held active roles such as: healers or medicine persons, gravediggers, undertakers, handling and burying of the deceased, conduct mourning and sexual rites, conveyers of oral traditions and songs, nurses during war expeditions, foretold the future, conferred lucky names on children or adults, wove, made pottery, made beadwork and quillwork, arranged marriages, made feather regalia for dances, special skills in games of chance, led scalp-dances, and fulfilled special functions in connection with the setting up of the central post for the Sun Dance.
pic-24 In some tribes female-bodied two-spirits typically took on roles such as: chief, council, trader, hunter, trapper, fisher, warrior, raider, guides, peace missions, vision quests, prophets, and medicine persons.
native-american-i-dan-nelson 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. It is obvious from the list above that Two-Spirits carried out many of the most important tasks of the tribes.
For more information about Two-Spirits, please visit TWO SPIRIT: GBLT INDIAN NATION.  It is a very interesting article.



About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

4 responses to “Two-Spirit, The American Third Sex

  • Uncutplus

    Two-spirited persons amoung Native American tribes appears to be very accepting and open-minded, and not at all considered pathological as in European culture. That they were considered healthproviders and chiefs indicates that they were held in high esteem. There seemed to be nothing wrong with their males performing traditional feminine activities. I wish all cultures were more like that!

  • JoeBlow

    I have always felt that the two greatest tragedies of European conquest of Native (North) Americans was: 1) the introduction of disease and 2) the forced conversion from indigenous religions to Christianity. Of course disease killed 90% of the Native American population, but Christianity brought its prejudices with it and caused damage to native cultures. Many of the Native Americans groups today are very fundamentalists and homophobic when it comes to their tribal laws and customs. They consider themselves traditionalists, when they are anything but.I specifically put Native North Americans, because the native empires of Central and South America (Aztec, Inca, etc.) were not as tolerant of homosexuality. Therefore, I think homophobia comes with empire, not religion, because homosexuals tend not to procreate, therefore they are not increasing the population and thus not increasing the number of soldiers to further the conquest of empire. I'll to a thought post on this soon on this theory, where I will hash it out more, and hopefully get a discussion going.

  • Most Popular Posts of All Time | The Closet Professor

    […] Pot” with 7,704 views 2. “Panic in the Locker Room?” with 1,775 views 3. “Two-Spirit, The American Third Sex” with 1,251 views 4. “Naked Male Camaraderie” with 1,201 views 5. “Gay […]

  • Joan

    I’m curious as to why the verbiage used in the article had to be accentuated with sexual photos that show male genitalia. The article portrays the two-spirited person as one who may have held important roles in a tribe or nation. So why tarnish the respectful rhetoric with untasteful photos that promote pornography? Did two-spirited chiefs really ride horses naked and wear headdresses and nothing else? Did two-spirited hunters really hunt with their genitalia hanging out of their loin clothes or just in the nude? Perhaps using photos depicting two-spirited Native Americans as they really were would have given this article more authenticity.

Thank you for commenting. I always want to know what you have to say. However, I have a few rules: 1. Always be kind and considerate to others. 2. Do not degrade other people's way of thinking. 3. I have the right to refuse or remove any comment I deem inappropriate. 4. If you comment on a post that was published over 14 days ago, it will not post immediately. Those comments are set for moderation. If it doesn't break the above rules, it will post.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: