Two-Spirit (also two spirit or, occasionally, twospirited) is a , pan-Indian, umbrella term used by some indigenous North Americans to describe certain people in their communities who fulfill a traditional third-gender (or other gender-variant) ceremonial role in their cultures. While most people mistakenly associate the term with “LGBT Native”, the term and identity of two-spirit “does not make sense” unless it is contextualized within a Native American or First Nations framework and traditional cultural understanding. The term was adopted by consensus in 1990 at an Indigenous lesbian and gay international gathering to encourage the replacement of the outdated, and now seen as inappropriate, anthropological term berdache.
“Two Spirit” is not interchangeable with “LGBT Native American” or “Gay Indian”; this title differs from most western, mainstream definitions of sexuality and gender identity in that it is not so much about whom one is sexually interested in, or how one personally identifies; rather, it is a sacred, spiritual and ceremonial role that is recognized and confirmed by the Elders of the Two Spirit’s ceremonial community. While some have found the term a useful tool for intertribal organizing, not all Native cultures conceptualize gender or sexuality this way, not all tribes have ceremonial roles for these people, and the tribes who do usually use names in their own languages. While pan-Indian terms are not always appropriate or welcome, the term has generally received more acceptance and use than the term it replaced.
Third and fourth gender roles traditionally embodied by two-spirit people include performing work and wearing clothing associated with both men and women. Not all tribes/nations have rigid gender roles, but, among those that do, the spectrum that has usually been documented is that of four genders: feminine woman, masculine woman, feminine man, masculine man.