Two Spirit People: Rethinking gender

two spirit people o-diaries

“Pink if it’s a girl; blue if it’s a boy” – the socialization of biological sex often starts before birth in our society. In contrast, the indigenous people of North America practiced a far more advanced interpretation of gender. Perhaps it’s time we learned from their wisdom.

Sex is not just biological differences

Beyond biology, the gender of women and men is often defined by social, political and cultural structures within which an individual must navigate. Roles such as “women at the stove” and “strong heroic men” are historically recognizable, but mark a narrowed understanding of gender.

The indigenous peoples of North America have long accepted and even worshipped the “third gender”. The so-called “Two Spirit People” are regarded as intermediate beings – they don’t identify with their biological gender and don’t see any need to. Instead, they live both aspects of their personality: the female and male. This is demonstrated in their choice of clothing, for example, professional activity or spiritual sense of belonging as part of another gender group. The term ‘transgender’ could be regarded as an equivalent from our modern societal structures.

Two Spirit People: Respect “being different”

To recognize the Two Spirit People only on the basis of their sexual orientation would be one-sided. Character and personality traits also play an important role. Indeed, the word ‘spirit’ refers to the soul, the sense and inner ghost. Two Spirit People were subtle, sensitive and intuitive. Written records speak of a “pure soul”. Because of their spiritual openness, these people also achieved a special position in their group. They weren’t caught up in one-sided roll-thinking of the sexes. Being regarded as wise counselors, they were often asked for help. Their word had great weight.

The end of the Two Spirit People

The colonization of America by power-hungry, unenlightened Europeans is responsible for the decline of this open gender culture. The Two Spirit People did not conform to the norm and world-view of the European colonialists. Subsequently, they were devalued and rejected for their difference. Although people living in indigenous tribes benefitted from the qualities of the Two Spirit People, today there are few people who would identify themselves as such. 

What we can learn from “Two Spirits“

Male, female, heterosexual, homosexual – these categories largely determine our socio-cultural perceptions of gender and sexual orientation. However, they are rigid and exclude people who may not feel that they belong to either category. That’s precisely why the LGBTQI community has been working to change such heteronormative ways of thinking.

Humans are anything but simple. Strict and inflexible categorizations restrict us and deprive us of our freedom to be different and unique. At the same time, the idea of a society in which it doesn’t matter which gender a person belongs to may be perfect, but is also utopian. Thus, it is all the more important to practice a respectful interaction with each other and the values a person represents. Degree programs such as ‘gender studies’ play an important part in developing the gender concept further. Through research, enlightenment and understanding the one-sided thought patterns can be broken.

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Fitness trainer, blogger for Louise et Hélène, photographer and turtle-mum: Konstanze took many roles over the past years. Her believe: Life is a playground, where everyone can discover new things every day. Curiosity and drive compelled her to start writing. Through her work, she seeks to explore the role of women in society: does it mean to be woman? What are the specific challenges? How can I enjoy my femininity in an honest way? And how do we keep the balance between body culture and body positivity? Konstanze is looking for the answers every day.