I first heard the term two spirit in 2014 when I worked for a 2SLGBTQ organization focused on education-based workshops. I was invited by a two spirit presenter to co-present a workshop with them on decolonizing gender. At this point in my life, I had been out as queer for about 4 years and was newly exploring my relationship with my gender identity.
When I heard the term two spirit, it felt like coming home. I could finally let out the breath I didn't know I had been holding in my whole life. I had a term that explained not only my relationship to my body and my gender, but also to the land and its people. This word opened up a world of possibilities beyond those offered by the colonial gender binary of girl and boy, man and woman.
Indigenous communities across Turtle Island, or what is colonially known as North America, didn't place the same importance on gender as the patriarchal, Catholic European settlers did. In our communities, it was one's role that was the most important. Everyone had a role in community; everyone was accepted and belonged. This isn't to say that our communities were perfect utopias and didn't have conflicts; we did. But gender and sexuality weren't the taboo subjects they are now.
Throughout settler colonialism, the gender binary has been used as another tool of assimilation into the dominant Western culture; two spirit teachings were either lost or hidden away for safe keeping. It wasn't until 1990 that the tern two spirit was created in Winnipeg, MB at an Inter-tribal Gay and Lesbian Conference, to reclaim some of our communities' teachings around genders that lay beyond the binary.
I want to quote Joshua Whitehead, author of Johnny Appleseed, in how they define the terms two spirit and indigiqueer:
"'Two-spirit' is a pan-Indigenous term that originated in Winnipeg in the 1990s. It encapsulates hundreds of nations, but it's something that is specific to each regional space, to that homeland and to those peoplehoods. But because of colonization and, more specifically, Christianization, those histories and stories around two-spirit peoples have been lost. I use 'two-spirit' because it's a homecoming and homecalling. For me, to take the word 'Indigenous' and braid it with 'queer' is a new type of worlding — a braiding of two bridges. I really like the biting edge 'Indigiqueer' has. I think of it as the driving force that is pulling along two-spiritness."
In a similar way to Joshua Whitehead, I feel like two spirit is a term that calls me home. It rolls my Indigenaity, queerness and transness into a giant circle that is able to expand and shift as I continue to grow, learn and reclaim this identity. The term indigiqueer is another way of interlacing my queerness with my indigenaity; you can't have one without the other.
A lot of times, Indigenous queers have to choose which parts of them they bring into each space. If I am in a cultural or community space, I have to leave my queerness at the door to access teachings/ceremony that are vital to my survival. And in mainstream LGBTQ spaces, which are mostly white, I have to leave my native-ness at the door. Being the unapologetic Indigiqueer that I am now, I say screw that. You get all of me or none of me.
I am privileged enough to have access to two spirit teachers and elders. I have built up a chosen community of people don't try to define me by colonial standards.
In anishinabemowin, the language isn't divided into masculine or feminine, like a lot of Western languages are. The word kwe, which we translate into meaning woman, actually translates into "beings who continue to grow" and the word nini, which we associate with man, means "beings that get bigger". Our words for two spirits are agokwe and agokwe-nini, wise-beings-who-continue-to-grow and wise-beings-who-continue-to-grow-and-get-bigger.
There is no division here. Just the memory of how two spirits and Indigiqueers were seen as gifted and sacred in our communities; and the hope that we can find that place in the circle again.