By Harlan Pruden and Melissa Hoskins, Co-Chairs of NE2SS
On the land we know as North America, there were approximately 400 distinct indigenous Nations. Of that number, 155 have documented multiple gender traditions. Two Spirit is a contemporary term that refers to those traditions where some individuals’ spirits are a blending of male and female spirit.
When English and French-Canadian fur trappers first grew acquainted with the cultures of the Native Americans among whom they found themselves, they were surprised to find that there were significant numbers of men dressed as women among the tribes of the region. What intrigued them the most, however, was the esteem with which these men were held by their fellow tribesmen. These men were considered to be spiritually gifted, a special gift to the tribe by God, men with a particular insight into spiritual matters. As they were encountered in most tribes, the trappers chose a French word to describe them all: "berdache."
Personally, as a person of Native American descent, I thoroughly dislike that term, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that it is ultimately perjorative in its roots. Native Americans find the term offensive as it comes ultimately from the Arabic where it means roughly, 'male prostitute,' a thoroughly unacceptable term to be used for their highly respected spiritual advisors and elders.