Gender is seen as a binary concept for most societes, with two rigidly fixed options: male or female, both based on a person’s reproductive functions.
However, as research shows, the relationship between a person’s gender and their body goes beyond one’s reproductive functions.
People tend to use the term “gender” interchangeably, and we assign a newborn’s gender as either male or female based on their genitals. Thus, once it’s assigned, we presume the child’s gender.
However, there are societies that had more than 2 gender roles way before the 19th century when the gender binary system was introduced, and Native Americans are being one of them.
The was no ‘normal’ in their tribes and it wasn’t until Europeans came to America that Natives adopted their 2 gender roles.
Actually, according to Indian Country Today, all native communities acknowledged these following gender roles: “female, male, Two Spirit female, Two Spirit male and transgendered.”
Native American did not assign genders to newborn babies and even their clothes were neutral. A person was only judged by their contribution to the tribe, and not their ‘femininity’ or ‘masculinity’.
There was no stigma revolving around Two Spirited people, how they live or who they love, and it was accepted as a normal occurrence.
In fact, The Two Spirit people in pre-contact Native America were greatly admired, and families that included them were considered lucky.
“Native Americans believed that a person who was able to see the world through the eyes of both genders at the same time was a gift from The Creator.”
The ‘Two Spirit’ term, was constructed to be used in the English language as a universal term, and it is not always translatable with the same meaning, giving the fact that many Native American tribes have their own specific term for it.
For example, in the Lakota tribe is Winkté (indicative of a male who has a compulsion to behave as a female), Navajo refer to it as Nádleehí (one who is transformed), the Cheyenne as Hemaneh (half man, half woman) etc.
The “Two Spirit” culture of Native Americans was one of the first things that Europeans worked to destroy and cover up. According to people like American artist George Catlin, the Two Spirit tradition had to be eradicated before it could go into history books.
One of the most known Two Spirits in recorded history was a warrior named Hunts Them And Kills Them. He was born as a male and married a female but proceeded to live his life as a female.
Soon enough, religion’s prejudice over gender was brought upon, and these people were forced to make one of the two choices or live their life hiding and in fear.
Many of them, also, tragically ended their lives.