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What is Two Spirit, Indigiqueer, & LGBTQPAI+?

LGBTQPAI+ stands for:

  • Lesbian

  • Gay

  • Bisexual

  • Transgender

  • Queer

  • Pansexual

  • Asexual

  • Intersex

  • + (continuum)

To understand more about Two Spirit, Indigiqueer, and LGBTQPAI+, it is crucial to first understand the concepts of:

  • the gender binary

  • sex

  • gender identity

    • transgender

      • binary vs nonbinary​

    • cisgender

  • gender expression

  • sexual orientation

    • heterosexual/straight

    • gay

    • lesbian/sapphic

    • bisexual

    • pansexual

    • asexual

  • romantic orientation

    • heteroromantic/straight

    • homoromantic/gay/lesbian/sapphic

    • biromantic

    • panromantic

    • aromantic

Image by Tim Mossholder
The Gender Binary

The gender binary is a systematic, social, and cultural conflation of sex, gender identity, gender expression, sexual, and romantic orientation as either masculine or feminine. While the gender binary works for some people, the gender binary is not the universal reality as such norms and expectation can be harmful to others. Such norms and expectations are deemed cisgender heteronormative which defines the human reality in a gender binary system where:

  • there are only two sexes: male and female.

  • there are only two genders: male bodied people are men/boys and female bodied people are women/girls.

  • there are only two gender expressions: masculine which is expected of male bodied men/boys and feminine which is expected of female bodied women/girls.

    • This is known as cisnormative​

  • boys are only to be sexually and romantically attracted to girls and vice versa. Men are only to be sexually and romantically attracted to women and vice versa.

    • This is known as heteronormative.

  • Cisnormative and heteronormative together is cisheteronormativity.​

  • In addition to cisheteronormativity, in a colonial sense, boys and men are expected to be masculine and fit masculine characteristics, attributes, behaviors, thought patterns, etc. of the colonizers and girls and women are meant to be to subservient not only to men and boys but to uphold colonial patriarchy as well.

In the following, we will explore and decolonize each aspect of a persons identity.

Image by National Cancer Institute
Sex

Sex is the biological and physiological characteristics that distinguishes male, female, or intersex anatomy from each other within groups of organisms or living creatures, including humans. Some but not all of these characteristics are marked by one's:

  • Endocrinology (Body's Hormonal System)

    • Hormone level differences

    • Pituitary gland differences

    • Thyroid glands differences

  • Neurology (Body's Nervous System)

    • Brain Development​ similarities and differences

  • Genetics (Body's Genes)

    • DNA​ similarities and differences

    • Chromosome differences

  • Reproductive Development (Body's Gonadal Processes)

    • Gonadal (sexual reproductive glands that produce gametes, ie. testes, ovaries, etc.) differences and similarities​

  • Morphology (Body's Form and Structure)

    • Hair growth​ differences

    • Bone structure differences

    • Skin texture differences

    • Fat distribution differences

    • Muscle development differences

    • Height differences

    • Vocal differences

  • and so much more.

It should be noted that a person's sex is not synonymous with their gender identity or expression. We know well that sex, gender identity, and expression, are two totally different entities.

Another term that addresses the topic of sex is AMAB and AFAB. AMAB means "Assigned Male At Birth" and AFAB means "Assigned Female At Birth." These terms highlight the fact that all of us, regardless of gender identity, expression, sexual, and romantic orientation were assigned a sex at birth within the gender binary of male and female. We know this is not the case as there exists a spectrum of people's sex including many cases of intersex people.

Gender Identity

Gender Identity is one's own internal sense of being female, a woman, feminine, male, a man, or masculine (also known as gender). One could also have an internal sense of being non binary where they don't identify as being male, female, feminine, masculine, a woman, or a man. Some people may or may not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth.

Cisgender

Cisgender is when one identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth. It utilizes the prefix "cis-" meaning "on the side of" and the root word "gender (from Latin genus meaning birth or origin)" which if the gender binary is addressed means "on the side of gender (that they were assigned at birth)."

Cisgender people can identify with any sexual or romantic orientation. It was created to address the invalidating terms of "biological man or woman, real man or woman, natal born man or woman" when comparing transgender people to cisgender people.

 

What does this look like? This basically means that if a person was assigned male at birth, they would grow up identifying as a young boy and mature into an adult identifying as a man (which would be called a cisgender boy or man or cis boy or man for short). On the other hand, if a person was assigned female at birth, they would grow up identifying as a young girl and mature into adulthood identifying as a woman (which would be called a cisgender girl or woman or cis girl or women for short).

Transgender

Transgender is when one does not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth (as a result, is utilized as a general umbrella term). It utilizes the prefix "trans-" meaning "across from" and the root word "gender (from Latin genus meaning birth or origin)" which if the gender binary is addressed means "the side across the gender (that they were assigned at birth)." Transgender people can identify with any sexual or romantic orientation. It was created to replace outdated and offensive terminology to those who did not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth such as "transsexual, cross dresser, transvestite, etc." though it should be noted that there are individuals who still identify with these terms.

What does this look like? This basically means that if a person was assigned male at birth, they may grow up identifying as a young boy or not and may mature into an adult identifying as a man or not; however, if the person currently identifies as a young girl or woman, they would be called a transgender girl or woman or trans girl or woman for short. On the other hand, if a person was assigned female at birth, they may grow up identifying as a young girl or not and may mature into adulthood identifying as a woman or not; likewise, if the person currently identifies as a young boy or man, they would be called a transgender boy or man or trans boy or man for short.

Nonbinary and Gender Non-Conforming individuals do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth so they are often categorize as transgender though many believe they are their own independent entity. Furthermore, if a transgender person identifies as a man or woman, they are considered to be a binary transgender person as they would navigate the world in the gender binary whereas, nonbinary transgender people do not idenitfy as men or women.

Trans masculine and trans feminine people do not identify strictly as men or women, respectively, nor do they adhere to such gender roles but do express themselves to some degree to masculinity and femininity. Trans masculinity is a spectrum of masculinity that is present in the transgender community and as such, also includes transgender men. Likewise, trans femininity is a spectrum of femininity that is present in the transgender community and as such, also includes transgender women.

Image by Jesús Boscán
Gender Expression

Gender Expression is how one expresses their own external sense of their gender whether is it masculine, feminine, androgynous, etc. Gender expression is not the same as gender identity or used to tell someone's sexual or romantic orientation. There are various ways in which someone expresses their gender such as:

  • hairstyle

  • clothing

  • makeup

  • speech mannerism

  • body language

  • and much more!

Sexual Orientation

Sexual orientation is the sexual attraction to other people. This sexual attraction can be based on one's sexual anatomy or even gender. There can be many forms of sexual attraction such as:

  • Heterosexual​

    • sexual attraction to the opposite gender (also known as "straight")​

  • Homosexual

    • sexual attraction to the same gender​ (also known as "gay" and "lesbian")

  • Bisexual

    • sexual attraction to both or multiple but not all genders​ (also known as "bi")

  • Pansexual

    • sexual attraction regardless of one's gender​ (also known as "pan")

  • Queer

    • sexual attraction is fluid and can encompass multiple but not all genders​

  • Demisexual

    • sexual attraction only when an emotional relationship is established (also known as "demi")​

  • Asexual

    • having little to no sexual attraction towards any gender​ (also known as "ace")

 

Note that sexual orientation is not the same as one's romantic orientation as romantic orientation has nothing to do with sexual attraction.

Romantic Orientation

Romantic orientation is the romantic attraction to other people. This term was created to be inclusive to the asexual community since even though they experience little to no sexual attraction towards any person, they still feel romantic and emotional connections to others. This term also addresses the fact that even though one can have sexual attraction towards another, they don't necessarily have romantic attractions towards them and vice versa (meaning sexual orientation and romantic orientation are two distinct identities independent of each other). There can be many forms of romantic attraction such as:

  • Heteroromantic

    • romantic attraction to the opposite gender (also known as "straight")​

  • Homoromantic

    • romantic attraction to the same gender​ (also known as "gay" and "lesbian")

  • Biromantic

    • sexual attraction to both or multiple but not all genders​ (also known as "bi")

  • Panromantic

    • romantic attraction regardless of one's gender (also known as "pan")​

  • Queer

    • romantic attraction is fluid and can encompass multiple but not all genders​

  • Demiromantic

    • romantic attraction only when an emotional relationship is established​ (also known as "demi")

  • Aromantic

    • having little to no romantic attraction towards any gender​ (also known as "aro")

 

Note that romantic orientation is not the same as one's sexual orientation.

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What is Indigiqueer?

The term Indigiqueer was created by Thirza Cuthand (Plains Cree) in 2004. Unlike Two Spirit and other recent modern identities, Indigiqueer honors and celebrates one's sexual and romantic orientation as well as their gender identity and expression as they both relate to one's indigeneity (ways someone is Indigenous). This term is a pan-Indigenous term that individuals from various Indigenous backgrounds can and will use.

Indigiqueer is it's own unique identity separate from Two Spirit and being LGBTQPAI+. As such, individuals can be Indigiqueer along with being Two Spirit, gay, trans, pan, etc. It should also be noted that not all Two Spirit and Indigenous LGBTQPAI+ individuals will identify as Inidigiqueer.

What is Two Spirit?

The term "Two Spirit" comes from the Anishinaabe word niizh manidoowag from the words niizh ("two") and manidoo ("spirit"). It was created in 1990 through a consensus at the Third Annual Inter-tribal Native American, First Nations Gay and Lesbian American Conference in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. The term Two Spirits is more of a descriptive term which alludes to indigenous persons whose identities and cultural roles aren't by western colonial standards considered cisgender heteronormative. These identities and cultural roles vary from tribe to tribe, from nation to nation, and from people to people. It was an attempt to try and unify the many third, fourth, fifth, or other sacred genders and the indigenous terms that exists within many indigenous cultures (an umbrella term) as they were and continue to be a marginalized group in modern colonization and globalization. Two Spirit also addresses the western colonial gender binary system in which there are certain honorable individuals in many indigenous cultures who have varying degrees of femininity and masculinity, also known as having a feminine and masculine spirit.

Two Spirit was also created to replace the popular outdated and blatantly offensive term berdache. Prior to the inception of Two Spirit, berdache was a popular academic term used to describe the non-cisgender heteronormative individuals who exist in North America. It is an English spelling of the French word bardache which was used by the French colonizers in what we now know as Canada to describe the indigenous individuals who were non-cisgender heteronormative that they've encountered. The French colonizers came about this term from texts of the Old World (Europe, Africa, Asia) that had records of the Persian word bardaj ( بَرْدَج‎ )which meant "slave." At the time, Italy and Spain also had the terms bardascia/bardasso and bardaje, respectively. All variations of the term had similar negative connotations which was used to describe a catamite or a kept young boy used for sexual purposes; however, over time the term began to lose its sexual and age definition and instead found its meaning as someone who was a AMAB homosexual. These term variations most likely resulted from influences of Muslim Spain or via contact with Muslims. The Persian term bardaj stemmed from the Old Iranian term "varta-" meaning "seized, prisonder." Vart- also stems from the Indo-European root word "wela-" meaning "to strike" or "to wound."

Two Spirit was also created to highlight, honor, and celebrate an indigenous person's cultural heritage, role, and tradition respective to their tribe, nation, and people. With that in mind, Two Spirit is not synonymous to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, pansexual, asexual, or intersex as these labels specifically address one's sex, gender identity, gender expression, sexual and romantic orientation in a western colonial context. Instead, many individuals will have a dual or intersectional identity of being LGBTQPAI and Two Spirit (eg. cis gay man who is Two Spirit, trans asexual woman who is Two Spirit, intersex and Two Spirit, etc.). It is in this manner that there has been advocacy to have Two Spirit as its own identity within the LGBTQ pride spectrum (shown as 2S in LGBTQPAI2S). Here at Indigenous Pride LA, we have LGBTQPAI and Two Spirit to highlight the distinction that folks can be indigenous LGBTQPAI and Two Spirit as Two Spirit is already an indigenous identity and does not need to be reiterated.