Protected: What it means to be Two Spirit
July 14, 2022
by Christopher Arnold
First published on June 29, 2022 via stories.td.com
My name is Christopher Arnold, I am a proud member of Nak’azdli First Nations Band (Dakelh) in Fort St. James, British Columbia.
And I am Two-Spirit.
I knew from a young age that I was a part of the 2SLGBTQ+ community. I came out openly when I was 20 years old and up until four years ago, I identified as a gay man.
But I always felt a little different.
Many aspects about myself contradicted more traditional societal definitions of what it meant to be a gay man. My interests delved into both traditionally masculine and feminine pursuits and tastes. And although that doesn’t identify who you are – anyone can do anything they please – for me, the more I learned about myself and how I enjoyed such a variety of hobbies and interests, it started to become clear to me that there was more to my identity.
I began doing my own research on the lived experiences of those in the 2SLGBTQ+ community, exploring different influencers and accounts on social media and speaking with elders from my community to learn more about the “2S” aspect of the 2SLGBTQ+ abbreviation.
From a young age, my mother instilled the values of our culture in me. Among the countless lessons and guidance, she taught me that our elders carried knowledge far beyond anyone in the community – they are our knowledge keepers. Our connections to the past who serve as teachers, healers, and counsellors. I could turn to them for guidance.
Soon after, I started receiving healing treatments from elders within the community. It was there that I was told what it meant to be Two-Spirit.
It was like something clicked. I suddenly knew that I was – I am – Two-Spirit.
Whereas some individuals may identify as non-binary – who experience their gender as neither a woman or a man – for a number of Two-Spirit individuals in the Indigenous community, they feel the presences of both male and female spirits within their body simultaneously.
The best way I could describe it is having two separate presences within you that surface at different moments depending on what you’re doing, how you’re feeling, and which is needed at that time.
Two-Spirit individuals, historically, are considered almost sacred within the Indigenous community. They are celebrated, their gender expression is accepted, and they are considered healers for their communities.
When I learned I was Two-Spirit, I was also told by an elder that I was a healer. To be Two-Spirit means to have been blessed by the Creator with the ability to view the world and life through two different lenses – through the eyes of both male and female.
It allows us to appreciate things others may not and see the beauty of the world in ways that others don’t. It gives us a unique perspective which can be used to mediate between people when they cannot understand one another because we can understand both perspectives.
Which is why we would hold revered roles such as healers, shamans, ceremonial leaders, matchmakers, counsellors, doctors and medicine makers, drummers and hoop dancers, among many other roles.
Being a part of both the Indigenous and 2SLGBTQ+ communities, I feel a responsibility and privilege to be able to share and teach on behalf of both. I have a unique lived experience and perspective that I get to share with others which can, hopefully, inspire meaningful change and promote further intersection and inclusion for both communities.
Meaningful change is change which is made thoughtfully. One example of meaningful change is when TD adopted the more inclusive 2SLGBTQ+ abbreviation from LGBTQ2+ .
This really touched me. I felt seen.
For many people, Two-Spirit isn’t as commonly known as other identities. In some versions of the abbreviation, a ‘2’ isn’t included. We are merely recognized within the ‘+’.
By adopting the abbreviation which has the ‘2S’ (Two-Spirit) at the front, TD has demonstrated an incredible example of allyship for each of the Indigenous and 2SLGBTQ+ communities, which I believe also marks an incredible milestone for the Indigenous community and a significant step towards Truth and Reconciliation.
It is a very simple yet powerful way to recognize that Two-Spirit individuals and Indigenous communities were the first caretakers of this land and acknowledges the fact that we have been celebrating these identities for hundreds of years.
I want my peers to also adopt these evolutions as standard practices and use them as conversation starters. They can provide an opportunity for someone to learn something about a community that, I can tell you, feels like a minority within a minority.
I would encourage those around me to act as allies by sharing their pronouns, being curious, continuing to learn and ask questions but most importantly, by being authentic.
I also hope they will have a genuine interest in continuing their personal learning journey and helping to foster a more authentic way of getting to know each other.
TD is always evolving, and I hope that by sharing my story, I can help us continue to do so. The more we’re able to fully be seen and stand in the light, the more it gives other people the ability to do it as well.