Dot Wordsworth

What does it mean to be ‘2S’?

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Justin Trudeau has attracted a certain amount of mockery by referring in a tweet to people who are 2SLGBTQQIA+. The Canadian Prime Minister was referring to people who are Two Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex or asexual, plus anything else that might come to mind. The official website of the Canadian government only stretches to one Q and doesn’t bother with the A, but declares that ‘terminology is continuously evolving’.

Continuous evolution means that yesterday’s approved term is today’s hate speech. The Canadian government website says that ‘the term homosexual has fallen out of favour, as it is associated with the historic medical understanding of same-sex attraction as a mental illness’. But since Canada also has French as an official language, the website adds: ‘Toutefois, le terme “homosexuel” est fréquemment utilisé en français et dans d’autres langues.’

Anyway it does explain 2S, which has puzzled some, as ‘a culturally specific identity used by some Indigenous people to indicate a person whose gender identity, spiritual identity and/or sexual orientation comprises both male and female spirits.’ The Canadian French is bispirituel, expressed in the official acronym soup as 2E for ‘deux esprits’, making the official thread in French: 2ELGBTQI+. 

Two-spirit was invented in 1990 at the Native American First Nations gay and lesbian conference in Winnipeg. Not everyone liked 2S. But it was intended as a replacement for berdache, itself proposed in 1955 in the American Anthropologist as a term for ‘someone who is viewed by the community … as having assumed the role and status of the opposite sex’. Berdache derives from the same source as the English bardash, generally meaning ‘catamite’, from Italian bardassa.  Attempts have been made to recruit 2S people to a framework called ‘Queer of colour critique’. But many First Nations Canadians do not consider themselves as ‘people of colour’ and see 2S as a label no more accurate than 2CV would be.

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