On February 13, Facebook added more than 45 custom gender-identifying terms, allowing users to choose from more than just “male” or “female” in order to identify themselves. Indigenous communities all over Turtle Island were pleasantly surprised to find that among those terms was “Two-Spirit.”
“When you come to Facebook to connect with the people, causes and organizations you care about, we want you to feel comfortable being your true, authentic self,” Facebook’s press office said in a statement to ICTMN. “An important part of this is the expression of gender, especially when it extends beyond the definitions of just ‘male’ or ‘female.’”
Additionally, Facebook has added the ability to select a preferred pronoun – male, female or neutral (they/their/them) – as well as allowing people to specify who sees the gender and pronoun they’ve chosen.
“We recognize that some people face challenges sharing their true gender identity with others, and this setting gives people the ability to express themselves in an authentic way,” Facebook said.
Facebook credited our Network of Support, a group of leading LGBT advocacy organizations as collaborators for determining which terms to include in the list. Some other terms included are agender, trans, intersex, gender fluid, gender questioning and CIS, among others.
Many Indigenous people who identify as Two Spirit were excited to see the changes.
“When Facebook added new gender options, I felt that it was an amazing step, one that was in the right direction,” said Gina Metallic, of Mig’maq First Nation, a Two Spirit community and Aboriginal youth protection activist. “I use the term Two Spirited because it is a hybrid of my culture and sexuality. It acknowledges both important pieces of my identity, being queer and being Indigenous. It’s also allowing people to see that there’s more than male and female, and that it’s okay and normal.”
“I was elated because I believe the act of naming, renaming and self-naming is both a spiritually and psychologically healing, liberating process, as well as one of decolonization,” said Albert McLeod, Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation, a human rights activist and consultant specializing in HIV/AIDS and Aboriginal peoples.
According to both Metallic and McLeod, there is no strict definition of the term Two Spirit. Definitions and roles can vary between people and tribes.
“Two Spirit is a term used to describe Aboriginal people who assume cross, or multiple gender roles, attributes, dress and attitudes for personal, spiritual, cultural, ceremonial or social reasons,” said McLeod. “These roles are defined by each cultural group and can be fluid over a person’s lifetime. Modern terms like gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, transsexual and intersexed [in combination with, or exclusive to, Two Spirit] may be adopted by some Aboriginal people to define who they are.”
“Two Spirit is an umbrella term for anyone who does not fit society’s typical mold – that is to say, that fit the gender binary roles and sexuality norms,” said Metallic, who holds a graduate degree in social work from McGill University in Montreal. “It’s like how western society uses ‘queer.’”
Unlike other gender identifiers, Two Spirit also refers to the cultural roles these people play in their communities.
“They were counselors, therapists, ones that many community members came to for advice, as they were able to see both the female and male point of view,” said Metallic.
“They were able to be objective because they were seen as both part of and separate from the community,” said McLeod. “Besides being fabulous, we are also considered extra-ordinary, ordinary people with a little bit extra.”
While many are happy with the changes, there is some concern regarding appropriation of the term Two Spirit by non-Indigenous people.
“Since I easily relate to being doubly blessed, this was great choice for me, especially since it fuels activism,” said Lexie Cannes, a non-Native pro-trans blogger.
Others like Cannes have been adopting the term as well — with backlash from the Native social media community.
“I don’t find it offensive, only misguided, as some people will misappropriate another group’s cultural identity, rather than do their own work to discover their own histories,” said McLeod.
“Like I said, Two Spirit is the hybrid of sexuality/gender and culture – that culture being First Nations. If non-Native/First Nations/Indigenous people were to use the term, this would be a form of colonialism once again. It isn’t theirs to take,” said Metallic.
Facebook has not yet updated gender-identification options for parent and child relationships – children are still either a “son” or “daughter” of a “father” or “mother.”