Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Two-Spirited Person Definition:

The term used in North American native tradition to refer to an intersex individual.

Related Terms: Intersex

A term unique to North American Indian (aka First Nations) tradition and referring to an individual who shows some physical features of both sexes, a condition which has otherwise become known in English legal terminology as an individual who is referred to as intersex (an individual with neither male or female standard sexual anatomy, by birth or surgery).

The term two spirit or 2-spirit, is also used in a more general way to refer to lesbian, gay, bisexuals and transgender North American aboriginals:

"... (the term) two-spirits ... is used broadly to refer to LGBT Native Americans.... Many Native American cultures recognized a "third gender" that could embody the characteristics of both males and females. These individuals are now generally referred to as "two-spirits." While the term "two-spirit" is not strictly used historically to define homosexuals within the Native American community (as the specific terminology varied from tribe to tribe), two-spirit is the most commonly used phrase, embraced by historians and modern LGBT Native Americans alike."

The author Trista Wilson includes reference to the differing terminology used by First Nations to refer to "third-gendered" persons:

"Third-gendered persons are referred to as heemaneh' by the Cheyenne tribe, nddleeh by the Navajo, and aya'kwa by the Fox tribe....

"In the Zuni Tribe, two-spirits, or lhamana, were considered to possess the strongest character and [be] the most intelligent members of the tribe...

"Two-spirits often were believed to have special spiritual powers, and they played an important role in religious life. Some tribes believed that the gender different were possessed of a special relationship with the Creator because they were seen as being able to bridge the personal and spiritual gap between men and women, and, as a result, they were accepted and sometimes honored."

But this was not, apparently, universal. Writing in Current Anthropology, Fulton and Anderson propose that in North American Indian society, "attitudes toward the man-woman ranged from awe and reverence through indifference to scorn and contempt."


  • Robert Fulton, R. and Anderson, S.,The Amerindian "Man-Woman": Gender, Liminality, and Cultural Continuity,
    33 Current Anthropology 603 at page 607 (1992)
  • Jacobi, Jeffrey S., Two Spirits, Two Eras, Same Sex: For a Traditionalist Perspective on Native American Tribal Same-Sex Marriage Policy, 39 U. Mich. J.L. Reform 826 (2005-2006)
  • NOTE 1: Wilson, Trista, Changed Embraces, Changes Embraced - Renouncing the Heterosexist Majority in Favor of a Return to Traditional Two-Spirit Culture, 36 Am. Indian L. Rev. 161 (2011-2012) pages 161-188 ].

Categories & Topics:

Always looking up definitions? Save time with our search provider (modern browsers only)

If you find an error or omission in Duhaime's Law Dictionary, or if you have suggestion for a legal term, we'd love to hear from you!