What does Two Spirit mean?
For the LGBTQ community generally, and in particular for guys who identify as bisexual – who are generally lacking in high-profile role models – one of the highlights of 2018 was that musician Jason Mraz confirmed that he is a bisexual guy.
Jason Mraz is a big name in the music industry. You’ll probably know every word of his signature track I’m Yours. He’s about to release his sixth studio album - his first was released in 2002.
Mraz is married, he married Christina Carano in 2015.
To celebrate Pride Month in 2018, Mraz wrote a poem for Billboard - it closed with the line: “I am bi your side.”
Speculation quickly mounted that Mraz had made a significant disclosure about his sexuality. In a follow-up interview with Billboard – released in July 2018 – Mraz has spelled it out.
“Honestly, I didn’t realize it was going to be so telling. But I’ve had experiences with men, even while I was dating the woman who became my wife. It was like, ‘Wow, does that mean I am gay?’ And my wife laid it out for me. She calls it ‘two spirit,’ which is what the Native Americans call someone who can love both man and woman. I really like that.”
If you’re a guy who identifies as bisexual, you don’t see a lot of representation of that in the media, or from entertainers and celebrities. That Jason Mraz is embracing his bisexual identity is a big deal.
Without taking anything away from the way that Mraz identifies, or how he has navigated his sexuality, it is however worth talking a bit more about the concept of Two Spirit.
While Mraz has found the term Two Spirit as a useful way to understand his bisexuality, it’s a bit confusing to conflate the two things.
The term Two Spirit is a relatively recent thing – it was adopted by indigenous American communities at a conference in 1990. The term describes people in an indigenous American community who perform gender-fluid or non-binary ceremonial roles.
The ceremonial aspect of the role is quite important. Simply being gay or bisexual and also from an indigenous American community doesn’t make you Two Spirit. There is a specific component of gender fluidity or third-gender, but from what I’ve read it seems that simply being trans and also from an indigenous American community doesn’t make you Two Spirit - you have to also have that specific ceremonial role within your community.
Adding to the complexity of the Two Spirit concept is that not all indigenous American communities have the same gender constructs, and not all communities have ceremonial roles that could be described as Two Spirit. What is clear is that the term Two Spirit isn’t something that should be appropriated by anyone outside indigenous American communities.
I’m really pleased that Jason Mraz is able to talk openly about his sexuality. Part of that process is getting to grips with the language of how to talk about who you are and who you are attracted to.
Two Spirit is a fascinating aspect of indigenous American culture, but it doesn’t mean bisexual.