What it means to be 2-spirited, according to artist Evan Butler

What does it mean to be two-spirited? Evan Butler says the term means something different for a lot of people.

'You may be a little more feminine or a little more masculine, but you have both spirits,' says Butler

Evan Butler says the term two-spirited means different things for different people, but boils it down a person who has both a masculine and a feminine spirit. (Submitted by Evan Butler)

What does it mean to be two-spirited? 

Evan Butler, a multidisciplinary artist of mixed L'nu (Mi'kmaq) and European descent from Stephenville Crossing in western Newfoundland, says the term means something different for a lot of people, but boils it down to his understanding as a person who has both a masculine and a feminine spirit.

Butler said the term originated in the 1990s, created by Indigenous nations to not get lost in the growth of the LGBTQ community and to define those who identify as such. 

"They might express themselves in different ways. So, perhaps, you may be a little more feminine or a little more masculine, but you have both spirits," he said. 

Butler said he's not a spiritual person, or at least the way he applies spirituality is atypical. He said being two-spirited is a way to express who and what he is — that he's not a typical male or a typical female. 

He said his art often centres on issues around identity, place and process, and in recent years has included documentaries about the cultural revival of the Mi'kmaq in western Newfoundland.

"I'm somewhere, perhaps, in between, that biologically I may be male and I may present as male but that I have this strong feminine side," he said. 

"It's not about getting in touch with my feminine side. That's not what it's about. This is simply about the fact that there are things about me that go beyond biology that aren't even encapsulated by sexuality."

Butler said being two-spirited is different from gender and sexual orientation as they are their own "categories." He said gender is "in the brain" and sometimes associated with biology, whereas sexual orientation is "in the heart."

"Two-spirited, at least for me — and other people will have a different take on this — is it's more about 'me.' This is me as an individual, expressing who I am and sort of being situated somewhere in different roles in a community," he said. 

As a two-spirited person, Butler said he's very involved with Bay St. George Pride and is currently the community engagement coordinator in Newfoundland and Labrador for the Wabanaki Two-Spirit Alliance.

As for daily life, Butler said anybody's personal identity or way of expressing themselves plays a role, sometimes in a conscious manner for things such as the way they dress to the way they behave.

He said sometimes that's even subconscious and there are days where he feels either more masculine or feminine, and it can change at a moment's notice or as a response to the people he's with. 

"Typically, who I'm with will sort of bring out different aspects of myself, whether that's a social thing, or a work thing or what not," he said. "So, it informs all my behaviour and all of my self expression."

Butler said it's important not to make assumptions about two-spirited individuals, adding to ask them politely about what it means to them. 

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from First Light Friday