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I am Two-Spirit




TW: death, gender-identity violence

Following the tragic death of Nex Benedict, I found myself struggling to find the words to adequately acknowledge and bring understanding to the void left in their wake. Then, this writing from my friend Fancy landed in my inbox. Fancy, thank you for giving me permission to share your words with our community.

tastawiyiniwak - (tastaw – in between, iyiniw – human being, ak – pluralizes) “in-between people”¹

There are terms in many First Nations languages which tell us that we were acknowledged in our cultures and communities. tastawiyiniwak is one such nehiyaw term. Once you ground yourself in the concept that our peoples and communities saw their “in-between people”, you will find a richer lexicon of terms that described the non-binary ways some of us were born. âpihtawikosisân (Chelsea Vowel) was able to gather some terms for a blog entry in 2012 (with some caveats):

  • napêw iskwêwisêhot (nu-PAYO ihs-gwayo-WIH-say-hoht), a man who dresses as a woman

  • iskwêw ka napêwayat (ihs-GWAYO ga nu-PAYO-wuh-yut), a woman dressed as a man

  • ayahkwêw (U-yuh-gwayo), a man dressed/living/accepted as a woman. I have seen this word used to refer to a castrated animal, so I’m not sure how respectful it is. Some have suggested this word can actually be used as a third gender of sorts, applied to women and men.

  • înahpîkasoht (ee-nuh-PEE-gu-soot), a woman dressed/living/accepted as a man. (also translated as someone who fights everyone to prove they are the toughest? Interesting!)

  • iskwêhkân (IS-gwayh-gahn), one who acts/lives as a woman

  • napêhkân (NU-payh-gahn), one who acts/lives as a man

âpihtawikosisân also shared thatA number of people have indicated that these terms are offensive, while others disagree. Part of the problem, I think, is that if these terms have been used as slurs, it’s difficult and perhaps impossible to assert they were originally benign – can they be reclaimed?” but she does so acknowledging that even this discussion shows that their existence points to some degree of acceptance of something beyond a strict binary.

I share all of this because it’s time I said out loud these words: I am Two Spirit. This is what I have to say because I don’t have the language of my father’s ancestors.

Why now? Nex Benedict.

Nex Benedict was killed by hate. Nex was beaten in a bathroom by three girls who targeted them and a Trans student. It is reported that a teacher and some students stopped the attackers, but the school did not call police or seek medical attention for Nex who appeared visibly injured, and Nex died the next day as a result of the injuries inflicted on them.


Hate was allowed to reign because it was legitimized and codified in Oklahoma state law which have forced people to use the bathrooms of the biological sex assigned at birth, in the educational institutions, and in the appointment of an actual hatemonger² to a position of power.


Nex was a non-binary youth. A youth with family ancestral roots in Chahta Okla³ (Choctaw Nation). A straight-A student, a creative, and loved human.


Hate killed this wonderful human being.

Nex is one of many youth who remind me that I have a responsibility to make this world a good place for my relations. And I have not done a good job living up to my responsibility because I’ve lived quietly in my identity. Not so much out of a sense of needing protection, but rather a selfish desire for privacy. I didn’t want to be questioned.

For a very long time, I had also convinced myself that I don’t get to own this identity. I told myself I’m not nehiyaw enough, not connected enough, or that I still present too much in favour of one gender to be believed.

Even now, as I write this, I hesitate to put it out. I feel the push and pull of a battle inside of me—one that pits the pull of my desire to just live quietly against the push of my responsibilities to the generations after me. I don’t desire attention or validation, that’s not why I put these words out there. I can’t name exactly what it is—maybe it’s grief—but something tells me that it’s time to say the words.

I am happy to be living in-between.

I am Two Spirit.

  1. Many grateful thanks to Dr. James Makokis for his sharing of this language with his medical colleagues and the public.

  2. That hatemonger, who I will not name here because she is the moral equivalent of (redacted), is now out there claiming to be the victim in all of this, incidentally.

  3. I’m a pretty bad linguist (in fact I suck at all languages—except English), so if I am using this incorrectly, please correct me and I’ll edit it.

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