Two-spirited individuals often serve a ceremonial role as well. In some tribes, when the term is used as an English synonym for a traditional ceremonial role, a two-spirited individual must be recognized as such by the Elders of their community. Most tribes have a tribe-specific name that is used to describe a third or fourth gender category, and may be used synonymously with two spirit in English. Two spirit was created as an English word to serve as an umbrella term for the diverse, culturally-specific ceremonial and social roles found in many different Native American and Indigenous cultures. The roles that can be described as two spirit can vary widely. No single gender or sexuality category within Native American/Indigenous' cultures applies to all two spirit individuals and vice verse.
As an umbrella term it can be more accurately understood as any identity that does not make sense unless it is contextualized within the framework of a Native American or Indigenous traditional cultural understanding. Not all two-spirited individuals consider themselves transgender, non-binary, or LGBT+ however some two-spirited individuals do seek to be included under LGBTQIA2+, as there were Indigenous Native individuals fighting for gay rights at the Stonewall riot in 1969.
The English term "two spirit" was proposed by Elder Myra Laramee in 1990 out of the third annual inter-tribal Native American/Indigenous gay/lesbian American conference in Winnipeg. A direct translation of the Ojibwe term, Niizh manidoowag, "two-spirited" or "two-spirit" is usually used to indicate a individual whose body simultaneously houses a masculine spirit and a feminine spirit. The term can also be used more abstractly, to indicate presence of two contrasting human spirits (such as Warrior and Clan Mother) or two contrasting animal spirits (which, depending on the culture, might be Eagle and Coyote).
The primary purpose of coining a new term was to encourage the replacement of the outdated and offensive, anthropological term, "berdache". The term "berdache" was coined by western anthropologists and used until the late 20th century, mainly to describe feminine Native Americans assigned male at birth. The term is however inaccurate and can nowadays be considered offensive.
Two Spirit was intended to carry on the traditional meanings of the terms in Indigenous languages for the culturally-specific ceremonial roles that are recognized and confirmed by the Elders of the two-spirit's ceremonial community. However, it has been criticized by traditional communities who already have their own terms for the individuals being grouped under this new term, and by those who reject what they call the "western" binary implications, such as implying that Natives believe these individuals are "both male and female". Despite this it has generally received more acceptance and use than the anthropological term it replaced.
There is no widely recognized two spirit flag, however there are a few designs. The sun and moon design was created by Tumblr user Miigwan on April 30, 2019. Black represents the west and the physical body. White represents the north and mental energy. Yellow represents the east and emotional energy. Red represents the south and spirituality. Blue represents water and relatives. Green represents plant medicine and responsibilities. The sun and moon represent masculine and feminine spiritual role models.
Another common two spirit flag was designed by 2Sanon and submitted to ask-pride-color-schemes on December 17, 2016. The two feathers represent woman and man, and the circle represents unity in one. It's typically put over the gay flag, but it can also be put on the transgender or non-binary flag.
A third one was proposed by snozzzz of lgbtqa-pride-icons, with yellow representing nonbinary identity, pink representing femininity, blue representing masculinity, and brown representing native blood.
A fourth flag was created by Twitter user sirieko on July 4th, 2021. The white represents two-spirit individuals who are also members of the LGBTQ+ community, yellow represents Native’s connection to their ancestors, joyous spirit, and the sunlight that brings warmth, green represents Native’s connection to their Mother Earth and their tribes, blue represents the blessing that being two-spirit is, the wisdom they have access to, and the perspective they’re able to share, and purple represents their spiritual capabilities and relationship with the universe.