Two Spirits, a Documentary
“The crossroads where two genders meet is a gift, but a place where two discriminations meet, is a dangerous place to live…”
Two Spirits, a PBS documentary, screened at the University of Chicago’s Office of LGBTQ Student Life last week. It is a remarkable story of a loving mother’s tragic loss of her two-spirit son, Fred Martinez. The film intertwines Fred’s short life with the traditional values of the Navajo culture, before the persecution, before Christianity, and before the boarding schools. It looks back to a time when the Navajo treasured the two spirit members of their tribes. The nádleehí, a male-bodied person with a feminine nature, and dilbaa, a female-bodied person with a masculine nature, were also referred to as the third and fourth genders. The traditional Navajo culture considered the nádleehí and dilbaa special gifts, coming from the inner worlds.
Throughout the film, Fred’s mother shared personal photos and stories of his coming out as two spirit and her acceptance of both Fred and FC, the nádleehí name he also preferred. It was clear that Fred’s mother completely loved and accepted him for shining the way he wanted to shine despite their financial hardships and life in a small rural community. Her acceptance of all sides of him was clear — she even shared her makeup. Tragically, on June 16, 2001, Fred was the victim of a fatal hate crime.
Following the screening, a discussion of the documentary included three panelists from the local American Indian community. Dr. Dorene Wiese of the American Indian Association of IL, informed the audience that approximately 30,000 American Indians reside in Chicago, more than on many of the largest reservations! She said that American Indian tribes honor or recognize that every spirit is unique, “Our gift is what we give or bring to our people. That uniqueness is what makes us Native American.” Kai Pyle, the UofC student panelist, added “it was a good feeling…to find that my ancestors accepted it–even if my family doesn’t.”
The panelists also noted that not only did the nádleehí exist in Navajo–but in many other traditional Native American cultures, occupying positions of honor and respect within tribes. They often married, became the caretakers of elders, or took in orphaned children to raise within the tribe. For more on Two Spirits and other gender identities, check out IMPACT’s Gender Identities & Expressions Map
“Everyone has their place. There’s a purpose for everybody”
“Between tradition and controversy, sex and spirit, and freedom and fear, lives the truth—the bravest choice you can make is to be yourself.”
This film is nominated for the GLAAD Media Awards. Watch the PBS trailer here: