Two-spirit boys don’t cry

Pasatiempo - - The New Mexican -

Two Spir­its pro­fesses to be the “story of a Navajo boy who was also a girl.” In part, it is the tale of Fred Martinez, a trans­gen­dered 16-year-old Navajo teenager who was mur­dered nine years ago in his home­town of Cortez, Colorado, by a man who boasted that he had “bug-smashed a fag.”

Yet this doc­u­men­tary is not so much about view­ing Martinez as the teenage vic­tim of a bru­tal hate crime as it is an ex­plo­ration of his life and the lives of other Na­tive Amer­i­can men and women who iden­tify with mixed-gen­der roles that are tra­di­tion­ally found among many of their tribes. In the Colorado Plateau town of Cortez, Martinez iden­ti­fied as gay. But on the nearby reser­va­tion and among his Navajo fam­ily and friends, he was bet­ter known as nádleehí, “one who is trans­formed.”

“I had heard that many but not all tribes in North Amer­ica have com­plex gen­der sys­tems, but I didn’t know any­thing about it,” said Ly­dia Ni­b­ley, the di­rec­tor of Two Spir­its, in an email in­ter­view. “It was fas­ci­nat­ing to learn that the Navajo have four gen­ders: fem­i­nine woman; mas­cu­line man; nádleehí, which is a male-bod­ied per­son with a fem­i­nine na­ture; and dil­baá, a fe­male-bod­ied per­son with a mas­cu­line na­ture. His­tor­i­cally, two-spirit peo­ple played im­por­tant roles as am­bas­sadors and ne­go­tia­tors, coun­selors, match­mak­ers, heal­ers, and peo­ple who con­trib­ute to their com­mu­ni­ties not in spite of but be­cause they could rep­re­sent mul­ti­ple points of view from a more nu­anced per­spec­tive.”

Ni­b­ley’s film screens Tues­day and Wed­nes­day, June 15 and 16. Rus­sell Martin, Ni­b­ley’s hus­band and the film’s pro­ducer, will be on hand for a ques­tion-and-an­swer ses­sion af­ter both screen­ings.

In Martinez’s case, his sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion meant he was a har­mo­nious negotiator of fam­ily con­flicts, a de­voted fan of rodeos, and a vi­brant teen who liked eye shadow and had a key chain that read, “Don’t Hate Me Be­cause I’m Beau­ti­ful.” In the movie, Pauline Mitchell, Martinez’s mom, says, “He wanted to be beau­ti­ful. I said, ‘You look a lot bet­ter than me.’”

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