Two-spirit boys don’t cry
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.’”