Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Two Spirits, One Accepting, One Hateful: Musings on the Documentary "Two Spirits"

Since June of 2011, when Lydia Nibley's "Two Spirits" was first transmitted on PBS's Independent Lens documentary series (http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/two-spirits/film.html), I have watched, rewatched, rewatched, rewatched, and rewatched this 2009 documentary.

Like so many other documentaries these days "Two Spirits" works on a number of different levels through the course of its one hour length. On one level "Two Spirits" is a brief historical exploration of the two spirits concept in First Peoples culture in the US and Canada. In First Peoples culture two spirits were those males who were seen as embodying both male and female natures. According to First Peoples scholars some 130 North American First Peoples cultures had two spirits, two spirits who performed work connected to both genders, wore clothing connected to both genders, and had sex with both genders. In some First Peoples cultures two spirits were regarded as having special charismatic gifts of healing and prophecy and, as a result, played important roles in the spiritual rituals of their communities. Ethnographers refer to two spirits as berdache. Many beyond the ivy halls call them transgendered.

"Two Spirits" is not only about the two spirits past but also about the two spirits present. On another level "Two Spirits" is a polemic about the need for two spirits in modern First Peoples cultures and in human society at large. Richard LaFortune, a two spirit himself, talks not only about the history of two spirits in First People culture and the purging of two spirits from First People cultures by Christian missionaries and the American state, but he and others talk about the mediating role two spirits can play in contemporary cultures, mediating roles that have the potential to heal all of us.


On the final level "Two Spirits" is about a horrible hate crime that took place in the diverse four corners town of Cortez, Colorado on 1 June 2001. It tells the tragic tale of the life and horrible death of the Navajo two spirit or nadleehl, Fred Martinez. Through interviews with FC's, Fred was known as FC by friends and family, mother and those who came to know Fred after his death, "Two Spirits" reveals to viewers how comfortable the teenage Fred was with being a two spirit and how he loved to wake up in the morning to be whoever he wanted to be, male or female. "Two Spirits" also reveals to viewers the discomfort many in Cortez felt about FC's nadleehl-ness and the double standards it gave birth to and the prejudices and discriminations it led to. "Two Spirits" ends with those who have come to know Fred recounting the horrible death Fred suffered at the hands of Shaun Murphy who bragged after he had brutally murdered Fred about how he had "bugsmash[ed] a fag" and the attempt by gay, lesbian, and transgendered activists to make sure that Murphy's hate crime did not go unpunished as a hate crime or not prosecuted as not a hate crime at all.

"Two Spirits" is a very informative and at times quite moving documentary. I found the historical information on "two spirits" fascinating. I wasn't always taken with the polemical we need two spirits for spiritual harmony aspect of the film, but them I am not spiritual or religious myself. I was very taken with Fred. I admired his intelligence. I admired his high degree of tolerance. I was impressed with his high degree of self confidence. I was deeply moved by his comfort with who he was. I wish more people could come to that restful and comfortable state in their lives for if they were able to perhaps we would have many less homophobes like Shaun Murphy. And that would be a good thing.




Bibliography:
The Durango Herald Remembers Fred, http://durangoherald.com/article/20110612/NEWS01/706129875/0/s/A-boy-remembered

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