Nádleehí and Proud

Two Spirits, a documentary that chronicles the life and death of a transgender Navajo teenage boy, will debut on June 14 on the Emmy-winning PBS series Independent Lens. The 60-minute film, directed and co-produced by Lydia Nibley of Riding the Tiger Productions, tells the story of Fred Martinez, who was what the Navajo call nádleehí—a male with a feminine essence.

While long ago Navajo tradition would have deemed Martinez as gifted, the discrimination and intolerance prevalent in today’s world made his gift perilous. In 2001, Martinez was beaten to death with a rock near Cortez, Colorado. He was 16.

As Nibley’s documentary tells that tragic tale, it also explores the two-spirit tradition of the Navajo tribe. It discusses, among other things, the Navajo belief that harmony requires a balanced interrelationship between the feminine and the masculine, which applies to individuals, families, cultures and the natural world. Tribal tradition also acknowledges four genders: feminine woman, masculine man, male-bodied person with a feminine essence (nádleehí) and female-bodied person with a masculine essence (dilbaa’). The film also looks at the forgotten two-spirit traditions of other American Indian tribes as well as the bullying and violence too often suffered by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and LGBT teen suicide.

Two Spirits has received national acclaim; most recently, the American Library Association recognized the film in its 2011 list of Notable Videos for Adults, a list of 15 outstanding films released on video within the past two years that make a significant contribution. To learn more about the film, go to Independent Lens’s Two Spirits companion site. There is also a companion video for the film called The Changing Ones: A Two Spirits Companion. It can be viewed online here. Check your TV listings to find out when Two Spirits will air on your local PBS station.