Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

In Another Time, He Would Have Been Honored, But Instead He Was Murdered

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | March 17, 2011 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Media, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Fred Martinez, hate crimes against LGBT people, Navajo, two spirits

The murder of Fred Martinez, Jr., shocked all of us back in 2001. A 16 year old Navajo living near racist Cortez, Colorado, Fred left to go to see the rodeo, and never came back.Two Spirits, Fred Dancing.jpg

Fred was "nadleehi," a Navajo term referring to a two-spirit person, with a balance of masculine and feminine. (I have heard many other terms referring to two-spirit people, but one must be quite careful, for many of these terms were European inventions that are derogatory. One must also be careful not to apply Anglo labels such as "gay," "transgender" or "transsexual" where they are not applicable.) Nadleehi were honored within traditional Navajo culture, whereas our transphobic culture reviles. His bragging murderer was caught and received a forty year sentence.

PBS-Independent Lens will broadcast a film about Fred Martinez, Jr., entitled "Two Spirits" June 14, 2011 AT 10 pm. As the trailer notes, "in another time he would have been honored, but instead he was murdered." It's also being shown around the country.

Trailer and more after the jump.

Here's the film's community screening schedule, and you can buy the dvd here.


From the press release:

Fred Martinez was a Navajo boy who was also a girl. In an earlier era, he would have been revered. Instead he was murdered.

(San Francisco, CA)-- Two Spirits interweaves the tragic story of a mother's loss of her son with a revealing look at the largely unknown history of a time when the world wasn't simply divided into male and female and many Native American cultures held places of honor for people of integrated genders. Powerful and moving, Lydia Nibley's Two Spirits explores the life and death of Fred Martinez and the ancient Native American two-spirit tradition. Two Spirits will premiere on the Emmy Award-winning PBS series Independent Lens, hosted by America Ferrera, on Tuesday, June 14, 2011 at 10PM (check local listings.)

Fred Martinez told his mother he felt as if he was both a boy and a girl, and she explained that this is a special gift, according to traditional Navajo culture. But the place where two discriminations meet is a dangerous place to live, and Fred became one of the youngest hate-crime victims in modern history when he was brutally murdered at sixteen. Between tradition and controversy, and freedom and fear, lies the truth--the bravest choice you can make is to be yourself.

Two Spirits explores issues of national concern including the bullying and violence commonly faced by LGBT people, and the epidemic of LGBT teen suicide, and reveals the range of gender expression that has long been seen as a healthy part of many of the indigenous cultures of North America, and of Navajo culture in particular.

The Navajo believe that to maintain harmony, there must be a balanced interrelationship between the feminine and the masculine within the individual, in families, in the culture, and in the natural world. For the first time on film, Two Spirits tells stories from the Navajo tradition of four genders. The first gender is the feminine woman. The second is the masculine man. The third is the male-bodied person who has a feminine essence--nadleehi. The fourth is the female-bodied person who has a masculine essence--dilbaa.

In Navajo, nadleehi means "one who is transformed," and as the film traces the ramifications of Fred's murder, it also shows the transformation being undertaken by Native activists who are working to restore the rich heritage of two-spirit people and to claim their place within their tribal communities.

"The film team is working with over sixty organizations nationwide to have six million people see the film and to help expand the national conversation about gender," says the director of Two Spirits, Lydia Nibley.

Lois Vossen the producer and founder of Independent Lens explains, "Two Spirits is an important film that tells a modern story with deep historical roots and does so in a way that is surprising and striking. It's a film that shows humankind at both our best and worst. It's gut-wrenching at times, but also hopeful and very engaging."

To learn more about the film, and the issues involved, visit the companion website for Two Spirits at www.pbs.org/independentlens/two-spirits. Get detailed information on the film, watch preview clips, read an interview with the filmmaker, and explore the subject in depth with links and resources. The site also features a Talkback section where viewers can share their ideas and opinions.

About the Filmmakers

Lydia Nibley (Director/Co-Producer/Co-Writer)

Lydia Nibley of Riding The Tiger Productions is the director, co-producer, and co-writer of the award-winning Two Spirits. Her work has been broadcast internationally and she has created and contributed to works that have received Emmy, Clio, and numerous film festival awards.

Russell Martin (Producer/Co-Writer)

Russell Martin's bestselling books have been translated in many languages. His nonfiction book Beethoven's Hair, a United States bestseller and a Washington Post Book of the Year, has been published in twenty-one translated editions and is the subject of a Gemini-award-winning film of the same name. Russell heads up co-producing partner Say Yes Quickly Productions.

Henry Ansbacher (Executive Producer)

Henry Ansbacher is Executive Director of Just Media. His film Iron Ladies of Liberia aired on Independent Lens and has been broadcast around the world. His They Killed Sister Dorothy aired on HBO and won both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the South by Southwest Film Festival and was short-listed for an Academy Award nomination in 2008. His film The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner was nominated for an Academy Award in 2009.

Rock music icon and political activist Patti Smith contributes music to the production, as do a number of Native artists who record with Canyon Records.

About Independent Lens

Independent Lens is an Emmy® Award-winning weekly series airing on PBS. The acclaimed anthology series features documentaries and a limited number of fiction films united by the creative freedom, artistic achievement and unflinching visions of their independent producers. Independent Lens features unforgettable stories about unique individuals, communities and moments in history. Presented by ITVS, the series is supported by interactive companion websites and national publicity and community engagement campaigns. Independent Lens is jointly curated by ITVS and PBS and is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, with additional funding provided by PBS and the National Endowment for the Arts. The series producer is Lois Vossen.


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There was a showing of this at my university earlier this year. Very moving.

And meanwhile.... at the other end of the Earth, I'm doing what I can for an Aboriginal 47XXY Intersex person, a student at the Australian National University. Who's doing psychology, and running afoul of psych lecturers who insist that the gender binary has no exceptions when designing their experiments.

Taking part in those is mandatory for the course. But how can they, when the only choice allowed is M or F?

There are Indigenous cultural issues too.

I'm sure it will be resolved though in a satisfactory way. The ANU doesn't just talk the talk about diversity, and both the Dean of Students and the Equity and Diversity unit have become involved, in the students' side.

Jillian - you're in Academe. You know what that means... I'd rather face the Spanish Inquisition..

My point is that this is happening now, today, not some time ago, and not just in the USA. It steam-engines come steam-engine time, and it's that time now for recognising reality at last. The reality that the sex binary model is a really good approximation, but does not fit all. Not all people, and not all cultures.

I've seen it. It's VERY well done.

Colorado has lost two precious young lives to hatred and intolerance, Fred, F.C., Martinez in 2001 and Angie Zapata in 2008, because their gender expression differed from their birth-assigned roles. For the sake of our youth who follow, it is crucial that their stories be told and never forgotten.

I attended the 2009 premier of the Two Spirits documentary in Denver and was touched by its skillful introduction to the Two Spirit gender-diverse traditions of F.C.'s Navajo culture and other First Nations. I was brought to tears when F.C.'s mother, Pauline Mitchell, shared her story onscreen and in person with the audience. Many of us were especially honored that Ms. Mitchell joined our Denver Transgender Day of Remembrance service the next evening.

I was disappointed, however, that the filmmakers contextualized the multicultural story of F.C.'s life and tragic murder within a non-Native American GLBT history that seemed to erase the T. From my transperspective, the filmmakers ventured too close to the line of reconstructing F.C. Martinez as a cisgender gay male. For example, they emphasized the Mattachine Society as central to F.C.'s struggle but neglected trans individuals and organizations who have fought for equality on the basis of gender identity and expression. Angela Palermo, of the University of Colorado Boulder, noted these shortcomings at the Denver screening, adding,

...not one self-identified transgender person from the non-Native world (as far as I could discern) participated in the film, either as an interviewee or consultant. That, in my view, is inexcusable in 2009.

I recall that Angela's concerns, shared by many Colorado trans people and allies in the audience, were brusquely brushed aside by one of the men associated with the film.

Two Spirits is an important film, whose strengths outweigh its weaknesses. I hope that people will join me in watching it on PBS this summer, but I also hope that people will consider and discuss the marginalization of gender diversity issues within the dominant cisG/L movement that the film also exemplifies.