Cafe discussion – Two Spirits

Cafe discussion on Thursday, Aug. 29 for Two Spirits
Gillian Hunt, Tommy Matt, Kat Lukens, & Nicole Eigbrett (scribe)

After watching the story of Fred Martinez in Two Spirits, we had the opportunity to reflect upon gender identity and positionality– within ourselves, our immediate community, and our cultures.

We discussed that many cultures lack strict gender lines; an individual can be more than just man or woman, or possible multiple at once.  Yet Judeo-Christian binaries have dominated societal discourse, so a person be this or that decisively, in order to gain acceptance.  Transgenders have been accepted for thousands of years in Thailand, Indonesia, Serbia, and within Native American tribes.

But for Fred, as a multi-gendered individual, was caught in a precarious position.  Cortez, Colorado clearly experienced socio-economic and racial/ethnic differences.  As quoted from the movie, “the crossroads of gender can be a gift,” but “the crossroads of discriminations can be deadly” (or something to that effect).  If Fred did not live in a border town, and only among tribe members, would his fate have been different?

This rounds back to our question of “What is culture?”  The NASP page gives at least 10 widely utilized definitions of culture, from every anthropological perspective.  I think Williams’ passage “Keywords” summarizes the complexity best:

“It is clear that, within a discipline, conceptual usage has to be clarified.  But in general it is the range and overlap of meanings that is significant.  The complex of senses indicates a complex argument about the relations between general human development and a particular way of life, and between both and the works and practices of art and intelligence” (81).
If we relate culture to gender and identity, it’s clear that the Native Americans’ acceptance of multiple genders has fluctuated over the last few centuries.  According to the documentary, the presence and knowledge of the Nadleeh (two spirits) has waned; a bloody history of Westward expansion, reassigned boundaries and reservations, and subsequently forced attendance to Christian schools devastated this inter-generational culture transmission.

More than anything, this documentary allows us to consider what is “normal.”  It is a casual term that is loaded with cultural expectations, but without awareness it can become a source for violence, hate, and social ostracization.  We hope that the U.S. will move away from binaries and at least make more identity options available, if not complete fluidity (like Germany offering a third gender on birth certificates).




About nleigb10

I'm a food geek, traveller, and senior at St. Lawrence double majoring Global Studies and Multi-Language Major.
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