The MultiCultural and Pride Centers are uniting to screen the documentary “Two Spirits” today, followed by a discussion with L. Frank Manriquez, to celebrate Transgender Days of Awareness and Native American Heritage Month.
“Two Spirits” is about the role of transgender people in the Native American culture. It follows the murder of Navajo Fred Martinez, who was a “nádleehí” — a male-bodied person with a feminine nature, according to Manriquez.
“It’s about a young person who was brutally murdered just because of who he was, and that’s what this film is addressing — the intolerance,” Manriquez said.
The filmmakers of Two Spirits interviewed Manriquez for the documentary at the 20th anniversary of the annual International Two-Spirit Gathering in Minnesota. She addressed the concept of being a two-spirit from her perspective in the documentary.
“There are a lot of Natives who identify as two-spirit, meaning that they have both male and female aspects,” Manriquez said. “It’s hard for the majority of Natives in the United States. I’m two-spirit, and I fit quite nicely wherever I go because I’m just sort of odd and oddly accepted so it’s no problem.”
According to Manriquez, Native Americans in the United States have the highest suicide rates of any ethnic group. Two-spirit youth make up more than 65 percent of these suicides.
Ethnic studies and woman and gender studies professor Jane Lehr’s classes critically question the social construction of race and gender.
“This film is really an example of how different societies can have more than two sex or more than two gender categories which I think highlights not only that our experiences of being a man or woman is socially constructed, but actually thinking of ourselves as just one of two binary categories is also socially constructed,” Lehr said.
Lehr said if people take the idea that gender categories are socially constructed seriously, it suggests society could make changes and increase acceptance.
“We could choose to organize United States societies with three, four or five genders and for many people who feel as though they don’t fit into our existing categories, that could be very liberating,” Lehr said. “In some ways, looking at these Native American cultures with more than two genders creates the possibility of change within the mainstream gender and sex constructions here in the United States.”
Psychology senior Kara Barbieri said she finds two-spirits interesting from a gender studies’ perspective because the concept of having masculine and feminine qualities in one body isn’t mainstream and is not a welcomed idea in today’s society.
“The concept has been completely accepted and actually revered in their tribes and culture, it’s just really amazing compared to how we view homosexuality and different gender identities here,” Barbieri said. “I’m really excited to see the video and see the whole presentation and actually meet somebody who is a two-spirit.”
Interim Pride Center Coordinator Jessica Cresci said she hopes the film will bring students together, especially reaching out to the transgender population.
“I think it’s a group of people who aren’t typically talked about,” Cresci said. “Those who identify as two-spirits are almost invisible. No one knows about them — no one knows that it is even an identity that exists.”
According to Cresci, Cal Poly’s Pride Center has strong participation from students, but she does not see a lot of students who identify as transgender come in and use the services the Pride Center has to offer. There is a disconnect in the queer community between those who identify as lesbian, gay and bisexual and those who identify as transgender, she said.
“We want to show people that there is a whole population of people out there who are almost invisible because of how our society is set up — we make them invisible,” Cresci said. “There is no place for them to identify who they are. So I think it’s important for us to host events like this to give people a new perspective and open their eyes.”
Elizabeth Graham, political science junior and MultiCultural Center diversity advocate representing the Native American Heritage Series, said she thinks the documentary is a worthwhile event to attend.
“It’s going to be really good and I think it’s something that a lot of people don’t know about,” Graham said. “It’s really interesting to see how it is viewed in Native American culture versus American society.”
Graham said she also saw this as an opportunity to collaborate with the Pride Center.
“We’re working with the Pride Center because it’s during their transgender days,” she said. “It’s a great partnership to have because gay pride is really controversial in our society, so as part of the MCC, it’s interesting to look at how different cultures address it.”
Two-Spirits will be shown tonight in the University Union, room 220 at 7 p.m.