TUBE REVIEW: ‘Two Spirits’ looks at LGBT Native Americans, airs on KERA tonight

KERA closes out National Gay Pride Month with a program both unusual and intriguing: A glimpse at gay American Indianrican life.

In American Indian culture, there are not two sexes, but four: Men, women, feminine men and masculine women. Persons who embrace the “other” in themselves are seen as having Two Spirits, which is the name of this documentary from Independent Lens. Traditionally, such people have been respected in their tribal cultures (marriages between nadleehi were common), though in modern society there is still some resistance on the reservation.

It wasn’t all that bad for Fred Martinez, who early on started dressing in his mother’s clothes — sometimes going to school as a boy, sometimes as a girl. “He had a high degree of self-acceptance about who he was,” notes one friend.

But somehow these stories never end happily. Fred was eventually gay-bashed in a brutal murder that the local authorities refused to categorize as a hate crime.

What sets Two Spirits apart from the usual gay-crime procedural — introduce the victim, explain and humanize him, lay out the crime, walk through the hunt for the killer and the trial — is that the latter part doesn’t really happen. The murderer is caught quickly and pleads guilty. That frees up a lot of the hour-long doc to concentrate not on the perpetrator —nor even the victim himself — but on the culture and its approach to queer issues. It’s a perspective not often seen in reference to gay life, and completely compelling.

Airs on KERA channel 13 at 10 p.m. tonight.

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