Drunktown's Finest is a movie about finding hope in the bleakest of circumstances. Director Sydney Freeland grew up in the real Drunktown: Gallup, N.M. Or at least that's what ABC's 20/20, the cable newsmagazine that gave her hometown that dreadful moniker in 1990, would have her believe. Instead of resigning herself to a life of addiction, Sydney found a source of hope in her Navajo culture. She wrote Drunktown's Finest to share that hope with the world, and to show that the wisdom of Navajo tradition can be a powerful force for good in our modern society.
An important tenet of this Navajo wisdom is respect for the Nadleeh, or third gender. Since long before the LGBT movement, the Navajo have had a sensitivity for people born with gender identities across the entire spectrum of possibility. They reject the notion of dyadic gender and view relationships in terms of gender identity first, then in terms of sex, meaning that a man in a relationship with a male-bodied Nadleeh is not considered homosexual. This seemingly postmodern concept of gender is actually hundreds if not thousands of years old and still informs Navajo culture today.
One of the main characters in Drunktown's Finest, Felixia, is a transgender Navajo woman who dreams of modeling in the big city. As she struggles internally with her own identity, she is assaulted from the outside by judgment and rejection. She is tested throughout the film by lovers and rivals alike, both of whom often cut right to the bone. "I'm not gay," says one of her beaus when Felixia asks why they can't be together for real. With just three words he evokes all the prejudice and lack of understanding that she has ever faced.
Early in the film Felixia seeks comfort from these affronts online, where countless strangers lavish her with messages that beg for her affection. Identifying as "TS-Beautiful," being wanted becomes a core part of her identity. In another poignant moment she's asked by a potential suitor if one of her friends is "that faggot Eugene." Felixia is forced to decide whether or not to defend her friend from hurtful slurs or swallow her indignation in the interest of being desired. This is the same Eugene who was beaten and had his tires slashed in a homophobic hate crime earlier that day. After a pregnant pause she forces a chuckle, saying, "Yeah, that's funny."
The external locus of her identity continues to cause problems, and when Felixia faces outright rejection at the hands of other aspiring models, she's left wondering whether or not to give up on her dream entirely. Even though men want her, the scorn of other women is almost too much to bear. Thankfully, her loving and supportive grandparents are there to remind her that she always has a home, and that the world needs the Nadleeh. Though Felixia has her gender identity challenged, she finds strength in her cultural identity.
Playing the role of Felixia is a real-life transgender Navajo woman, Carmen Moore, who says that just about everything that Felixia experiences in the film is something that she's gone through in her life. There is no glamorization in Drunktown's Finest, and the emotion is raw. It's a film that deals with real issues that the LGBT community faces on a daily basis, but from the unique perspective of a Native American trans woman.
For more information on Drunktown's Finest, visit the Kickstarter page.