Nádleeh and the River

Third Gender and Interdependences in Sidney Freeland’s Film Drunktown’s Finest


  • Lee Schweninger UNC Wilmington




In a late scene in Sidney Freeland’s 2015 film Drunktown’s Finest, the family elder Harmon John (Richard Ray Whitman) sits down with his adult transgender grandchild Felixia (Carmen Moore) to tell her a Navajo story. “A long time ago,” he begins, all the Navajos lived alongside the river. But the men and the women didn’t get along, so the men took the nádleeh (which a subtitle translates as “third gender”) and moved to the other side, leaving the women and children. But soon enough the men realized they missed the women and their children, so they sent the nádleeh back across the river to check on the women, who, it turns out, were missing the men. “Both sides needed each other . . . and they both needed the nádleeh. And to this day we carry this lesson, this balance.” The scene in Freeman’s film, though it comes late, suggests an important theme running throughout, that of the fundamental and inherent place of the Nádleeh in Navajo life and culture. The essay argues that Freeland makes erotics a way to understand the “dynamics of indigeneity.” Freeland can be said to “foreground interdependence and vulnerability as positive principles of peoplehood" (Rifkin 35). Viewing the film in the contexts of gender fluidity and structures of kinship helps clarify the interrelatedness of all three of the (only) apparently disparate plots as it at the same time helps the viewer to rethink (colonial culture’s) rigid gender boundaries.

Author Biography

Lee Schweninger, UNC Wilmington

Professor, Dept. of English




How to Cite

Schweninger, L. (2021). Nádleeh and the River: Third Gender and Interdependences in Sidney Freeland’s Film Drunktown’s Finest. Transmotion, 7(1), 110–131. https://doi.org/10.22024/UniKent/03/tm.967