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Books: Yanking ‘Queer’ Out of the Native Closet

Perhaps by choice, Native Studies has never had much to do with Queer Studies. But with Queer Indigenous Studies: Critical Interventions in Theory, Politics, and Literature (University of Arizona Press, 2011), the two disciplines have finally joined.

This 258-page collection got its start at "Contesting Borders of Sexuality and Indigeneity," a panel run by the editors at the 2008 Native American and Indigenous Studies Meeting. The resulting essays examine indigenous-centered approaches to understanding gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and two-spirit (GLBTQ2) people and communities. Given that queer Native people “experience multilayered oppression,” Queer Indigenous Studies invites readers to discuss traditional and contemporary indigenous genders and sexualities. The book aims to spark dialogues on the intersection of racism and homophobia; the relationship between colonialism and hetero-patriarchy; the effects of colonialism on sexuality; the role of sexuality in GLBTQ2 people, and the directions and implications of Queer Indigenous Studies around the world.

In “Two-Spirit Men’s Sexual Survivance Against the Inequality of Desire” (opposite page), Brian Joseph Gilley urges Native Studies scholars to look at the role of sexuality in gender-different American Indians. This is not just a cultural issue, he says, though emphasizing culture differentiates his subjects from mainstream gay identity and makes them less likely to be alienated or attacked in their communities.

Pieces like Chris Finley’s “Decolonizing the Queer Native Body (and Recovering the Native Bull-Dyke): Bringing ‘Sexy’ Back and Out of Native Studies’ Closet” and Mark Rifkin’s “The Erotics of Sovereignty” not only reflect a wide spectrum of voices—Native, non-Native, two-spirit, transsexual, straight, feminist. They also challenge practitioners of Native Studies to not only include Queer Studies but also to integrate it into their work.

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Indian Country Today Media Network chatted with Brian Joseph Gilley, Cherokee/Chickasaw, on the essay he wrote for the book, “Two-Spirit Men’s Sexual Survivance Against the Inequality of Desire,” and reprinted the essay. Here is Gilley discussing "Two-Spirits and Native Identity." Our feature story is here.