Daniel Heath Justice
Reviewed by Mykelle Pacquing
I was excited to hear that a new collection of Two-Spirit literature was going to be published after I had seen the publicity poster for Sovereign Erotics.
I often feel it’s not necessary for me to discuss my sexuality and gender because, quite frankly, it’s none of your darn business! But, at the same time, I carry my sexuality and gender to every freakin’ place I go. So it’s difficult not to be public about it—such as how I carry my gender and how I make relationships with others—but I also feel it’s not necessary to disclose every single preference and every single experience I’ve had regarding my sexuality and gender; especially within the ubiquity of the internet when such information in the wrong hands can make life particularly difficult.
However, I also feel when my faith and my courage are being tested, and that when it is necessary, I must do something. In this case, write a review about Sovereign Erotics to bring attention to Indigenous LGBTQ and Two-Spirit writers. This might cause difficulty to arise in one’s life, which is why I must be strong in my resolve to let my voice be heard; which is why this collection, to simply exist, is an incredible act of resistance against the centuries of violence, genocide, humiliation and dehumanization that generations of Indigenous LGBTQ and Two-Spirit people have experienced, and, sadly, continue to experience.
It is a swath in the Western canon of literature that asserts that Two-Spirit people have, and continue, to exist.
Indian women expressing the erotic is almost as frightening to America as if the skeletal witnesses in anthropology departments and national museums had suddenly risen from their boxes and begun to testify. The mythology of a nation built on ‘discovery,’ ‘democracy,’ and ‘manifest destiny’ begins to fall apart, and the old foundation, bereft of bones, cannot hold it up.
Younger individuals, such as myself, flourish under the work that other Two-Spirit people have made before us. Sovereign Erotics is no exception to this work. It is a testament to the generations of love, hurt, and joy that has been experienced and now passed down. All us younger ones have to do is honour and flourish under this work—which makes me feel incredibly privileged and incredibly humbled to be in this time and place to write this review.
It can be a disorienting emotional process if you try to blast through all the works in Sovereign Erotics. There is so much being presented in the literature that to attempt to read the entire book quickly would rob you of the emotional depth that each piece offers. You may also be put through emotional experiences that can be personally triggering, or the experiences of loved ones who struggle with the same.
In Craig Womack’s The King of the Tie-snakes you can feel Josh’s hurt and anger when he’s betrayed by his love/friend Jimmy when he couldn’t move past his homophobia:
“Josh couldn’t find the right words for his rage. He felt all the words flaming up before his eyes and burning away like stubble before he could use them. In church he had heard Jesus’ words to the centurion: Speak the Word and you shall be healed. He no longer believed.”
In Remember: She Bought Those Panties For You you can feel M. Carmen Lane’s frustration when her friend cannot identify the two-spiritedness within her:
“This is the difference between being a butch Black lesbian and a Two-Spirit Indian Man. Not nadleeh or winkte (misogynist academics always focus on the men who are women) but a Man Spirit with big Black Woman titties and a flat Indian ass.”
You can feel the grief and gravity of Qwo-Li Driskill’s (Auto)biography of Mad, which leaves bare the tragic implications of how our “conditions” can be rendered so trivial.
And you can feel Agder cry and cheer as he struggles through the violence at home and finds his true self as Denarra in Daniel Heath Justice’s Ander’s Awakening, which draws from Justice’s Thorn and Thunder trilogy:
Understand me well: This is going to stop. The girl hair, the dresses, the whore paint—all of it… Now, clean yourself up and then off to the store with you, or you’ll get another beating.
It wasn’t vanity that made him quiver with suppressed sobs. It was a dream realized, all the more precious from the long-harboured fears of its impossibility.
His voice was weak. “I’m… I’m…”
From behind, Pontie slipped his arms around Ander’s waist and whispered into his ear. “Yes, sweets—you’re beautiful. But then, you always were to me. Now you can see it, too.”
Sovereign Erotics is not just for Indigenous LGBT and Two-Spirited people, but their friends, their families, and anyone who loves them. There will be something here that you can draw strength from, no matter who you love, and no matter how you carry yourself.
Mykelle Pacquing was born and raised in Toronto with his ancestors from Maharlika, the traditional name of the Philippines which means, “The Creator’s Land.” He is of Tagalog (People of the River) and Ilocano (People of the Bay) ancestry. Mykelle is a student at Trent University pursuing graduate studies in song, dance, and story with traditional Indigenous teachers.
Tune into Black Coffee Poet Wednesday June 27, 2012 for interviews with Deborah Miranda (co-editor of Sovereign Erotics), and contributors Doe O’Brien, and Louis Cruz.