Native Sexualities and Queer Discourse
Choosing to be Queer Native or Native Queer
I was struck by the following quote from the Barbara May Cameron article, “Cameron’s refusal to be queer in one corner of her life, and native in another, is as radical and transformative now, as it was then. In an interview with The Gully, Chrystos, a Native American poet and activist, and long-time friend of Cameron, credits her with “giving me a sense of dignity about my place in the world, and my right to be in that place.”
It reminded me of a speech I attended a few years ago where Clarmundo Sullivan talked about the difference between choosing to be a gay black man versus a black gay man, and the pressure to choose one or the other. Many of Sullivan’s comments sound a lot like Cmaeron’s. The article’s author said that, “Being both gay and Native American put Cameron in conflict almost everywhere she was.” And Cameron herself said, “We not only must struggle with the racism and homophobia of straight white America, but must often struggle with the homophobia that exists within our third-world communities.”
Sullivan said the exact same thing about the communities he is a part of, and like Cameron, it led Sullivan to specialized activism for people at the same intersection as himself.
The central thesis of third-wave intersectional feminism is that the experience of intersecting identities is different from the experience of those identities separately. The struggle of an indigenous gay woman is different from the experience of all women, of all indigenous people, of all gay people, or even some other combination of two of the three.
Cameron perfectly personifies the thesis of third-wave intersectional feminism by showing that being an indigenous gay woman still put Cameron at odds with indigenous misogyny and homophobia, with gay settler colonists, with homophobic colonizer women. Each of the marginalized identities Cameron occupies, taken on its own, faces microaggressions on the basis of her other intersections of identity.
Rejecting the pressure to “pick” one marginalized identity and instead acknowledging one’s many identities is a radical act, and feeling a sense of dignity about that intersectional place and one’s right to be in that place — as Cameron puts it — is a radical act of justice.
One of the classic failures of white feminism, of second and first-wave feminism, and of social justice in general is trying to reduce people to just one aspect of their identity while ignoring their other identities and the way their lived experience emerges from multiple intersections.