- Queering Native Literature, Indigenizing Queer Theory
Two analytical issues guaranteed to raise questions, eyebrows, hackles, and other bits and bobs are sex and nationhood, and both issues elicit a wide range of intellectual and emotional responses. The unstable tension between the public and private—and those texts, ideas, and acts variously deemed socially acceptable or deviant—is magnified in the complicated relationships between bodies and communities. Just as the increasing presence of Native literary studies in the academy has been fueled in part by broader intellectual, social, and political struggles of Indigenous peoples and their communities outside of academe, so too has queer theory emerged from similar currents of activism among feminists and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, intersexed, and allied critics.
The history of the relationship between these two larger interpretive fields has yielded mixed but increasingly encouraging degrees of success. A number of Native writers are queer, and others are queer-friendly allies, and that supportive pattern is replicated in the scholarship, yet homophobic erasures or dismissals can still be found in literature and criticism, and homophobia remains a lived reality for many queer/two-spirited Native folks throughout North America. Although older scholarship in queer studies has suffered from racist assumptions and projections (the use of the term “berdache” being a case in point), appropriation, and sexism, [End Page xiii] the increasing diversity of scholars utilizing the interpretive methods of queer theory, such as Craig Womack, Qwo-Li Driskill, Mark Rifkin, Bethany Schneider, and Lisa Tatonetti, among others, has resulted in much more thoughtful, attentive, and rigorous scholarship that includes Native subjectivities at the center of analytical concern, not just the margins to reinforce the “normalcy” of white queer expression.
As scholars, writers, and readers in these two fields continue to communicate across difference, they move toward a more inclusive and mutually respectful understanding of the literary intersections of race, nationhood, sexuality, gender, genre, and aesthetics. The three essays in this issue’s themed cluster engage these various points of connection in significantly different but equally compelling ways. Sophie Mayer carefully considers the representational politics of recent Native erotica in both anthology and film and uncovers a passionate and ethically complex textual relationship between the private, the public, and the pubic in the processes of community making. Michael Snyder makes a provocative argument through nuanced close reading and convincing historical scholarship for a necessary queer reconsideration of one of the great and often overlooked classics of the field—John Joseph Mathews’s Sundown—and its curiously detached yet consistently “fascinated” protagonist, Chal Windzer. Moving forward again to a more contemporary text, Quentin Youngberg tackles the multilayered queer and Indian coding practices in Sherman Alexie’s controversial and sometimes problematic film, The Business of Fancydancing, interrogating the interpenetrated expectations and projections of text and reader/viewer.
Taken together, these three essays engage Native literature with a challenging respect, and they ask difficult but necessary questions of both the texts and their audience. In each case, they reach far beneath the interpretive surface to the deeper currents of significance, making honored, honest space for voices and experiences too often silenced . . . or willfully unheard. [End Page xiv]