Scott Morgensen’s Spaces between Us brings an important new perspective to queer studies and bodes extremely well for his future writings. The book is well worth a read and is teachable to advanced students.
Concerned over the neglect of settler colonialism in queer studies, as well as the eagerness with which non-Native queer folks in North America have appropriated Native histories as their own, Morgensen sets out in this work to “triangulate two readings—[Morgensen’s] own and those shared by Native queer and Two-Spirit activists—to critically examine non-Native queer politics, even as [his] reading remains responsible to Native activists” (14). He is careful to locate himself early in the book as a non-Native, white, queer critic, trained in anthropology but wishing to apply the critical insights of Native feminist and Two-Spirit thinkers, along with feminist and queer analysts of globalization and colonialism, to his work in this field.
Morgensen is kind enough to outline his argument clearly from the beginning, and that argument helps to tie together the rather disparate case studies contained in the main chapters of the book. To put the three key aspects of the book’s argument in Morgensen’s own terms: (1) “In the United States, modern queer cultures and politics have taken form as normatively white, multiracial, and non-Native projects compatible with a white settler society”; (2) “Within broad transnational alliances . . . Native queer and Two-Spirit activists directly denaturalize settler colonialism and disrupt its conditioning of queer projects by asserting Native queer modernities”; and (3) “Settler colonialism and its conditioning of modern sexuality produce an intimate relationship between non-Native and Native queer modernities that I interpret as conversations” (ix). It is these conversations that most interest Morgensen, and this concept ties together his explorations of Native/non-Native interactions around the intertwined issues of gender, sexuality, justice, sovereignty, and health throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first.
Morgensen’s first chapter, and his most dense, lays out the theoretical groundwork for his analysis by outlining the relationships between sexuality, gender, and settler colonialism in the Americas, from the early years of invasion through to contemporary forms of resistance among Native activists. The second chapter carries on this theme by examining specifically the anthropological (and highly derogatory) concept of “berdache”—an originally Orientalist term repurposed to represent the figure of the male-bodied, feminine-gendered Native who is sexually active with gender-normative men. Tracing the use of the term through the history of anthropology, Morgensen clearly demonstrates the political and settler colonialist stakes of the invention of so-called primitive homosexuality. Morgensen then traces [End Page 317] the emergence of the story of berdache into non-Native gay and lesbian cultures, as well as the rise of Native resistance to the invented concept and its elision of transnational differences in traditional Native conceptions of gender and sexuality. The chapter ends by returning to conversations initiated in the 1990s between non-Native anthropologists and Two-Spirit people and the ongoing results of those efforts. Subsequent chapters continue this analysis, as Morgensen considers several such conversations in succession. Chapter 3 takes up Native queer and Two-Spirit activism and non-Native attempts to work in coalition, including what Morgensen considers the misguided attempt to address Native rights issues through a lens of racial justice rather than one of decolonization. Chapter 4 examines Radical Faerie interactions with Native queer and Two-Spirit people and with Radical Faerie imaginings of such people. Chapter 5 takes up primitivist movements among non-Natives and specifically non-Native queer folk, queer of color attempts at solidarity and alliance with Native queer and Two-Spirit people, and indigenous transnational activist alliances. Finally, chapter 6 turns its focus to transnational activism by Native queer and Two-Spirit people, focusing particularly on Native HIV/AIDS organizing.
Morgensen relates some stories that will be familiar and others that will be unfamiliar to many of his readers. More to the point, he...