In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • "When My Hands Are Empty / I Will Be Full"Visualizing Two-Spirit Bodies in Chrystos's Not Vanishing
  • Crystal Veronie (bio)

As a prominent advocate for First Nations women, Chrystos, a Menominee poet and artist from San Francisco, demanded seats at the feminist table for Indigenous women over a decade before Rebecca Walker declared the advent of the "third wave" of feminism (41).1 Despite increased recognition of intersectionality, contemporary "fourth wave" feminism, marked as it is by the use of digital technologies, continues to fail to locate First Nations' issues clearly within itself.2 Such failures recall Chrystos's lament in "I Don't Understand Those Who Have Turned Away from Me" (1981) that white feminists feel "[n]o responsibility to others" (70).3 Contemporary digital platforms such as Idle No More exemplify First Nations' response to abandonment by mainstream white feminisms, and through such social media, First Nations women place the struggle for Indigenous sovereignty front and center.4 The lack of visibility of LBGTQ2+ people in these organizations, though, threatens to render two-spirit people virtually invisible, and it is this threat that creates a sense of urgency for scholars to revisit Chrystos's work as a foremother of twenty-first-century queer Indigenous feminism and to ensure the continued availability of her work.5

Chrystos's poetry challenges definitions of Indigeneity in the English language that threaten to rhetorically erase the existence of two-spirit people.6 This rhetorical erasure, or the way that language removes the reality of existence, threatens all Indigenous peoples, but especially two-spirit people, with physical and cultural erasure.7 Even the title of her first collection, Not Vanishing (1988), declares Chrystos's rejection of this form of genocide and establishes a theme of self-determinism that forms a backbone of continuity that runs through her subsequent collections. Chrystos's poems resist the trope of vanishing on two levels: [End Page 83] they thwart mainstream iterations of the "vanishing Indian" and challenge conceptualizations of Native sexual identity and sexuality as heteronormative and "missionary."8 In Not Vanishing, Chrystos reclaims the erotic from the stereotype of Native heterosexuality and redefines it as a drive or power to transgress barriers to two-spirit self-determinism.9 Moreover, her poems paired with her drawings of feathers create a syncretism between second wave feminist and Indigenous symbiology that functions as a critique of white feminism.10

As an urban Indigenous diasporic writer who self-identifies as lesbian and "two-spirited," Chrystos offers a multifaceted perspective on issues facing First Nations women and Indigenous women worldwide. She defines "two-spirit" as a self-determined Indigenous term for "queer" ("Chrystos").11 This is not to say that Chrystos's identification applies broadly to all people in Native communities who identify themselves as outside the narrow bounds of heteronormativity. In their introduction to Sovereign Erotics: A Collection of Two-Spirit Literature, Qwo-Li Driskill (Cherokee), Daniel Heath Justice (Cherokee Nation), Deborah A. Miranda (Ohlone-Costanoan Esselen Nation / Chumash), and Lisa Tatonetti recognize that differences exist in the use of the term because "[n]ot all queer Native people identify as two-spirit or see their sexualities and genders as connected to two-spirit histories in their communities" (5). In accord with Driskill, Justice, Miranda, and Tatonetti's definition of "two-spirit," I use the term to refer broadly to Native gay, lesbian, queer, bisexual, transgender, and two-spirit communities: this is not to minimize the complexity of identities within these groups or to impose any perspective of a unified pantribal or panhistorical perspective. In contrast, my intent is to closely attend to Chrystos's poetic vision in Not Vanishing and how her lyric and erotic poetry speaks the language of two-spirit intimacy, thereby resisting the alienation of Indigenous peoples who do not identify with heteronormative sexuality.12

The need to understand Chrystos's drive to make two-spirit people visible through her poetry is made even more immediate by the scarcity of scholarship that addresses rhetorical erasure in her work.13 Beth Brant (Mohawk) anticipated the problem of rhetorical erasure of Indigenous lesbians within feminist circles when she lamented in 1993, "We are rarely reviewed in so...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9590
Print ISSN
0730-3238
Pages
pp. 83-114
Launched on MUSE
2019-10-02
Open Access
No
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