Sovereign Erotics: A Collection of Two-Spirit Literature

Wilhelm Murg
2/26/12

Edited by Qwo-Li Driskill, Deborah Miranda, Daniel Heath Justice and Lisa Tatonetti, Sovereign Erotics: A Collection of Two-Spirit Literature (University of Arizona Press, 2011)is a landmark book—the first Native gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, two-spirit (GLBTQ2) prose and poetry anthology since Living the Spirit: A Gay American Indian Anthology (St. Martin’s Press, 1998).

While not every writer in Sovereign Erotics directly addresses the GLBTQ2 experience, the majority tackle the subject in a way that many straight Native people can understand—in terms of alienation. The difference is that two-spirits experience an additional level of alienation within their own culture, even though over the past two decades the original acceptance of two spirits has been returning. Which is curious, considering that heterosexuality may have simply been invented by the Germans—see Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality.

A good example is found in an excerpt from Craig Womack’s 2001 novel Drowning in Fire, in which the main character is teased by the other boys in the tribe. The story ultimately revolves around a mythical snake, which through post-contact eyes becomes a very effective Freudian phallic symbol.

There is also Louis Esmé Cruz’s “Birth Song for Muin, in Red.” In this allegory, anthropomorphized animals become more effective symbols than anything one can imagine from the European tradition. Cruz’s bears, for example, are simultaneously mythical characters out of Native children’s tales and contemporary humans who are a part of a gay subculture. The changes that the transgender central character goes through are as abrupt as the changes that one sees in traditional Native stories. Yet in such a fantastic setting, they seem altogether natural.

The same can be said of Deborah Miranda’s “Coyote Takes a Trip.” The hustler-slacker character of the title has such a coyote-trickster demeanor that it is easier to imagine an anthropomorphized coyote than a human in the role.

The most disarming work, one that happens to be neither strictly prose nor poetry, is Qwo-Li Driskill’s “(Auto)biography of Mad.” The pages of this piece look literally like an index, with listings that include Abuse, Physical, Bipolar Disorder, Forced Sterilization, Colonization, etc. Most have subcategories, but as you read, you start to see the relation between these divisions and the sly plays that the author makes on page numbers. Self-Medication, for instance, is covered in the enormous span of pages from “520 to 2,100”. “(Auto)biography of Mad” is uniquely nonsequential (meaning that you can read the sections in any order), and it seems to have as many roots in the world of art as in literature.

It is impossible to touch on all of the interesting parts of this book, as it is so consistently well written, which is rare in an anthology.  However, the true value of Sovereign Erotics is its depiction of the variety of experiences of two-spirit people, conveyed through their own voices. These are voices that have been unheard for too long.

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