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Quickie: “cannot distinguish the racism from the homophobia from the sexism”

March 18, 2011

Earlier, I was rereading Qwo-Li Driskill’s excellent (and rather short) Stolen from Our Bodies: First Nations Two-Spirits/Queers and the Journey to a Sovereign Erotic (pdf), which I ran across a few weeks ago, while trying to tie several threads together into a coherent post.

I’ve been getting stuck in the “try to wrap words around what I want to get across” stage a lot lately, and then I’m too worn out to get it arranged in a sensible fashion and typed out. I swear, sometimes it’s like trying to transliterate Russian into Hangul by way of the Inuktitut syllabary, while seriously hungover and trying to ignore a brass band in the room–and you don’t have the best grasp of Russian to begin with. (Yes, both frustratingly and not-quite-ironically, this is responsible for the delay in getting something together on the strongly suspected vitamin D deficiency that’s looking like the main cause of the freaking brain fog! Along with pretty much all the health problems I’ve been experiencing, which suck energy.) Actually, I haven’t even been replying to mail, and apologize to anyone I’ve left hanging.

At any rate, that paper will be coming up again. It’s well worth reading.

But, I thought I would post a snippet from the endnotes (actually, all of one, it turned out) that just about broke my brain the first time I read it, and was no less disturbing today.

“Brandon Teena”. Source.

While he used the names Billy and Brandon, “Brandon Teena” is a name
created by activists by switching the first and last names given to Brandon at birth. I learned of Brandon’s mixedblood ancestry through an unlikely text, All She Wanted by Aphrodite Jones. The book is widely criticized in Trans communities for its transphobia and sensationalistic “true-crime” style. In a particularly racist passage that at once romanticizes Brandon’s Native features and celebrates his light skin and eyes, Jones writes, “Their grandfather on their father’s side was a full-blooded Sioux Indian, so Teena . . . was an exoticlooking infant. To JoAnn (Brandon’s mother), she almost looked black, even though it was only her hair that was dark. Teena was beautiful, blessed with the bluest Irish eyes” (Jones 29). Besides “Sioux,” Brandon’s tribal affiliation is not mentioned. All She Wanted is the only book about Brandon’s life and murder, and in some ways remains more factual than the highly popular film Boys Don’t Cry.

The context in endnotes here * 😉

There are just so many things wrong with this, it’s hard to know where to start. I haven’t read All She Wanted (and am not sure I plan to), but while this author comes across as extreme in multiple faces of hatefulness, this passage is an unfortunate illustration of some of the bizarrely contradictory attitudes toward race common in U.S. society at large. Complete with two endogamous group color line weirdness (“she almost looked black”?!–WTG, Great American Race Binary!) and creepy exoticism.** It doesn’t end there, but that’s all I want to think about enough to wrap words around right now.

It doesn’t have to make sense, because at the base of it, it has nothing to do with logic. Yeah, I have to keep reminding myself of this, running up against various expressions of bigotry and general attitudinal creepiness. (The word “creepy” just won’t leave my mind.)

I will throw in something Beth Brant wrote, quoted by Driskill:

Much of the self-hatred we carry around inside us is centuries old. This self-hatred is so coiled within itself, we often cannot distinguish the racism from the homophobia from the sexism.

And we’ve internalized this stuff from somewhere. How do we make sense of our own lives, swimming around in this kind of water?


* Context, from the Driskill paper:

It is in our stories, including our written literatures, that I search for
meaning and reflection of my Two-Spirit body in order to survive a world in which people like me are routinely killed…[other examples]… How do I make sense of the slaughter of “Brandon Teena,” always spoken of as white, who was actually of mixed “Sioux” and white ancestry, his life erased by transphobic murderers and his Nativeness erased by white Queer and Trans folks?8 How do we as Two-Spirits remain whole and confident in our bodies and in our traditions when loss attempts to smother us?

** And I have plenty to say on that topic. Actually, I started a post dealing with “ambiguity” and creepy-ass frequently sexualized exoticism probably a year ago, but it got so bloated and rambly that I mothballed it. Maybe I can clean it up or start over. The way this came out in the horrible Jones quote was one of the things that punched me in the gut on first reading.

And I was struck again by how different things are in various places west of the Mississippi, as compared to the environment I’m used to with 400+ years of Native/European contact (some of it very close indeed, ahem). Brandon just doesn’t look “exotic” to me, and I’d have read him as unambiguously White. Did people around him read him as racially ambiguous? That Jones quote sure does suggest that some of them did–and placed some funky significance on it. Being “mixed” is just another way to appear threateningly different to some people; removing that element obscures some of the interconnected wétiko horribleness of his abuse and murder.

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