Thursday, November 24, 2011

REVIEW: Sovereign Erotics edited by Qwo-Li Driskill

What a wonderfully diverse, beautifully inclusive collection Sovereign Erotics: A Collection of Two-spirit Literature is! I was fortunate enough to have the chance to review an advance copy of the book, and it provided me with countless hours of both entertainment and thoughtful reflection. I had hoped to get a review posted before it hit stores, to help generate some advance buzz, but I just couldn't force myself to rush through it. There's such a wide range of authors, styles, and content here, with so many new ideas and histories, that I found myself rereading sections of it over and over again.

The book starts with a definition/discussion of the term two-spirit, which could encompass book all on its own. I won't get into semantics here, so I will just settle for the blanket explanation that this is a collection by, for, and about Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Two-Spirit members of the Native American community. There's a passage in the introduction that I realise only tells part of the story, but which I found particularly interesting:

For other Native people, terms like 'lesbian' and 'queer' are seen as part of dominant Euro-American constructions of sexuality that have little to do with the more complicated gender systems in many Native traditions.

What follows is, as I said, a collection of material as diverse in content and form as it is in terms of sexuality ad gender. Deborah Miranda's Coyote Takes a Trip is one of my favourite pieces, contrasting a young man's accidental and joyous discovery of his heritage on a Venice Beach bus ride with historical quotes from 18th century missionaries regarding their horrific discovery of that same heritage. Louis Emse Cruz's Birth Song for Muin, in Red is another one that struck me, particularly the repeated theme of a "young girl in boy skin."

As much as I'm drawn to the more straightforward narratives, pieces like William Raymond Taylor's Something Wants to Be Said, a poem that manages to evoke more emotion in a single page than most novels, and Qwo-Li Driskill's (Auto)biography of Mad, a back-of-the-book style subject index of his life, complete with page numbers and other references, absolutely demanded my full attention. At the same time, Dan Taulapapa McMull's wonderful poem, A Drag Queen Named Pipi, packs more wonder and beauty into its 5 syllable lines than should be possible.

Ander's Awakening, by Daniel Heath Justice, is the longest piece in the collection and one that I had to read twice - once for the story, and again for the language. Young Ander views sees himself in dreams of an all-consuming spiritual fire that will change everything. The moment when he is gifted with his new name, Denarra Syrene, is one of the most beautiful passages I have ever read:

Ander felt a hot tremor pulse through his body, a rush of recognition as true and certain as the view in the looking glass. "Yes," he whispered, "That's my name. That's who I am."

An absolutely fascinating read, regardless of your race, ethnicity, sexuality, or gender, this is a book I am simply overjoyed I had the opportunity to explore.

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