Dear Allen Zwickler,
With this long-delayed note I send my deep appreciation for the Zwickler Fellowship's support of my research at Cornell University in 2005. I remain at Macalester College in our newly-renamed Department of Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, where I recently concluded a writing sabbatical and am preparing a book for publication.
The Zwickler Fellowship provided crucial support for the development of my book manuscript, entitled Settler Sexuality and the Politics of Indigeneity. This book examines how U.S. sexual minorities organized historically by narrating their relationship to qualities of indigenous culture. Popularizing a perception that indigenous societies accept sexual diversity, U.S. sexual minorities have used this knowledge to offer a sure sense of historical roots or a justification for arguing today for social rights. The book traces how such tales in fact permeate a wide array of politics, as when sexual minorities argue for their own cultural authenticity, ancient origin, global purview, or comparability to racial or national minorities.
Visiting the collection made available to me two crucial sets of material for my project: (1) rare publications by white U.S. American organizers in 1970Ős gay liberation and civil rights politics; and (2) hard-to-find publications by regional and national activist and media organizations of U.S. GLBT people of color. The first set connected me to Cornell's extensive collections of early gay liberation, lesbian feminist, and gay and lesbian anarchist, separatist, and counterculturist publications. I also benefited greatly from studying the papers of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force; its organizing from founding in 1973 into the early 1980's is little-documented by external sources. The second set of materials linked me to an especially generous collection of newsletters from chapters of the National Association of Black and White Men Together/Men of All Colors Together; a particularly strong set of publications by African American lesbian and gay organizations (including the magazines BLK and BlackOut, and newsletters by national Black lesbian and gay organizations); and issues of the early 1990's NYC-based GLBT people of color magazine ColorLife! Each set of materials provided me with a wide range of instances of non-Native sexual minorities narrating indigenous histories as part of their identities or politics, while ColorLife! provided important publications by Native two-spirit organizers who addressed colonial legacies in sexual minority politics.
Within this array of material, one of my most unexpected and welcome discoveries emerged from Phil Zwickler's papers, in a set of writings about an activist of his acquaintance, Robert Garcia, and a video documentary in which Garcia was a featured. Garcia described in these sources his work as a Latino gay man living with HIV to organize around sexuality and AIDS, including by addressing their intersections with race and nationality. Most interesting to me were his words in the documentary describing how he mediated his struggle with illness by exploring a personal relation to the histories of two-spirit people. While I had never before known of Garcia or his work, I have been able to make his story an important reference in my discussion of the ways two-spirit takes on specific meaning for non-Native GLBT people of colorincluding, in his case, as a Latino gay man whose anti-racist gay politics is mediated by exploring a sense of connection to his own Native heritage. The complexity of his story is what interests me: while it remains open to interpretation by Native criticism as a form of cultural appropriation of the histories of two-spirit people, and it certainly indexes the adaptations of indigeneity to postcolonial Latino identities recounted in Maria Saldaña's The Revolutionary Imagination in Latin America and the Age of Development, his tale differs markedly from characteristically white/Anglo GLBT narratives of indigenous roots. Rather than universalizing two-spirit histories and naturalizing histories of conquest, Garcia specifies his relationship to two-spirit in context of colonial histories, and thus represents on way in which GLBT people of color opened a potential for accountable relationship to Native two-spirit people within an anti-colonial sexual politics. I continue to seek additional information on Garcia's life and activism, even as I link his narrative to similar ones already in my writing.
There are more stories I could tell of the surprising, exciting, and productive connections to my larger project that my research at Cornell has afforded. Thank you so much, again, for the assistance of the Memorial Trust in my work. I so enjoyed staying in Ithaca and experiencing Cornell and the town, and I look forward to finding opportunities to return.
Department of Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies