Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Young Maiden and the Distinguished Warrior

Possibly the strangest chapter in Me Sexy: An Exploration of Native Sex and Sexuality was Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm's “Red Hot to the Touch: WRi[gh]ting Indigenous Erotica."  Akiwenie-Damm began by complaining about the lack of erotica written from a First Nations perspective, a lack she set out to begin righting herself.
I longed for images and stories of love between our people. Love between people I could recognize. Between Indigenous people like the ones I knew. Not the stereotypes and fantasies of Hollywood or those of sexually bored middle-aged American housewives or of white men looking to affirm their virility and dominance – I wanted something true. If I was going to read fantasies about Indigenous men, I wanted them to be like my fantasies, to stir my desire for flesh-and-blood Indigenous men. I wanted them to be about love, not power [110].
Fair enough; a lot of writing has been inspired by the desire to fit just such a niche, and I'd the last to criticize anyone for wanting depictions of stories about "people I could recognize."  I have pointed out certain problems with such projects, however, and in this instance I'm bothered by the racist stereotyping Akiwenie-Damm indulges.  Are "sexually bored middle-aged American housewives" really so different from a sexually bored middle-aged Canadian Anishnaabe woman?  Do all First Nations women have the same fantasies about the same Indigenous men, or will First Nations Harlequins need to be broken into smaller niches, according to nation?  Her assumption that "love" and "power" cover no common territory is also problematic.

But leave that aside.  The proof of the pudding is in the eating, as they say, and Akiwenie-Damm offers up some samples of the kind of fantasies she wants to see. For example, her protagonist meets and nurtures a burning, oozing passion for a young (younger?) Indigenous fellow who's doing some remodeling work for her, building a deck or something:
And she couldn’t help it. She flirted outrageously with him. She was witty. She was fun. She felt the world roll beneath her feet. She could do anything. She would try anything. Charm oozed out of her pores, like honey from a honeycomb. It was beyond her control. She felt madly, crazily alive. She wanted to stand in the middle of Elgin Street and sing his name. She wanted to climb Blue Mountain and hear his name echo back to her. She wanted to walk the Niagara Escarpment and tell every buzzard and crow to call out his name. She couldn’t help it. It was him doing this, not her. It was he who awoke her. It was them, together, who saw sun and stars and moon in each other [112].
I've read a fair sampling of erotica and romance fiction (basically the same thing) by white American women, aimed at the middle-aged demographic Akiwenie-Damm dismisses so lightly, and I don't see any substantial difference between her fantasy and theirs.  Her prose is indistinguishable from theirs, and not up to the best writers in the field.  The only difference is a few adjectives for hair and skin color, plus a few local-color details to provide ethnic authenticity.

To me that's reassuring: people aren't so different from each other after all.  (Remember, however, that differences within groups tend to be greater than differences between them.)  I'm pleased that so little alteration is necessary to produce working erotica for a First Nations woman, but that also means that any white publisher could hire a hack off the street to produce it, and sell it to everybody.  Then I wonder: are white women, let alone white men, allowed to read Akiwenie-Damm's indigenous erotica?  Will we pollute it with our colonialist eyes, read it through the lenses of our hunger for power?  Akiwenie-Damm's essay was published in an anthology primarily meant for white eyes anyway, so I suppose not.  By all means, there should be erotica and other writings for women of all nations, let a thousand flowers bloom.  I'll read some of it, because I can learn from almost anything, but I'll be hoping for better than this.