‘Me Sexy: An Exploration of Native Sex and Sexuality’

‘Me Sexy: An Exploration of Native Sex and Sexuality’.

An entertaining overview of Native sexuality and philosophy, “Me Sexy” overturns mainstream myths and misconceptions and, except for a few dark moments, avoids solemnity in favor of sly humor, high spirits, and understated truth-telling.

The editor, Drew Hayden Taylor, Ojibway, is an acclaimed playwright and columnist who compiled and edited the 13 essays that comprise “Me Sexy” as a successor to his 2006 anthology “Me Funny,” both presumably tongue-in-cheek progeny of the Lone Ranger’s sidekick, who says “Me Tonto.” (Taylor notes the “many rumors and legends about the true relationship” between the Lone Ranger and Tonto in his essay, “Indian Love Call.”)

From the bodice-ripping cover, which is an amalgam of everything embarrassing about red/white sexual stereotypes (faux bronze skin and tacky headband meet impossibly ivory bosom and cheap lace) to mainstream society’s preoccupation with the supposedly genetic determinant of pubic hair’s abundance or absence, this is a frolicsome romp on the rocky road to a final truth: “Me Human.”

Taylor himself says the essays constitute a “‘How to make love to a First Nations person without sexually appropriating them’ type of book. It will inform you. It will shock you. It may make you laugh. It may even make you blush. But above all else, this is a book about honesty, love and survival – three qualities that make for an excellent date.”

The first, cornerstone essay (“Bush Country,” by Joseph Boyden, an award-winning Metis novelist) covers a years-long odyssey that begins when a young man is cowed by a white bully who insults a female friend by taunting her (and him) with vaguely pedophiliac yearnings for the near-nude mons pubis supposedly characteristic of aboriginal women. The story deftly underscores a Native vulnerability so deep that the most private of things – indeed, the privates themselves – become a matter for ignorant mainstream curiosity and speculation.

As the young man ages, he broods about his failure to confront the bully and, finally, tries instead to confront the bully’s obsession by determining the degree to which Natives, specifically women, have more or less pubic hair than others, including his non-aboriginal wife. It leads him down a comic trail that ends up with the dismissive, almost casual conclusion that life is more interesting than the irrelevant, lonely fantasies of misogynistic yahoos.

From terrain where crude sexual innuendo is code for ignorance and tyranny to places where there is no language to describe “shameful” sexuality, or still others where gender is a work in progress, little is left unsaid or unexplored.

“Pre-Christian Inuit Sexuality,” by Makka Kleist, an actor, director and playwright from Greenland, describes as both joyful and practical the special occasions when anonymous intimacy was encouraged among Inuit after the oil lamps were extinguished.

Topsy-turvy to most non-Arctic dwellers, the sun is female and the moon male in the Inuit world where roles originated in an incest taboo (although this is also a Cherokee legend, according to another story in this collection). Kleist notes there is no word for “promiscuity” in native Inuit, where survival depends on concepts of exclusivity, sharing, privacy and community that may be at odds with more southerly beliefs.

Taylor’s “Indian Love Call” skewers the popular fiction that (as depicted on the anthology’s cover) features the aquiline-nosed, chiseled-browed half-breed, who represents “the one encased in exoticism, one involving a distant but still embraceable culture and environment” and who is often named some variant of “Wolf” (“the Wolf family seems to have a real thing for kidnapped white women,” he observes).

Tomson Highway, novelist and playwright (“Why Cree is the Sexiest of All Languages”), gleefully describes drenching often-embarrassed and squirming guest-lecture audiences with torrents of good-natured, “succulent” remarks that, he assures them, are different in Cree, which encourages “speaking of sex and the natural functions of the human body.”

The bright side of sex is also celebrated in several stories, including “Learning to Skin the Beaver,” by Nancy Cooper, Chippewa author, educator, and self-described “modern-day aboriginal lesbian”; “First Wives Club,” by Lee Maracle, Sto:lo Nation author and teacher; and “Red Hot to the Touch,” by Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, Anishnaabe writer, who says in praise of erotic love: “I wanted to liberate myself. To decolonize myself. Not a victim, not a ‘survivor,’ not reactive, not forced into someone else’s contorted image of who I was supposed to be, not confined, not colonized. Free.”

Other treasures rich in varied moods and themes abound in “Me Sexy,” from the cerebral to the droll, academic to pragmatic, light-hearted to solemn, sometimes in the same piece.

“Inuit Men, Erotic Art,” by Dr. Norman Vorano, a museum curator, describes the barriers to erotic Inuit art posed by a conservative, market-oriented society; “Dances for Dollars,” by Marissa Crazytrain (not her real name), plains Cree/Saulteaux, a former stripper, exposes the internal peril of donning an alternate self; and “Norval Morrisseau and the Erotic,” by Michelle McGeough, Metis artist and museum curator, asserts, “the Anishnaabe traditionalists have seen gender as being fluid and not fixed or determined by one’s biological sex.”

Some of the stories are darker, including “Fear of a Changeling Moon,” by Daniel Heath Justice, a Cherokee author and teacher, who, torn by both ethnic and gender expectations and realities, travels the world of nightmares before he is able to acknowledge his Native and sexual identities as a “light-skinned mixed-blood Aniyunwiya, one of the Real Human Beings” and, finally, as a gay man. More somber still is “The Dark Side of Sex,” by Marius P. Tungilik, Inuk, a government official who has been a leader in exposing the sordid intergenerational legacy of residential schools. As a survivor, despite inevitable scars, he is able to conclude, “Me sexy? Ask me. I certainly think I am.”

Perhaps summing it up, Gregory Scofield, Metis, a prominent aboriginal poet, says in “You Can Always Count on an Anthropologist”: “Turtle Island is a place of sacred and not so sacred people, all of us looking for a sense of belonging, a validation of our existence – maybe even a platform to stage our resistance, for whatever reason.”

“Me Sexy” is a sweet, robust, sometimes solemn, often ribald overview of sexual practices and philosophies that accompany worldviews and lifeways in the Indigenous North, with implications for us all.

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