British Columbia

Two-spirit erotic fiction shows personal is political

Daniel Heath Justice, one of the editors of the two-spirit erotica collection "Sovereign Erotics," talks about sexuality, politics and marginalization.

'To be an Indigenous person is to be political just by virtue of being an Indigenous person in this country'

Sovereign Erotics: A Collection of Two-Spirit Literature is a collection of writings which reflect Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Two-Spirit (GLBTQ2) identities within Indigenous communities. (Sovereign Erotics/The University of Arizona Press)

Even though Daniel Heath Justice is co-editor of one of the first published literary collections of two-spirit erotic writing, the author and professor insists he's actually quite bashful.

"I've been involved in a lot of these projects but I don't write a lot of erotica, " Justice says. "I get flustered really easily so in some ways it's kind of weird."

Justice, who teaches at the University of British Columbia, has curated a slate of erotic readings by two-spirit Indigenous authors for this year's annual Queer Arts Festival in Vancouver.

Two-spirit, Justice explains, is a term that emerged out of political activism in the 1990s to address cultural and spiritual roles beyond sexuality and gender, rooted in an Indigenous context.

"Two-spirit [authors] took up culture in a really serious way and so I think when you look around today and see just the amazing writers who are doing work that is pushing the boundaries," he said.

Daniel Heath Justice, an author and professor at the University of British Columbia, was one of the editors of an anthology dedicated to two-spirit writing called "Sovereign Erotics." (Daniel Heath Justice )

Justice says two-spirit erotica like the kind featured in the collection Sovereign Erotics is different from more mainstream, straight erotica because it is inherently politicized.

"It's deeply political," he said. "To be an Indigenous person is to be political just by virtue of being an Indigenous person in this country."

Justice, who is Cherokee, says the two-spirit writers in his anthology try to find beauty and pleasure in bodies that are so often subjected to horrendous violence or have been dismissed, displaced or removed by settler colonial populations.

"When people are thinking erotica, they are often thinking sexual pleasure," he said.

"They're not thinking about how sexuality is also very much part of racialized experience which is also very much part of the health and well-being of the lands and waters with which we're in relation to ... The way that people exploit the land is also the way people exploit certain bodies."

Listen to Daniel Heath Justice's interview with CBC's North By Northwest Sheryl MacKay:


All of these new works mark a growing body of work by queer and two-spirit Indigenous writers, Justice said, referring to writers Joshua Whitehead and Billy Ray Belcourt, the latter who won the $65,000 Griffin Poetry Prize.

"There have always been queer and two-spirit Indigenous people writing because we've always been in our communities," he said. "[But] it's just really exploding right now ... So many of the courageous and boundary-busting writers today are queer, two-spirit, non-binary trans folks who are really doing good in this world.

"I'm so, so proud of them."

The Queer Arts Festival's Lay of the Land erotic poetry reading takes place on June 19 at 7 p.m. PT at the Roundhouse Exhibition Hall.

With files from North By Northwest