Maurice Kenny

Maurice Kenny (1929-2016)

 

Maurice Kenny, of the Mohawk, was a prolific writer whose work spanned poetry, nonfiction, and fiction. While publishing many books, Kenny was also an advocate for indigenous artistic expression, editing journals and running presses largely publishing indigenous writers. His biography in Living the Spirit even going so far as to call him “a leading American Indian poet,” Kenny’s art and activism was important in establishing a queer indigenous identity in a literary tradition that often erases non-white and non-heterosexual art.

From: Tinselled Bucks: A Historical Study in Indian Homosexuality

Winkte

Pima

United

 

United

For Randy

 

Moon music moved them together

across nights of bat-darkness

earth drummed by naked feet

that beats Nevada mountains,

high hills of Mohawk country.

 

Though old Medicine Men,

prodded by priest and politician,

no longer wear robes;

nor boys, geld and tender,

gather holy corn

nor are celebrated on the warpath

and taken in love by strong warriors…

they remain in lodges and languages

where the vision is honored,

and grandfathers know Nations will gather.

 

Moon music moved them together;

breechclouts left at the door,

straight firs… ponderosa to cedar…

naked, crossed in the star-burst of dawn:

bent, spent, broken in deep valleys.

The first frenzied dance finished.

Wovoka shook hands with Cornplanter.

Earth parts for the seed of their firs.

Pima

Eyes of desert night

word/tongue peaches of Arizona

orchards planted by old women

praising as I praise your mouth,

eyes behind shadows.

 

Pima, your beauty touched

I quiver, store woods in a basket

as women store fruit,

and your smiles of autumn

on a bar stool in Brooklyn.

 

You flee via Pan-American

to blooming cactus, silence.

Desert afternoon will fire

your flesh; mine

cools with morning.

Winkte

He told me that if nature puts a burden on a man by making him

            different, it also gives him a power.

John (Fire) Lame Deer, Sioux Medicine Man

 

 

We are special to the Sioux!

They gave us respect for strange powers

Of looking into the sun, the night.

They paid us with horses not derision.

 

To the Cheyenne we were no curiosity!

We were friends or wives of brave warriors

Who hunted for our cooking pots

Who protected our tipis from Pawnee.

 

We went to the mountain for our puberty vision.

No horse or lance or thunderbird

Crossed the dreaming eye which would have sent us

Into war or the hunter’s lonely woods.

To some songs floated on mountain air.

To others colors and design appeared on clouds.

To a few words fell from the eagle’s wing,

And they took to the medicine tent,

And in their holiness made power

For the people of the Cheyenne Nation.

There was space for us in the village.

 

The Crow and Ponca offered deerskin

When the decision to avoid the warpath was made,

And we were accepted into the fur robes

Of a young warrior, and lay by his flesh

And knew his mouth and warm groin:

Or we married (a second wife) to the chief.

And if we fulfilled our duties, he smiled

And gave us his grandchildren to care for.

 

We were special to the Sioux, Cheyenne, Ponca

And the Crow who valued our worth and did not spit

Names at our lifted skirts nor kicked our nakedness.

We had power with the people!

 

And if we cared to carry the lance, or dance

Over enemy scalps and take buffalo

Then that, too, was good for the Nation,

And contrary to our stand we walked backwards.

From: Tinselled Bucks: A Historical Study in Indian Homosexuality

Upon coming to the New world, Spain loosed an army of priests upon the Indians to take souls for God and gold for King. The sexual practices of the natives have not been recorded by anthropology. Anything that smacked of heathenism, religion, art, or sex was thoroughly destroyed. It must be recalled that pleasure-sex was branded “wrong” by civilized Europeans. Male love was destroyed more than ignored in the macho Spanish New World.

The French Jesuits, who first explored northeastern America, did not chronicle overt manifestations of homosexuality within the tribes they met. Nor did the Dutch, English, or Puritans. Homosexuality, being against God, king, and nature, would be a vile, repulsive subject for official record. Consequently New World writings mostly ignore any manifestation of male love in natives of the new land. Distortion and outright lies were used early in American history. Where can the data be found, in what record can it be discovered that the lonesome cowboy or the restricted soldier of the U.S. cavalry ever indulged in male love? Yet it may be easily assumed that cowboys and soldiers practiced homosexuality. Even America’s legendary heroes fall under suspicion. Mike Fink, the famous riverman, is said to have killed his young friend, Carpenter, out of a consuming fit of jealousy.

Though there are rare suggestions in the old chronicles or journals that the early mountainmen habitually cohabited with each other, or Indian males, probably the human shredding machine was early put to work. It is easy to propose that there existed a sexual fraternity at certain times. For the hardy mountaineer masturbation would not have been sufficiently gratifying. Sex with a female was completely accepted, but there might have been some sticky embarrassment were it known the mountaineer seduced the band’s young males, as well. This would suggest effeminacy to the Indian, and as Paul Radin suggested, “It is not the charge of effeminacy he fears but the possibility of being ridiculed.” This quote, however, does not prove there was no sexual activity between whites and Indian males.

In some tribes, it has been said that Indian women lived miserable lives and were sometimes known to commit suicide to rid themselves of their abject bondage to a merciless husband. A young man might also commit suicide on discovering he had no incentive to the warpath but did have tendencies toward homosexuality, or had a physical handicap that would negate the possibility of attaining honor as a warrior. The threat of donning the garb (“one who wears skirts”) and duty of females could definitely throw him into depression, making him fear rejection and ridicule.

In general, however, the Indian attitude toward sex was not constricting:

Compared to white attitudes toward sex, Indians were utterly uninhibited. They suffered no embarrassment… Adults coupled freely in front of their children or anyone else. One prominent chief was often seen walking about his village naked, displaying an erection… And the American Indian was completely innocent of the notion that something he enjoyed might be “wrong.” “Wrong” would have been an incomprehensible concept to them in that context. (Blevins 1973: 215-16)

Homosexuality is accepted if not condoned within most primal societies. In certain societies the homosexual was made a fetish of became an integral part of ceremony. The American Indian was no exception to the rule. He used the role as an advantage to obtain lovers. Ruth Benedict, in reference to the Zuni Indians of New Mexico, wrote in her book Patterns of Culture:

Social scorn, however, was not visited upon the berdache but upon the man he chose to live with him. The latter was regarded as a weak man who had chosen an easy berth of the recognized goals of their culture; he did not contribute to the household, which was already a model for all households through the sold efforts of the berdache. His sexual adjustment was not singled out in judgement that was passed upon him, but in terms of his economic adjustment he was an outcast (1959:264-65).

The cult of the berdache was more known on the western plains within the Sioux (Lakota) and Cheyenne tribes west of the Mississippi than in other areas of America. There is no particularly good reason why this should be true other than the possibility that these were large and powerful tribes before the white man decimated their numbers. Within such large groups a social-religious use could be found for the berdache. As there were sufficient warriors and hunters to protect and feed the community, some males were allowed to pursue more gentle endeavors. A more leisurely society could afford such deviations from the straight path of war and the hunt, as medicine men to provide the stimulus of religion, and as artisans. A youth not inclined to the warpath or game hunting might spend his life in pursuit of other careers and was not necessarily required to propagate the race. The tribe could afford to allow a youth the lifestyle of a berdache. In the Southwest, along with slavery, homosexuality was also known and condoned in such tribes as the Navajo and Mojave. “The conspicuous transvestism of the Mojave—where the transvestite men mimic pregnancy and childbirth, going aside from the camp to be ceremonially delivered of stones” attests to its presence in the desert lands (Mead 1949: 129). The Far West, the South, and the Northeast certainly were not without such personages.

Blessed Assurance

 

Unfortunately (and to John’s distrust of God) it seemed his son was turning out to be a queer. He was a brilliant queer, on the Honor Roll in high school, and likely to be graduated in the spring at the head of the class. But the boy was colored. Since colored parents always like to put their best foot forward, John was more disturbed about his son’s transition than if they had been white. Negroes have enough crosses to bear.

Delmar was his only son, Arletta, the younger child, being a girl. Perhaps John should not have permitted his son to be named Delmar—Delly for short—but the mother had insisted on it. Delmar was her father’s name.

“And he is my son as well as yours,” his wife informed John.

Did the queer strain come from her side? Maternal grandpa had seemed normal enough. He was known to have had several affairs with women outside his home—mostly sisters of Tried Stone Church, of which he was a pillar.

God forbid! John, Delly’s father thought, could he himself had any deviate ancestors? None who had acted even remotely effeminate could John Recall as being a part of his family. Anyhow, why didn’t he name the boy at birth John, Jr.  after himself? But his wife said, “Don’t saddle him with Junior.” Yet she had saddled him with Delmar.

If only Delly were not such a sweet boy—no juvenile delinquency, no stealing cars, no smoking reefers ever. He did the chores without complaint. He washed dishes too easily, with no argument, when he might have left them to Arletta. He seldom, even when at the teasing stage, pulled his sister’s hair. they played together, Delly with dolls almost as long as Arletta sister’s hair. Yet he was good at marbles, once fair at baseball, and a real whiz at tennis. He could have made the track team had he not preferred the French Club, the Dramatic Club, and the Glee Club. Football, his father’s game in high school, Delly didn’t like. He couldn’t keep his eye on the ball in scrimmage. At seventeen he had to have glasses. The style of rather exaggerated rims he chose made him look like a girl rather than a boy.

“At least he didn’t get rhinestone rims,” thought John half-though didn’t think felt faint and aloud said nothing. That spring he asked, “Delmar, do you have to wear white Bermuda shorts to school? Most of the other boys wear Levi’s or just plain pants, don’t they? And why wash them out yourself every night, all that ironing? I want you to be clean son, but not that clean.”

Another time, “Delmar, those school togs of yours don’t have to match so perfectly, do they? Colors blended, as you say, and all like that. This school you’re going to’s no fashion school—at least, it wasn’t when I went there. The boys’ll think you’re a sissy.”

Once again desperately, “If you’re going to smoke, Delmar, hold your cigarette between your first two fingers, not between your thumb and finger—like a woman.”

Then his son cried.

John remembered how it was before the boy’s mother packed up and left their house to live with another man who made more money than any Negro in their church. He kept an apartment in South Philly and another in Harlem. Owned a Cadillac. Racket connections—politely called politics. A shame for his children, for the church, and for him, John! His wife gone with an uncouth rascal!

But although Arletta loathed him, Delly liked his not-yet-legal step-father. Delly’s mother and her burly lover had at least had the decent to leave Germantown and change their religious affiliations. They no longer attended John’s family church where Delmar sang in the Junior Choir.

Delly had a sweet high tenor with overtones of Sam Cooke. The women at Tried Stone loved him. Although Tried Stone was a Baptist church, it tended toward the sedate—Northern Baptist in tone, not down-home. Yet it did have a Gospel Choir, scarlet-robed, since a certain untutored segment of the membership demanded lively music. It had a Senior Choir, too, black-robed, that specialized in anthems, sang “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” the Bach cantatas, and once a year presented the Messiah. The white-robbed Junior Choir, however, even went so far as to want to render a jazz recessional—Delly’s idea—which was vetoed. This while he was trying to grow a beard like the beatniks he had seen when the Junior Choir sand in New York and the Minister of Music had taken Delly on a trip to the Village.
“God, don’t let him put an earring in his ear like some,” John prayed. He wondered vaguely with a sick feeling in his stomach should he think it through then then think it through right then through should he try then and think it through should without blacking through think blacking out then and there think it through?

John didn’t. But one night he remembered his son had once told his mother that after he graduated from high school he would like to study at the Sorbonne. The Sorbonne in Paris! John had studied at Morgan in Baltimore. In possession of a diploma from that fine (in his mind) Negro institute, he took pride. Normally John would have wanted his boy to go there, yet the day after the Spring Concert he asked Delmar, “Son, do you still want to study in France? If you do, maybe—er—I guess I could next fall—Sorbonne. Say, how much is a ticket to Paris?”

In October it would be John’s turn to host his fraternity brothers at his house. Maybe by then Delmar would—is the Sorbonne like Morgan? Does it have dormitories, a campus? In Paris he had heard they didn’t care about such things. Care about such what things didn’t care about what? At least no color lines.

Well, anyhow, what happened at the concert a good six months before October came, was well—think it through clearly now, get it right. Especially for that Spring Concert, Tried Stone’s Minister of Music, Dr. Manley Jaxon, had written an original anthem, words and score his own, based on the story of Ruth:

Entreat me not to leave thee,

Neither to go far form thee.

Whither thou goeth, I will go.

Always will I be near thee…

The work was dedicated to Delmar, who received the first hand-written manuscript copy as a tribute from Dr. Jaxon. In spite of its dedication, one might have thought that in performance of the solo lead—Ruth’s part—would be assigned to a woman. Perversely enough, the composer allotted it to Delmar. Dr. Jaxon’s explanation was, “No one else can do it justice.” The Minister of Music declared, “The girls in the ensemble really have no projection.”

So without respect for gender, on the Sunday afternoon of the program, Delmar sang the female lead. Dr. Jaxon, saffron-robed, was at the organ. Until Delmar’s father attended the concert that day he had no inkling as to the casting of the anthem. But when his son’s solo began, all John could say was, “I’ll be damned!”

John had hardly gotten the words out of his mouth when words became of no further value. The “Papa, what’s happening?” of his daughter in the pew beside him made hot saliva rise in his throat—for what suddenly had happened was that as the organ wept and Delmar’s voice soared above the choir with all th sweetness of Sam Cooke’s tessitura, backwards off the organ stool in a dead faint fell Dr. Manley Jaxon. Not only did Dr. Jaxon fall from the stool, nut he rolled limply down the steps form the organ loft like a bag of meal and tumbled prone onto the rostrum, robes and all.

Amens and Hallelujahs drowned in the throats of various elderly sisters who were on the verge of shouting. Swooning teenage maidens suddenly sat up in their pews to see the excitement. Springing from his chair on the rostrum, the pastor’s mind deserted the pending collection to try to think what to say under the unusual circumstances.

“One down, one to go,” was all that came to mind. After a series of pastorates in numerous sophisticated cities where Negroes did everything whites do, the Reverend Dr. Greene had seen other choir directors take the count in various ways with equal drama, though perhaps less physical immediacy.

When the organ went silent, the choir died, too—but Delmar never stopped singing. Over the limp figure of Dr. Jaxon lying on the rostrum, the “Entreat me not to leave thee” of his solo flooded the church as if it were on hi-fi.

The members of the congregation sat riveted in their pews as the deacons rushed to the rostrum to lift the Minister of Music to his feet. Several large ladies of the Altar Guild fanned him vigorously while others sprinkled him with water. But it was not until the church’ nurse-in-uniform applied smelling salts to Dr. Jaxon’s dark nostrils, did he list his head. Finally, two ushers led him off to an anteroom while Delmar’s voice soared to a high C such as Tried Stone Baptist Church had never heard.

“Bless God! Amen!” cried Reverend Greene. “Dr. Jaxon has only fainted, friends. We will continue our services by taking up collection directly after the anthem.”

“Daddy, why did Dr. Jaxon have to faint just when brother started singing?” whispered John’s daughter.

“I don’t know,” John said.

“Some of the girls say that when Delmar sings, they want to scream, they’re so overcome,” whispered Arletta. “But Dr. Jaxon didn’t scream. He just fainted.”

“Shut up,” John said, staring straight ahead at the choir loft. “Oh, God! Delmar, shut up!” John’s hands gripped the back of the seat in front of him. “Shut up, son! Shut up,” he cried. “Shut up!”

Silence…

“We will now lift the offering,” announced the minister. “Ushers, get the baskets.” Reverend Greene stepped forward. “Deacons, raise a hymn. Bear us up, sisters, bear us up!”

His voice boomed:

Blessed assurance!

He clapped his hands once.

Jesus is mine!

“Yes! Yes! Yes!” he cried.

Oh, what a fortress

Of glory divine!

The congregation swung gently into song:

Heir of salvation,

Purchase of God!

“Hallelujah! Amen! Halle! Halle!”

Born of the Spirit.

“God damn it!” John cried. “God damn it!”

Washed in His blood…

Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

 

While famous for his work as a writer in the Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes has posthumously became recognized as well for his creative works involving homosexuality. His popularly-anthologized poems such as “Let America be America Again” and “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” highlight his identity as a black man, and some of his lesser known works expand that to also include his non-normative sexuality.

Biographers and scholars debate whether Hughes would better fit under the terms homosexual or asexual. Either way, his non-normative sexual identity only coming to light after his death helps highlight the compression or erasure of identity queer people of color often face.

 

Café: 3 a.m.

Blessed Assurance

 

H.D.

H.D. (1886-1961)

Hilda Doolittle, publishing under the pen name H.D., was a poet and novelist, most famous for her involvement in the movement of “imagist” poetry in the early twentieth century. During her lifetime, H.D. was openly bisexual and had long term relationships with men and women.

Her autobiographical novel, HERmione, completed in 1927, wasn’t published until 1981 when it was re-discovered by her daughter, Perdita Schaffner. In it, the main character, Hermione, sometimes referred to with the nickname “Her,” struggles between her love for both George Lowndes and Fayne Rabb, based on the real-life realtionships H.D. had with Ezra Pound and Frances Josepha Gregg. In this excerpt, Hermione discusses George with Fayne.

From: HERmione

From HERmione

PART TWO:

 

one

 

“Sea beat up and wind fell hesitating…” “Go on…” “It’s rotten rather just here.” “You read so beautifully.” “I don’t want you to think I’m reading. It’s things back of me. It’s things back of me. You draw things out of me like some sort of… some sort of…” “Go on.” “I mean you draw things out of me.” Fayne Rabb was sitting on the sofa. The remains of the tea things scarred the floor beside her. “I mean the tea things look wrong here. Like setting teacups down on some pre-fifth-century Attic boulder. I mean to see teacups now in this small sitting room, to see you now in this small sitting room makes the sitting room… I mean it makes the sitting room seem like a gauze curtain.” “How exactly gauze? And how exactly curtain?” “I mean the curtains…” “The—what exactly?” “I call the curtains potpourri-coloured. I mean everything in this house is potpourri-coloured. You make everything in the world seem shabby.”

She stuck out her head like a bird; seeing everything, Fayne Rabb saw nothing. She saw like a bird that sees a tree not as heap of leaf, haymow stack of leaf on leaf, a heap of green making a curve or a cushion or a feathery sort of blurr on a horizon. Fayne Rabb saw not the potpourri-coloured curtains, not the figure drawn a little apart, drawn just too far, just too near that made a voice ring and resound and colours jab and dart against the dark faded rose of the faded-coloured curtains. Fayne Rabb saw a bird, seeing nothing of importance. “All the things that make the world important… all the things, I mean mama thinks important… you don’t… you don’t… recognize. I mean you don’t see the things. It isn’t as if you were destructive. Nellie said you were odd and so destructive. You just don’t see them.”

“I just don’t see what? This is interesting.” “I mean there is George. Now you would, I think, like George. I don’t want you to see George as George—“  “Are you still infatuated?” “In-fat-uated? That is just what all this time I’ve been telling you I wasn’t.” “Little, oh Miss Gart.”  “No Fayne. I’m not. I’m not so very little.” “You’re as little as a bird that has no wings, no beak, no feathers. You are the sort of thing a caterpillar would be before it were born, if all the time a caterpillar before it were born kept its own fur—fur-i-ness (is that what I mean exactly?), you are like a caterpillar just the minute it changes to a phoenix.”  “A caterpillar doesn’t—I mean it doesn’t change into a phoenix.”  “Who told you that little Miss Her Gart?”  “A caterpillar I say does change into a phoenix.” Chin thrust out, days are getting darker, days are getting longer; Hermione said, “Now when I look into your face I think the most ordinary things. Now just now looking into your face I just thought the days are getting longer.”  “Why looking into my face, shouldn’t you say the days are getting longer? Ordinary words aren’t always ordinary. Anyway I am—“ “Am?”  “Are”  “Are what exactly?”  “Ordinary.”  “Fayne. Fayne. Fayne. Fayne. Fayne.”   “You sound like a prophetess shrieking before Olympus.”  “Not Olympus. It’s Delphi.”  “It’s Olympus.”  “You don’t really know the difference.”   “Now little blasphemer—“

A hand thrust out. A hand swift, heavy; small, heavy swift hand. A hand thrust out and the hand (as it were) was thrust from behind a curtain. “All this rom, I’ve been saying is like a curtain.” These words were (as it were) dragged out of her long throat by a small hand, by a tight hand, by a hard dynamic forceful hand. The hand of Fayne Rabb dragged words out of the throat of Her Gart. “The whole thing comes right perfectly. I mean it is true that man is a shadow (what is that Greek tag?) I mean man being a shadow or spirit or a bit of fire or something holding together a corpse. You are, aren’t you?”

The hand let go dynamically. “Am—what, Hermione?”  “You are—you make me see the transience in everything. You are conscious aren’t you that Fayne Rabb is nothing?” “I am, little blasphemer, conscious of none of any such thing. I am of great importance.”  “You are and you just aren’t; don’t joke about all this. I mean I see (through you) the meaning of—of—“ “Eternity?”  “No-oo—not that exactly.”  “Maternity?”  “Oh horrible—“ “Paternity?”  “Fayne—are you really still there?”

“I am, Miss Her Gart. And I am not. I mean looking at Miss Her Gart, I see a green lane. There is some twist to it, a long lane winding among birch trees.” “No-oo—not birch trees.”  “Yes. I say they are. I say they are birch trees. We are and we aren’t together… we go on and we don’t go on together… there is fear and disaster but Fayne and Hermione don’t go on together. I see a lane and the sea. The sea sweeps up and washes the steps of a sea wall. I mean the steps run down from the top of the wall and are half covered by the sea tide. There is wash forward, wash backward, there is wash of amber-specked weeds beneath the water. I don’t know where this is. I can see you are and you aren’t here. You are here and you aren’t here. I hate all these things that blunt you. You aren’t firm enough. You are transient like water seen through birch trees. You are like the sparkle of water over white stones. Something in you makes me hate you. Drawn to you I am repulsed, drawn away from you, I am negated. You are not myself but you are some projection of myself. Myself, myself projected you like water… you are the sort of fountain (to become graphic, biblical) that gushed out of the dead desert rock. I am not Moses. I never could have struck you. I did not strike you. You are yet repressed, unseeing, unseen…”

“Oh, Fayne, do, do, do stop saying these things.”  “You are like other people. Really at the end, you are just like other people. You are afraid.”  “Who wouldn’t be afraid of you glaring in the darkness?”  “It’s not dark. The room is full of light…”

It frightens me to hear Fayne. It happens just as we are near coming together in some realm of appreciation. Words spring from nowhere; Fayne is like a bird under an anesthetic. Her chin thrust forward, “Oh, you’re always just like people.”  “People?”  “One gets so far with you. One thinks that you will follow. You’re just like everybody.”

Anger choked Fayne Rabb. The small murderous hand thrust out again as from behind a curtain. “Bur you’re iron. Where do you get your strength, Hermione?”

 

 

Words with Fayne in a room, in any room, became projections of things beyond one. Things beyond Her beat, beat to get through Her, to get through to Fayne. So prophetess faced prophetess over tea plates scattered and two teacups making Delphic pattern on a worn carpet. Pattern of little plates, of little teacups (Fayne as usual had had no lunch) and people and things all becoming like people, things seen through an opera glass. The two eyes of Fayne Rabb were two lenses of an opera glass and it was Hermione’s entrancing new game to turn a little screw, a little handle somewhere (like Carl Gart with his microscope) and bring into focus those two eyes that were her new possession. Her Gart had found her new possession. You put things, people under, so to speak, the lenses of the eyes of Fayne Rabb and people, things come right in geometric contour. “You must see George Lowndes.”

For George Lowndes pirouetting like a harlequin must be got right. Hermione must (before discarding George Lowndes) get George right. “I’m seeing him tomorrow.”

By H.D. (Hilda Doolittle), from HERMIONE, copyright ©1981 by The Estate of Hilda Doolittle. Use by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.