Walt Whitman views himself as the poet of America; in “Song of Myself,” he uses his poetic voice to embody different minorities and tell their stories. Whitman asserts his right to existence without explanation or compromise in the line: “I exist as I am, that is enough/ If no other in the world be aware I sit content/ And if each and all be aware I sit content” (Whitman 413-415). In this quote, Whitman claims his very being as worthy; this worthiness is independent of standards of societal acceptability. The sentiment that individual worthiness should be something that one does not have to prove, and something that others cannot take away, is echoed in a sentence from Qwo-Li Driskill’s Introduction to Sovereign Erotics: “Sovereign Erotics is for those who- like so many of us- had no role models, no one to tell us that we were valuable human beings just as we were” (Driskill 1). Driskill claims in their book, published over 150 years after “Song of Myself,” that queer and two-spirit Native Americans have not had the freedom to internalize the ideas Whitman embraces in his poem. This forces us to call into question Whitman’s authority as the true American voice, and as someone who can speak for minority groups such as queer Indigenous people. The distinction between the two quotes also brings to attention the nuances that come along with race and self-acceptance in queer communities.
The differences in the pronouns used in each quote reveals further differences between Whitman’s version of queer self-worth and Driskill’s version. Whitman states, in regard to his self-worth, “if no other in the world be aware I sit content” (Whitman 414). Whitman addresses his audience from a first-person perspective, continuously declaring his individual worth; he does not need others to be accepting of him and draws his feelings of value from a place inside of himself. In contrast, Driskill uses the pronouns “us” and “we” in the quote. Driskill directly states that the intended audience for their book are people who have shared the lived experience of being Native and queer; this address to the audience about shared worthiness is purposeful. Driskill claims that providing others with a source of self-worth is not only important, but the reason that they contributed to the book. Whitman does not need anyone to recognize his worth, but Driskill asserts the necessity of providing a community of role models as a source of worth for others.