Self-Worth in Queer & Two-Spirit Indigenous Communities

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. 

3 thoughts on “Self-Worth in Queer & Two-Spirit Indigenous Communities”

  1. Hi! Great post!!! I really enjoyed how you dove into the importance of pronouns by using Whitman and Driskills work. I completely agree, my first impression while reading Whitman was his desire for individuality as he continually uses the pronoun “I”. Driskill unlike Whitman uses “us and we” allowing the reader to feel the true meaning of self worth, with out feeling the pressure of an American perspective. Although its a minor difference it highlights the worth of belonging to a bigger group other than yourself.

  2. I absolutely love this reading, especially the reading of the pronouns and how it emphasizes a different kind of identity and viewpoint. Walt Whitman’s uses of singular first person pronouns remind me of a settle American perspective, one of individuals that desire to stand out and prove their own worth, as they are in their own world. Meanwhile, Driskill like many other minority groups, refers to their own culture as a collective of peoples and emphasizes their identity as an individual — but an individual of many. It’s a subtle distinction and I think it’s a beautiful one, especially when emphasizing something like self worth in queer indigenous communities.

  3. Great post, I absolutely agree with your analysis here. I understand why Whitman wants to speak for minorities, since he thinks he’s helping by doing so. However, as you point out, there are nuances that come along with race and self-acceptance in queer communities that Whitman doesn’t have the perspective to truly grasp. Because of that, it’s exponentially more productive to hear from the voices of people within queer communities whose voices are often ignored, rather than someone like Whitman who hasn’t needed to fight for other’s acceptance in the same way LGBT people/racial minorities have had to do.

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