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Ep #5: Decolonizing Sex




KIM: I just can't get behind monogamy, it's settler imposed you know until you are, are you until you have worked hard for your monogamy and a non monogamous society Don't tell me it was your choice. You know, because you have to work really, really hard to be non monogamous and in an open, and you know monogamous are way more comfortable with cheating than they are with this way more theyʻd rather do that.


MATIKA: Hi, I'm Matika! I belong to the Swinomish and Tulalip people. I'm a photographer and the creator of Project 562.


ADRIENNE: And I'm Adrienne, I'm a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, a scholar and the writer behind the blog Native Appropriations.


MATIKA: Well, welcome back to all my relations with Dr. Kim Tallbear. We're going to take a moment to do some heart talk. You know, we, I donʻt wanna speak for Adrienne but I've been so inspired by your work both by your blog and by your book and just the fact that you're a writer. Because I'm a writer. I don't actually often say that but I write quite a bit. Anyways, how do you do it? How do you find the space the time what is your practice like would you sit down and there's a, you know, like, a blank page before you do you write with a pen and paper? How do you do it?


KIM: You know, it's really funny I actually do a lot of drafting of my initial fields field notes on social media. So when I say blogs or social media are a waste of time I've heard prominent Native writers say that. Not if you know how to do it correctly. So I, you know, my 47 tweets analysis of what was wrong with Elizabeth Warren that I did in 2016. You know that that's an analysis that I've been able to send to it got. [unintelligible] so that that was a really important analysis that's been quoted a lot in the media and I will if I as I go back and revise a paper where I should put the Elizabeth Warren case and I will just go back to the tweets and construct the next couple pages from that. So that's really useful. So yeah, I usually if I, if I come home and I have ideas burning in my head I will more often than not, do some social media posts or I will write a draft of a blog, and they're in fact part of my Native American DNA book there are a couple pieces of different chapters that did start out as blogs, blog posts, Because it's a great way to I like immediate gratification, right and you get it out there right away and you then. And then you get conversation so my blog posts stimulate conversation, and that conversation informs it's almost like field data looping back into my initial field notes which I put on on social media and then it results in this more robust kind of analysis that goes into the published documents so that's the way that I write, and with my polyamory stuff yeah there's a blog and then there's my Critical Polyamorist hundreds which are kind of fictionalized but more like creative nonfiction poetic type things. Those were probably more standard. I was part of a virtual writing group, seven women. This is the way the hundreds practice works you each take a day of the week and its your day to circulate your hundred among the other six women and you have to in some way link up to the hundred of the previous day and so that really helped me start writing the Critical Polyamorist hundreds but then I kinda fell out of that group and my writing practice has fallen off.


MATIKA: So you find it's easier with creative writing to be accountable to a group or to have that sort of group dynamic.


KIM: Definitely with the hundreds. It really helped because it was Saturday morning was my morning, you know, and I had to get it done it was not cool to not take your turn. Yeah, they really that that was not being a good citizen, they would put up with it a little bit but once you start to miss too many the group kind of falls apart other people then start to miss too many. So, yeah, but that's the only time I've ever really used a writing group. Other than that, my writing group is me posting something and getting feedback and having a conversation so that is a form of a writing group.


ADRIENNE: Yeah, that actually is very validating for me because that is really what I do and it's never actually been something that is really validated by academia. the fact that most of my thinking is done in a very public way on Twitter, or my blog


KIM: which is a feminist thing to do so I remember when I was in graduate school, some of the faculty saying don't prematurely professionalized. Yeah well I got a job because I had academic articles, so I don't advise students like that, the the world is changing. I also think it's a feminist thing you know, my 2002 article in which also saw review which was the first thing I ever wrote on DNA testing that gets cited all the time. Do I agree with everything in that? No, my thinking has evolved quite a bit since 2002, but I am not embarrassed that I said things in there that I would say in a different way now because that is what it is to be a good feminist. You think out loud you share your ideas you acknowledge that hey I got feedback and I learned something more and I've now arrived at this place. You know, it's I think it's a good demonstration of having situated knowledges and and partial, a partial take on things so yeah I don't think that's embarrassing now I've had other academics say Kim, well can you've gotten away with it because maybe there haven't been a lot of people writing on what you've been writing on. But that might not be the best advice to give to everybody but I just to me it feels like a really ethical thing to do and I don't mind being partly wrong about something I don't put something out there that's just the first thing off the top of my head but because, because it elicits feedback and I learned more and I learned in conversation and we want to learn in conversation that's I think the right way to learn.


ADRIENNE: I talked about it as consenting to learn in public. That's the phrase that a friend used to describe my blog, right at the beginning of it because when I first started I had no idea what I was talking about. It was a lot of messing up and apologizing. And reframing. And so now I think about that like with this podcast too and with everything that we're doing is really this process of just saying like yeah we're learning, and we're, we have ideas right now and they might change if folks, give us feedback if we learn more, but I've never really thought about it as a feminist sort of framing and I think that makes a lot of sense to


KIM: Yeah I mean it's dismantling hierarchies of knowledge production right and I, I talk a lot about that my formative theorists I there's a talk I gave for my formative theorists. My mom is in the center. And there's some American Indian Movement icons there's Vine Deloria Jr. And then there's the sort of community the Native community that activist and educator community that my mom was a part of in the Twin Cities in the 1970s they you know they founded Red Schoolhouse and Heart of the Earth. These are my formative theorists This is where I learned that research is for social change. This is where I actually learned about standpoint I just didn't call it standpoint, until I got to graduate school. And then my second order theorists are all my academic advisors and influences. So people in community do theory they do deep analyses and we are able to be informed in real time by their thinking when we are publicly blogging or writing or posting analyses of things to social media. So, it's not a waste of time at all in my mind.


MATIKA: And where do you find the courage. Do you ever struggle with finding the courage to hit posts, do I do. I've ever written hundreds of things that I havenʻt published.


KIM: Yeah I I swear a lot in real life I try not to swear to my I don't swear at all on Twitter, I will usually use like STFU. But I would never say the F word on Twitter. I don't name call. Usually, I mean I've called Trump an idiot, but you know, and I'm yeah I know that's the ableist but I would never yeah anyway.

So I have a couple of rules. But I think the I think the not name calling is important but rather pointing out the, the problems and people's logic or reasoning and I and I the older I get the more relentless I am about that and the older I get the more relentless I am in asserting my own expertise, and I will not be bullied or condescended to by people who have not been thinking about the particular issues I've been thinking about for as long as I have and how many people have been looking at the intersections of DNA and and Indigenous citizenship in the US, you know how many people have really been thinking about that in the way that I have. So, no mostly I it's not hard for me to find the courage. I listen when it's a topic I don't know as much about so I don't post on stuff I don't know a lot about, you know, I was raised that you listen to people who know more on what they know more about right. Yeah I had people getting in my mentions about, oh I know what it was the Zerlina Maxwell thing on MSNBC, I was getting after her for her misunderstanding of the depth of Black Native relations right. And as you say weaponizing it, but then some there was some Black people on Twitter who got into my mentions and said well, because I said oh I was acknowledging there's there's anti Blackness in Indigenous communities but there's also erasing of settler colonial complicity in non Indigenous people of color communities, and there's so that then there was some Black Twitter people who started having a debate about, well, people that are Black people can be anti Black I'm like, that's not my fight, I'm gonna sit here and listen to you and learn but I'm certainly not going to get into that I have nothing to say about that right. So you have to learn when you should just close your mouth and listen. And that would be, misplaced courage to open your mouth when it's not your place. But I do open it when it's my place.


ADRIENNE: And I would like to in a second ago you were talking about feminism and it's a thread that runs through your work. It is a framework that you use on in your writing as well as your research. And I was wondering if you could talk about your relationship to feminism and the ways that you think about it as an Indigenous woman versus kind of mainstream conceptions of feminism.


KIM: Yeah, I've given this talk before alongside some other Indigenous feminist I didn't come to feminism through what I think is a more standard route and the academy which is Indigenous women get engaging with women of color feminism, and then figuring out what of that applied for Indigenous life and what didn't. For me, I came to feminism through feminist science studies. And so I would not have considered myself a feminist before I was in graduate school though certainly I act like one, I guess. But when I realized that feminist and queer folks and disabled disability studies scholars had the same critiques of the hierarchies in science and the way that their bodies had been fetishized focused on considered deviant in relationship to the straight white able bodied male norm right, I realized that we needed to be at the same conversational table and feminist science studies and queer science studies has really really been generative for my thinking around Indigenous science studies so that's how I come to feminism. And when I first heard about feminist standpoint and situated knowledge is that really resonated that language from Sandra Harding and Donna Haraway really resonated with things my mother taught me implicitly about telling stories as a Dakota person from out of our own lives. Even though my mom would never have used language like that.


MATIKA: Let's talk about family youʻe a mother. And you're also a full time scholar and writer, how do you find the time to, like, what are the mechanics of being so productive?


KIM: Well, yeah, you never feel like you're productive enough right because you have to sleep right my greatest fantasy is that I don't ever have to sleep. I know that’s sad.


MATIKA: I know right, I would just be up all night long.


KIM: Because I love what I do. Well you know so I tell my grad students this too I, my, my co parent is the primary caretaker. I had zero biological urge to reproduce, but I ended up with a person who is like, totally baby hungry. I don't I don't get people like that like to have a baby. But I have the uterus right so um so finally I agreed but we had a hard negotiation, I was like I will never do more than 40% of childcare, you will change all the diapers when you're there, you know I like to have a lot of in my career comes first and I'm never ever, pulling back on that to stay home and clean dirty diapers, and he's like whatever whatever just gimme the baby you know so and he's, and he's just like, you know, dad of the year so that's how I do it and. But we also, you know, our daughter. She grew up around the table with PhDs having these kinds of conversations we don't separate the we don't have Child and Adult space, you know, she's part of our world, she's a human who gets to go where we go and not always to her liking you know she spent a lot of she goes with her dad to community meetings and protests and she's had to come to class with me and has to go to class with him and, on the whole, I think it's made her a real have a read great love for intellectual and I also only had one. You know when I tell my I tell my students it's usually women students because they're the ones who feel pressure to be like, you know, great academic and a great mom and they have to have a clean house and they've got to be a workout queen and you know like you can, there's only so much you can do. You can't do everything so you better be, you know, if you want all these babies and you want an academic career you better have a partner who's going to pull their weight or more than their weight. Do not be idealistic and read Cosmo and think you can have it all because you can't there's only so many hours in the day so I'm real with them I know a lot of like men faculty can't be that way with their women students and it is women that come to you and have all these pressures, right. So.


ADRIENNE: So you have this other world outside of the DNA world with your blog Critical Polyamorist, and, um, I was wondering if you could tell us about the kind of genesis of that and how you define this world of critical polyamory.

KIM: The blog. Well, so I started very pointedly deciding I was going to pursue polyamory as a life project in the fall of 2012. And I officially started in January of 2013, I like pursue everything like a research project, because I'm so intellectually critical about it because I was very critical of the way that settlers do polyamory right away when I got involved in the polyamory community in Austin, I could see all this is just more white people stuff right. So, but in order for me to really embrace it as a life project I had to make it an intellectual project because I don't have time to have hobbies I don't have hobbies. If I'm going to do something it's got to become part of my work so I can write about it right. So, and then the blog again was a way for me to think out loud right and think and process and I of course have done some study of critical race theory and that's all I mean by critical polyamory that I am doing polyamory within a view where I've been critical of the broader settler colonial structure and racialized structures. And so that's what I'm attuned to in polyamory and right away I could see when I was going to polyamory meetups and I started dating people who identified as ethically non monogamous, they were doing this in a way that was not very conscious of the role of settler colonialism and the origins of compulsory monogamy in the United States, and in Canada. They really they're they vaguely think most polyamorous they go with religion. But again, religion, the state. Science, all work together and they work together in the world of ethical non monogamy as well actually in terms of various forms of oppression or, or kind of being freed from that.


MATIKA: Can I ask you to define what you mean when you say compulsory monogamy.


KIM: Oh, well just the idea that that is the normative standard to which we all aspire so there's that in a kind of informal way like that's that's what the fact that we have to call it ethical non monogamy Why don't we have to call it ethical monogamy instead right. So there's that. But there's also the way in which it's been imposed legislate legislatively in the US and Canada so for example in relationship to Native people you know we talked about the Dawes Act, we talked about the breakup of the collective tribal land base into individual allotments. We talked about the role of blood talk in that monogamy was just a central the imposition of state sanctioned marriage was just essential you get 160 acres if your head of household but you get 80 for your wife and you get 40 for each kit. So there's a real incentive there to be married and to biologically reproduce, by the way, the woman didn't get to be head of household she got tied economically to the man, you know, and her children got tied effectively rendering her and her children as property of the man, just like the land was so monogamy is central to this and you see in their, their feminist historians of course of marriage and monogamy in the US and Canada who show that it wasn't also only Indigenous people but people coming from other parts of the world who had non monogamous traditions, you cannot be a good legitimate upstanding moral citizen unless you're monogamous. That is the law, right, bigamy is a crime, you know, polyamory just now got officially legalized in Canada really recently, and then many of the polyamorists were really careful to say yeah but we're not doing polygamy This is different, you know, so there's still a way in which like non monogamous societies and marriage practices are are viewed as and this happened with sexologist at the turn of the 20th century viewed as less evolved viewed as more primitive right less civilized. So monogamy is a sign of the racially evolved civilized citizen and subject. So it's, you know, it's like remember I was I was telling you off air right, I meet more than a few Indigenous men who feel that they cannot really engage in open non monogamy because they are really really afraid of being stigmatized and, you know, they just can't be viewed that way, I can't be viewed as it's such a stigma.


MATIKA: So I'm just going to be frank and ask you to help me to understand how this how this plays out because we were talking about this last night and we were talking about is polyamory like just having sex with different multiple different partners, it's like well can we ever really just have sex no because we're always in some way in love because I think like sex is, there's no way to do sex without some form of love and so how do you be in love with more than one partner and have space for that and given for me when I think about, I can't I'm so it's so hard for me just to be an auntie, a sister, and a daughter, and then somebodyʻs lover, it's like, those are it's hard for me just to maintain those relationships, yeah and then also to have a relationship with land and make time and space to go pray and make time and space to participate in all of the things that I'm trying to do professionally. That's a lot. So how do you, how does that play out what is the how is that defined for you?


KIM: Well, I think what you just described in terms of your relational multiplicity. Is my view of what I would like to see polyamory is just a temporary language choice. It's a temporary stopover place while I think we figure out how to develop language, and we already have language I think in our Indigenous ontologies that help us think about being being in multiple good relations right so that's more what I would like to get to that's not what the mainstream polyamory movement is about it's about the things you said you're worried about. A lot of their conversations in my mind are quite shallow. How do I google calendar my life, you know, how do I manage the hierarchy between my primary partner and my secondary partner. How do I open up my marriage and manage jealousy, this is what like 95% of the conversations are the meetups and the books you know managing jealousy having compersion instead of jealousy, which is the opposite of jealousy. So, how do I have joy for my partner's joy. Yes, those things are difficult you know I can attest to that but that is not even the beginning of the struggle that we're facing right it's really how to get back into being in good relation in ways where we're not trying to own each other's bodies desires and we're not trying to own the land and we're not trying to own other non human organisms. Those are the kinds of questions that most polyamorists wouldn't even think are related to their polyamory. And so when I got into that community. Those were right away the kinds of things you're asking about how do I have time for all of this? You're already in a sense, engaging in these kind of multiple relations right and I think if we do fetishize sex and we get away from sex as an object, and I can say more about that in a minute. We that will enable us to to acknowledge that we're already in multiple kinds of relations we have multiple responsibilities and by the way that can carry over or loop back into what we would now call our sex life where our love life. I should also say there are a sexual polyamorous asexual people have taught me a lot. And why should they even have to identify as asexual? Right because you're categorizing sex into genitalia probably at that point, right. So, that's what I mean about objectifying sex. So why do they have to out themselves as asexual, why can't they just say I'm in multiple loving relationships or I'm in one loving relationship, why do we have to focus on what kind of sex they have? We also have aromantic polyamorous so people who are in multiple relations, but don't necessarily feel or want romantic love. So there are many different people Indigenous and non Indigenous that are gay engaged in all kinds of relations with other people and with nonhumans but they are compelled in a settler society to categorize themselves as monogamous as straight as queer, as this as that, you know, there's all these silos and categories and that are anti-relational, if we are really thinking about being in good relation that will actually de-emphasize our need to categorize ourselves like we do. And like settlers tell us we have to do so they can manage us.


MATIKA: Yeah, I feel like a powwow MC..


KIM: But yeah what you're talking about is, That's what I'm talking about. But that's not what most polyamorous Think about it.


MATIKA: And so, you know, because when I think of the stereotype of a polyamorous I think of like a millennial that just wants to date multiple people on Tinder and [censored] all of them. And you know, like, and and not like maybe not necessarily like be in like the loving deep kinship like right yeah my family I got you, but just like I want to have like really basic like sex with you and I want to like, like, [censored] you know, on your face like I don't know like I imagine you know like a polyamorous like millennial. Yeah, well, no one that's just like.


KIM: Yeah no theyʻre out there but no there there there I mean there's good reasons for some stereotypes, but this is a big conversation in polyamory communities right they're constantly pushing back against the, the sort of way in which they're viewed is overly sexualized right and there you know you don't have to be dating anybody to be polyamorous right just like you don't have to be dating anybody to identify as a monogamous person some polyamorous people date one or zero people at one point writer. With that it's really being open. But yeah, they spent a lot of time saying this isn't just about the sex, this isn't just about the sex and of course there are people who call themselves polyamorous temporarily while they are doing that thing right to really misuse the word according to the way a lot of polyamorous would want it to be used. So this is an active debate in the communities.


MATIKA: And so you said it was for you and you began your research, and then you decide.


KIM: My action, my community based research.


MATIKA: I love that. So what is that, what does that look like is that?


KIM: It's really interesting this is why I started doing the creative nonfiction writing because I can't IRB this right it's not a real research project but you don't go into a new life project as an ethnographer and just turn off your ethnographic mind, I can't do it. You know, when I'm in a new relationship when I'm in a new polyamorous meetup I'm always thinking like an ethnographer, but I don't go home and write up field notes and then you know code them and take everybody's identity off I just kind of let this stuff mix up in my head and I write my blog so my critical poly one hundreds. I have been criticized by, as far as I know a couple of white feminists who thought what I was doing was unethical. And that's when I put up the tab on my page what my process looks like and that it's it is I run everything I write run that I write about somebody even if it's like I'm recombining identities and genders and places I run it past the person or persons that are informing that piece of writing to make sure it's okay and they feel like they're sufficiently anonymized, and I've never had anybody say no, except one person that I'm seeing now who said no, I don't want you to ever write about me and of course I would never. Of course not, even though nobody would ever know who it was, it would be so weird but I wouldn't still wouldn't do it, they would know.


MATIKA: Funding for this season of the all my relations podcast comes from the emergent fund, and the women's donor network. I'd like to thank the Tacoma Art Museum for all their support as well as their new patrons on Patreon.


ADRIENNE: If you'd like to support the editing costs for our future episodes, you can send us a donation on PayPal or become a monthly contributor on Patreon, both links are on our web page which is all my relations podcast.com. We also set it up now on our website to have this really cool little widget, where you can send us a voicemail from your computer, which is super cool. And we're really interested in hearing your thoughts and responses to the podcast or any questions that you might have. So the widget is on the Contact Us page of all my relations podcast.com.


MATIKA: Leave us a message.


ADRIENNE: You've talked about these hundreds that you write as a space to sort of creative nonfiction, as a different form of writing as a way to process, some of the thoughts that you're having on through your blog and we would love to hear a couple of them. And maybe your thoughts behind some of them as well.


KIM: Okay, so the two that were chosen for me to read are actually getting at that line I'm trying to blur ultimately between human and non human relations right and the fact that I don't want to human non human hierarchy there I want us to think about being in good relation whether we're doing that through intimate human relationships that involve sex and not all of them do, or whether we're doing that through intimate relationships with place or with nonhumans. And so the first one is called Riverside

dated December 13 2015. So far, a soft winter. Snow skies are purple pink. I am half here. How long does it take a soul to find the body when the body went 1000s of miles away. I ache for that South place. For soil like a mouse inside. The city smelled like an equator country. I fantasize of sultry air tumbling over thighs, my skirt pulled up. I left little mine popsicle lizard, who lodged in a spindly limbed plant hanging under skies where a million bats fly. I had music and lovers. But long was that land emptied of all the relations I need. And the next one is north Prairie City. Dated December 4 2015. It is technically my epic to share. I told him. Upon hearing that women flood his world his inbox blind date offers goddesses emerging from his past and the woodwork. He replied, I don't want to be shared. Right now, I do cherish days carved from our many relations of love. From dear edgy children from big brained companions. Our sustenance. Those we think laugh round dance skin elk right with we traverse prairie highways prairie skies the heart of our world. I already share him, but I know what he means. Hear this, though. I will not own him.


ADRIENNE: I love hearing them in your voice. It adds an entirely different level to the experience.


MATIKA: Yeah, if I was on stage and can move around more it would be better but it's hard to sit down and write. So beautiful. I love that so much I. What were you going through in your own life as you were writing that.


KIM: Well the riverside The first one is about moving to Edmonton from Austin. And I really, really love so much about Austin, Texas, but there's just not enough Indigenous community there and I just can't be erased anymore, you know, in the cosmopolitan US away from really a few urban Native communities and reservations you're just erased and regrew intolerably painful for me. But I missed it you know I miss the smells I missed that I lived in Indonesia as well and Austin can be quite tropical sometimes I miss the lushness of it. So that's really all that was about in readjusting to being in this really kind of you know Arctic climate in the wintertime right, which I really love too because that's also part of where I'm where I'm from on the northern prairies, and then the second one. North Prairie City yeah that's about. What was I thinking when that was happening, yeah that that's interesting that one is about being in a relationship

with somebody who is a great thing. We think together I mean a great, really great intellectual that I love to think with more than anything, but a person who was not pursuing open non monogamy in the way that I was and I was really thinking about whether that was possible or not. So real I don't know that seems like a very unprofound but nice little piece I mean I like it. It's pretty. But there's really nothing going on there more than what is not within what's on the surface, I think.


MATIKA: Do you, do you. Can you talk a little bit last night how you were talking about at the table, um, you were saying that we many precontact had different ways of practicing.


ADRIENNE: Non monogamy