Black Queerness: A Mutually-Assured Construction

26 Jan 2022

The celebration and assertion of our identities as queer mob has always unsettled and challenged colonial sentiments; that complex sexualities are incompatible with Aboriginality. Resilience and reclamation runs in the blood of our mob, queer Blakfullas have always been at the frontier of resistance.

For the vast majority of Indigenous Australians, the prospect of Invasion Day represents the uncomfortable process of having our generational trauma unpacked before us by non-Indigenous Australians for the sake of simulating discourse. This ongoing conversation inevitably culminates, each year, in the patriotic celebration of colonial genocide, despite (and in spite of) the grief of Aboriginal people. Our mob have never been afforded the dignity to appropriately mourn our immeasurable losses as a culture; the murder of our ancestors, the occupation of our land, the attempted erasure of our cultural knowledge – and we never will under colonial settlement. However, for myself, and for many other queer-identifying mob, this grief is often accompanied by a feeling of displacement. Where are the stories of our queer ancestors? What roles did queer blackfullas inhabit in our mobs pre-colonialism?

With story-telling being the primary medium for passing down knowledge through generations within most of our Indigenous communities, we are left only to presume that the lack of knowledge about the presence of blackfullas with diverse or complex sexualities/identities suggests that, like many other facets of our rich cultural history, these stories have been buried through the process of genocide and assimilation.

As put forward in the seminal works of Distinguished Professor Aileen Moreton-Robinson, a Goenpul woman of Quandamooka region, anthropological and historical research conducted by white people on Aboriginal culture must be interrogated and challenged for the self-determination of Indigenous identities. Since the beginning of colonial settlement, Indigenous people have been unwillingly subjected to invasive research which has gone on to grossly misinform harmful perceptions and ideas of almost every aspect of our being. This extends to the colonial studies suggesting that Indigenous communities tend to display almost no tendencies towards homosexuality or gender diversity, such as that of Ivor H. Jones and David J. de L. Horne. These perceptions have not only robbed Blackfullas of agency over their own representation, but reinforced the “othering” of our Peoples, effectively contributing to the economic and political disempowerment of our communities. For this reason, as Aunty Aileen argues, it is integral that our history must be observed, studied and documented through the Blak gaze.

Throughout my own personal journey to understand how the inadequacy of the white gaze can fail to record queer subculture of Indigenous mob, it was important for me to recognise that a large portion of our history has been recorded by the hand of white heteronormativity, an inherent construct of patriarchal colonialism. In saying this, however, it was also necessary to reconcile that across the broad spectrum of complex Indigenous politics represented throughout our First Nations, gendered roles have remained an important cultural cornerstone for some of our mob. For my own mob, Butchulla mob of K’gari, women’s business and men’s business has historically been kept separate. The separation of these roles represents the ancient sacred pillars underpinning the cultural practices of our ancestors, and therefore does not resemble nor align with the ingrained institution of hegemonic masculinity, which has only ever served to sustain the power and privilege of the straight whitefullas at the top of our political system. The “private school-to-politics pipeline” which sustains the overrepresentation of white, male politicians is not an anomaly, but an elaborate design of the capitalist and colonial state to privilege those who most benefit it, and in doing so, to preserve itself.

Just as our connections with Country cannot be severed through dispossession, so too does our connections with our ancestors live on through our queer-identifying mob. Trans/non-binary scholar Sandy O’Sullivan, of Wiradjuri mob, reflects upon the enduring legacies of other queer Indigenous identities such as the Two-Spirit gender identity of Cherokee culture, or the Fa’afafine community of Samoa, and how culturally significant such a community could be for mob struggling with the imposed binaries of gender identity. Whereas endurance of the Tiwi Island brothaboys and sistagirls represent the determination of queer Blak identities, with sistagirl Rosalina Ngala Curtis writing in an open letter to Koori Mail that diverse sexualities and gender identities have always existed and continue to flourish.

What has become increasingly apparent as time passes is that performing Blak queerness does not have to be knowable or teachable. There does not have to be precedence for our role in the community in order for us to assert our own identity. Reclamation, for our mob, is the language of agency – it always has been. From protesting the destruction of our Country at the hands of Rio Tinto and Adani to the restoration of K’gari’s traditional name: reclamation of our land is an exercise of sovereignty and self-determination. Similarly, as emphasised by Sandy, if asserting our complex identities as blackfullas is a form of anti-colonial resistance, then it is only through exercising agency over our own representation of the sexual and gender diversity of our mob that we are able to decolonise our identities.

The fierce community of queer mob across Australia have been exploring the intersection of our own identities for decades. The poetry of Narungga woman Natalie Harkin and the art of Barkinjdi artist Raymond Zada are just some of the works curated by Ngarrindjeri/Kaurna artist and writer Dominic Guerrera, who has explored themes of Indigeneity, decolonisation and queerness in his exhibits in an effort to showcase and celebrate queer Blak artists. In the academic field, a historically underrepresented space for queer Blak voices, Wodi Wodi academic Andrew Farrell’s research focuses on investigating and archiving the lives of transgender and gender diverse identified Indigenous peoples in Australia in their blog Black Gold: Archiving the Black Rainbow. Yugambeh scholar Maddee Clark’s academic career has also focused on Indigenous subjectivity through queer theory. In conjunction with other contemporary and emerging queer Blak scholars, these artists, writers and academics have broken ground in terms of providing resources for queer mob, not only working towards decolonising current spaces for our community, but forming knowledge to be passed down to future generations of queer mob.

The celebration and assertion of our identities as queer mob has always unsettled and challenged colonial sentiments; that complex sexualities are incompatible with Aboriginality. Resilience and reclamation runs in the blood of our mob, queer Blakfullas have always been at the frontier of resistance. This upcoming Invasion Day will not mark another year of reconciling white guilt through Blak grief, but will instead mark the occasion to rally alongside our mob and to echo the sentiments we have echoed for generations. White Australia has a black history. Black Australia has a queer history.

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