Love After the End: Joshua Whitehead on Finding Hope in Future Worlds
This month, Arsenal Pulp Press published a ground-breaking anthology of new works of speculative fiction written by emerging 2SQ (Two-Spirit and queer) Indigenous writers. Helmed by Joshua Whitehead, the author of the award-winning Johnny Appleseedand full-metal indigiqueer, the collection casts light on the enduring resilience of queer Indigenous communities in times of despair. We speak to him about the book.
Where did you get the idea to assemble a collection of speculative fiction by new and emerging 2SQ Indigenous writers?
I was approached by Hope Nicholson with Bedside Press to join as the editor for this anthology in its first iteration with said press as a predecessor to Love Beyond Space and Time: an LGBT and Two-Spirit Sci Fi Anthology. There, the writers were mainly already chosen and I jumped in simply to offer feedback and guidance to the storytellers within. When the press went under, I quickly took over as the spearhead to this manuscript. I did not want these stories to fall to the wayside nor did I want them to be lost in the scrapyard of a closing publishing house. It was not an easy task to undertake but I moved forward with the input and desires of all of the contributors. We looked at other places to pitch this manuscript, and ultimately, were approached by Arsenal Pulp. Having worked so closely with them alongside Jonny Appleseed and formed a kinship with everyone at Arsenal—I knew it was the perfect place for this anthology. Arsenal Pulp Press is at the forefront of publishing BIPOC and queer voices, and doing it with style, grace, and power—their finger is on the pulse of what CanLit needs. I could not imagine this book being with anyone else. I’m so honoured for it to have been given a resurrection and a permanent home.
Despite it being about the end of days, the stories in this collection are largely optimistic. Why was it important to not focus on the dystopic when writing about the apocalypse?
The first iteration, Love Beyond Space and Time, focusses on dystopia—as much of speculative fiction does. In my original conversations with Bedside Press, I chose to, instead, focus on utopias. I did this because Black and Indigenous folks are already in a dystopic present, we have survived genocides, we have outlived killing machinations, we have held onto linguistic and cultural seeds—we carry our stories like saplings that we plant in our wakes. I didn’t think it apt or necessary to continue writing about degradation, destruction, or annihilation, these narratives are already etched into our spines. Instead, I wanted for us to focus on the ways in which we may flourish and excel in worlds we create for ourselves by ourselves. I wanted a peeking into a horizon of possibility that is a future shepherded by BIPOC excellence, a universe in which we may flirt with and romanticize unparalleled joy, invention, survival, and resistance. Then, I think of this anthology as I would a waypoint, a marker into the multiplicity of futurities that are to blossom and edify made wholly through a love and joy untouched by settler colonialism, capitalism, and heteropatriarchy. I read these as creation stories of our own making, a creativity that centers and upholds Two-Spiritedness in the now. It’s a beautiful gifting indeed.
Speculative fiction can sometimes be considered science-fiction, and there are stories in this collection that fit that description. Can you speak about the desire of Indigenous writers to tell different kinds of stories than, say, what Canlit or the publishing industry seem to expect from its Indigenous writers?
Each contributor within this anthology has written stories that are dictated wholly by their nationhoods—from Anishinaabe through to Diné epistemologies. We might call these science-fiction, and if they are, these stories are crafted by conceptualizing Indigeneity as a technology itself. These stories defy, they leak, they push against the rigidity of genre, form, language, and borders. I would characterize these stories as magnets, they coagulate around the fact that kinship is its own scientific reality and they demonstrate the ways in which connectivity is a technology that Indigeneity has perfected. The writers here don’t shy away from their own epistemologies, languages, and conceptualizations of gender, sex, sexuality, and identities. I think, for one, they are signifiers of the breadth and complexity of Two-Spiritedness put into oratory.
You write about rejecting queer and LGBT as signposts of your identity, preferring instead to craft a theory of Indigiqueerness. Can you expand upon the term Indigiqueer and how it upends queerness? How does it differ from two-spirit?
Thirza Cuthand coined the term Indigiqueer. I identify as both Two-Spirit and Indigiqueer. I do this because there is still so much work to do before I’d call Two-Spirit as an identity category, utopic (hence this anthology gives me such hope). There are ways in which Two-Spiritedness can harm queer, non-binary, and trans Indigenous folks. In my experience, much of the work that yet remains to be done within Indigenous decolonization is that of working through the complexities of Indigenous homophobia, transphobia, and femmephobia.
Two-Spiritedness has been a targeted killing since the docking of power onto Turtle Island and remains in a precarious state of being due in part to same-sex sexual assault experienced within residential schools. I have long asked myself if conceptualizations of Indigenous childhood(s) were obliterated when those shears first cut into baby hairs? And I find myself asking what else was annihilated in those schools? Was Two-Spiritedness? For example, Kai Minosh Pyle writes about the “Skirt Wars” in their story, a way in which Christianity has imperially imposed gender norms into Indigenous (here Anishinaabe) ceremonies and traditions. The enforcement of gender, sex, and sexuality binaries into Indigenous ways of being brought about by the Christianization of our epistemologies and the overwhelming heteropatriarchy inherited as such within Indigenous communities, unfortunately, allows for Two-Spiritedness to be harmful to those who do refuse to abide by such binaries.
I do have hope though, hope that we can decolonize our understandings of gender, sex, and sexuality—the writers here are all doing that for us, with us. Indigiqueerness then, for me, is a medial ground between queerness (which is laced within whiteness) and the sovereignty of a still being rebuilt, Two-Spiritedness. It’s a braiding of maskihkiy between Indigeneity and queerness that makes such an identity category both a homecoming and a radical act of embodiment. I suppose I would narrate that to be queer, to enter gay bars or institutions deemed for queer peoples, has far too often asked me to obliterate my Indigeneity; and on the flip side, because of homo/transphobic trauma still so prevalent within a lot of Indigenous communities, my Indigeneity has often asked me to obliterate my queerness—Indigiqueer then, is a term that honours and cements these often peeling identities. It’s about so much more than simply who one is romantically, platonically, or sexually attracted to—it’s also about the longevity of decolonial work and survival that queer and trans Indigeneity has had to work through and beyond.
You write that Indigenous peoples have already survived the apocalypse. Given the current situation the world finds itself in, what do you hope people take away from these stories?
We are undoubtedly living in dangerous times. I hope what folks take away from this book is to see the longevity of not only survival, but joy and love throughout a history of apocalyptic conditionings. I hope they hear AIM, the takeover of Alcatraz, Oka, Idle No More, MMIWG2S, Wet’suwe’ten, and Standing Rock in these stories. I hope that they hear how our ancestors are living and breathing right there on the page. I hope that people leave this anthology knowing that we have lived in haunted houses, torturing machines, kennels, and death chambers and have always emerged into newer and richer horizons of possibility. I hope they see that there are multiple worlds behind, beside, and between us—we simply need to step into those lateral literary zones of being in order to encompass a life worth loving and defending.
Are you encouraged by the increased attention that 2SQ Indigenous voices are getting in Canada? What can we be doing more to amplify these voices?
I am so incredibly humbled to be a part of 2SQT Indigenous voices garnering attention, praise, and acclaim for the stories we have been telling since time immemorial—it is only now that CanLit has begun recognizing just how necessary our bodies of oratory are. While I too am only emerging, I think it is the responsibility of not only a writer, but a storyteller, to make room in the circle for conversation, dialogue, and the continuation of orality that a single person can only take so far. I think that might be how I’d differentiate Indigenous literatures from Canadian literatures: that we recognize we do not write in vacuums we orate in continuums. I am honoured to be able to use some of my social, economic, and literary power to make such a space for these writers who I see as not only joining me, and the vastness of Indigenous literary landscapes, but surpassing me in ways I could never have imagined. There is a utopic cornucopia before us by and from 2SQT writers defying and defining new ways of storytelling, new forms, new genres, new ideas. Buy their books, review their books, join their book launches, bring these books to your communities, talk about them with your kin, circulate them in your own social realms, nominate them for recognition—there is much yet to come and I hope you’ll be there with us when we, and those not yet here, emerge into yet another horizon.
Love After the End: An Anthology of Two-Spirit & Indigiqueer Speculative Fiction is now available from Arsenal Pulp Press.