We're extra excited to speak to Professor Kim Tallbear. Dr. Tallbear is the author of The Critical Polyamorist blog, as well as several books, articles, and talks on settler sexuality, Indigenous peoples, technology, and relationships. We dig into the details of what settler sexuality is, how it influences our relationships, and the many different ways in which we create extended support networks of kin. You can find more of Kim's work at CriticalPolyamorist.com and TipiConfessions.com.
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Dedeker: I'm really excited about today. Kim Tallbear is an associate professor, faculty of Native Studies, University of Alberta, and Canada research chair in indigenous people's techno-science and environment. Doctor Tallbear is the author of Native American DNA: Trouble Belonging and The False Promise of Genetic Science, and she's also the author of The Critical Polyamorist blog.
She's a regular commentator in the US, Canadian and UK media outlets on issues related to indigenous people, science and technology. She's a citizen of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate.
Jase: Yes. You've been a fan of Kim's for quite a while, right?
Dedeker: Yes, long time, long time.
Jase: Yes. We're very excited to finally have her on the show to talk about all that stuff.
Dedeker: Well Kim, thank you so much for coming on the show today. We're really excited to talk to you.
Kim: Thanks for inviting me.
Dedeker: I have to say, I am a fan growing a tiny bit because I've been following your work for a while and I've just been like, "Oh my God, you're such a good writer," and I just love the way that you express your thoughts in a way that's both very academic and accessible, I find, which I think is kind of hard, especially for someone who’s in your position and doing the work that you do.
Recently, you gave the keynote speech at Solo Poly Con, the most recent Solo Poly Con. Part of your talk centered on this concept of settler sexuality being this structure that a lot of our relationships adhere to, whether we're conscious of it or not. Can you give us and our listeners just a brief rundown of what exactly you refer to when you’re talking about settler sexuality?
Kim Tallbear: Sure. I'm glad to hear I'm accessible because that you never know.
Kim: I'm an academic. I feel like I'm accessible, but I'm not, so that's good to hear.
Kim: Settler sexuality is a term that Scott Morgensen, who is a kind of a queer theorist at Queens University, I think is made really more popular in the academic literature and so, I've learnt a lot by reading Scott and other, both indigenous and non-indigenous queer theorists, he's non-indigenous.
I wish I had his definition in front me. Basically though the way that I think about it in terms of what I've learnt is that it's the imposition of this kind of idea of sexual modernity that sort of arises in the late 19th, early 20th Century as settlers' state, particularly the US and Canada, are developing as nations. It's a very kind of intense moment of development happening there right after the Indian wars and all of these and the Indian land and native land is being taken and kind of divided up into individual allotments and settlers are moving further and further west. The way that these nation states have sort of promoted sexuality, marriage and private property, all these a bundle have been really central to the development of the nation state.
People tend to think about our sexuality, particularly I think non-monogamous often sort of push back against normative forms of sexuality. They often attribute them more to religion, and I think not enough to the state, but it's not only the church that was imposing this kinds of ideas. It really was very much the state and academic disciplines. You have the term homosexual actually defined before heterosexual gets defined because the state and its health authorities and psychologists who were attempting to monitor and make people comply with these emerging sexual norms, and those emerging sexual norms really are tied up with the state and private property and regulating and controlling people. That's what I mean when I'm talking about settler sexuality.
Jase: Got it, yes, that's a really interesting definition.
Jase: Something I wanted to ask too to kind of clarify on that a little bit more, maybe over the past two or three years, I feel like I've seen a fair number of articles, especially within the non-monogamy world, pop-up that talk about, essentially colonial sexuality or about decolonizing relationships, things like that. I've heard both, like this term became very popular and that concept became very popular. At the same time, I heard some sort of criticism of that saying, "Well, actually you're kind of trying to use this to mean something different or the idea that we could decolonize relationships, isn't even possible." I was just curious because to me, settler and colonizer sound very similar and I wondered are those terms related? Are they idiom? What's the connection between those two things that you know more about that than I do?
Kim: Sure, and I'll come back to something else about settler sexuality I should have said. Yes, in Canada, we tend to, especially in the academy, we tend to use the word settler a lot. In the US, it's much less common to use that term. In fact, a lot of people in the US that I've talked to think it sounds too polite, that we should say invader or something like that, but it doesn't sound polite in Canada. There're people here who don't like that term, say, any better than the term white, and there's a big debate going on as to who you identify as a settler and who you don't. But yes, it's those who came with colonizing powers right in, and in that colonial moment, and their descendants. Then there is a big discussion about people of color settlers. That's one of the things that gets debated. Many people would say no, many of them are not, right?
Kim: Then we can come back to the colonial sexuality in a minute, but the other thing I was going to say is, when you're thinking about settlers' sexuality, another key part of that is to be a good productive normal citizen. What is it to be a productive citizen? It's to reproduce, it's to have biological children. That's how settler sexuality becomes heterosexual and hetero-normative. But you've got people like Morgensen and another queer theorist saying, "Yes, but now we have homo-normativity, we have gay people trying to fit in into these ideas of what's a good productive citizen. Having children, being good home owners, trying to get all the things that they need to get access to the full array of rights that citizens are supposed to have.
Our sexuality has been deeply tied up with what it is to be a good citizen, our relationship to private property. It's not only straights that get included in settler sexuality, although it certainly has been for a much longer time. Straights have been privileged in that. But increasingly, we have what we would call homonormativity as well, and all of these is about our relationships and our family styles and our relationships to properly supporting the state.
Dedeker: Right. I wanted to jump on, you mentioned the productive citizen, specifically that is not just about being a good citizen, it's about being a productive citizen. It is interesting that of course reproduction is wrapped up in that, but I also see it's kind of the sense of the sex that you're having even. It also has to be productive and not for pleasure necessarily, like you're relationships and your sex, because it's all about maximizing efficiency, maximizing what you're producing, which means minimizing time that you spend goofing off and having pleasure essentially.
Emily: That does seem rather religious than what's nature to me. [chuckles] I'm probably the least equipped person to talk about religion here. But still from what I know, that does seem kind of the narrative that sex should be strictly for reproduction when one looks at it from a very biblical standpoint, I guess, and not for pleasure.
Kim: Yes. I don't think it's religion is certainly plays a part in this, but you can see that the three parties that I look at is heavily regulating our sexuality or the church, and the state and science. The church, the state and science have all been overwhelmingly run by straight white men in the west, right?
Kim: It's always straight white who are telling us what it is to be sexually normal. Science has tried to define that, right? The states defined it and the church has defined it. They all work together, even though sometimes they fight between themselves and act like they're separate.
Kim: As an indigenous thinker, I don't see those institutions as separate as they might see themselves, because they were all used again as a bundle to institute these kinds of settler cultural norms and standards, they all work together.
Dedeker: Well, that's interesting actually. [chuckles] I think it's funny because, Emily, you brought up like, "Oh, I think I'm the least qualified person to talk about religion," because the thing is that both myself and Jase were raised evangelical Christian, and then Emily was raised atheist. But Emily, you've commented on the fact that even though you were raised atheist, there's a lot of cultural norms around sexuality and relationships that you still internalize, even not having basically anything to do with religion in your upbringing.
Emily: Sure. Clearly that's just simply the way in which I was raised, the way and which people tend to be raised, I think, in a western society. That sex is for a certain thing or it's for people that you're in love with, and that you shouldn't be doing it otherwise, even though obviously the three of us don't exactly do that or think of sex in a different way and not so strictly for biological purposes or just because you have to be in love with someone in order to want it.
Jase: I guess, just you follow up on the question about settler sexuality, you mentioned this just briefly that there's debate about who are settlers and who isn't.
Jase: Is this something where if you're a white person, you're just screwed in this respect? What does that mean? What does that debate look like?
Kim: Well, people talk about-- People that are coming here under duress, right? Like refugees or asylum seekers, no matter what color they are, you probably wouldn't call them a settler, right?
There was a debate. People are very unwilling to call, say, African Americans who are descended from enslaved people, settlers. Their ancestors were brought here forcibly.
I'll give you a good example of how this doesn't only just break down along the lines of race. Most people who deal with the settler terminology in the academy would never call somebody like Michelle Obama a settler, right? But Barack Obama, [laughs] I would say you could make a good argument that because his mom was a middle-class white anthropologist, and his father was a relatively privileged immigrant from, I think Kenya, who came over for education. Pretty textbook definition of a settler. Yet we would define Barack Obama as African American, and Michelle Obama as African American, but they have very different genealogies in terms of how their ancestors came to North America. That's just an example of how you can't just substitute it for white people all of the time. And of course there are people who might come to code as white who we would say also came under duress.
Anyway, it is a term that again we're pretty comfortable using in Canada, but it's just not really taken off in the US, and I don't know if that's because there is a greater history of slavery down there and it's just more complicated. I'm not sure, but people don't tend to be very comfortable with it down there.
From my perspective, I don't run around worrying about who to identify as a settler/as an individual. What I talk and write about, is the imposition of settler colonial institutions and cultures and authorities. All of us are capable of upholding that, and this is one of the reasons I'm really writing strongly against state-sanctioned marriages. Plenty of native people who buy into state-sanctioned marriage. There's plenty of us who buy into private property now, and it's very hard to extract ourselves from the settler/colonial kind of institutions. It's not just an individual choice to be colonized. But I do tend to want to focus on the structures more than individuals in my work.
Dedeker: Yes, that makes sense.
Jase: Yes, that makes a lot of sense having these conversations.
Emily: Something that we touched on briefly also, was that you mentioned in your writings that even non-traditional relationships or people who are homosexual, queer sexualities, they can still uphold these settler sexuality constructs, so how do you really see that manifesting? Is that narrative changing or do you see it still, kind of, upholding in the same way that it has been for many years?
Kim: Well, you know the way that I would use the word queer is the way that my friend and colleague, Angie Willey, would use the word queer. She wrote the book Undoing Monogamy. She says to be queer is to be against the state. I don't think probably just because one is not straight, that one is queer [laughs].
Kim: I personally, in the theories that I read, would probably make a difference between queer as in dull and encompassing of all non-normative sexualities, I think. It really does involve a critique of the state, and this is one of the things that-- This is why I started reading so much queer theory as an indigenous theorist. There's so many queer thinkers out there that have the same critiques of how science and the church and the state have marginalised our bodies, marginalised our communities, used us as these kinds of raw materials for research and for experimentation. When I got into graduate school and I saw the queer theorists were particularly making the same critiques of science that I made as an indigenous woman, that's when I really started to read their stuff and I thought, "We need to be at the same conversational table". Also, the way that they tend to try to do kinship differently because a lot of queer folks have been ostracized from their families of birth and they've learned how to make family. There's a lot in common with indigenous ways of kin making there. That's why I'm so in conversation with them. That's how I use the word queer.
Jase: Yes, thank you for clarifying that. That's honestly a very different definition of queer than I've ever heard before, and that I feel like most people that I know use. So that is really useful. I guess this is why academic papers tend to start out by being like, "Let's define some terms that we're going to use."
I'm going to do something that most writers probably dislike, and that's I'm going to quote you to yourself. In your keynote speech from the Solo Poly Con, you said many of us-- Referring to the decode, I believe. You said, "Many of us continue to live in extended family where the legally married couple is not central, where children are raised in community and where households often spillover beyond nuclear family and across generations. Can we not then also imagine sexual intimacies outside of settler family structures? I know we already have them, can we name and measure them without using settler sex and family forms as reference points?".
I thought that was a fantastic question, and I wanted to ask you that question [laughs]. Can we measure them and talk about them without everything having to be in reference to some sort of settler sexuality/sort of state-sanctioned sexuality that we have now?
Kim: Yes, it's really hard. I'm trying to do work that is focusing on webs of relation and being in relation versus the kinds of categories that we usually envoke. We talk about being straight or we talk about being gay or queer. We talk about being a wife or a girlfriend or whatever our categories are. Instead of identifying ourselves biologically or socially, I would like us to think about in terms of more fluid terms. I think one of the ways we can do that is to get away from these kinds of definitive ideas of who we are as if we were born that way. Even if we're hard social constructionists and we think we were socialized that way.
What if we simply have, if we look at the way that we are relating in particular instances and with whom we're relating. I relate to my daughter, I relate to my other biological family members, I relate to lovers, I relate to friends. Sometimes it's not always clear who's a friend and who's a lover. I relate to non-humans. The prairie is really important to me, the sky is important to me. There are people to whom their animals are important to them. I'm not one of those people that has pets and things like that, but I do want us to begin to think more about what's the particular intimacy that we are having in that particular moment, and of course it should always be a consensual intimacy.
But that's what I try to think about. I try to think about this web of relations and take us out of these hard categories into this kind of spatial metaphor where I'm thinking about where am I on the web, who am I relating to and how am I relating to them. That might sometimes involve a conjoining of bodies that could fall under this definition of sex, but I'm trying to find other ways to talk about that and think about that first.
One of the groups that I'm really interested in talking to, are asexual people. People who define as asexual. I think there's a lot of liberation to be had and getting away from thinking in terms of, "this is sex and this is not sex". Just thinking more in terms of how are we being intimate and how are we trying to be appropriately and consensually intimate. Maybe we don't have to define that as sex even when it involves acts like that sometimes. I don't know if that's too abstract.
Dedeker: No, that's fantastic. I love it.
Emily: No, it is great.
Dedeker It's great, yes.
Jase: Yes. To kind of further go with this question, I think that something I've noticed when non-traditional relationship type people are trying to find, trying to get out of these traditional labels of girlfriend or this one's a partner because I have sex with them and this person's a friend because I don't. When they're trying to get away from that, I have noticed that, unfortunately, I feel like something that can happen is looking to other cultures and then kind of ends up like, "Well, I'm going to try and appropriate some of these ideas or some of these other concepts that we've had" and I think that's-- it seems like we have such a desire to have words to describe the types of relations we have.
Kim: Or label. Yes.
Jase: It's so hard. I think that we all struggle with this a lot, because a lot of what you're saying sounds a lot like relationship anarchy. This idea of rather than you put on a label and now you get this whole setup things that come with it, that each thing you're picking out sort of à la carte, as it were, like, "We'll, this relationship's going to have this thing in it, and this thing and not this other thing and this thing'. Rather than just like, "We'll, I have one label so I have to have everything that goes with it'. But it does become so hard to not have those labels, to not have those words.
Kim: Yes. My co-parent is actually a professor at the University of Virginia, and he studies, he reads more of the anarchy literature than I do. He said, actually there's a book out which I haven't gotten yet, where this archaeologist talks about some of the indigenous communities in California having actually been sort of organized anarchists, is what he would call it. I do think there might be some overlap, and that would be an interesting area to look at. It might be why my sort of core values about relationships and relations, which I do feel that I've inherited from my Dakota upbringing. Despite all the colonization, I think some kind of fundamental ideas about relations came through. It might be why I have such resonance when I hear about what relationship anarchists think and do, that it makes a lot more sense to me. I probably, when I have time to dig deeper down into those conversations and literature, I will probably begin to identify more with that than polyamory. But I'm loathed to take a term and describe it to myself when I haven't done the intellectual work I need to do to make sure that I understand what I'm talking about. It's why I still call myself a polyamorist. But yes, I think there's probably a lot there in relationship anarchy that resonates with what I'm talking about.
Dedeker: Yes. Well, it makes sense. Anytime we've had conversations about relationship anarchy on this show in the past, we always have to give credit to the fact that at least where the term was coined was out of a queer community.
Like you're saying, it makes sense, because it's a lot of queer people are the ones who have to-- who often, again, are like cut off from their families of origin and are forced to, "Well, I've got to start from scratch here, figuring out what is family, what is partnership, what is friendship, where do those things intersect, and how do I move forward from here?"
I think this is actually a great segue to my question, which is that, in your writings, you have talked about the fact that our traditional notions of the monogamous couple or of the nuclear family, that you specifically use the phrase 'they have a hard time containing and often sustaining the complexity of relationships that we as human beings actually need or seek or feel in our lives.' You've also touched on the fact that, for you that you see specifically, like solo polyamory, or maybe things like relationship anarchy, holding the most promise for challenging these constructs of couple centrism, for instance, and giving space for people to have a variety of relationships that sustain them in their social network.
However, I think what I've found personally is that even regardless of the type of romantic or sexual or non-sexual relationships that you choose to have, I feel like people still have a hard time wrapping their head around just the fact that we need a complexity and variety of relationships. At least the way that I was growing up, I was so taught that like once you find your soulmate, you're good.
Jase: That's all you need.
Dedeker: That's all you need. Just like put all your eggs in that basket. Put all your energy towards trying to find that because once you find that, then you're going to be good. It doesn't matter about your friends or your family, then you're going to be good. I'm wondering, do you see a path forward for even getting people to understand like, it's not just about finding this one person. It is about this wide tapestry of relationships that we all need as human beings.
Kim: I do feel not super hopeful about broader society sometimes. Because you look at how we're inundated by all this couple centricity. It's in every song, every film, every novel. Where I have hope is again, just looking at my own community where, as I've written, the couple just didn't get that much play on aunties and grandparents and uncles and cousins. Everybody was so important in that broader network of the way that people supported each other. A lot of people who come from extended family cultures where people still live in extended family will understand that, I think.
Still, despite the fact that we actually did a really great job of living in these extended kid networks and not privileging the couple, we were still in a sense stigmatized by the dominant society, like as if we were failing at good families. This is why we've had such a problem with Indigenous children being stolen from their families in both Canada and the US and being forcibly put into boarding schools in the US. They call them residential schools in Canada. You had thousands and thousands of children forcibly taken from their families, because our families were not considered healthy and normative. They weren't considered capable of raising those children.
That's the world that I come from. It's that kind of history, but I also still have hope just in the way that we live. I wish we would stop stigmatizing ourselves. I wish we would do, and we do, we do both. We both, I think, value our extended kinship networks, but we also then still can't completely get away from these dominant standards that we're subjected to.
Dedeker: Gosh yes. Yes, I feel like-
Kim: I don't know if that's an answer.
Dedeker: Yes. No, that is definitely an answer. We, part of our Patreon community is this closed Facebook discussion group. I feel like we see that all the time of again people like just people expressing how hard it is to break away from the structures that have been imposed on us from day one. Whether that is about wanting something that's polyamorous, or if it's about something about like just wanting to be able to prioritize your best friend relationship over your boyfriend. Or to be able to co-parent with-
Jase: As much as.
Dedeker: Yes, exactly. Or being able to co parent with a friend rather than with a lover. It definitely caused a lot of pain the way that people struggle against it. Then like you said, I think part of it is also a lot of self stigmatizing as well.
Kim: Yes. What was I going to say? I get really frustrated sometimes with the coming up against these walls. Everywhere you turn, when you try to do something outside the norm, it feels like you're always hitting a wall. I do get really frustrated.
On the other hand, I have so much more freedom than most people. I think because I'm an academic and academics do tend to, even if they are a bunch of monogamists running around, they still-- I live in a world in which people understand that it's you question dominant ideas all the time, and that's completely normal.
It's definitely been a challenge for me and in terms of the other relationships that I have. Because when we don't live in a world of academics, I don't tend to date people like that. Having to deal with all of the restrictions that they have in their lives. Most people in my age, I'm 49, most people in my age group, they don't get to have the freedom to make the kinds of decisions that I can make. They can't be out in the way that I'm out.
That has really-- it's been really frustrating for me to have to look at how they have to deal with families they can't be out to. With children that they can't be out to. With having to curtail their non-monogamous practice, and go back to being monogamous or being in the closet or something. It's hard. I have a lot of sympathy for people, I guess is my point. While I sometimes do get frustrated, I have a lot of sympathy because I know most people aren't as privileged as I am to make this kind of decision to live this way.
Dedeker: Right. Yes. It's something we definitely talked about amongst ourselves on the podcast. That it's like obviously, not everyone has a long running podcast about non-traditional relationships.
Jase: Not everyone can be out.
Dedeker: Yes, not everyone can be out. You also you don't have quite that icebreaker on a first date. When you're talking about what you do [laughs] it's to like start to signal what your values are around relationships.
Jase: Yes, I actually had a question for the end. I was thinking maybe we could do this now. Because since you segued into it, would that be okay, Emily?
Emily: Yes. Go for it. Go for it.
Jase: Yes. When talking about these things about like significant social change, trying to move away from couple privileged or from mano norm activity, or this obsession with state sanctioned marriage, it can be hard to do that and to talk about that in a way that people can come along with you.
For example, when we talk about some of the problems inherent in very hierarchical polyamory, it seems like the people who are in those types of relationships, they're faced with this struggle. Either, I accept that a large portion of my identity is based on these roles and values and now all of a sudden, I'm like, shit, I'm doing something wrong. I'm upholding something bad.
Or to go the other way and to justify it and defend it and be like, Well, no, you've got to be wrong for some reason. I was curious, have you found a similar situation where-- and I have sympathy for it. I get that these people are like, "How do I take this? How do I go with this?" I was curious if you've had a similar thing, similar type of reaction?
Kim: Yes. There is a lot of that in my age group. I have noticed-- Again, I try to stick to this structural analysis all the time. I have noticed sometimes if I come in to like it Solo Poly Con it was great. I was really pleasantly surprised when I gave that keynote. That wasn't a largely academic audience.
There were so many people there that I think overlap with relationship anarchy. Who've thought critically about the state. Who think critically about property. My keynote was really well received there and I had great questions and conversations. It was one of the best experiences I've had speaking to a non-academic audience and really laying on a heavy structural analysis.
Most non-academics are really not into a heavy structural analysis. I found this on various Facebook pages. For example, building a polyamory, people get defensive.
Kim: Even when I feel like I'm trying to keep it at a structural level and not an individual level, which I do have so much sympathy for. Half the people that I've dated I've gotten broken up with because either it's never even between these longterm married couples who want to open their marriage.
I've dated mostly straight man. It's either the the wife wants it more or the husband wants it more and that doesn't work. It's only been about 20% of the time where both people and the couple who've opened their marriage came to it equally. I'm always suffering the collateral damage of people not being able to work against the structure.
I learned a few years ago that I'm just not going to cast blame on people, and I'm not going to resent people for that. That I realize how hard it is to work against that structure and they're trying as hard as they can. Again, people aren't going to lose their job and their children. This is what it comes down to sometimes. Then for others, they just can't get out of that mindset.
Dedeker: Yes, it is definitely a different thing like with the mindset thing because I think that was also something that I ran up against once I started working with people as a coach, is that so many people would come to me being like, "I'm totally down with this whole dumping hierarchy. I see all the problems with hierarchical structure, and I really want to live my life and create my relationships in such a way that don't stick to this strict hierarchy. I've also been married and co-parenting with this person for 20 years, how do I do this? I can't just throw that out the window."
Again, it's that same thing where it's like, I can't tell people, "No, you've got to throw it all on its head, and you've got to completely change everything you've been doing for the last 20 years."
Kim: It's easier for me being a solo person. I left my marriage before I realized that this is what I needed to do. I thought that it just wasn't the right marriage for me. Because if I could go back six years ago, and know that actually what I needed to do was asked to open my marriage, and to live in separate houses, and to not present normatively as a couple, and do all this couple-centric settler family presentation to the world, but I didn't know that. I totally didn't know that that's what was going on. Being a solo person now, it's easier for me. I recognize than to open a long-term marriage. I have a lot of sympathy for how difficult that must be.
Jase: Before we get back to the interview with Kim Tallbear, we wanted to take a moment to talk about how you can join our amazing exclusive community that has formed around our Patreon. The way to do that is to go to patreon.com/multiamory and choose an amount that you want to contribute every month to support this podcast, to help us keep growing this, to help get this message out there to people. As part of that, you get to be part of our exclusive Patreon community.
At the $5 a month level and up, we have a private invite-only Facebook group that people have some amazing discussions as part of. We also have our privately hosted discourse server, which is a different platform for those of you who don't want to be on Facebook, or just want to have another option of a place to discuss, where you can have conversations about some of these things, or about non-monogamy or polyamory in a space where you don't first need to explain what it is.
You can actually get to the heart of what's going on in your life. If you want to be part of that, again, going into patreon.com/multiamory is the place to do it. We also have video discussion groups once a month, as well as episodes that come out a day early and don't have any ad breaks in them, as well as bonus content at the ends of a lot of those episodes.
Anyway, if you want to find out about the different tiers, and how you can get all of that at patreon.com/multiamory, you can read about all those views and more of our stuff. We hope to see you there.
Emily: Something you can do completely for free, is go to iTunes or Stitcher, and write us a review. It's awesome because it helps us come up higher in search results if people are searching for polyamorous podcasts, or relationship podcasts, or sexuality and health. If you write us a review, that helps us get higher in search results when people are looking for podcasts like ours, so it's really awesome. Plus, it makes us feel great, which shows us that we're actually doing something worthwhile over here, and that people are appreciating what we're doing. We appreciate you back when you do that for us. Again, go to iTunes, and or Stitcher, and write us a little-
Jase: We do have some people have done both.
Dedeker: Yes, that’s true.
Emily: Please do both if you can, if you want.
Dedeker: We read every single review. We do see it.
Jase: And occasionally cry about them because they’re so touching.
Dedeker: Yes, that's true. That's true.
Jase: They’re good tears, not bad tears.
Dedeker: We do happy cries, all because over the best reviews really.
Emily: Yes, totally.
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Jase: Then lastly, we just wanted to mention again that we have a new podcast that just came out, I guess a couple weeks ago now called Drunk Bible Study. If you want to hear a podcast that's totally different from this one, where the three of us are going to work our way through reading the entire Bible, but it's going to take us many, many years to do it. We're going to read through the entire thing while drinking and just joking around and talking about it.
It's not a show about religion, per se. It's just about trying to understand this book that's influenced so much of the world, and having a good time, and goofing around while we do it. If you want to join us for that, we would love it. Also, it would be incredibly helpful for us right now, during the early stage of that show, if you could go and write us a review for that on iTunes or on Stitcher.
It helps us to show up in that new and noteworthy category, will help other people who don't already know the three of us from this show, will help other people to find that show. We really appreciate your support. If you could just take a moment to do that. Also, maybe you wrote a review for Multiamory on iTunes like three years ago, and you're like “Man, I wish I could write another review for them.”
Jase: Well, now's it’s your chance to Drunk Bible Study, look that one up, and leave us a review there. We really appreciate that. With that, let's get back to the interview.
Dedeker: I wanted to ask about the current time in which we're living because it seems maybe it's settled down slightly. Definitely, the Me Too movement, and toxic masculinity, and all of this stuff, it reminded me or it brought up things when I was reading about settler sexuality from you.
Just that there was potentially a connection between the two, and just this idea that relationships are sort of this entitlement thing, and that couple-centric centricity is an entitlement for sex or relationship there like a specific structural or anything.
It made me think that perhaps people talking about the Me Too movement, talking about the way in which femmes or women are treated, and just changing that narrative, that perhaps it makes way a bit for the narrative around the way in which we do relationships, that that narrative can also change as well.
I don't know, I was curious to hear your thoughts about that because it sounded as though perhaps you were hesitant, and didn't really think that much maybe would change. I know that things have been disrupted currently in this state that we're in. I was wondering about what you thought about that.
Kim: What I think about Me Too?
Dedeker: Well, do you think that it is a way in which people can start moving forward, and thinking about relationships, thinking about the way in which women have been, I guess, systematically treated over the years by men, for example, because I see it all in a similar fashion. Obviously, that's been happening for a long, long time, but I do see a connection between what you speak of and what you write about and what's happening right now, and the disruption, and the change.
Kim: I think that's a really good question. I haven't actually thought enough probably about the connection between what the Me Too movement's going to generate, in terms of shifts in a way that people do relationships. I think it's really important that women are supporting each other right now in being so vocal. We all have these “Me Too” stories, and there's many more that are going to come out.
Every time I listen to these, I think about all the stories I'm not really willing to share yet publicly for very good reasons. Nothing surprises me that people come out with. I don't know yet if that's going to translate into shifting norms around relationships. I guess I would assume so. What I do notice, is among younger, indigenous feminists because these are the people that I talk to most, indigenous feminists and queer into spirit people.
I do notice how much less younger people are just willing to put up with the BS that my generation put up with. They're not willing to be quiet, and I think that's really inspiring. I don't mean to put it all on young people, that's terrible that people do that, or the young are going to say of us because we're leaving them this crap world.
Emily: They've clearly shown that they have a lot of spirit currently. A lot has been happening around the young people. Their current situation-
Kim: They're leading us ethically and conceptually to places that I think maybe some of us that are older can follow.
Dedeker: I feel like at least it was an interesting-- I see that, at least it has brought light to this idea of entitlement over the bodies of certain people that some people hold over the bodies of certain other people. I don't know, I guess my whole thing as all of this has been coming to light is just hoping, just really, really hoping that it doesn't all just-- That the rage machine doesn't just settle like it does so often on the internet. That there's lasting opening up change moving forward here. At least that's what I always think of.
Kim: I think the willingness to call out abusive behavior-- I don't want to just say call it out publicly, I'm searching for other words that are actually going back to my culture. Because we had a tradition and I actually heard that this happened behind the scenes at Standing Rock, but people didn't talk about it as much publicly because they wanted to keep internal dynamics internal. There was a calling to account, that's a better term. There were Indigenous women there calling men to account who were acting in abusive ways. It didn't make it publicly. It didn't need to be. Nobody needed to know about those. Because Indigenous women were taking care of it.
I see me too, I think as in women, in general, calling men to account. I think that's a really important thing that a lot of indigenous communities do. I think the broader society needs to do that. I guess that's how I would frame that versus saying, it's calling out on social media. You need to call people to account. There's a debate going on around this actually, too, right? Some people are talking about-- I can't remember the term that they're using. About when you call people to account, you give men ways to redeem themselves and other people are saying, "No, I don't want to go with there yet. I don't feel safe enough to go there."
There used to be these kinds of active conversations going on among young feminists about how to call people to account and then what you do about it. We also had a tradition among my people, of casting people out who did irredeemable damage in the community [laughs]. There's all kinds of things we're talking about now, about how to-- I think these conversations are great. I think that has fundamentally changed. I don't think we're just going to go back to not talking about these things anymore. I do think there has at least been that shift. Whether that's going to translate into real changes and relationships, that might be a multi-generational project.
Dedeker: Yes, definitely.
Jase: I'm trying to remember the context where this was, but in-- I have heard the term calling in being used, as opposed to calling out with the idea of being-- We talked about this a little bit on our episode recently about online arguments. This idea that calling out can sometimes end up having a certain performative aspect to it, especially with the other people who will jump in to support, this will sometimes be like, "Oh, I'm going to talk so much shit about this person who someone said, did a bad thing, because then somehow, I'm not bad." There's a performative aspect to it.
Whereas calling in sounds kind more like what you were talking about, of within our community, we're going to come in and talk about this and see if there's a way for this person to redeem themselves or not, and really have the focus be on education, rather than on, I don't know, a public shaming or something like that.
Dedeker: I'm going to hop on that, though. Sorry, just because I also want to bring up-- Then the other side of that conversation is how much of calling in is trying to protect someone who's an abuser and trying to protect someone's feelings. I've also seen that conversation of, of course, there is also some value to public shaming as well. It is just kind of definitely nuanced conversation. Sorry to step on you, Kim.
Kim: I agree. I think probably all of those strategies are important at different times.
Jase: The next question we have here is it a little bit of a change of direction. In one of your articles, this was-- Gosh, I'm blanking on which one this was. I'll just quote you to yourself again. You said that we fetishize the couple making it stand at the heart of love and family, which are actually the product of much more complex social biological relations. I think this word fetishize is really interesting, because I know that within a lot of these conversations that we have, or that I have with non monogamous people, or people as part of the kink community or other things, that fetish is another one of these ones queer, I guess, that I feel like in certain contexts can have a slightly different definition.
I was curious about how you were using it here. Then I might have some more questions after that. That's just clear, so we could talk about that.
Kim: They must be related. How would you define it in kink communities? How would you define fetish?
Jase: Well, within the kink community, fetish has taken on a slightly different meaning, where fetish and kink almost can be used interchangeably, when used as a noun to mean this is a thing that I'm into that might not be normal, that might not be normative. I realized that's a very different definition than what fetish was originally meant to mean. That's why I wanted to bring it up. Because people will talk about, "Oh, my fetish is for--" I don't know.
Kim: Latex or whatever.
Jase: Well, I feel like that's a little bit more of the traditional meaning of like, "I'm obsessed over an object." Whereas I feel like people will say, like, "My fetish is, I don't know, animal role play." or something like that.
Kim: A particular role play.
Jase: Right. It's more of a particular thing I'm into, which is a little bit different than the initial meeting. I was just curious about how you were using it in this context.
Kim: Well, I'm taking the word fetishization from its use in commodity fetishism, which Marks talked about. Then gene fetishism, and which my Ph.D. advisor Donna Haraway talked about, who's drawing on Marks. I wrote about gene fetishism in my book Native American DNA. That is the collapsing of elaborate sets of social relations over time, and across bodies, down to the molecular structure into the idea of a DNA marker. These ideas of Native American DNA, they come to signify that's what it is to be Native American. Well, if you look at what constitutes a Native American, it's not just the molecules. It's not that those things don't matter at any level.
There's all these sets of social relations that occur across the tribe and the clan and the family. They occur over time, they get embedded in your body. This is what it means when I talk about-- I and others talk about things being biosocial. I'm not just a social constructionist, I believe that our body comes to embody physical things in the world, our biology changes in response to social structures. When I talk about the couple getting fetishized, I'm talking about that, that's that couple they come to stand is like the core and the center of the family and that whole unit.
There's been in my culture, and I think for a lot of us, it's not just about that see that man and that woman, or now it can be same-sex couples, but who were all of the people that helped constitute that family? Even for people who consider themselves I think, very nuclear family and couples centric, you don't get to exist in a vacuum. There's a whole set of social relations that are helping support you. I don't remember what I-- If I think into kink as well, I wonder if that fetish actually also embodies a bunch of social relations. It just is you end up focusing on that particular scene or that particular object, but of course, it's so much more than that.
That is creating and constituting desire and the interactions that are happening around that object or that scene or that role. I would imagine that's where that term fetish comes into play there as well.
Kim: Does that make sense?
Jase: Yes, it was interesting because I looked up the definition when I was coming up with this question when I was reading one of your articles. The definition that I looked up was interesting. The first definition it had was what we're talking about. It says a sexual desire in which gratification is linked to an abnormal degree to a particular object.
Kim: "To the abnormal degree."
Jase: There's whatever. There's problematic things in that whole thing. I think that's the definition that I think most of us are familiar with. What was interesting is the second definition here is, an enamel object, worshiped for it's supposed magical powers or because it's believed to be inhabited by a spirit. I had never heard that definition of it. That was really interesting, that there may have also been a religious or spiritual practice that that word was also associated with.
Kim: Well, and that would apply to the way that Native American DNA gets taken up. I think the way that the couple gets up, these are things that are both held up and lionized as being these important goals that people have. They do become magical in some sense.
Jase: You were just talking about that.
Dedeker: Yes, this idea of, once I become a couple or once I find my soul mate, or once I get that particular relationship format, it does have the magic to solve all my problems essentially, or it in itself is magical enough to sustain us. I don't know. I guess that just ties to the whole narrative we've been taught since we've been very young by most of our movies and TV shows and things like that.
Jase: I think, that actually, sorry this has sure blown my mind a little bit thinking about this. Something that we've talked about a lot is the over romanticization of romance.
Jase: The idea of thinking of romance as something very magical and that has meaning that exists outside of what actually is there, and I think that if we were to look at that definition of fetish and applying it to a couple, for example, I definitely see this thing where people will prioritize preserving a relationship over the happiness or well-being of anyone actually involved in the relationship. Right?
Emily: Yes. [laughs]
Jase: The way that we-- the people who say you should never get divorced, or who tried to make that more difficult, or that's not something you can do. It's this idea that somehow the relationship of the couple or the marriage itself is the thing that is magical or has meaning and not the people who are actually in it.
Kim: Yes, you just answered the question, your own question.
Kim: That was good.
Emily: You had to get there on your own.
Jase: I had to get there, yes. Fantastic. I've heard also people theorize that monogamy itself might be a fetish, that that could be a way of thinking about monogamy. I thought that was an interesting one, but we don't have to get into all that.
Kim: That we culturally feddishised that perhaps?
Jase: Right, I think it's trying to make the argument that at our nature people wouldn't be monogamous and we can choose to do it if we want, but that's sort of like a feddish to it, so like what I'm choosing to enforce a particular type of relationship limitations or structure onto it. I don't know, it's a theory I've heard out there. But I thought of it because it's using that word feddish also to try to look at something sort of in reverse of how we normally do.
Dedeker: Right. Well, this has been really an interesting discussion. I feel like we've gone to all kinds of different territories here. Can I get up and say here, Kim, I might pick your brain for hours and hours and hours, but I'm not going to do that. What I'm going to do instead is, I'm going to ask, where can people find more about you and about your work?
Kim: Well, my blog, Critical Polyamorist.com, although I've been doing more academic writing lately so I've haven't been updating it every month like I should. I also have a new chapter out in a book that just came out last month. The book is called "Making Kin not Population", and it is on Prickly Paradigm Press, which is a part of the University of Chicago press, and I have a chapter in there on settler sex and family. In fact, certain parts of my blogs were drafted and then, kind of inform that chapter. I've got a lot of YouTube talks, I guess I give a lot of talks and people put me up on YouTube, so Google and then you'll see my talks.
I think that's what I'm doing. Oh, and then the other thing is I'm co-producer of a sexy storytelling show called TP Confessions, which is our parent show is BedPost Confession out of Austin, Texas, a very very popular show there, and we are doing that show three to four times a year in Edmonton and other cities and we're about to launch our web page, TPconfessions.com, and we'll be coming to a city near you. [laughs]
Dedeker: Nice, excellent.
Emily: Yes, that sounds great.
Jase: Is that something people can find online as well or is it only a live show?
Kim: The show is live, but we are like BedPost Confessions because they have their own website. We are going to start putting clips from our shows and sort of like podcast format as well.
Kim: Yes, and we'll figure out where it goes. I just got a big grant in Canada to produce the show in Bell Dinark's Base Research Lab around it.
Dedeker: Oh, awesome.
Kim: Yes, so it'll get even bigger and better.
Emily: Sounds wonderful.
Dedeker: All right. Well, thank you again so much for sharing all your wisdom and knowledge today, Kim.
Kim: Thanks for having me on.