Alumnus to explore native identity, sexuality and conflict at lecture
- Received his Ph.D. from OU in 2002
- Is an associate professor of anthropology at Indiana University, Bloomington
An OU alumnus will return to campus to discuss the difficulties faced by people who identify as both Native American and GLBTQ — a pairing which is incompatible with the typically liberal leaning of GLBTQ politics.
The alumnus, Brian Gilley, will speak at 5:30 p.m. today in the Jim Thorpe Multicultural Center .
Inspired by the richness of his Cherokee, Chickasaw, Creek and Italian background , Gilley said he was born an anthropologist. Much of his current research focuses on issues of gender and sexuality in Native American culture, particularly on issues of “Two-Spirit” individuals: a pan-tribal term used to describe individuals with both a male and a female essence.
“Dr. Gilley’s writings on Two-Spirit are well known in anthropology,” said Kelly LaFramboise, anthropology graduate student and member of the student organizations sponsoring the lecture. “We thought it would be nice to invite him back to lecture on his research.”
In the U.S., GLBTQ politics tend to focus on the needs of the individual, issues surrounding coming out and individual rights, Gilley said. Ultimately, the goal is to own and be proud of the GLBTQ identity. But, for GLBTQ individuals belonging to culturally conservative communities, such as Native American or Islamic communities, their identity is experienced differently. The lecture will address the issues facing such individuals in the larger context of largely liberal, progressive GLBTQ activism.
“In native society, drawing attention to yourself is often frowned upon,” Gilley said. “As a result, there is distinct conflict between some of the ideas of gay pride and the way which many natives were raised: to put community first and individual wants and desires second.”
It’s often the case that GLBTQ and feminist activists see culturally conservative societies as oppressive, Gilley said. But, from a participant’s point of view, that culture or religion provides a community, a belief system and discipline that are highly valuable and rewarding. That’s the idea behind the lecture title of “Joyous Discipline.”
“People draw a great amount of joy and meaning from sacrifice and exertion. The idea that people are being disciplined by societal rules or by authoritarianism [isn’t the whole picture]. In actuality, people are disciplining themselves,” Gilley said. “It’s hard, but it also brings great joy.”
Gilley said he isn’t seeking to change the political landscape, but the fundamental goal of his research is to shape the way we as a society approach these questions academically. GLBTQ activists must understand that many native GLBTQ people are going to put their identity as a native first, giving it precedence over the issues surrounding their sexuality.
“As human beings, we tend to find ourselves assuming we know or can relate to what another person is feeling or believes because they’re in the same group as us,” said Cari Jeane Brady, advertising senior and LGBTQ Student Affairs undergraduate intern, in an email. “But in reality we all have our own unique, personal ventures that deserve to be understood and respected, regardless of its contradiction to another’s personal beliefs.”
LaFramboise said the lecture will bring together two student groups in cooperation for the first time — the Anthropology Graduate Student Association Speakers Bureau and the LGBTQ Program Advisory Board co-sponsored the lecture.
It is one of several lectures and Brown Bag Lunches sponsored by the LGBTQ Program Advisory Board. Each brings a nationally recognized speaker who is active in the GLBTQ community to campus. These lectures occur throughout the year and are open to university students and the Norman community in an effort to foster community learning.
Bisexual activist and author Robyn Ochs will also be speaking at OU Feb. 21, said Kasey Catlett, LGBTQ Program Advisory Board member and adult and higher education graduate student, in an email.