Indigiqueer and femme: Why identity impacts the way we travel
We’re all living different realities. That’s even more true when we’re travelling.
I was recently on a six-week road trip that took me across eastern North America going as far south as West Palm in Florida. If you know me, you’ll know that I love a good road trip. I don’t believe there’s any better way to travel. Road trips allow you to fully experience changing landscapes and spontaneously find hidden gems along the way. They also come with more risks, wrong turns, and engagement with political landscapes that I’d personally prefer to fly over.
Whenever I write about being an Indigiqueer femme, I like to preface this by acknowledging that I’m one who has a lot of privilege. I’m not visibly Mohawk. I’m bisexual. When I travel (and specifically when I go on tour) I’m travelling with my white, cisgender, heterosexual partner and two other straight white men. Travelling with three men definitely makes me safer. That’s a difference I feel immediately and significantly when I happen to be on the road without them.
On my own, I’m approached in a Walmart by a strange man. “Has anyone told you you’re beautiful today?” he’ll say. (I always respond with a straight-faced, “Yes.”) I’m ogled on the street. Or aggressively hit on in a dimly-lit bar.
My favourite aspect of life on the road is finding community with other Indigiqueers
When I’m with the guys though, it’s a completely different story. It’s as if strange men won’t disrespect the men I’m with by being disrespectful to me in front of them. Or, they ignore me entirely. Oftentimes, new men will introduce themselves to my partner and his two bandmates and completely gloss over me. It's as if even acknowledging my presence could somehow be misconstrued. Or (maybe worse) that my presence is so unimportant that my name isn’t even worth knowing. When I used to travel on tour as the front-woman of a band, this was irritating beyond belief. It’s not just me. I recently met a badass femme guitar player who, also the lone woman in her band, is ignored as bandmates get handshakes, introductions, and greetings.
Anecdotal bitterness aside, I realize that if I were to travel alone, my experiences would likely be very different from what they’ve been. This realization is isolating.
Because of this, my favourite aspect of life on the road is finding community with other Indigiqueers. There really is nothing better than feeling seen in an environment where you’ve previously been overlooked, or worse, objectified.
There isn’t a formula for creating community, and I’m not sure if it’s gaydar, or whether queer folks are usually the best dressed, most magnetic people in the room (insert nail polish emoji), but I do feel as though there’s some kind of pull that attracts us to one another. While visiting Halifax, I happened to be standing beside someone in the audience as we watched a band. Upon exchanging a knowing look to make sure neither of us was crowding the other’s space, I knew we’d be friends. There’s an added appreciation for safety amongst those who aren’t always safe.
We spent the rest of the night discussing books and she raced through reading my debut novel, In the Hands of Men, and wrote out eleven pages of talking points for when we chatted next. This is the kind of community that makes me feel the most seen. We’ve since been sending book recommendations back and forth and discussing life as queer femmes over lengthy FaceTime calls.
From Eastern Canada, I travelled to the U.S. While telling my newfound friend about my experiences, she said that she’d never been to the U.S. and that the idea of it scared her. She’s Black and I’m a white-passing Indigenous woman.
There’s so much growth that comes from travelling, surrounding ourselves with people we’d never get the opportunity to meet any other way.
Our travel experiences could be completely different because of the bodies we’re in. As much as I wanted to reassure her that she’d be safe, how could I say such a thing when I don’t always feel entirely safe myself? Just as I realized that I was experiencing a different reality than the men I travel with, she’d likely encounter a different reality than mine.
Because of my pale skin, my Mohawk features are often read as European. I love nothing more than having a stranger ask: “What nation are you?” The feeling is euphoric. “They realize I’m Indigenous!” I think to myself. But most people don’t, granting me the freedom to disclose my ethnicity only if I decide to. That disclosure can be met with hate and racism—and has been—but ultimately I’m protected by being an invisible minority.
There’s so much growth that comes from travelling, surrounding ourselves with people we’d never get the opportunity to meet any other way. The chance encounters remind us that we aren’t alone. Travelling as a bisexual Mohawk woman is a search for community and meeting another Indigiqueer while away from home is to create the deepest kind of connection. There’s the joy of meeting a fellow Indigiqueer and smiling at our shared “Holy hecks!!” There’s discussing the current state of our reservations and our hopes for the future. It’s the shared look of compassion as a non-Indigenous person makes a joke about addiction issues in Vancouver. It’s sharing our favourite beading pages over Instagram.
On the road, I wear beaded earrings made by women in my community every single day. It’s a way of bringing a little bit of home with me. It’s also a way of signifying my Indigeneity to those who may not know. One of my favourite pairs are long and dangling and contain every colour of the rainbow. They make me feel powerful in every intersecting avenue of my identity. I like to think they tell others that I’m someone safe.
It’s a silent way to say, “Hey, I see you. I’m here too.”