"I Am My Own Best Medicine": Joshua Whitehead's Jonny Appleseed and Two-Spirit Resurgence

Abstract: This article explores how Joshua Whitehead’s novel Jonny Appleseed discusses the complexities of being Two-Spirit on the reserve and in the city in Canada, exposes the double oppression and erasure of Two-Spiritedness, and demonstrates the possibility—and necessity—of queering the struggle for Indigenous resurgence. This article connects Two-Spirit theory with Native feminist theories (and their analyses of heteropatriarchy) and Qwo-Li Driskill’s concepts of “colonized sexuality” and a “Sovereign Erotic.” By close reading the novel and focusing on the themes of performance, erasure, shame, ceremony, and the body, this article aims to show the ways Indigeneity and queerness are interconnected and constantly re-negotiated. This article also aims to show how these links expose the underlying structural heteronormativity and heteropatriarchy in settler colonialism and Indigenous resurgence discourses. It suggests the possibility of radically revising the struggle for resurgence by centering Two-Spiritedness and understanding Two-Spirit desires and identities as inherently anti-colonial.

Joshua Whitehead’s 2018 novel Jonny Appleseed is a Two-Spirit coming-of-age story concerned with the intersections of identities and the complex positions these identities occupy in contemporary space and discourse. The eponymous protagonist Jonny’s identity is Two-Spirit—both queer and Indigenous—and therefore intersectional; he must renegotiate his identity in his home reserve of Peguis First Nation and the city of Winnipeg because neither space understands his existence.1 To paraphrase Two-Spirit scholar Qwo-Li Driskill, who describes the discussion between Queer and Native studies as “doubleweaving”—referencing the Cherokee art of double-woven baskets as well as doubleweaving as a feature of Cherokee rhetorical theory and practice (“Doubleweaving” 73)—Two-Spirit identities can be seen as a doubleweaving of the racial “Other” and transgressive genders and/or sexualities. Because neither the reserve nor Winnipeg can fully accommodate Jonny’s complex identity, he must eventually create a space for himself.

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