My Life As A Rez Lez

The life and times of a Native, Lesbian, Buddhist…

We all have roots, background, culture, family in all its definitions and rich life experiences.

They become a part of how we define ourselves and create our own personal masterpiece. They are our palette, so to speak, and we blend those colors, create new ones, erase lines and sometimes color over what we had painted before. We have time points where we define and redefine things like home and family. The colors, their gorgeous hues, change in varying light and from a different vantage point each time we step back to look at our masterpiece.

My palette is quite varied but my primary colors are Woman, Lesbian, Native American and Buddhist. I shared this with a group of activists years ago and one woman expressed how sorry she was. I am sure she was thinking of genocidal atrocities, oppression, human rights, etc. I expressed my complete joy in being someone so ‘unique in all the world’- to have all of these rich colors in my life. That is not to say that the journey to embracing and experiencing each of those has been uneventful or easy. Each of those colors has come with struggle, intolerance, hate, violence and inequality. Perhaps that is why they are so precious to me.

My outward appearance is female but the other three colors have had their own ‘coming out’ process. As I age, my 100% Native American features are becoming more defined but more often than not, it is assumed I am Caucasian. I am assumed to be straight. I am assumed to be Christian. Unfortunately those assumptions make me invisible at times. I’ve spent the better part of my life making sure that I, and those like me, are both seen and heard.

Being a Native Woman has been, by far, the most arduous journey for me. Though my ancestry is filled with heroes and our government is matriarchal, there are times I do feel invisible in the ‘off rez’ world. I live in a small city now and those moments when you come across another Native brings this instant jolt of emotions. Things like family, home and even some warm safe place are felt. For that second you pass one another on the street, you are seen and recognized. There are times we can tell each other’s tribe and will almost inaudibly speak a Native greeting to one another. There is always the nod – hello, I see you. I call it nadar as opposed to gaydar. There is an instant ‘knowing’ and appreciation for this rare and random occurrence.

I love my culture and my small, impoverished, dysfunctional reservation will always be a home for me. My family all still lives there in the microcosm of old traditions and Christianity. Every time I go there, I see people I’ve known for years and they are always so happy to see me. I will admit that Native is a favorite color in my palette. What is yours?

“Just as cherry, plum, peach and damson blossoms all possess their own unique qualities, each person is unique. We cannot become someone else. The important thing is that we live true to ourselves and cause the great flower of our lives to blossom. The fulfillment of the individual, however, cannot be realized in conflict with, or at the expense of, others, but only through active appreciation of uniqueness and difference, for these are the varied hues that together weave the flower gardens of life.” ~ Nichiren Daishonin, 1260