The campy cover of "Me Sexy: An Exploration of Native Sex and Sexuality" features a Euro-American woman swooning in the arms of a half-naked indigenous man. Please picture the reverse of that image as you read this review, only occasionally replace the figures with two men or two women.
Because more than half of these essays by 13 authors focus on female sexuality and because most are humorous, it would have made sense for the cover to play a bit more on role reversals. But the romance-genre spoof does clue us to the reason Canadian Ojibwe author Drew Hayden Taylor pulled such a collection together. In his essay, "Indian Love Call," he writes: "In the vast majority of non-Native literature, Aboriginal characters, just as they never have a sense of humour, are rarely ever viewed as sexual beings. And if they are, their sexuality is not healthy. Kidnapping, rape and other assorted defilements are the order of the day on this particular pop culture menu. Tender love stories involving Native people are scarcer than priests at a residential school reunion."
Most images of indigenous sexuality are packaged by and for non-Natives -- but increasingly we speak for our own sexual selves, both to ourselves and to others. And yet, while "Me Sexy," with its expansive definitions of sexuality, gives new meaning to the phrase "all my relations," it is not meant only for those with related cultural histories.
So what do outsiders have to learn from "Me Sexy"? What aspect of human sexuality could Natives possibly need to tell the rest of the world? Do we do it some secret way? What, exactly, did the missionary position replace? Was there ever, as Hayden Taylor dubs it, an aboriginal position? And, if so, what was it?
Although there are many erotic artworks reproduced in "Me Sexy," the book provides no Kama Sutra-like illustrations, no tricks of tribal skin-trade to titillate. In fact, most of the writing is dignified, reserved, though the occasional bald reference to remote areas of our northern landscapes (think "bush pilot" or "bush dance") suggests our bodies', ahem, southern territories.
And although the essays made me laugh -- which is like getting to second base with me -- they hardly are meant to make anyone hot. With such titles as "Learning to Skin the Beaver" and "Dances for Dollars," the essays are more diverse than perverse. As often amusing as political, as often historical as hysterical, they are also dry-humored academic with a turn toward the juicy. In short, these essays go both ways and get around.
In his introduction, Hayden Taylor asks us to "Think of it as a 'How to make love to a First Nations person without sexually appropriating them' type of book." And although it hardly works as a manual, some parts come in handy: Joseph Boyden's essay "Bush Country" opens the collection with an odd musing -- slightly obsessive -- on the subject of body hair. In Makka Kleist's "Pre-Christian Inuit Sexuality," we learn of a culture in which sex is necessary to sanity. Now how can we get our therapists to prescribe that cure?
Two essays on erotic painting and carving, "Norval Morrisseau and the Erotic" and "Inuit Men, Erotic Art," have a hard time competing with the images printed alongside their written analyses -- not just because sexual pictures trump academic writing but because so few such images of indigenous art have ever been published.
Perhaps in direct contrast to the commonly held notion that Natives universally accept "two-spirited" folk, three authors -- Nancy Cooper, Gregory Scofield and Daniel Heath Justice -- make clear the struggles of GLBT indigenous people, and in so doing present the most literary, most moving and deeply intimate of the stories in "Me Sexy."
The funniest, most profound essay, "Why Cree Is the Sexiest of All Languages," shows how important indigenous language learning is to the people and how the words we use to make love deeply shape our sexuality. The Native-tongue theme peaks when Kateri Akwenzie Dam, also bilingual curious, lets a character wonder: "What would an Anishinaabe man say in Anishinaabemowin? She wasn't sure -- but she was damn sure she wanted to find out."
Now, reading "Me Sexy," we can all find out. Or at least get closer to an understanding of our shared sexuality, that particularly human and universal of interests, the one responsible for each of our existences, the one that made us all related.
Heid Erdrich, of Minneapolis, is a poet and art curator. Her new book of poems, "National Monuments," will be published in September by Michigan State University Press.