Sept. 4, 2020
English professor takes on notions of gender binary, colonialism and the patriarchy
Dr. Rain Prud’homme-Cranford, PhD, an assistant professor of English and International Indigenous Studies who teaches courses on Indigenous Feminism and Indigenous gender, two-spirit and sexuality, jokes to her students each year that “if you can’t talk about penises and vaginas without giggling, don’t take my class.”
It’s fair warning in courses where she’s apt to quote one of her favourite writers, University of British Columbia professor Daniel Health Justice, who wrote: “Every orgasm can be an act of decolonization.”
“This is one of my favourite quotes in the world because it reinforces the way in which sex should be celebrated as a means of connecting with traditional Indigenous understandings of sex and sexual sovereignty,” says Dr. Prud’homme-Cranford. “It speaks to a reclamation of the Indigenous body, because Indigenous Peoples have been impacted in so many negative, damaging and suppressive ways by Christian, white heteropatriarchal ideals of sex and sexuality.”
A self-described “FATastically queer IndigeNerd,” whose areas of research include Indigenous and Afro-Indigenous Studies, gender and sexuality, fat and disability studies, eco-criticism, STEM, and creative writing, Prud’homme-Cranford’s classes and research take on the most charged of topics head-on.
“I look to undo concepts of heteronormativity, patriarchy and gender binary,” she says. “I focus on the multiplicity of the Indigenous gender spectrum.”
The notion that gender is binary— consisting simply of male and female — is largely a construct of western society, according to Prud’homme-Cranford. “It has to do with the connection between the body and shame, through a narrative of Christianity, capitalism and colonization,” she says. “You can’t separate those three. They exist as a triumvirate.”
But Prud’homme-Cranford asserts that gender identity does not have to be binary. “A gender spectrum allows for balance,” she says. “Even on Facebook there’s 58 gender expressions people can use. Many Indigenous societies have a history of gender spectrums but this was obscured and a culture of shame was built up around it. Creating a gender binary allowed for the settler colonial processes wherein Indigenous women were used as a commodity to gain access to land and have been sexualized, raped and exploited. Marginalized bodies, the bodies of people of colour, have constantly been used and abused within a Western construct.”
Ultimately, says Prud’homme-Cranford, her research in the areas of queer identity, gender and sexuality, are rooted in the spirit of equity and decolonization. “It is inherently about respect, reclamation, relevance and reciprocity,” she says. “And it’s about restoring balance to our people and our communities on our own terms.”
UCalgary is a proud community partner of Calgary Pride. Pride Week in Calgary (Aug. 28-Sept. 6) provides a valuable opportunity to reflect on the university’s commitment to helping everyone feel welcome, safe and respected regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.
ii’ taa’poh’to’p, the University of Calgary’s Indigenous Strategy, is a commitment to deep evolutionary transformation by reimagining ways of knowing, doing, connecting, and being. Walking parallel paths together, ‘in a good way,’ UCalgary is moving towards genuine reconciliation and Indigenization.