Two-Spirit Author Joshua Whitehead Withdraws from Lambda Literary Awards Shortlist
Joshua Whitehead’s book of poetry, “Full-Metal Indigiqueer” had been shortlisted for this years esteemed Lambda Literary award for Transgender poetry. Whitehead, who describes himself as “An Oji-Cree, Two-Spirit storyteller and academic,” hales from Peguis First Nation on Treaty 1 territory in Manitoba. Peguis First Nation is the largest First Nations community in Manitoba, Canada. He is currently working toward a Ph.D. in Indigenous literature and cultures at the University of Calgary on Treaty 7 territory.
His withdraw from the shortlist of the Lambda Literary Award for Trans Poetry was announced March 14th, much to the surprise of the writing community. His reasoning was given in a lengthy letter posted on website of The Insurgent Architects’ House for Creative Writing (TIA House) at the University of Calgary.
In a bold and unexpected turn of events, Whitehead admitted that he did not identify as Transgender, but instead as gay-femme, and felt that by taking a space in a category in which he did not belong, he was denying trans-identifying individuals equal opportunity for recognition of their works.
“I see my trans brethren and sistren who have paved the way for the trans categorizations to be included, recognized, honoured, and valued within Lambda, and only recently may I add, and I love them all the more for it. To be a trans woman, and furthermore to be an Indigenous trans woman, is a fight I do not know, cannot know, and do not seek to further violate and delimit.”
The Lambda Foundation was founded back in 1988. Since then, the organization has honored David Ebershoff’s 2000 book “The Danish Girl,” which became the Oscar winning film of the same name, as well as honoring countless other LGBT literature with it’s coveted award.
It took a great amount of courage for Whitehead to ask to be removed from the shortlist, especially given the honor that comes with being a Lambda Award recipient. While he could have kept his head down and potentially accepted the award for Transgender Poetry, he said his conscience would never allow him to do such a thing. He adds;
“ Lambda’s categorizations do not require storytellers to self identify and instead base their nomination on content, this is not something I feel comfortable with. I need to walk through the world in a good way, to work towards miyopimatisowin, the good life, a good way of living. My stories are not written within a vacuum, I am simply an animated avatar, my stories are communal, reciprocal, gifted, pained, and healing. I need to walk my path as an otâcimow in this light, to be ethical, respectable, and most importantly, to give back to those who have supported, raised, and nurtured my voice — many of whom are trans women.”
What an incredible human being. Truly an example above all others, a selfless act that demonstrates his awareness of the importance of Trans voices in literature, along with his own, because in chorus we are stronger. While I’d like to believe anyone in Whitehead’s position would have done the same, I am not that optimistic, which just makes his missive all the more poignant.
A true artist is one we learn from, not just through their words, but their actions. Whitehead is certainly one we’re fortunate to count among our own in the LGBT community, and he is paving a path of such unwavering integrity that we should strive to follow his footsteps and make room for the quieter voices of our community whenever the opportunity presents itself.
I’d be willing to wager that this is one tremendously self aware writer; A rare breed, a powerful voice. It’s likely that we’ll be hearing a lot more from him in the future. And I, personally, will be delighted to watch him shine when his time comes.