Art & Art History ETDs

Publication Date

Fall 12-15-2017


Gender variance and artist production are not topics that are often discussed within the discipline of art history. In fact gender variance and in particular its relationship to sexual orientation was not a topic studied, much less discussed outside of the medical community until the mid-twentieth century. It was generally thought that sexuality and gender were “biologically determined” and deviation from the heterosexual norm was considered pathological. In contrast, Indigenous nations in Canada and the United States had a very different understanding regarding the relationship between gender, biology, and sexual object of choice. One area that provides us with a glimpse into how Indigenous people construct knowledge regarding gender and sexual identity is through the study of their artistic production.

Before the 1990s, much of the discourse and research on Indigenous gender and sexual expressions written by explorers, medical professionals, and anthropologists dominated the field of research. This discourse reflected non-Native concerns and ideas and beliefs regarding gender and sexuality. In these contemporary times we have seemingly witnessed an increasing acceptance of gender variance, but nonetheless acts of violence against those who do not conform to a binary construction of gender and sexuality are a constant reminder of the vulnerability of those who do not conform to expectations.

The stories of individuals contained in this dissertation not only show how Indigenous nations constructed knowledge regarding gender differently, but also that binary gender and sexual categories are not perdurable. My claims are informed by the retelling of actual historic and contemporary experiences of individuals who did not conform to settler nation state constructions of gender. This knowledge demonstrates that the binary construction of gender is a construction and we must ask ourselves, what are the consequences for Indigenous nation building and sovereignty if we maintain constructions of gender that perpetuate heteronormativity, and heteropatiarchy?



Document Type


Degree Name

Art History

Level of Degree


Department Name

UNM Department of Art and Art History

First Committee Member (Chair)

Dr. Joyce Szabo

Second Committee Member

Dr. Kency Conejo

Third Committee Member

Dr. Carla Taunton

Fourth Committee Member

Aaron Fry


Gender, Sexuality, Performance, Indigenous, Native American, Worldview