In our July 2023 workshop, “In Decolonizing Kink,” Adria Kurchina-Tyson discusses the structural, colonial nature of compulsory vanilla relationships/sexuality and demonstrate the “coloniality” of kink-phobia, reviewing the fundamental differences between Indigenous frameworks of desire/relation and those of the settler state. Adria shared some additional thoughts with us for this inverview.
How did you first become interested in decolonizing kink?
When I was younger, I had what felt like intuitive knowledge that (my) queerness was not in conflict with being Anishinaabe, or Anishinaabe spirituality (despite many narratives to the contrary). This remains a privilege, given how powerful colonial assimilation is. Always enthusiastic about theorizing relationships and sexuality vis a vis Indigenous knowledge, this intuition began to extend to kink when I majored in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies in undergrad. I felt no conflict, no cognitive dissonance about being kinky or having kinky desires and being spiritual as an Anishinaabe person at the same time, or about mixing those things together. This brought me to think and talk a lot about how Indigenous spiritualities often get transcribed into moralizing doctrines, and about what our knowledge feels like when it’s “kinky” instead: fluid, fun, and non-essentialist, while still holding tremendous affect and power (perhaps even more so!). I believe these things can inform each other reciprocally, too (what if kink was less essentialist, prescriptive, more expansive to spirituality?)
Why is this topic important to you?
Decolonizing kink is important to me because I feel that kink phobia reigns quietly alongside other oppressive ideologies which are very much more often named. I think if more of us were able to be introspective about desire and relational dynamics, and how hierarchy, possession, and prescription within those are built upon a coercive (and coerced vanilla) structures, we would do better to avoid reinscribing colonial systems of relation. It is often (and aptly) argued that sexual violence is foundational to colonial conquest. I see kinkphobia and coerced vanilla relations as playing a significant role in this.
What is one thing you would like mental health professionals to know about this topic?
Just as kinky desires (sexual or otherwise) do not exclusively draw upon personal histories, they also do not draw exclusively upon colonial histories, or histories of white supremacist violence. In order to really honour the diversity and ‘naturalness’ of various desires, roles, and relationships, we need to move away from both prescriptive and deficit-based interpretive methods. Kinky desires pre-date, and are much more complex than the dichotomous power dynamics of colonial conquest. Knowing this, we can allow for clients’ self-determination and hold more complexity for collaborative interpretation.
How do you imagine the world would be different if more clinicians were knowledgeable on this topic?
Clients may be less hesitant to disclose their desires and specific relational dynamics, which are relevant to most matters being worked through. Better enabled to be honest about their own desires, people would have room for sincere introspection and growth, without shame as a roadblock.
Adria Kurchina-Tyson is a queer, Anishinaabe scholar of Indigenous, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, PhD candidate at Queen’s University in Canada, and a member of the Native Youth Sexual Health Network. Their PhD research examines elements of kink in Indigenous epistemologies, governance and kinship.