Naked Native people. You don't really see a lot of them. Especially at this time of year. I'm talking about their representation in television, theatre or print. And even more so, its Native men that are remarkably absent from baring all to the world.
I mention this because some time back I was writing a play titled alterNATIVES. During the creation of that play, my girlfriend at the time was complaining about how the media was always flaunting naked or near naked women at every possible chance. But seldom men. And when they were, it was even more seldom that anything remotely interesting of the man was ever shown. It was only hinted at. Unlike women where you couldn't throw a rock without hitting a boob or a feminine behind.
It wasn't that she wanted to see a lot of naked men, it was more about the disproportional delineation of nudity. It was a political statement, she said. Yeah, right.
But always being respectful of her concerns, I attempted to do my little bit to rectify that little issue in my own little way. alterNATIVES now begins with a naked, good-looking young Native man cartwheeling into the scene from the bedroom.
Unfortunately my feminist-supportive intentions were thwarted from an unexpected source. The actors. In the two production of that play to date, both actors, good looking young men with hopefully nothing to be embarrassed about, refused the appropriate entrance. Instead, they did the cartwheel in their underwear. They said my play was supposed to be a drama, not a comedy.
This started me thinking that maybe there is a logical reason why there is such a limited amount of Aboriginal male skin out there. A year or two later, a play was produced in Toronto that called for all six of its actors (three male, three female) to be naked. One of the cast members was a Native man. And several weeks into the rehearsal he confessed to the director and the rest of the cast that he couldn't bring himself to do the nude scenes. He offered to pull out of the show, but with some encouragement and creative blocking from the cast and director, he stayed in the show and maintained his modesty. But the odd thing about the show was that everybody else at various times, separately and together, were exceedingly naked, except, noticeably, him. So it made him stand out even more... so to speak.
Could it be that Native men are more shy than Native women? The only possible contradiction I can think of is Gary Farmer, Cayuga actor and media mogul. The exception to the rule perhaps? This man has appeared naked on stage and screen more times than I have at home. Anybody who's seen Pow Wow Highway or Dead Man are very familiar with his cinematic backside. Add to that the various productions of Tomson Highway's play Drylips Oughta Move To Kapuskasing where he appears on stage wearing nothing but a frying pan.
The reason this has all been on my mind recently is a new documentary I've been researching lately. Its focus is Native erotica, or more specifically, the reclaiming of Native sexuality. One of the avenues I wanted to explore dealt with storytelling and how many traditional stories were very bawdy and unabashedly sexual in nature. I wanted to juxtapose this with how Native people today are manifesting their contemporary sexuality. One such way that was suggested was a photo shoot.
I found one Native photographer who had always wanted to shoot a nude photography session for artistic reasons, and he made me a deal. Because he was a happily married, middle-aged man with a young daughter, he didn't feel comfortable going up to beautiful young Native girls and asking them to pose naked for him. Instead he wanted me to do it.
"Fine" I said, "I'll be the dirty old man."
I too was nervous about being in such a position but I felt it was integral to the point in the documentary. That being said, it was the easiest thing I have ever done.
I casually mentioned my dilemma to a few people and since then, without een trying, I have personally received three or four offers from women more then interested in participating in the shoot. One very reputable and intelligent volunteer (in a bar) added "and I'm sure my younger sister would be interested."
What does this all mean in the larger picture?
I don't know. Most Native male actors and performers are afraid to take their clothes off on stage... except Gary Farmer. And Native women have far less of a problem with it.
To tell you the truth, I wouldn't do the cartwheel in my own play, but then again, I just don't want to embarrass all the other men.