During the fall of 2020, graduate students in the Ryerson University English Department’s Literatures and Modernity program worked on digital criticism projects that reflected on Indigenous literature in Canada and feminist forms of testimony. This post originally appeared on graduate student Rachel Gopal’s Medium.
The main character of Positions, Aaron Lafrenier, is an Indigenous Queer sex worker that moves to a new city.
Themes in Positions include Indigenous Kinship, Indigenous Sovereignty, and Indigenous Queer Ethics. The title is an interesting play on words as the film pertains to topics around sexual activity but also to Aaron’s way of figuring out their position in their new city.
Indigenous Kinship is illustrated through Aaron’s conversations with their grandmother and the beginning and ending of the film; Aaron’s growth in certainty about their position in the new city is also exemplified this way.
In the phone call at the beginning of the film, Aaron is shown saying that they will get a job as well as answering the grandmother’s questions of concern and lovingness.
The end of the film comes full circle, also showing Aaron calling their grandmother but this time leaving a voicemail. A positive kinship is illustrated as Aaron mentions calling to hear the grandmother’s voice as well as the mention of receiving an aunt’s message and missing their mom. There is a little more certainty in this call in the way that Aaron is now offering words of comfort and expressing doing well. The first and final lines of the film also correlate, ending the film on a note of closure.
Indigenous Sovereignty is illustrated through Aaron’s choice of being a sex worker.
Often, sex work is looked at through a lens that evokes negative perceptions and connotations. However, Aaron’s pride in sex work is illustrated in the announcing to their grandmother that they got a job — the confidence in this expression also contributes to the sense of certainty they portray in that second phone call.
The governance of one’s own body is something that was taken away from Indigenous Peoples through settler colonialism and imposed ways of thinking, acting, and being. In the utilization of bodily agency, Aaron’s participation in sex work illustrates an empowerment in the use of their body. The prevalent colonialized ideologies of bodies are being challenged in this film.
Indigenous Sovereignty involves the reclamation and the taking back of what was taken. Aaron finding their position and their belonging in this new city allows them to not only figure things out on their own terms but to create spaces of being, doing, and understanding themself in various contexts.
Sovereignty looks different for everyone. In Aaron’s case, they do not choose to engage with ignorance when faced with it on the job. In a conversation with one of the customers, there is a disrespectful way of engagement in Aaron’s Indigenous identity.
In a very small amount of time Aaron gets othered and classified as an Indian even though that is not how they identified themselves. Although visibly turned off from this conversation, Aaron does not use any energy to speak into this man’s incorrect way of speaking but rather instead proceeds to work.
There is an interesting symbolism of colonialism found in this scene as there is mention of the white male customer living in a house with a lot of space in addition to his disrespectful way of speaking but in response, bodily sovereignty is illustrated in Aaron taking charge and abruptly ending the conversation and initiating the sexual activity.
The sexual explicitness of the scenes also plays into a visual sovereignty that challenges heteronormative impositions as well as Westernized censorship and is unapologetically erotic.
Indigenous Queer Ethics
Themes of Indigenous Queer Ethics are also shown in the film as Aaron is illustrated as an individual that is comfortable with their sexuality. Their ways of being pertain to the comfort around their identity as well as how they illustrate pride and maintain a sense of self throughout the film.
In a conversation with a customer’s wife, Aaron makes it clear that he is only engaging for sexual activity with no interest in fixing the marriage of the customer and his wife.
The wife discloses personal information and while Aaron listens compassionately, they do not offer any type of advice. There is an understanding that the field of sex work can have mental and emotional complications but Aaron keeps that separate from their own way of being.
Within this conversation, Aaron also discloses that it becomes easier to be oneself when meeting people for the first time which also corresponds to their finding of their belonging and fully being able to be themself in a new city.
Challenging Familiar Thoughts
In breaking out of colonized ways of thinking, it is interesting to note that while there is engagement in sexuality activity that is illustrated throughout the film, Aaron’s sexual identity nor pronouns are identified. The lack of identification allows audiences to see Aaron as an individual without imposing restricting ideologies of gender and sexual identity that derive from settler-colonialism.