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Arianne True

(Choctaw, Chickasaw)

Arianne True is a queer poet and teaching artist from Seattle, and has spent most of her work time working with youth. She’s received fellowships and residencies from Jack Straw, the Hugo House, Artist Trust, and the Seattle Repertory Theater, and is a proud alum of Hedgebrook and of the MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts. She lives in Tacoma with her cat. Arianne is the 2023-2025 Washington State Poet Laureate. 

Indigi::queer the future by sharing this story.
Downloadable images for Arianne's story:  Wide | Square | Tall

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Legacy is so important to me.

Legacy is telling stories and being open with my story and personal histories, even when they're complicated or not cute. Because those stories matter. It mattered to me growing up, to hear bits and pieces from other people. I know it matters to my students, telling my stories, and some of that happens through art. Some of that happens in the classroom. 

That kind of intentional speaking helps people feel comfortable, especially if they already know things about themselves. Or they get curious because they notice how language sounds different to them. Working with adults is an important part of this because we didn't necessarily grow up with this stuff, so we gotta help each other, too. 

Last summer during Pride month I got invited to lead a professional development session for anything Pride-related. I was like, “Cool, I'm gonna lead a workshop on knowing what desire feels like, and we'll practice identifying it within ourselves, and know what it feels like through poetry.” Part of my work is offering adults the things we missed out on so we can be better role models for each other and for younger generations.

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Being out and visible, especially being out and visible as a femme queer, has been really important to me. And because I know how people will make off-base assumptions about you sometimes no matter how you try to present one way, I try to be very intentional about the language I use in public spaces. Especially using language that makes the fewest assumptions about the listener.

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I want Sex Education that isn't so mechanical and detached. Sex Ed that starts from a place of curiosity—with our own feelings and experiences—feels healing to me. Like, explore sexuality on lots of different axes: gay, straight, bisexual, but also gender and ace (asexuality). There's so much compulsory sexuality and many of us don't realize we're ace until years into sexual experiences we didn’t really want to be in.

School is definitely a place where we receive so many messages. School is a place of massive indoctrination. That's how it was designed. I would love for schools to, structurally, become a place of learning and exploration and growth. I would love if history curriculums really taught history, and critical questioning. That's never been a major part of history curriculums and courses I've taken.

During college, it felt like Natives didn’t exist to my school, and the one book we read by a Native author (and bear in mind that I was a literature major, so we read a lot of books) focused on the label of a “Native artist” and how we can get pigeonholed. White folks thinking of you as Native meant you could only make certain things.

And so I was very hesitant to publicly identify as Native. My close friends knew, but I was worried about the stereotypes for Native artists. I know it was a reality for older generations of Native artists and it’s not as true for our generation, partly because I think the older generations pushed against those stereotypes.

I'm school oriented because I'm a teacher. 

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I would sneak out to go to powwows. It had to be under the radar because there were repercussions if I was caught engaging with that. As soon as I was 18 years old, I got back in touch with my family and started the process of reconnecting, but we had been apart for 11 years, so it was a long process.

My next poetry collection I’m working on deals with parallels in my history and my family history, including residential boarding schools our ancestors endured. I was taken from my family for bad, unjustifiable reasons and was kept away from my family and culture until I turned 18 years old and could leave that situation on my own.  I had spent a lot of time in high school on the internet trying to look up any Native resources, anything about my tribe, or even just powwow Native culture or anything I could access. . There was almost nothing back then.

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I use the term queer.

I use lesbian.

I use gay.

I tend to use queer in mixed spaces, and by mixed I mean  queer and hetero mixed spaces, or if the space is unknown, because I like the way queer pushes on social norms. And part of that is because my tribes are a bit homophobic and so it's important to push on them.

But in queer spaces I tend to use lesbian.

Oh, and I like Indigiqueer.

I’m also ace (asexual), or grey ace more specifically.

And my gender’s all wiggly, and depends on what cultural space I’m in–I feel like a woman in Native spaces, and outside of that it’s a little more of a free-for-all.

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Lesbian.about.com was one of my favorites. <Laughs>. Probably because it was one of the least sexual websites. It had cultural and community stuff, which was what I really wanted. I mostly wanted to not feel alone. Even in GSA there was another queer woman or two, but for a while mostly it was allies and queer men. I was thirsting for community and other people like me.

I went to a fancy high school and they required us to have laptops, which, back in 2005, was something people didn’t have, especially me because I was so poor. But having the internet at school let me have full access to online queer stuff, which was not youth-friendly and very slim, but it was transformative and helpful.

The way autism works in my brain is things are the way they are and you should be completely honest about that all the time. So I didn't talk about my sexuality with anyone in middle school, partly because there were only a few months left in the term and I had spent that year defending my friend, who is queer, from bullies.

I decided coming out wasn’t safe. But as soon as I got to high school, the first week I was in the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA). This is who I am and that's not my problem. It’s everyone else's problem, if it is. I grew up in Seattle where it was somewhat safe-ish. I still got slurs yelled at me out of car windows as a teen, but I'm not gonna not tell people about my queerness.

Then, when one of my friends came out in middle school, I was like, “Oh that exists.” Then I was like,  “I have this feeling about my other friend. There must be some gay things going on here.” I actually found a journal entry and it was the same week I got my period for the first time. Big, big week for little Arianne.

I didn't have language for sexuality for a long time. If I had had the words, I could have told you I was queer in fifth grade, in our sex ed classes. We were learning about men and women and stuff and I remember thinking very clearly: I cannot understand why anyone would be attracted to men when women exist.

But we weren’t given any words and there was no conversation about sexuality, even in sex ed classes. And there were gay people in my life that other adults knew were gay - my favorite teacher, my landlords - but no one talked about it. Like ever. So I didn’t know it existed.

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