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Everybody's got a Story

By by Jessica Suarez
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday November 26, 2002

Everybody has a story, or so the saying goes. But is it really true? The Wildcat decided to test this theory by picking students at random from the student directory and asking them to tell their stories.

Brandy Ishcomer
She's both a ╬Native and a dyke,' Brandy says, so studing sexuality among Native peoples comes easy
Brandie Ischomer, a graduate student in American Indian Studies, is doing her master's thesis on Two-Spirit urban American Indian women. It sounds like an obscure focus, but it isn't so obscure to Ishcomer.

As a non-enrolled mixed-blood Oklahoma Choctaw and lesbian who grew up away from her native community, she knows the intersection of these factors can be a little disarming to people.

"It's a pretty sticky thing, actually. There are so many misconceptions (and) stereotypes," she said.

"Who is Indian? What does an Indian look like? Some people can tell I'm Native (American) just by looking at me, and some people have no idea."

Ishcomer recalls a dialogue at a meeting of queer women in Berkeley, Calif., where those factors intersected.

"A woman, who did not realize that I am both Native and a dyke, looked at me with bewilderment in her eyes and said: ╬A Native American lesbian ¸ Can you imagine that!?' I thought to myself, ╬Hey, I am that!'"

This type of experience led Ishcomer to her thesis topic. Aside from the works of Paula Gunn Allen, who is Laguna, Pueblo and Sioux, Ishcomer said, "I didn't see myself or my experience reflected anywhere. I knew of Gunn Allen from courses I took as an undergraduate. She has written a lot on Native women and Native lesbians, the invisibility factor, both through academic texts and also through poetry."

Ishcomer said her colleagues in American Indian Studies, where she is a teaching assistant, have helped her find other authors relevant to her thesis.

Her research has also led her to focus on American Indians who do not live on reservations. It's a large part of the native community, yet it receives disproportionately little attention.

"I really decided to focus on urban Indians. Over half of the American Indian population lives in urban areas," she said.

"I'm really interested in discovering the effect of Western influence on Native worldviews regarding gender and sexuality, how the subversion of these worldviews has led to an intolerance of gender and sexuality variance on reservations," she said.

"How have urban areas created a safer space for these people to exist? Also, how has the queer urban Indian movement increased awareness of traditional Native views of gender and sexuality variance? These are some of the background questions for my research. Primarily, however, I want to examine the lived experience of urban lesbian Indians."

Ishcomer, who received her bachelor's degree from Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, the oldest continuing liberal arts college for women in the United States, says she chose UA because of their premier American Indian studies program.

Ishcomer is also a member of a Tucson drag king troupe called Boys ╬R' Us. Their last performance was at the Sex Workers Arts Festival, where they joined up with the Fat Bottom Revue to pack the banquet room at Hotel Congress.

She said that when she moved here a year and a half ago, she had to search for the queer community. Though the Fourth Avenue and University area is known for being fairly respectful of the gay community, Ishcomer has encountered a few problems.

"I can't complain, I guess. I've been gay-bashed even in Berkeley. Actually, it just happened to me again, on Fourth Avenue over the weekend in front of the Dairy Queen. I just don't know how. There are all these people around and suddenly I'm the target," she said. "It's not any different from anywhere else. I generally feel safe, but I'm kind of naive that way."

Daniel Israel
Daniel is in a fraternity and gets very little sleep at night. Must be because he parties all the time, right?
Wrong. Here are a few other facts about Israel. He is a licensed real estate agent who works out of an office near the university. He is in the honors program on a full scholarship and he's going to graduate next semester at the age of 20. Oh, and he just closed a deal on his own place, a three bedroom and two bath home two miles south of campus.

"I'm going to rent out the other two rooms, so I need to find two roommates," he said. He also said he and his girlfriend, who currently lives in Phoenix, talked about moving in together.

"We talked about that and we think it's a bad idea to move in together. It's a relationship killer," he said.

It might be hard to ever catch Israel at home; anyway. He's also been looking for a house for his fraternity, Phi Psi, as well as working on his philosophy honors thesis.

Though philosophy may seem like an unusual major for someone already involved in a business, Israel enjoys it.

"I like it. I find it interesting, rewarding. I might go to law school," he said. His thesis is on the topic of free will, and Israel has decided we have it.

"For from what I've read for the thesis, I'm kind of going against, a little bit, what lots of people think. There is a large wave of people that think, based on the laws of physics, that everything that will ever happen is already mapped out," he said. His favorite philosopher is Plato because "he wrote in dialogues and they're easy to understand," but he says that you need a "Crackerjack box decoder" to understand many other philosophers.

Though Israel has achieved a lot for his age, his youth isn't always an advantage when he's working with prospective homebuyers.

"I think that for students our age, it makes it a little easier for them to relate to me as an agent. Their parents, however, they might not react as well to someone as young as I am acting as their agent. But I have some good, older agents that work with me in the office, so everybody's happy," he said.

Israel got his license through his father's real estate school in Phoenix. He says his parents do worry about him doing so much while attending school.

"They think that I do a lot. They always worry about me getting burned out," he said.

"It's a good thing that I'm graduating."

Israel says he's thought about taking a break from doing so much once he's done with his bachelor's degree, but even his break sounds like work.

"I've thought about doing a master's program in philosophy ¸ a part-time master's program," he said.

So, has he always been such an overachiever?

"Kind of. Not on purpose," Israel said. "I just kind of end up, whenever I do something, I work kind of hard at it and I end up doing pretty well."


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