I Am Not My Blood — Thinking About Kim Tallbear

Sometimes a realisation comes from a direction you are not looking in ...
I’ve been listening to podcasts by Kim Tallbear on the recommendation of a wonderful friend. I started listening to her to try to understand the difference between decolonialism in the European context (or, better, my European context and the things I understand personally) and decolonialism from the perspective of the settler colonial states in North America. I wanted to understand the word ‘nation’ better. I wanted to know what was the same. I knew I was confused.

My friend told me that Kim Tallbear was impressive and that I would learn from her, and she is and I did! I do. There are lots of amazing podcasts and an amazing book. You can find one of the podcasts and the book on the resources list for this project. 

One of Dr Tallbear’s areas of study and teaching is around the idea of DNA testing and genetics being a colonial construct in terms of its appropriateness for defining belonging and identity. I will not attempt to explain beyond that other than to say I understood that she considers that DNA testing is not appropriate as a way of ascertaining membership of an indigenous group, as DNA is a narrow colonial truth (my words) that excludes and perverts other forms of belonging and kinship — including personal interconnection. This part of her work also centres on ‘Pretendians’ — people, usually of settler descent, who claim Indigenous identities either entirely spuriously, or by using DNA testing to bolster their claims — and how they can damage Indigenous communities. It is an avenue of reading and research I highly recommend.

Reading and listening to Dr Tallbear made me think about certain elements of this project again. Made me reconsider and refine. It made me think about the fact of bloodlines and DNA and family and identity and what that means for a Queer person, and what that means for me. 

This project assumes that I have some connection to a man I have never met and about whom I know next to nothing. He lived and died without ever hearing my name or seeing my face. I could quite easily have lived and died without ever seeing that photo of him, or hearing the name, too. Not much would have been different. The photo might be misidentified. That’s possible, too. The name and the image belonging to someone I have no connection to. 

Question: If a connection could be real or unreal, ‘true’ or mistaken, and nothing much changes either way, what kind of connection is it really?

ACT ONE: A true story. Someone unnamed is researching their family tree with one of those online apps. They fill out information, precisely at first, and get no hits. They then put more data in, perhaps a little sloppily here and there, and get lots of information back.

ACT TWO: They get a ‘hit’ on the app — a family in another part of the country. They get in touch. They talk and they talk and they think they find things in common. Half remembered aunties, a family wedding in the 1970s, perhaps, or was it the 1980s. They laugh and simplify the relationship down to just ‘cousins’. They get their wife on the phone to say hi. They arrange an in-person meeting. In the summer holidays, though, when the kids are off school so they can meet each other. 

ACT THREE: On reading a bit more about the settings in the app, our protagonists realises that their inputting of information was really quite sloppy. They tidy things up a bit. The information realigns and they realise that their ‘cousin’ is not actually their cousin at all. The single connection between them in fact was two different people. They are not related at all. She calls her ‘cousin’ to let him know but his wife answers. ‘Oh well,’ she says. ‘Let’s stay in touch anyway.’

ACT FOUR: She tells the rest of her family about the story at a gathering and they all laugh. One of them asks: ‘So, are you going to stay in touch?’. 

‘Well,’ she replies, ‘he has tried calling me a few times but I didn’t pick up ... it was too embarrassing and I didn’t know what to say.’

So, what then is my connection?

I am not my blood. As a Queer person, I do not believe that my genetics is what makes me. As a neuro-diverse person, I do not feel as though my DNA defines me. I do not believe in nation. I have no allegiance to a religion, or a region, or a flag.

Is this connection to someone seen once in a folded blurred photo anything other than romanticism? Is the connection anything more than wishful thinking? A misrepresented string of data giving back false outcomes? Is it just another form of Pretendianism, wanting to belong to something but not the thing that’s right in front of me? 


But then what about the connection to place?
To mountains or rivers?
I am not my blood.
But perhaps I am
the rocks and
the stones.
Which rocks?
Whose stones?

Or do I follow my desire my

I am not my blood.
Or perhaps I will be. 
As it thrums within me.