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Queer Ecology

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Queer Ecology


We “think” (about) nature through gender and within heteronormativity. Can we “queer” nature? What will that mean?*


Homosexuals must bring a particular sensibility to the experience of nature. Abhorred as unnatural, and alternately as bestial, castigated as primitive, and described as the strange fruit of a civilization grown too distant from the earth, identifying as homosexual, queer, gay or lesbian makes one attuned to the culture of nature. Nature appears not as a timeless essence, separate from human experience. Wilson (1991) writes, “the whole idea of nature as something separate from human experience is a lie. Humans and nature construct one another.”(p. 13).


Wittig (1992) observes that the straight mind forms its idea of nature around an ineluctable heterosexual fact. The obligatory social and sexual relationship between men and women is the inescapable origin and end from which all phenomena are interpreted. Not only is the world ordered by a drive to reproduction and organized in breeding pairs. The whole non-human world is experienced as other. Nature is innocent, violent, illogical, helpless, endangered – in short, female. Man pits himself against it, saves it, deciphers it, fashions it to his needs.


Haraway (1989) wonders, “Can the heterosexual reproductive imperative be relaxed in knowledge – power fields enough to permit escaping the binary restriction on sex and gender? What kinds of evolutionary narratives could have more than two sexes or genders?” (p. 325).


Greece , Herculaneum , Chiron with Achilles, wall painting.


Sweden , sacred rock carving of animal-people with tails and erections


Perthshire , England , Swastika, c. 9th C CE



Sandilands (2002) writes of how lesbian separatists in Oregon land communities have worked to pursue or create “imaginative leaps that opened the world to the possibility of living gender and nature differently” (p. 145). She advocates for a queer ecology that will produce a counter-hegemonic culture of nature, “drawing insight from queer cultures to form alternative, even transformative, cultures of nature” (p. 135). Queer ecology might involve an opening to The Inhuman, allowing us to establish an “outlaw discourse” and “criminal conversation” between human and non-human beings (Haraway, cited by Sandilands, p. 192).


Queer is a way of choosing a radical openness instead of a fixed identity.. A queer ecology might eschew the essentializing, anthropocentric tendencies of identity and identification (including taxonomies of species, gender, race), and allow us to instead choose complexity, fluidity and interconnection. In a nature that is made, constructed, constantly changing and changed, queer ecology might involve the intentional and creative construction of (temporary, provisional and pleasurable) sameness: strategic essentialisms.


Queer is identified with wildness – a concept not to be confused with the racist and imperialist concept of wilderness. Wildness is life energy, the intricate wisdom of natural systems, instinct, anima (breath, soul). Our love mixes us up instead of pinning us down. We live despite the thousand prohibitions and permissions that enforce what a man is and what a woman is. Queer is strange, and Sandilands (1999) argues that ecology should preserve and foster strangeness. She writes, “Nature is gloriously strange; it is an unrepresentable kernel around which discourse circulates but which language can never fully apprehend, and which thus keeps the democratic conversation going. A space is left open for other experiences, for Otherness, for the recognition that discourse, no matter how democratic, cannot be complete” (p. 203-4).


NEXT: The Apocalypse


Thinking Nature Index


Thinking Nature References




*This section draws on earlier work for QueerMap.com: Mapping Queer Meanings (see http://www.queermap.com/orientation/Space-Environments.htm ) and June 1994, “Queer / Nature: Be Like Water.” Undercurrents: a Journal of Critical Environmental Studies.

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