Employing Queer Ecology

By: Cynthia Nomanee (they/them)

Photo by Sara Rampazzo on Unsplash

Pride is more than a month, more than a celebration. It is ongoing and messy. It is a way of being, a way of existing. It started off as a protest and at the very least, it continues to be so in its essence. What I mean by that is pride is about recognizing and understanding that we have built our culture, our attitudes, our languages, and our society in a certain way, a way that establishes power dynamics and a way that intends to exclude or even out-right suppress a multitude of identities. Pride is challenging these dynamics. Pride is existing when you were not supposed to, and pride is being happy to exist when you are not supposed to.

When you grow up with one or many marginalized identities, you know that your place in the world is precarious. Certain systems, many systems, were not considered with you in mind, and in fact, were probably made to keep identities like yours in check. What you often feel is that there is a specific way of being in terms of race, class, and of course, gender and sexuality, that you must adhere to or at least make way for. As someone who is non-binary and bisexual, I feel this every day. I mean, just having to introduce my pronouns or consider changing my name is already an indicator that even the way we speak is systemized for reasons that do not heed my concerns. As a science student, specifically one focused on ecology and the environment, I see this again in the language and the attitudes prevailing in how we study and discuss the non-human life around us. I see these attitudes play out in the generations of scientists to have been and to be. How many times have queer gender and sexuality been dismissed and even mocked by arguments based on nature and biology? How many times have queer gender and sexuality been labeled as “unnatural”?

This is where the concept of queer ecology comes in. Put simply, queer ecology is “a series of practices that reimagine nature, biology, and sexuality through queer theory” [1]. It could also be thought of as “an academic mode of thought combining queer theory with environmental studies with the goal of diversifying our narratives of the natural world” [2]. The concept of queer ecology and the practice of ecoqueer activism is new and evolving [3]. But it is what pride is: a challenge to the norms and a celebration of the different. Queer ecology can be practiced by challenging the heterosexist bias that appears in ecological work [1]. Meaning, how do we stop projecting our attitudes about sexuality and sex onto other living beings and their dynamic communities? Attitudes we need to call into question are ones that focus on different-sex pairings, monogamy, or social structures that reflect nuclear families and human gender power dynamic [1,2,4]. So far, we have had a limited view of how nature functions. So much so, that at one point in time, research that did provide evidence of homosexual and homosocial behaviour in other animals was quelled in favor of research that provided a picture of what we wanted to see [1]. Further, as sexuality in nature is fluid, so is sex. To define sex in biology and its determination is a lot tricker than you would expect. For us, it has become a tool to categorize and identify different beings based on bodies, but in nature, sex can be changed, chromosomes can be funky, hormones can vary, and sexual roles within a group can be full of surprises. Not only that, but we need to move away from a model where the only goal of sex is reproduction [1].

However, queer ecology is more than acknowledging that sexuality, sex, and sexual roles in the non-human world is diverse. It is, once again, about challenging what we think we know about nature, us, and our place in nature [2,4]. We must challenge our anthropomorphism and exceptionalism [2]. How much do we know about the non-human world to definitively conclude how a complex community works, let alone a population or a species? Or even how that community works in relation to other communities? How much do we know about non-human behaviour and human behaviour to know what is “natural”? In fact, queer ecology is about calling into question the entire concept of natural [2,4]. Natural in regard to what? Natural how? What is natural and how do we fit into this concept? Creating something called a blog on something called a laptop at a human-derived concept of time is natural, but my expressions of desire, attraction, and gender are not?

Photo by Mick De Paola on Unsplash

Moreover, even the terms used in some of the readings for this blog to describe the behaviour of animals such as “gay”, “lesbian”, and so on, I think are still stuck in our human understanding of the non-human world. These are identities and concepts used to describe the politics, desires, and attractions of human beings, so how can they be applied to non-human beings the same way? Do we know if a goose expresses bi-sexual attraction? Do we know if an earthworm is non-binary? Do we know if some rodents prefer polyamory over monogamy? No, because these are not quite the right questions to ask. We need to challenge our concepts every step of the way and observe nature as is, maybe then we can start to have a fuller and wonderfully queerer understanding of life.

I say, let us employ queer ecology. Let us challenge our biases when it comes to nature and our relation to it. Let us let nature be queer, whether sexually or otherwise. Let us be queer. Let all of life live in all the multitudes of existence it can. Let us celebrate all the multitudes of existence and identity there already are. Happy pride.