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Queer Ecologies: Sex, Nature, Politics, Desire

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Treating such issues as animal sex, species politics, environmental justice, lesbian space and "gay" ghettos, AIDS literatures, and queer nationalities, this lively collection asks important questions at the intersections of sexuality and environmental studies. Contributors from a wide range of disciplines present a focused engagement with the critical, philosophical, and political dimensions of sex and nature. These discussions are particularly relevant to current debates in many disciplines, including environmental studies, queer theory, critical race theory, philosophy, literary criticism, and politics. As a whole, Queer Ecologies stands as a powerful corrective to views that equate "natural" with "straight" while "queer" is held to be against nature.

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13 Chapters

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1. Eluding Capture: The Science, Culture, and Pleasure of Queer Animals

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STACY ALAIMO

We’re Deer. We’re Queer. Get Used to It. A new exhibit in Norway outs the animal kingdom.

—Alisa Opar

Biological Exuberance is, above all, an affirmation of life’s vitality and infinite possibilities: a worldview that is at once primordial and futuristic, in which gender is kaleidoscopic, sexualities are multiple, and the categories of male and female are fluid and transmutable. A world, in short, exactly like the one we inhabit.

—Bruce Bagemihl

[W]e are acting with the best intentions in the world, we want to add reality to scientific objects, but, inevitably, through a sort of tragic bias, we seem always to be subtracting some bit from it. Like a clumsy waiter setting plates on a slanted table, every nice dish slides down and crashes on the ground. Why can we never discover the same stubbornness, the same solid realism by bringing out the obviously webby, “thingy” qualities of matters of concern?

—Bruno Latour

“Nature” and the “natural” have long been waged against homosexuals, as well as women, people of color, and indigenous peoples. Just as the pernicious histories of Social Darwinism, colonialism, primitivism, and other forms of scientifically infused racism have incited indispensable critiques of the intermingling of “race” and nature,1 much queer theory has bracketed, expelled, or distanced the volatile categories of nature and the natural, situating queer desire within an entirely social, and very human, habitat. This now compulsory sort of segregation of queer from nature is hardly appealing to those who seek queer green places, or, in other words, an environmentalism allied with gay affirmation, and a gay politics that is also environmentalist. Moreover, the question of whether nonhuman nature can be queer provokes larger questions within interdisciplinary theory regarding the relations between discourse and materiality, human and more-than-human worlds, as well as between cultural theory and science. In short, we need more robust, complex ways of productively engaging with materiality—ways that account for the diversity and “exuberance” of a multitude of naturecultures, ways that can engage with science as well as science studies. Queer animals—“matters of concern” for queer, green, human cultures—may foster such formulations.

 

2. Enemy of the Species

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LADELLE MCWHORTER

For at least a decade, a common strategy for promoting acceptance of racial, ethnic, and religious minorities in many corporate and educational institutions has been to insist that diversity in any population is superior to homogeneity. Homogeneity, it is said, tends toward stagnation. If the “population” is a work team, for example, advocates of diversity suggest that homogeneity of perspective is likely to equal redundancy of ideas and approaches—in other words, impoverished creativity leading to reduced productivity. If the population is a student body, advocates suggest that homogeneity of background and social position is likely to result in reinforcement of received opinions rather than educational challenge and advancement. Diversity, then, is a crucial factor in healthy development; it is a stimulus to improvement and a defense against the stupidity of unquestioned routine.

Some advocates for lgbtq inclusion in corporate and educational institutions have claimed the same benefits for sexual diversity and diversity of gender expression. Steven Keyes, vice president for compensation, benefits, and human resources policy at Nationwide Insurance, explains, “Having a corporate culture that embraces diversity improves the productivity of our associates, helps the company recruit the best talent and makes Nationwide more competitive in the insurance and financial services industry” (Keyes 2007). In my home university, the University of Richmond, lgbtq and allied groups have spent years petitioning for inclusion in the institution’s ongoing “diversity initiative” in the hope of receiving recognition, material support for programming, and protection from discrimination and harassment. Institutions such as mine consider diversity valuable, so the most obvious way to persuade institutional elites to accept and protect queer people is to present ourselves as representatives of a form of diversity, sexual diversity.

 

3. Penguin Family Values: The Nature of Planetary Environmental Reproductive Justice

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NOËL STURGEON

In 2005, a nature documentary entitled The March of the Penguins was a surprise hit, winning an Academy Award in 2006 for best documentary. The beautifully filmed story of the improbable but gorgeous Antarctic Emperor penguins and their incredible effort to produce and nurture their babies was a tale of terrific difficulties overcome with amazing persistence. In an interesting twist, and to the astonishment of the director, Luc Jacquet, right-wing fundamentalist Christians in the United States adopted the film as an inspiring example of monogamy, traditional Christian family values, and intelligent design. At around the same time, apparently unbeknownst to right-wing fundamentalist Christians, penguins had become a symbol of the naturalness of gay marriage.

Meanwhile, in other political and cultural discourses, penguins (along with polar bears) became popular symbols of what we would lose to global warming. Relatively invisible in the public cultural arena, in contrast, were the growing and unequal effects of the pollution of our atmosphere on marginalized human beings such as indigenous peoples in the Arctic regions, who are struggling to preserve their cultures and societies in the face of rapid climate change. Instead of attention to these issues, penguins have become the newest terrain on which to fight culture wars over human reproduction, while at the same time they have become the latest environmentalist icons. What is the connection between these popular cultural trends? Does it matter in terms of environmental consequences what kind of familial and sexual arrangements we make?

 

4. Queernaturecultures

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DAVID BELL

In this chapter, I want to think about what Jeffrey Weeks (1991, 86) calls “the nature of our sexual natures” by considering three particular articulations of the nature of sex and the sex of nature: eco-porn, queer animals, and naturism. In so doing, my aim is to use these lenses to think through the broader articulations of sex and nature, or “nature loving,” that the chosen examples simultaneously reaffirm and unsettle, drawing on Donna Haraway’s (2003) discussion of “naturecultures”—of the impossibility of uncoupling “nature” from “culture,” and of the need to find new ways to think about and talk about the multiple and heterogeneous associations and “queer confederacies” that are produced here through attempts to lay claim on nature as an uncontestable realm of sexual truth.

In so doing, my aim is to make a modest contribution to the interdisciplinary endeavor that as yet bears no coherent name, but that is captured in this book’s title, and others such as Giffney and Hird’s (2008) Queering the Non/Human. This work marks an important intervention in queer theory, science studies, environmentalism, philosophy, and ethics and, as Giffney and Hird note, brings together the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Now, this is going to always be an uneasy coming-together, since the intellectual heritages of these different sites of knowledge production have shown increasing differentiation from each other. I should know: I work in a school of geography, where my natural science colleagues would largely scoff at the notion of queer ecologies while working hard on projects concerned with ecological science. It frequently seems to me that the traffic between these disciplines could be a lot more vigorous, and I hope that this chapter, like others in the book, is suggestive of the productive potential for thinking a subject like nature in as many different ways as possible. In what follows, I will discuss my three chosen sites for such nature-talk, and then stitch together some common threads in a discussion.

 

5. Non-white Reproduction and Same-Sex Eroticism: Queer Acts against Nature

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ANDIL GOSINE

In Euroamerican-dominant cultural contexts, two kinds of sex have been (are) said to be toxic to nature: reproductive sex between non-white people, and sex between men. From their preservationist-conservationist origins right through to the twenty-first-century canonization of Al Gore as global eco-crusader, leading North American environmental movements have invested in the production and circulation of discourses on “overpopulation” that pit blame for global ecological disaster on the reproducing proclivities of the world’s poor; due to the easy collaboration of capitalism with patriarchy and racism, that has meant the economically dispossessed non-white peoples of the world, particularly child-bearing (or potentially child-bearing) women from Asia, Africa, and South and Central America, as well as First Nations and non-white women in North America. All were collectively held responsible for “overpopulating” the earth and placing too much pressure on its natural resources. Paul Ehrlich succinctly laid out the rationale for this position in his influential 1968 text, The Population Bomb: “too many people” with “too little food” leads to “a dying planet.”1 In more direct terms, Ehrlich and the rest were making (still make) the claim that heterosexual (reproductive) sex between poor men and women burdened natural environments and threatened the survival of earth itself. More recently, various scholars have called attention to ways in which male, homosexual sex has also been articulated in public policy discourses and legal frameworks as harmful to healthy environments. Public cruising and sexual activity by men in parks and beaches, in both rural and urban landscapes across the world, have historically been construed as illicit and dangerous acts that degrade the sites they cross (Castells and Murphy 1982; Chauncey 1995; D’Emilio and Freedman 1988; Ingram 1997; Schultz 1998).2

 

6. From Jook Joints to Sisterspace: The Role of Nature in Lesbian Alternative Environments in the United States

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NANCY C. UNGER

Despite the depth and breadth of Catriona Sandilands’s ground-breaking “Lesbian Separatist Communities and the Experience of Nature,” with its emphasis on communities in southern Oregon, Sandilands does not consider her article, published in 2002, to be “the last one on the topic.” Instead she hopes “fervently that other researchers will enter into the ongoing conversation [about queer landscapes]” (136). This essay is an answer to her invitation to draw further “insight from queer cultures to form alternative, even transformative, cultures of nature” (135). It examines the role of place in the history of American lesbians, particularly the role of nonhuman nature in the alternative environments lesbians created and nurtured in their efforts to transcend the sexism, homophobia, violence, materialism, and environmental abuse afflicting mainstream society. Certainly such an investigation supports the challenge, detailed in Katie Hogan’s essay in this collection, to the notion of queers as “unnatural” and “against nature.” Lesbians’ ways of incorporating nonhuman nature into their temporary and permanent communities demonstrate how members of an oppressed minority created safe havens and spaces to be themselves. In addition to offering mainstream society insight into the impact of place on identity, in some instances lesbian communities also provide some important working examples of alternate ways of living on and with the land.

 

7. Polluted Politics? Confronting Toxic Discourse, Sex Panic, and Eco-Normativity

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GIOVANNA DI CHIRO

The body as home, but only if it is understood that bodies can be stolen, fed lies and poison, torn away from us. They rise up around me—bodies stolen by hunger, war, breast cancer, AIDS, rape; the daily grind of factory, sweatshop, cannery, sawmill; the lynching rope; the freezing streets; the nursing home and prison. . . . Disabled people cast as supercrips and tragedies; lesbian/gay/bisexual/trans people told over and over again that we are twisted and unnatural; poor people made responsible for their own poverty. Stereotypes and lies lodge in our bodies as surely as bullets. They live and fester there, stealing the body.

—Eli Clare

As genderqueer author Eli Clare notes, there are myriad terrible ways that bodies are stolen, violated, and poisoned. Enumerating the diverse messages of “body hatred” that he has lived with throughout his life owing to the “irrevocable difference” of his queerness and disability—perverse, unnatural, defective, tragic—Clare explains how these expressions of abnormality “sunk beneath his skin” and would tear him from his body (2001, 362). Bodies can be torn and stolen away in multiple ways (rape, murder, poverty, disease, trauma, numbness), and Clare keys into the various and intersecting techniques through which injustice can mark a body:

 

8. Undoing Nature: Coalition Building as Queer Environmentalism

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KATIE HOGAN

Ecocritique is similar to queer theory. In the name of all that we value in the idea of “nature,” it thoroughly examines how nature is set up as a transcendental, unified, independent category. . . . Far from remaining natural, ecocriticism must admit that it is contingent and queer.

—Timothy Morton

Queer . . . is a coalition-building word.

—Eli Clare

The denunciation of queers as “unnatural” and as “crimes against nature” has a long history that continues to endanger queer lives and complicate queer environmental desires. Elected officials, popular athletes, and powerful religious authorities routinely evoke crimes against nature ideology, affecting most queer people’s lives on a daily basis.1 A literal example took place in the United States in March 2004 when Rhea county officials in Tennessee voted to amend the state’s criminal code so that “the county [could] charge homosexuals with crimes against nature” (Monkey Trial 2004). Commissioner J.C. Fugate explained, “we need to keep them out of here” (Monkey Trial 2004). Another stunning instance of “against nature” emerged on February 16, 2007, in a statement by retired NBA athlete Tim Hardaway: “You know, I hate gay people, so I let it be known. I don’t like gay people and I don’t like to be around gay people. I am homophobic. I don’t like it. It shouldn’t be in the world or in the United States” (Hardaway 2007). A recent religious ceremony became the occasion for against-nature sentiment in December 2008 in Pope Benedict XVI’s Christmas “greeting” to senior Vatican staff. In this talk, the pope spoke of nature as man and woman and referred to an “ecology of the human being” (Donadio 2008). The pope explained that to ignore this human ecology—by engaging in destructive unnatural behaviors—would be on par with destroying the world’s vulnerable rainforests. Such discourse reinforces the entrenched idea of queers as unnatural; it affects how queers think about—and relate to—natural spaces, the environment, and environmental language and issues, and it complicates queer experiences of ease in nature. But it also inspires a queer ecocritique.

 

9. Fragments, Edges, and Matrices: Retheorizing the Formation of a So-called Gay Ghetto through Queering Landscape Ecology

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GORDON BRENT INGRAM

Can interdisciplinary sciences such as landscape ecology, fields of inquiry that fully engage natural and social sciences, be adapted for better understanding the dynamics of networks of sexual minorities, and more broadly the patterns across space and time of participants of various kinds of sex that do not specifically lead to reproduction? If most scientific inquiry in recent centuries in the West has had a “heteronormative” (Warner 1991) bias, of what could queered forms of landscape ecology studies consist? In this chapter, I revisit some early discussions on neighborhoods of visible sexual minorities sometimes labeled “ghettos,” along with literature from past decades on the formation of landscape ecology, in order to shed light on these questions. This chapter re-examines the environmental context of the formation of one so-called gay ghetto, Vancouver’s West End, and explores more nuanced, spatial, and materialist means of describing social processes involving sexual minorities across metropolitan areas. Through revisiting primarily materialist frameworks, such as landscape ecology’s notions of fragments, edges and matrices, I hope to build a theoretical bridge to better blend biophysical and empirical descriptors in investigations of social networks and physical sites of sexual minorities with critical forms of cultural theory.

 

10. The Place, Promised, That Has Not Yet Been: The Nature of Dislocation and Desire in Adrienne Rich’s Your Native Land/Your Life and Minnie Bruce Pratt’s Crime Against Nature

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RACHEL STEIN

The hatred baffles me . . . / the way she pulled the statute book down like a novel/ . . . crime against nature. . . . / That year the punishment was: not less than five nor more/than sixty years. For my methods, indecent and unnatural/of gratifying a depraved and perverted sexual instinct./For even the slightest touching of lips or tongue or lips/to a woman’s genitals.

—Minnie Bruce Pratt

I need to understand how a place on the map is also a place in history within which as a woman, a Jew, a lesbian, a feminist I am created and trying to create. Begin, though, not with a continent or country or a house, but with the geography closest in—the body. . . . Begin, we said, with the material, with matter, mma, madre, mutter, moeder, modder, etc., etc.

—Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich and Minnie Bruce Pratt are contemporary U.S. lesbian feminist poets whose work overtly challenges many sorts of social inequalities and exclusions, including heterosexism, which rests upon the formulation of homosexuality as a crime against nature. Both poets expose how this discourse of unnatural sex dislocates lesbians from the social-natural order by framing homosexuals as societal pariahs and felons who are then excluded from social spaces and endangered within natural terrains. Rich and Pratt contest this “crime-against-nature” ideology by locating lesbian speakers within beloved landscapes, and through this strategic, nonessential identification of women with the natural world, they stake a claim for what Pratt describes as “the place, promised, that has not yet been—” (Pratt 1990, 18), a revolutionary environment of sexual freedom. Both writers call into question the ways that our ideas of the “natural” have permeated social formations and have been used by the hegemonic culture to naturalize and legalize social norms; while their poetry consciously redeploys the natural so as to reaffirm lesbian desires, it also emphasizes that appeals to nature have troubled histories and violent results that we must always address. Their poetic subversion of crime-against-nature ideology brings together struggles for environmental justice and sexual justice and offers us one approach toward a queer ecology.

 

11. Fucking close to water: Queering the Production of the Nation

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BRUCE ERICKSON

Although I have been for the last twenty years, credited with the quote you use, “A Canadian is someone who knows how to make love in a canoe,” it is not actually my own—at least I don’t think so.

—Pierre Berton

And somewhere in that self-consciousness, which knows it is fundamentally incompatible with itself, the nation acknowledges that its strategies of self-consciousness are inadequate to their task, and it silently confesses that its existence is also a crime.

—Chris Bracken

In order to start with honesty, I should inform the reader that my title, and my subject, is an absolute cliché for a novel take on the canoe in Canada. One of the first collections on canoeing in Canada (Raffan and Horwood 1988) contained two articles that started with the proposition, credited to Pierre Berton, that, “a Canadian is one who can make love in a canoe” (Raffan 1999b, 255). Bruce Hodgins (1988), in his contribution to the anthology, reaffirms Berton’s statement by saying that “making love in a canoe is the most Canadian act that two people can do” (45). Philip Chester adds a qualifier, stating, “while this may or may not be true, I would add that, unlike his American cousin, the true Canadian knows enough to take out the centre thwart” (1988, 93). The list of authors who use this quotable quote as an introduction to canoeing in Canada is enough to leave the phrase behind (Benidickson 1997, Chester 1988, Hodgins 1988, Raffan 1999a, Raffan 1999b) and the “bad joke” twist that I have added is less than heroic, taken from a Monty Python sketch as it is. However, there is, I believe, more to this—something highlighted by my use of a joke in the title, somewhat along the lines of flogging a dead horse—a talent for making jokes useful even after they have failed. Indeed, my suggestion is that it is failure itself that is captured so effectively by the statement attributed to Pierre Berton.

 

12. Melancholy Natures, Queer Ecologies

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CATRIONA MORTIMER-SANDILANDS

One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds.

—Aldo Leopold

It is as if the land secretes pheromones testifying to its abuse, detectable only by those who are themselves damaged.

—Jan Zita Grover

Sandy rang to say Paul is now very ill. I feel furious and impotent, why should this happen? Lovers shriveled and parched like the landscape.

—Derek Jarman

A contemporary echo of Aldo Leopold’s famous comment about environmental awareness as a “world of wounds” is currently reverberating around assorted blogs, Web pages, and other internet conversations. Entitled “The World is Dying—and So Are You,” the short piece (originally a 2001 op-ed commentary in the LA Times) begins with the following diagnosis:

At the heart of the modern age is a core of grief. At some level, we’re aware that something terrible is happening, that we humans are laying waste to our natural inheritance. A great sorrow arises as we witness the changes in the atmosphere, the waste of resources and the consequent pollution, the ongoing deforestation and destruction of fisheries, the rapidly spreading deserts, and the mass extinction of species. (Anderson 2001)

 

13. Biophilia, Creative Involution, and the Ecological Future of Queer Desire

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DIANNE CHISHOLM

Our essence as a species binds us to explore and affiliate with all life. We are lovers who can add up glucose, amino acids, water, fragrant oils, pigments, and other tissue and call it both a flower and a mystical gesture. We can also decimate pollinators with an unloving tonnage of pesticides, precipitating the extinction of entire populations of those mystical gestures, once and forever. . . . Lives without access to sensation are lives that edge out the earth’s raw, pervasive sweetness, that deeply biophilic connection to all life.

—Ellen Meloy

Somehow I am able to cross species lines without a single lesion in self-respect.

—Ellen Meloy

In Ellen Meloy’s seriously quirky writing of the desert southwest, the linking of affections and affiliations across species lines are more than idiosyncratically queer.1 Meloy uses ecologist Edward O. Wilson’s “biophilia” hypothesis as a method of cognitive adventuring into the frontiers of symbiosis.2 Her explorations of bio-erotic-diversity map flows of desire that escape classical biology and exceed even the “biological exuberance” with which nonhuman animals embrace homosexuality.3 She is more likely to track creative, nonprocreative interspecies crossings and the molecular heterogenesis between radically differing (animal, vegetable, mineral, other) life forms, than to wonder, as Wilson does, at the elaborate organization of reproductive sex between individuals of the same species. If, for Wilson, biophilia is a mindful reverence for the infinity of organic sexual-social order, for Meloy, it is an earthy curiosity for the erotic vitality with which life—especially desert life—affects fidelity to extreme geography. She senses a philia more physical than ideal, one that stirs and connects her cognitive desires (epistemo-bio-philia) to the evolving endemism of desert species.4 With a field scientist’s fidelity to nature’s experimentality, her writing conjugates the elements of survival and vitality in variations too perverse to be classified. And with an eye for the exotic in her own backyard, she enters voyeuristically into the multifarious sex comedy of her desert cohabitants. Such involvement allows her to see beyond the set schemata of natural selection to whatever queer couplings enable life to thrive in the desert’s volatile landscape.

 

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