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Queer Ecology, Explained.

Ingrid Bååth

Why do we need a new ecology?

Queer, non-heterosexual and non-cis gendered folk still face daily discrimination and oppression, In 2021, in the liberal West. And, unless it is June, queerness is something that’s not heard, seen, represented or, in many cases, even safe to be expressed.

Although Pride Month plays an important part in uplifting queer identities, there is a lot more work to be done towards meaningful acceptance of LGBTQIA+ people in society. Oppression can exist in all areas of a queer person’s life — from overt violence, to structures of social inequality, lack of access to resources, discriminatory health care, and more. However, discrimination is even more subtle and sneaky than that — it lives on in social and cultural norms, permeating the way we subconsciously think and feel about the world. Queer liberation is not just a fight in the streets but a fight against harmful attitudes, biases and systematic oppression.

What we’re fighting against

  • Queer oppression

What is Queer Ecology?

LGBTQIA+ oppression has manifested itself in all areas of thought — and ecology, environmentalism and the climate movement are no exception. Queer Ecology is a scientific theory that aims to bring together queer theory and ecology to shift paradigms away from binary, rigid and heteronormative ways of understanding nature towards interdependency and fluidity. These intersectional and interdisciplinary practices break down compulsory heterosexuality as it manifests in our perception of nature and academia and, in the process, bring cultural nuances to the fore.

The assumed heterosexuality, and thereby the oppression of non-heterosexual identities, in biology has been the baseline for scientific studies for centuries. The inherent queerness of nature has for a long time been ignored, suppressed and dismissed to reflect society’s underlying bias against non-heterosexual and non-cis gender identities. However, in nature both gender and sex binaries are fluid among a large array of fauna and flora. The simplification of nature has created dualities that reflect our current societal norms and world views. We see this in the way we refer to heterosexuality as ‘natural’ and deviations from this (like homosexuality) as ‘unnatural’, but there is nothing unnatural about queerness. Nature is a lot more complex than we give it credit for. Queer ecology aims to bring light to these issues which can help scientists better understand and better inform conservation practises and make the climate movement more accurately reflect the natural world.

Queerness is found in countless animal and plant species. A common example is homosexual and homoromantic relationships between male penguins. Although homosexuality, in particular, has been studied in countless animal species, we are still reluctant to accept queerness as natural. The primitive idea of reproduction as the main reason for sexual and romantic relationships limits our objective, scientific understanding of nature, while also fuelling an anti-queer rhetoric in Western social norms. Not only does our understanding of nature become the baseline for what we believe to be natural, but also what we believe to be moral or good behaviour. But by approaching biology as fluid instead of fixed, we can re-examine our understanding of nature which in turn infers our social believe systems. This phenomenon is called a cultural boomerang. We interpret nature based on our inherent biases and use our biased understanding of nature to defend and justify those societal biases we have.

What we’re fighting for

  • Breaking down queer oppression in nature

How do we apply Queer Ecology?

Applied Queer Ecology helps us reconnect to nature and redefine our relationship with the natural world. Our disconnect from nature is evident in the way we describe ourselves as higher than, evolved from and apart from nature instead of connected to and apart of nature. Homosexual or queer behaviour may be described by some as primitive behaviours that the ‘civilised’ man has evolved from, that only people who are less than or driven by instinct could engage in queer behaviours. This paradigm, that queerness is both unnatural and primitive (we see these same arguments used in other oppressive ideologies like racism and sexism), stems clearly from our inherent biases and is evident when we look at the world through a Queer Ecology lens. Nature is wonderfully homosexual, non-monogamous and queer.

Natural reproduction is a common argument used against queer people to demonise their existence and promote a separation between natural and unnatural in society. But there are countless of species who reproduce in ways that deviate from the heterosexual ‘ideal’. The New Mexico whiptail (Aspidoscelis neomexicanus) is an only-female lizard species and is sometimes referred to as ‘the lesbian lizard’. This species has evolved to only produce female individuals. Two female lizards mate and one of them lay eggs and because of a mutation no health male individuals ever reach maturity. In the scientific world their reproductive behaviour has been called parthenogenesis, which is a form of asexual mating. Though they are capable of mating and producing eggs, their behaviour is still labelled asexual because of the lack of sperm. This is a perfect example of a cultural boomerang. The New Mexico wiptail engages in successful reproductive sexual behaviour but because it is a female only species it has not been perceived as true sexual reproduction. In turn, since the behaviour is labelled as asexual by science, it may inform unconscious and conscious biases we have against queer women and their relationships.

In practice, Queer Ecology means changing language and scientific theories to reflect the true nature of nature. It means looking at the world through a nuanced lens, differentiating between ingrained social ideologies and the natural world. By approaching nature with an open mind we can rid ourselves of the rigid, oppressive thought processes behind ecological science and slowly shift cultural perceptions. Creating an awareness and understanding that queerness is apart of nature and human behaviour, not an anomaly but a natural way of existing. The more we accept that we don’t understand nature, the more we will be able to form a more comprehensive and accurate depiction of the natural world.

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