[This post contains background materials and videos I prepared for a conversation about Queer Ecology that was part of the Goddard College on-line seminar series Ecological Thinking and Doing: Toward an Ethics of Flourishing on Thursday, 1 May 2014.]
When I’m asked casually what I mean by “queer ecology,” I explain that it’s a mash-up of Environmental Studies and Queer Theory. This vernacular response is both reductive and a little oblique, enough perhaps to satisfy cocktail conversation, but not enough to reveal queer ecology’s vibrant possibility. As Timothy Morton has written, queer ecology has the potential to create a “fantastic explosion” in how we think about ecology and what it means to be human, but he’s clear, and I’m prone to agree, that as a field queer ecology doesn’t quite yet exist. It’s a provocative idea and interesting lens through which we can reflect upon some critical questions facing us, but it’s still in formation.
By Queer Theory I don’t mean “gay studies.” Rather, I’m referring to a field of critical theory (a philosophy that emphasizes reflective assessment of culture through the application of knowledge from the social sciences and humanities) that applies a queer reading to culture and theorizes queerness. Queer Theory compels us to ask what we think is “normal”, how we came to believe it, and who is included, excluded, or oppressed by the definition. And finally, in my mind, it asks us to consider how by transgressing or defying normalized culture we expand the possibilities of human potential. When I refer to Environmental Studies, I’m most interested in how we understand ecology and our place within it; and I’m particularly interested in understanding how our metaphors around the environment (and the many fictions that a term like “nature” creates) affect our ability to more fully understand ourselves and the world.
As I’ve thought about these matters, I’ve come to understand queer ecology as a set of lenses through which I can investigate issues of human sexuality and both social and planetary ecologies. In many ways these lenses build off of Alex Johnson’s equation:
Queer ecology begins by questioning our understanding of sexuality in relation to Nature, but it certainly does not end there. As I suggest in my essay, if straight identity means “I am,” and gay identity means “I am not,” then queer can mean “I am also.” I see no end to the application of I-Am-Also as we work to protect the integrity of the world’s ecological whole.
I have come to understand Johnson’s point as meaning that normative states are singular and limiting, states of difference as being oppositional and tethered to the normative states they resist, and queer states reflecting life’s implicit and explicit plurality and diverse subjective potential. The three sequential lenses I propose are: 1.) Recognizing Normative Abnormality; 2.) Imagining Transgression; and 3.) Envisioning Plurality. In this module, I’ll spend some time illustrating each of these modalities before connecting this approach to other epistemic approaches.
Prior to facilitating a seminar conversation, I shared these three video blogs as a means of prompting conversation:
And finally, I offered questions and resources to help advance the conversation.
SOME QUESTIONS TO PROMPT DISCUSSION:
- What’s an experience or belief that once felt normal but later revealed itself to be abnormal?
- Can you name an unseen or unacknowledged loss in your life?
- Guarding against sentimentality, what does your experience of climate change make you feel?
- How is your actual and performed sexuality evident in the social landscape, or echoed in the non-human world? How is it denied?
- Judith Halberstam reads from The Queer Art of Failure, City Lights Bookstore Podcast
- “How to Queer Ecology: One Goose at a Time,” Alex Johnson
- “Queer Ecology,” by Tim Morton
- “Melancholy Natures, Queer Ecologies,” Catriona Mortimer-Sandilands (PDF attached below)
- “Elegy for a Country’s Seasons,” Zadie Smith from The New York Review of Books
- Kirkus Review of Biological Exuberance by Bruce Bagemihl
- Faiman-Silva, Sandra L. The Courage to Connect: Sexuality, Citizenship, and Community in Provincetown. Urbana: University of Illinois, 2004. Print.
- Queer Ecologies: Sex, Nature, Politics, Desire, Bruce Erickson (Editor), Catriona Mortimer-Sandilands (Editor)
- Munoz, José Esteban. Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. New York: New York UP, 2009. Print.
- Halberstam, Judith. The Queer Art of Failure. Durham: Duke UP, 2011. Print.
Photographs and videos copyright Pete Hocking, 2013