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Queer ecology

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Queer ecology is the endeavor to understand nature, biology, and sexuality in the light of queer theory, thus rejecting the presumption that heterosexuality and cisgenderedness constitute any objective standard. It draws from science studies, ecofeminism, environmental justice, and queer geography.[1] These perspectives break apart various "dualisms" that exist within human understandings of nature and culture.[2]


Queer ecology states that people often regard nature in terms of dualistic notions like "natural and unnatural", "alive or not alive" or "human or not human", when in reality, nature exists in a continuous state. The idea of "natural" arises from human perspectives on nature, not "nature" itself.[1]

Queer ecology rejects ideas of human exceptionalism and anthropocentrism that propose that humans are unique and more important than the non-human.[3] Specifically, queer ecology challenges traditional ideas regarding which organisms, individuals, memories, species, visions, objects, etc. have value.[3]

Queer ecology also states that heteronormative ideas saturate human understanding of "nature" and human society, and calls for the inclusion of a more radically inclusive, queered perspective in environmental movements.[3][4] It rejects the associations that exist between "natural" and "heterosexual" or "heteronormative", and draws attention to how both nature and marginalized social groups have been historically exploited.[3]

Through the lens of queer ecology, all living things are considered to be connected and interrelated.[5] "To queer" nature is to acknowledge the complexities present in nature and to rid interpretations of nature from human assumptions and their disastrous impacts.[6]

Queer ecologies can be associated with what Tabassi calls "dirty resilience,"[7] or "the dismantling of structures of violence that target particular racialized and gendered bodies as disposable... [dirty resilience] is thus also the contextually specific creation of spaces and structures supporting self-determination and collective liberation, such as: land sovereignty; prison and apartheid regime abolition; new food systems; community accountability in place of policing and criminalization; non-proliferation and demilitarization; healthcare accessibility; free housing; collective decision-making; trauma transformation... [etc.]."[7]

In speaking to the radically interdisciplinary nature of queer ecologies, Knox draws a thread between this and 'insurgent posthumanism,'[8] - which "dissolves the dichotomy between humans and non-humans"[7] and asks how to contribute to "the making of lively ecologies as a form of material transformation that instigates justice as an immediate, lived, worldly experience."[8] - as well as to the work of Arakawa and Gins, and Simondon.[7]


The term 'queer ecology'[9] refers to a loose, interdisciplinary constellation of practices that aim, in different ways, to disrupt prevailing heteronormative discursive and institutional articulations of human and nature, and also to reimagine evolutionary processes, ecological interactions, and environmental politics in light of queer theory. Drawing from traditions as diverse as: evolutionary biology; LGBTTIQQ2SA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, intersex, queer, questioning, two-spirited, and asexual) movements; queer geography and history; feminist science studies; ecofeminism; disability studies; and environmental justice - queer ecology highlights the complexity of contemporary biopolitics, draws important connections between the material and cultural dimensions of environmental issues, and insists on an articulatory practice in which sex and nature are understood in light of multiple trajectories of power and matter.[9]


The theoretical beginnings of queer ecology are commonly traced back to what are considered foundational texts of queer theory. For example, scholar Catriona Sandilands cites queer ecology's origins back to Michel Foucault's The History of Sexuality (1976). Sandilands suggests Foucault "lays the groundwork for much contemporary queer ecological scholarship" by examining the conception of sex as "a specific object of scientific knowledge, organized through, on the one hand, a 'biology of reproduction' that considered human sexual behavior in relation to the physiologies of plant and animal reproduction, and on the other, a 'medicine of sex' that conceived of human sexuality in terms of desire and identity."[10] Foucault explains the "medicine of sex" as a way of talking about human health separate from the "medicine of the body".[11] Early notions of queer ecology also come from the poetry of Edward Carpenter, who addressed themes of sexuality and nature in his work.[12]

Judith Butler's work regarding gender also laid an important foundation for queer ecology. Specifically, Butler explores gender as performativity in their 1990 book, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity.[13] Queer ecology proposes that when Butler's notion of performativity is applied to the realm of ecology, it dismantles the 'nature-culture binary. From the perspective of queer ecology, essential differences do not exist between "nature" and "culture". Rather, humans who have categorized "nature" and "culture" as distinct from one another perform these differences. From a scientific perspective, "nature" cannot be fully understood if animals or particles are considered to be distinct, stagnant entities; rather, nature exists as a "web" of interactions.[14]

In part, queer ecology also emerged from ecofeminist work. Although queer ecology rejects traits of essentialism found in early ecofeminism, ecofeminist texts such as Mary Daly's Gyn/Ecology (1978) laid the foundation for understanding intersections between wom_n and the environment. Queer ecology develops these intersectional understandings that began in the field of ecofeminism about the ways sex and nature have historically been depicted. As a political theory that insists ecological and social problems are enmeshed, queer ecology has been compared to Murray Bookchin's concept of social ecology.[15]

In 2020, queer author Alex Johnson contributed his “How to Queer Ecology” essay to Orion Magazine. In this essay, Johnson defined and described some of the key tenets of queer ecology in seven steps. These steps provide a simplified avenue for the everyday person to learn about and practice queering ecology in their own lives. Johnson's seven steps to queering ecology are:[16]

1. Let go of Ecological Mandates - Using the example of David Quammen’s essay “The Miracle of the Geese,” Johnson encourages readers to acknowledge the heteronormativity that humans have derived from nature. This heteronormative perspective makes non-heteronormative things, such as Johnson’s own queer identity, seem unnatural. By acknowledging this, Johnson encourages the reader to let go of their ecologically-mandated heteronormative perspectives on what is natural and what is not.

2. Stop Generalizing - Continuing to use Quammen’s essay on geese, Johnson argues that the notion that geese are an example of Nature’s purity is simply inaccurate because not all geese are straight, thus introducing the ideas of gender nonconformity amongst nature (citing Bruce Bagemihl’s 1999 publication of Biological Exuberance as a key reference). Here, Johnson encourages the reader to drop preconceived notions and generalizations about the limits of identity and expression within nature, on both a human and non-human scale, thus opening room queer behaviors within human and non-human nature to become more commonly accepted.

3. Honk - In this step, Johnson encourages the reader to use the “more-than-human world” as a lesson on expanding our capacity for diverse identities and expressions to be possible here on Earth.

4. Acknowledge the Irony - Here Johnson pulls the reader into acknowledge the irony of those who presume Nature as an example of purity and heteronormativity, but also destroy the Earth while doing so. Johnson also offers here that Nature simply can’t be contained in a box, it is complex, mysterious and will continue to prove us wrong. This complexity is how Johnson describes the idea of “the queer.” Johnson invites readers to queer their understanding of ecology, thus opening up the possibilities for what is understood to constantly evolve, be challenged and change.

5. Don’t Fear the Queer - Here Johnson points out that those who speak loudest and quickest often have the floor, so in order to begin to bring the ideas of queering ecologies to the table, the audience must not fear talking about it and its complexities.

6. Enjoy the Performance - In this step, Johnson names Queer Ecology as a liberation theory. As such, the relations of living things become numberless, but there is still a human desire to categorize. Johnson urges the reader to acknowledge the power in those categories, and the lie.

7. I’m Done with the Steps

Heteronormativity and the environment[edit]

Queer ecology recognizes that people often associate heteronormativity with the idea of "natural", in contrast to, for example, homosexuality, trans, and non-binary identities, which people generally, under particular structures, associate with the "unnatural". These expectations of sexuality and nature often influence scientific studies of the non-human.[17] The natural world often defies the heteronormative notions held by scientists, helping humans to redefine our cultural understanding of what "natural" is and therefore how we might be able to "queer" environmental spaces.[18] For example, in 'The Feminist Plant: Changing Relations with the Water Lily,' Prudence Gibson and Monica Gagliano explain how the water lily defies heterosexist notions.[19] They argue that because the water lily is so much more than its reputation as a "pure" or "feminine" plant, we need to reevaluate our understanding of plants and acknowledge the connections between plant biology and models for cultural practice, through a feminist lens.[19]

In A political Ecology of 'Unnatural Offenses,' Kath Weston points out that environmentalism and queer politics rarely seem to intersect, but that "this dislocation rests on a narrow association of ecology with visible landscapes and sexuality with visible bodies bounded by skin."[17] In The Body as Bioregion, Deborah Slicer wrote that "[t]he environmentalists' silence about the body is all too familiar. My worry is that this silence reflects that traditional and dangerous way of thinking that the body is of no consequence, that our own corporeal nature is irrelevant to whatever environmentalists are calling "Nature"."[17] As Nicole Seymour states, "... new models of gender and sexuality emerge not just out of shifts in areas such as politics, economics, and medicine, but out of shifts in ecological consciousness."[17]

In the Orion Magazine article, “How to Queer Ecology: One Goose at a Time”, Alex Carr Johnson calls for a stop to the dualistic and generalizing categorization of nature and its possibilities. Two opposing interpretations are found by comparing David Quammen’s essay “The Miracle of Geese” and Bruce Bagemihl’s book, Biological Exuberance [2]. While Quammen used evidence of monogamous and heterosexual partnerships amongst geese as an ecological mandate for such behaviors, Bagemihl observed monogamous and homosexual partnerships. These partnerships were frequent and persistent, not from a lack of potential mates of the opposite sex.[2] Such conflicting accounts of the “natural” exemplify how interpretation, extrapolation, and communication of nature and the natural subsequently restricts and reduces the capacity to conceptualize and understand what it constitutes.

Reimagining scientific perspectives[edit]

In disciplines of the natural sciences like evolutionary biology and ecology, queer ecology allows scholars to reimagine cultural binaries that exist between "natural and unnatural" and "living and non-living".[20]

Timothy Morton proposes that biology and ecology deconstruct notions of authenticity.[21] Specifically, he proposes that life exists as a "mesh of interrelations" that blurs traditional scientific boundaries, like species, living and nonliving, human and nonhuman, and even between an organism and its environment. Queer ecology, according to Morton, emphasizes a perspective on life that transcends dualisms and distinctive boundaries, instead recognizing that unique relationships exist between life forms at different scales. Queer ecology nuances traditional evolutionary perspectives on sexuality, regarding heterosexuality as impractical at many scales and as a "late" evolutionary development.

Other scholars challenge the contrast that exists between "human" and "non-human" classifications, proposing that the idea of "fluidity" from queer theory should also extend to the relationship between humans and the non-human.[22]

Queer ecology and human society[edit]

Queer ecology is also relevant when considering human geography. For example, Catriona Mortimer-Sandilands considers lesbian separatist communities in Oregon as a specific manifestation of queer ecology.[23] Marginalized communities, according to Sandilands, create new cultures of nature against dominant ecological relations. Environmental issues are closely linked to social relations that include sexuality, and so a strong alliance exists between queer politics and environmental politics. "Queer geography" calls attention to the spatial organization of sexuality, which implicates issues of access to natural spaces, and the sexualization of these spaces. This implies that unique ecological relationships arise from these sexuality-based experiences. Furthermore, queer ecology disrupts the association of nature with sexuality. Matthew Gandy proposes that urban parks, for example, are heteronormative because they reflect hierarchies of property and ownership.[24] "Queer", in the case of urban nature, refers to spatial difference and marginalization, beyond sexuality.

Queer ecology is also important within individual households. As a space influenced by society, the home is often an ecology that perpetuates heteronormativity.[25] Will McKeithen examines queer ecology in the home by considering the implications of the label "crazy cat lady".[25] Because the "crazy cat lady" often defies societal heterosexist expectations for the home, as she, instead of having a romantic, cis-male, human partner, treats animals as legitimate companions.[25] This rejection of heteropatriarchal norms and acceptance of multispecies intimacy, creates a queer ecology of the home.[25]

Queer ecology is also connected to feminist economics, concerned with topics such as social reproduction, extractivism, and feminized forms of labour, largely unrecognized and unremunerated by dominant Capitalist, Neo-Colonial and Neo-Imperialist systems.[26] Feminist economics may be said to be using queer ecology, to disentangle the gender binary, including the ties between the cis-female body's reproductive potential and the responsibilities of social reproduction, childcare, and nation building.[26]

Arts and literature[edit]

A significant shift towards an ecological aesthetic in New York can be traced back to an interdisciplinary festival in 1990 called the Sex Salon which took place at the art space Epoché in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Celebrating both nonbinary forms of sexuality and the rooting of culture within a neighborhood ecosystem, the three day salon was the first large gathering of artists, writers and musicians outside the Borough of Manhattan. The ecologically engaged movement, eventually referred to as the Brooklyn Immersionists, included the ecofeminist periodical, The Curse and the night space, El Sensorium which promoted a form of identity-free abandon called the "omnisensorial sweepout."

The Immersionist scene came to a climax in 1993, according to Domus, with the ecological culture experiment, Organism. The event blurred the boundaries between humans and their environment and featured numerous overlapping cultural and natural systems cultivated by 120 members of Williamsburg's creative community. The ecological "web jam" included a genderless "elvin napping system" and a participatory exercise in sexual empowerment called The Boom Boom Womb by the polyamorous rock group, Thrust. The all night event was attended by over 2000 guests and has been cited by Newsweek, the Performing Arts Journal (PAJ), Die Zeit and the New York Times. Organism's program notes invited the audience into an implicitly queer merging of the human body with its ecosystem:

"Wiffle your fingers through the mush. Invite a friend into the jello with you. This is all one strange continuum, a conflux of linkages, systems, feedback loops, waveforms... How do we extract pleasure from such an equation? Can we build a hybrid of steel, brick, plants, [bodies] and thought, absorbing pleasure from it as we ourselves become integrated into its monstrous flesh?"[27]

In May 1994, an editorial essay in UnderCurrents: Journal of Critical Environmental Studies entitled "Queer Nature" spoke to the notion of queer ecology. The piece identified the disruptive power possible when one examines normative categories associated with nature. The piece asserted that white cis-heterosexual males hold power over the politics of nature, and that this pattern cannot continue.[28] Queer Ecological[29] thinking and literature was also showcased in this issue, in the form of poetry and art submissions—deconstructing heteronormativity within both human and environmental sexualities.[30] In 2015, Undercurrents proceeded to release an update to their original issue and a podcast[31] to celebrate 20 years of continued studies in queer ecology.[32]

In 2013, Strange Natures, by Nicole Seymour, explored the queer ecological imagination, futurity, and empathy through culture and popular culture, including the contemporary transgender novel and different forms of cinema.[29]

Theater is a significant setting for exploring ideas of queer ecology, because the theater-space can provide an alternative environment, from which to consider a reality independent from the socially constructed and enforced, binaries and heteronormativity of the outside world.[33] In this way, theater has the potential to construct temporary "queer ecologies" on stage.[33]

Writers such as Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville, Willa Cather, and Djuna Barnes, have been said to complicate the common notion that environmental literature consists exclusively of heterosexual doctrine and each of their work sheds light on the ways that human sexuality is connected to environmental politics [citation needed].[34] Robert Azzarello, has also identified common themes of queerness and environmental studies in American Romantic and post-Romantic literature that challenge conventional ideas of the "natural".[35]

In 2023, Knox referred to Camille Vidal-Naquet's, Sauvage, as a queer ecological film, in a presentation titled Queer Ecologies through Camille Vidal-Naquet’s, Sauvage (2018), with potential impacts for reframing climate justice.[36]

Queer Ecologies and Crip Theory[edit]

In Queer Ecologies; Sex, Nature, Politics, Desire, Giovanna Di Chiro quotes Eli Clare as follows: " 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 the 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."[37]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Sandilands, Catriona (12 January 2016). "Queer Ecology: Keywords for Environmental Studies". NYU Press.
  2. ^ a b c "How to Queer Ecology: One Goose at a Time".
  3. ^ a b c d Schnabel, L (2014). "The Question of Subjectivity in Three Emerging Feminist Science Studies Frameworks: Feminist Postcolonial Science Studies, New Feminist Materialisms, and Queer Ecologies". Women's Studies International Forum. 44 (1): 10–16. doi:10.1016/j.wsif.2014.02.011.
  4. ^ Pollitt, Amanda M.; Mernitz, Sara E.; Russell, Stephen T.; Curran, Melissa A.; Toomey, Russell B. (2021-02-23). "Heteronormativity in the Lives of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Queer Young People". Journal of Homosexuality. 68 (3): 522–544. doi:10.1080/00918369.2019.1656032. ISSN 1540-3602. PMC 7035158. PMID 31437417.
  5. ^ "Orion Magazine | How to Queer Ecology: One Goose at a Time". Orion Magazine. Retrieved 2019-05-07.
  6. ^ "Orion Magazine - How to Queer Ecology: One Goose at a Time". Orion Magazine. Retrieved 2021-11-02.
  7. ^ a b c d Harcourt and Nelson (2015). Practicing Feminist Political Ecologies; Moving beyond the 'green economy' (1st ed.). London: Zed Books. pp. 286–308. ISBN 9781783600892.
  8. ^ a b Papadopoulos, D (2010). "Insurgent posthumanism". Ephemera; Theory and Politics in Organization. 10 (2): 134–151.
  9. ^ a b S, Catriona; il; s (11 January 2016). "Keywords for Environmental Studies". Retrieved 2020-10-16.
  10. ^ Sandilands, Catriona (12 January 2016). "Queer Ecology". Keywords for Environmental Studies. NYU Press.
  11. ^ Foucault, Michel (1978–1988). The History of Sexuality. Pantheon Books. ISBN 0394417755. OCLC 1057925396.
  12. ^ Parkins, Wendy (6 July 2018). "Edward Carpenter's Queer Ecology of the Everyday". 19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century. 2018 (26): 1–18. doi:10.16995/ntn.803.
  13. ^ Morton, Timothy (March 2010). "Quest Column: Queer Ecology". PMLA. 125 (2): 273–282. doi:10.1632/pmla.2010.125.2.273. JSTOR 25704424. S2CID 55848011. [verification needed]
  14. ^ Barad, Karen (Spring–Summer 2011). "Nature's Queer Performativity". Qui Parle. 19 (2): 121–158. doi:10.5250/quiparle.19.2.0121. JSTOR 10.5250/quiparle.19.2.0121. S2CID 141624459. [verification needed]
  15. ^ "Queer ecology: A roundtable discussion" (PDF). European Journal of Ecopsychology. 3: 82–103. 2012.
  16. ^ Johnson, Alex C. “How to Queer Ecology: One Goose at a Time.” Orion Magazine, 29 June 2020, orionmagazine.org/article/how-to-queer-ecology-once-goose-at-a-time/.
  17. ^ a b c d Seymour, Nicole., author. (2013-05-15). Strange natures : futurity, empathy, and the queer ecological imagination. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 9780252094873. OCLC 1004347447. {{cite book}}: |last= has generic name (help)CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  18. ^ Gaard (2011). "Green, Pink, and Lavender: Banishing Ecophobia through Queer Ecologies, Review of Queer Ecologies: Sex, Nature, Politics, Desire, Catriona Mortimer-Sandilands and Bruce Erickson, eds". Ethics and the Environment. 16 (2): 115. doi:10.2979/ethicsenviro.16.2.115. ISSN 1085-6633. S2CID 141843845.
  19. ^ a b Prudence Gibson; Monica Gagliano (2017). "The Feminist Plant: Changing Relations with the Water Lily". Ethics and the Environment. 22 (2): 125. doi:10.2979/ethicsenviro.22.2.06. ISSN 1085-6633. S2CID 148965893.
  20. ^ DUNBAR, R (June 2004). "Is sexual selection dead?Evolution's Rainbow: Diversity Gender and Sexuality in Nature and People by Joan Roughgarden. University of California Press, 2004. US$dollar;27.50/E18.98 hbk (427 pages) ISBN 0 520 24073 1". Trends in Ecology & Evolution. 19 (6): 289–290. doi:10.1016/j.tree.2004.03.023. ISSN 0169-5347.
  21. ^ Morton, Timothy (March 2010). "Guest Column: Queer Ecology". PMLA. 125 (2): 273–282. doi:10.1632/pmla.2010.125.2.273. ISSN 0030-8129. S2CID 55848011.
  22. ^ Giffney, Noreen 1975- HerausgeberIn. Hird, Myra J. Prof. HerausgeberIn. (6 September 2016). Queering the non/human. Routledge. ISBN 9781138247789. OCLC 992744467.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  23. ^ Sandilands, Catriona (2002). "Lesbian Separatist Communities and the Experience of Nature : Toward a Queer Ecology". Organization & Environment. 15 (2): 131–163. doi:10.1177/10826602015002002. S2CID 58915674.
  24. ^ Gandy, Matthew (2012). "Queer Ecology: Nature, Sexuality, and Heterotopic Alliances". Environment and Planning D: Society and Space. 30 (4): 727–747. Bibcode:2012EnPlD..30..727G. doi:10.1068/d10511. S2CID 146653740.
  25. ^ a b c d McKeithen, Will (2017). "Queer Ecologies of Home: Heteronormativity, Speciesism, and the Strange Intimacies of Crazy Cat Ladies". Gender, Place & Culture. 24 (1): 122–134. doi:10.1080/0966369X.2016.1276888. S2CID 151767469.
  26. ^ a b Bauhardt, Christine. Ed. Stacy Alaimo . Macmillan Interdisciplinary Handbooks, Farmington Hills, MI: Macmillan Reference USA, 2017.
  27. ^ Introduction by Ebon Fisher for Organism. Limited edition event catalogue printed in Brooklyn, 1993, p. 4
  28. ^ UnderCurrents, Shauna M. O'Donnell with the Editorial Collective of (1994). "Carrying On and Going Beyond: Some Conditions of Queer/Nature". UnderCurrents: Journal of Critical Environmental Studies. 6: 2. doi:10.25071/2292-4736/37693. ISSN 0843-7351. S2CID 251354622.
  29. ^ a b Seymour, Nicole (2013). Strange Natures; Futurity, Empathy, and the Queer Ecological Imagination (1st ed.). USA: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 9780252037627.
  30. ^ "Vol 6 (1994)". currents.journals.yorku.ca. Retrieved 2020-10-16.
  31. ^ "Vol 19 (2015)". currents.journals.yorku.ca. Retrieved 2020-10-16.
  32. ^ Collective, UnderCurrents Editorial (2015-10-13). "From Queer/Nature to Queer Ecologies: Celebrating 20 Years of Scholarship and Creativity". UnderCurrents: Journal of Critical Environmental Studies. 19. ISSN 0843-7351. Archived from the original on 2020-11-25. Retrieved 2020-10-16.
  33. ^ a b Carina Bartleet . Ed. Iris van der Tuin . Macmillan Interdisciplinary HandbooksFarmington Hills, MI: Macmillan Reference USA, 2016.
  34. ^ Anderson, Jill (2011-01-01). "The Gay of the Land: Queer Ecology and the Literature of the 1960s". Electronic Theses and Dissertations.
  35. ^ Azzarello, Robert (2016-04-15). Queer Environmentality. doi:10.4324/9781315603179. ISBN 9781315603179.
  36. ^ "Sacha Knox - Queer Ecologies through Camille Vidal-Naquet's Sauvage (2018)". YouTube.
  37. ^ Mortimer-Sandilands and Erickson (2010). Queer Ecologies; Sex, Nature, Politics, Desire (1st ed.). USA: Indiana University Press. ISBN 9780253354839.

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