Queer ecology

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The term queer ecology refers to a perspective which views nature, biology, and sexuality through the lens of queer theory. It objects to what it considers heterosexist notions of nature, drawing from science studies, ecofeminism, environmental justice, and queer geography.[1] This perspective breaks apart various "dualisms" that exist within human understanding 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 other non-human nature.[3] Specifically, queer ecology challenges traditional ideas regarding which organisms, species, and individuals have value.[3]

Queer ecology also states that heteronormative ideas (heteronormativity defined as society assigning privilege to heterosexual beings) saturate human understanding of "nature" and human society, and calls for the inclusion of queerness in environmental movements.[3][4] It rejects the associations that exist between "natural" and "heterosexual", and draws attention to how both nature and marginalized social groups have been historically exploited.[3]

People apply queer ecology by letting go of ideas of what is "natural", getting rid of generalizations of human and animal behavior, acknowledging the diversity of the natural world, and facilitating discourse centered around queerness. 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.[6]


"The term "queer ecology"[7] refers to a loose, interdisciplinary constellation of practices that aim, in different ways, to disrupt prevailing heterosexist discursive and institutional articulations of sexuality 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, and queer geography and history, feminist science studies, ecofeminism, and environmental justice, queer ecology currently 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"[7]


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."[8] Foucault explains the "medicine of sex" as a way of talking about human health separate from the "medicine of the body".[9] Early notions of queer ecology also come from the poetry of Edward Carpenter, who addressed themes of sexuality and nature in his work.[10]

Judith Butler's work regarding gender also laid an important foundation for queer ecology. Specifically, Butler explores gender as performativity in her 1990 book, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity.[11] Queer ecology proposes that when Butler's notion of performtivity 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.[12]

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 women and the environment. Queer ecology develops these intersectional understandings that began in the field of ecofeminism about the ways sex and nature have been 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[13] since both are political theories that insist that ecological and social problems are enmeshed.

In May 1994, an editorial essay in UnderCurrents: Journal of Critical Environmental Studies entitled "Queer Nature" introduced 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 heterosexual males hold power over the politics of nature, and this pattern cannot continue.[14] Queer ecologist 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.[15] Later in 2015, Undercurrents proceeded to release an update to their original issue and a podcast[16] to celebrate 20 years of continued studies in queer ecology.[17]

Recently, movies like James Cameron's Avatar have started to popularize ideas central to queer ecology.[18]

Heterosexism and the environment[edit]

Queer ecology recognizes that people often associate heterosexuality with the idea of "natural", in contrast to, for example, homosexuality, which people associate with "unnatural". These expectations of sexuality and nature often influence scientific studies of non-human wildlife.[19] The natural world often defies the heteronormative notions held by scientists, helping humans to redefine our cultural understanding of what is "natural" and also how we "queer" environmental spaces.[20] 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. 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 understandings of plants and acknowledge the connection between plant biology and models for cultural practice through a feminist lens.[21]

Another example of heterosexism in nature is David Quammen’s essay “The Miracle of the Geese”, where Quammen celebrates the fact that he has found an “ecological mandate” for monogamy between mating partners. In How to Queer Ecology, Johnson argues his assertion not only ignores behaviors between geese that could be considered homosexual, but also projects an aspirational purity onto nature. Johnson discusses how notions of what is and isn’t nature has affected him as a queer person while also explain how this discourse is unhelpful to understanding nature itself. He also argues that generalizing and moralizing nature places value on certain behaviors and misrepresents the possibility of future behavior.[2]

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".[22]

Timothy Morton proposes that biology and ecology deconstruct notions of authenticity.[23] 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 environment.[24]

Queer ecology and human society[edit]

Queer ecology is also relevant when considering human geography. For example, Catriona Sandilands considers lesbian separatist communities in Oregon as a specific manifestation of queer ecology.[25] 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.[26] "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.[27] Will McKeithen examines queer ecology in the home by considering the implications of the label "crazy cat lady".[27] Because the "crazy cat lady" often defies societal heterosexist expectations for the home, as she, instead of having a romantic, male, human partner, treats animals as legitimate companions.[27] This rejection of heteropatriarchal norms and acceptance of multispecies intimacy makes the home into a queer ecology.[27]

Queer ecology also works its way into feminist economics, which are centered at childcare and reproduction.[28] Anti-capitalist feminists use queer ecology to disentangle the gender binary, including the ties between the female body's reproductive potential and the responsibility of social reproduction and childcare.[28]

Arts and literature[edit]

Some have begun to apply the notion of queer ecology to their work in visual art, theater, and literature.

Theater is an important setting to explore ideas of queer ecology because theater provides an environment to consider a world independent of the constructed binaries and heteronormativity in the outside world.[29] Thus, theater can construct temporary "queer ecologies" on the stage. Theater can portray a hypothetical society of radical coexistence by blurring the lines by challenging social binaries, "natural" hierarchies, and challenging the notion that the earth is a nonliving entity.[29]

Recently, visual artists have also alluded to the ideas central to queer ecology. For example, the 1997 multimedia project Lesbian National Parks and Services, developed by the Canadian performance art duo of Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan, queers the idea of national parks and "[challenges' the general public's ideas of tourism, recreation, and the ‘natural' environment."[30] Additionally, the artist collective The Institute of Queer Ecology seeks to "nurture a new environmental paradigm based on the concepts of interconnectivity and inseparability."[31] They have participated in group shows, curated exhibitions, and edited "The Queer Issue" of the zine ECOCORE.

Fundamental notions of queer ecology are present in the writing of Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville, Willa Cather, and Djuna Barnes. These writers complicate the common belief 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. Robert Azzarello, in addition, has identified common themes of queerness and environmental studies in American Romantic and post-Romantic literature that challenge conventional ideas of what is "natural".[32]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Sandilands, Catriona (12 January 2016). "Queer Ecology: Keywords for Environmental Studies". NYU Press.
  2. ^ a b "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 S, Catriona; il; s (11 January 2016). "Keywords for Environmental Studies". Retrieved 2020-10-16.
  8. ^ Sandilands, Catriona (12 January 2016). "Queer Ecology". Keywords for Environmental Studies. NYU Press.
  9. ^ Foucault, Michel (1978–1988). The History of Sexuality. Pantheon Books. ISBN 0394417755. OCLC 1057925396.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ 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]
  12. ^ 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]
  13. ^ "Queer ecology: A roundtable discussion" (PDF). European Journal of Ecopsychology. 3: 82–103. 2012.
  14. ^ 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. ISSN 0843-7351.
  15. ^ "Vol 6 (1994)". currents.journals.yorku.ca. Retrieved 2020-10-16.
  16. ^ "Vol 19 (2015)". currents.journals.yorku.ca. Retrieved 2020-10-16.
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ Anglin, Sallie (April 2015). "Generative Motion: Queer Ecology and Avatar". The Journal of Popular Culture. 48 (2): 341–354. doi:10.1111/jpcu.12261.
  19. ^ Seymour, Nicole., author. (2013-05-15). Strange natures : futurity, empathy, and the queer ecological imagination. ISBN 9780252094873. OCLC 1004347447. {{cite book}}: |last= has generic name (help)CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  20. ^ 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.
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^ 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.
  23. ^ 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.
  24. ^ Giffney, Noreen 1975- HerausgeberIn. Hird, Myra J. Prof. HerausgeberIn. (6 September 2016). Queering the non/human. ISBN 9781138247789. OCLC 992744467.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  25. ^ 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.
  26. ^ Gandy, Matthew (2012). "Queer Ecology: Nature, Sexuality, and Heterotopic Alliances". Environment and Planning D: Society and Space. 30 (4): 727–747. doi:10.1068/d10511.
  27. ^ 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.
  28. ^ a b Bauhardt, Christine. Ed. Stacy Alaimo . Macmillan Interdisciplinary Handbooks, Farmington Hills, MI: Macmillan Reference USA, 2017.
  29. ^ a b Carina Bartleet . Ed. Iris van der Tuin . Macmillan Interdisciplinary HandbooksFarmington Hills, MI: Macmillan Reference USA, 2016.
  30. ^ "Lesbian National Parks and Services". Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan.[verification needed]
  31. ^ "About IQECO". The Institute of Queer Ecology.[verification needed]
  32. ^ Azzarello, Robert (2016-04-15). Queer Environmentality. doi:10.4324/9781315603179. ISBN 9781315603179.

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