D Gregory Smith

How to Queer Ecology: One Goose at a Time

Filed By D Gregory Smith | March 24, 2011 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Alex Johnson, biology, Orion Magazine, science teachers

If you're an amateur naturalist, like me, you've probably spent some time in the library or online looking for sexual ambiguity in nature. After all, one of the biggest arguments against the biodiversity of sexual orientation is this: Natural Law.

fancygoose.jpgThe argument basically says nature dictates what is (and what isn't) natural. The basic premise for years had been that animals and plants have clearly established sexual roles and are completely hetero-oriented. And that was a basic premise of my high school science and biology classes.

Because my own experience doesn't bear this out, I've always known that science would soon catch up - destroying the faulty premise of hetero-only natural law. My friend Alex Johnson - a bona fide environmental scientist - also had the itch to find the versatility of nature.

In his fascinating piece for Orion Magazine, Alex writes:

Where is the line between what is Nature and what is Human? Do I spend equal times in the parking lot and the forest? Can I really say the parking lot is separate from the forest? What if I end up staying in the parking lot the whole time? What if it has been a long drive and I really have to pee?

The problem is, the Nature/Human split is not a split. It is a dualism. It is false.

I propose messing it up. I propose queering Nature.

Like I said: fascinating. Alex continues:

As it would happen, I'm queer. What I mean is this:

A) I am a man attracted to men. B) Popular culture has told me that men who are attracted to men are unnatural, and so C) if my culture is right, then I am unnatural. But D) I don't feel unnatural at all. In fact, the love I share with another man is one of the most comfortable, honest, real feelings I have ever felt. And so E) I can't help but believe that Nature, and the corresponding definition of "natural," betray reality. From my end of the rainbow, this thing we call Nature is in need of a good queering.

This is a great essay, beautifully written. It provides excellent points of thought and conversation about nature and sexuality.

And yes, it does talk about same-sex animal behavior.

Read the full piece here. Then forward it to your high school science teacher.

Recent Entries Filed under Living:

Leave a comment

We want to know your opinion on this issue! While arguing about an opinion or idea is encouraged, personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please be respectful of others.

The editorial team will delete a comment that is off-topic, abusive, exceptionally incoherent, includes a slur or is soliciting and/or advertising. Repeated violations of the policy will result in revocation of your user account. Please keep in mind that this is our online home; ill-mannered house guests will be shown the door.

Actually the "gay is unnatural" line invokes a recognized logical fallacy that also pops up in ethics discussions from time to time. "Appeal to Nature" is a logical fallacy wherein one assumes the dualist binary of which Alex is talking and also assumes that the "unnatural" is bad without demonstrating a reason. Such claims fall apart when the person is asked to assign a definition to an incredibly vague term like "natural". Is computer use natural? If not, is it evil?

I had a female goat. She gave birth to twins, one girl and one boy. After just a few months the boy was trying to have sex with his mother and sister. I gave all 3 to a neighbor who also had another male goat. Both females are now pregnant. Yes, nature is fascinating.

Brad Bailey | March 24, 2011 5:43 PM

I've battled many a fundie over this.

If you tell them that there are over 1500 species in nature that practice homosexual sex, pair-bonding and adoption, they will ask if you think mankind is no better than animals?

If you tell them evidence supports the "nature" side of the nature-nurture argument, they will tell you that there is no "gay gene."

Then they'll tell you to pray that no gay gene is ever found else mothers will abort their fetuses.

They have succeeded in elevating heterosexuality to the status of a religious sacrament. They have created God and Nature in their image, not the reverse.

Paige Listerud | March 24, 2011 6:49 PM

If you look up the word "natural" in the dictionary, you'll find several definitions--some that reference what happens in nature as natural and some that denote what is considered or defined as natural by human beings. In other words, if we humans declare something to be natural (and by logical extension "unnatural"), then it is.

I presume you know something about the book Natural Exuberance, which enumerates those species observed engaging in same-sex behavior. Popular recognition of queer Nature doesn't perturb the right or prompt them to reconsider their position. They just say that we shouldn't behave like animals. Or make the ridiculous claim that same-sex behavior is not natural TO HUMANS. Or they bring up the fact that chimpanzees engage in murder. (Apparently, enjoying orgasms with a same-sex partner is the equivalent of murder.)

I confess that I enjoy watching video of animals enjoying sex across the gender spectrum. I think seeing something that contravenes the negative messages about homosexuality or bisexuality being unnatural definitely has an uplifting effect. However, I think it's good to be aware of how much "natural" is a social construction. Western Civilization hasn't been to kind to Nature, anyway, and always undertakes its prerogative to alter or "perfect" it.

It's a provocative piece- unearthing a lot of things we take for granted...

Thanks for sharing it, Greg. He did a good job with the article. I enjoyed it.

The book Sex at Dawn (Ryan and Jethá) does a great job of deconstructing the heteronormative and victorian read of biology and evolutionary psychology.

John Gagon | March 25, 2011 3:21 AM

Yes, well said. I would spell it out further here: Just because nature doesn't have it already, doesn't mean humans can't be first at it (yet again). Bonobos might be the first of their "sexual kind". No one thinks that bonobos are violating nature. One can continue on down the line to monotremes and marsupials. Nature doesn't judge who belongs. That's we some people do...(also as some animals do). If it's there, it's "natural". Whether or not nature is always ideal, healthy or amenable to each and every constituent is another matter but the best we can do is mind ourselves, protect each other as we see fit and let the chips fall as they say.

Definitions are great until they fail to be consistent. That's the problem with some kinds of "essentialism" in terms of what nature, sexuality, our neighbor must or must not be.

Read "Evolution's Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People" by Joan Roughgarden

It's a bit heavy on science but provides an amazing assortment of examples of the diversity which exists in nature. This book should be used in high school science and biology classes.