Discourses around sex and gender have often been critiqued on the basis of what can be considered normative and what can be dismissed as “abnormal”, “deviant” or “un-natural”. One of the primary contestations against the prevalence of homosexuality is the belief that homosexuality does not exist in nature, and thus cannot be considered as “normal”.
As Timothy Morton notes, during the Enlightenment period, nature was used as a category to construct discourses around racial and sexual identity, and science as a discourse had a huge role to play in the categorisation of racial and sexual identities. Backed up by science, nature evolved to become a category that cannot be questioned because it is positivistic in nature. For instance, we often hear statements like “Yes, I know people should have the right to love whoever they want, but you have to agree homosexuality is not natural!” Thus, nature becomes a category “beyond contestation”, and something which is so unbiased that it just cannot be questioned.
The ideological construction of “nature” has been shaped by our everyday discourses of gender and sexuality. We can even argue that what we understand as “natural” spaces have been influenced by ideological apparatuses that reinforce heteronormativity. An interesting example would be slogans raised to create environmental concerns such as “Save Mother Earth” or “Your Mother Earth is bleeding to death”. Why do we call nature or the earth mother? What is inherently mother-like about nature? Calling nature or earth as our “mother” continues to propagate the idea that mothers need to be protected. Environmental philosopher Margret Grebowicz argues that in the Victorian era, it was believed that women were more spiritual, closer to God and nature and thus it was believed that similar to the idea that women need to be “protected”, “nature” or “earth” also has to be protected.
Timothy Morton calls for a “revaluation of everything that has been denigrated and/or superficially worshipped as ‘natural’”: Morton goes on to argue that nature is often characterised as able-bodied, extremely healthy and heterosexual. A genealogical study of categories such as homosexuality would reveal how the idea that homosexuality is “not natural” was actually socially constructed. Kinsey notes that prior to the medicalisation of bodies and gender, men were not categorised as homosexuals or heterosexuals: “Sex is sex, irrespective of the nature of the partner with whom the relation is had” (Boag 53). In cities in the West, such as New York, San Francisco and Vancouver, where there was a proliferation of single male workers, there were possibilities for single men to seek homoerotic relationships. The desire for same-sex relationship was not new; however, with urbanisation and the growth of cities, and the growing visibility of communities of people, it began to seem like homosexuality, and gender fluidity was a product of modernity and urbanisation.
The answer to the “How can we consider homosexuality as natural?” was always right in front of us in our biology books: Morton argues that cells reproduce asexually, lots of plants and animals are hermaphroditic, many of them switch genders; for example, statistically ten per cent of white-tailed deer are asexual, flowers and bees evolved together through “mutually beneficial deviations” (Morton). If homosexuality was so unnatural, like it is claimed to be, then won’t it have been wiped out by evolution by now? Homosexuality is considered as unnatural, but the fact that most of the food we eat is created through genetic engineering and cross-breeding is acceptable because it benefits corporations and people.
There is a need for our understanding of “queer” to extend over human identities, as queerness has always been a part of our universe. Initially considered a way to refer to the non-normative, in our contemporary world, the term queer has been defined as “that which is paradoxical, contradictory and counterintuitive” (The Years Project). Traditional notions of nature cannot accommodate the paradoxical and the chaotic, even though in reality, nature is full of contradictions. Priya Suberwal points out:
“Queerness in ecology is a concept broader than sexuality or gender identity. It is an all-encompassing wink to weirdness in the more-than-human world and serves as an alternative to the binary and reductive modes of thought in which so many of us have been trained. When I say queer ecology, I don’t mean to say that we must impose our ideas of human sexuality onto nature-however, it is worth considering the anthropomorphism with which we view reproduction on this planet.”
Also read: Is Ecofeminism Relevant Today?
Queer ecology is an intersectional movement that encourages looking beyond the dichotomy of nature and human: there is a need to think of nature as inclusive of indigenous populations that have lived in non-urban habitats for the longest periods of time. Queer ecology helps us relook into what we understand as “natural”: why is it that only cis-gendered, able-bodied, “civilised” individuals are considered to be natural, while the rest of the people, who were born into nature like any other living being are considered to be deviant? At the same time, a re-evaluation of our understanding of ecology will bring to light the existing epistemological problems within our conceptualisations of nature. For instance, national parks and wildlife sanctuaries such as Jim Corbett national park in India are considered to be natural and in need of protection, but the National Forest Policy (1988) lacks efficient policies that protect forests from corporations and further endangers forest dwellers and tribal communities.
In conclusion, a re-evaluation of our notions of ecology and environmentalism can help us break dichotomies between culture/nature, human/animal, heterosexual/homosexual and also assess the centrality we give to heterosexuality and biological sex in our everyday lives.
Featured image source: sei.sydney