A panel on “Queer Ecology” was featured at the 2011 Annual Convention of the Modern Language Association (MLA). Four panelists provided their insights on the relationship between “queers” and the environment, coming to sometimes contradictory conclusions.
In her lecture “Green Angels in America: Aesthetics of Equity,” Katie J. Hogan of Carlow University argued for “environmental justice,” and used as her vehicle the controversial play Angels in America.
Hogan argued that Angels in America is a “contribution to this queer environmental effort” because it “links beauty, environment, and social justice” with an “esthetic of equity.” She argued that “minorities have the right to appreciate the esthetic of their environment” even if others consider that environment to be “blight.” Hogan discussed her assumption that queers and other minorities mostly live in urban environments, where the urban environment is often limited to things like weeds that grow up between sidewalk cracks. Hogan argued that the oppressive majority “condemns urban environments as blight” instead of looking at them as “spaces of opportunity.”
Hogan argued that nature is a “vehicle for escape,” going on to state that “the queering of nature offers complex nature-based resistance that transcends” white culture.
In a lecture entitled “’Warm Blood and Live Semen and Rich Marrow and Wholesome Flesh!’: A Queer Ecological Reading of Christopher Isherwood’s A Single Man,” Jill E. Anderson of the University of Mississippi read queer ecology into the book A Single Man. She explained that the book follows a 24-hour day in a gay man’s life after his partner is killed in a car accident. Anderson argued that the novel “naturalizes queerness” and showed the “importance of ecological preservation” in its portrayal of the beach that in the novel is “a safehaven for queerness and also the natural world.” In the novel, the main character would use the book to seduce other men.
Anderson argued that in the book, “heterosexists” are guilty of destroying the environment; reproducing; and focusing on the future, which Anderson said is an inherently anti-gay concept. Anderson stated that gays don’t focus on the future, because they have no reason to—no children, no marriage, no need to focus on anything other than now. According to Anderson, a focus on the future is strictly heterosexual. Heterosexual couples’ “obsession” with the future “hinges on reproduction”—and homosexuals don’t reproduce.
Sarah Ensor of Cornell University picked up where Anderson left off on that train of thought. Her lecture was entitled “Spinster Ecology: Rachel Carson, Sarah Orne Jewett, and Nonreproductive Futurity,” and focused on two famous potentially-queer spinsters who focused on environmental issues. She stated that “status of futurity” is a threat to queer theory because it is marked with “heteronormative imperatives.” Essentially, she argued, since queers cannot reproduce, they really have no tangible need to focus on saving the environment for the future, so framing the environmental battle in terms of future generations is a losing battle for queer environmentalists.
The last speaker was Eric M. Siegel of University of Iowa. His lecture, “Queer Nature Writing: The Queer Ecological Relations in Reinaldo Arenas’s Before Night Falls,” analyzed the way Arenas’s book explored “nature from a queer perspective” and the link between “queer identity and ecology.” Siegel stated that Before Night Falls is “taking elements of the queer experience to construct an environmental narrative” exhibiting “queer ecological sensitivity.” He argued that nature is “sexuality with no rules or dogmas,” “promiscuous and natural freedom where everything is permitted, even bestiality.” To back up his claim, he pointed to several places in the book in which Arenas rapes nature, including both a horse and even a papaya.
Siegel did say that because of Arenas’s tendency to rape innocent animals and even fruit, he was not technically an environmentalist: instead, he was a “queer ecologist,” presumably because he was aware of nature while he raped it.
Allie Duzett is the Director of Strategic Operations for Accuracy in Media.
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