“Heterosexuality was where identity began and ended. So much so that when the AIDS epidemic ravaged gay communities all over the world, the town only caught bits and pieces of the circumstances. What made its way out here, north of the last major city, north of anyone at risk, was enough to piece together an intoxicating myth of gay impurity. To be gay was to be dead, dying. Worse, to harbor the ability to kill. It became easier to clock in and out of Michael’s body than confront the heaviness of his desires. He was unsure what devastation they might wrought.”Billy-Ray Belcourt, “Outside, People Were Crying, Or They Weren’t”
The first assigned reading for this module is a short story by one of the authors you heard interviewed in the All My Relations podcast, Billy-Ray Belcourt, titled “Outside, People Were Crying, or They Weren’t.” In this story, Belcourt describes interviewing an older, gay man from the small town where he grew up.
Find the Belcourt reading here.
Melissa Nelson is a Native ecologist interested in the synergy among ecology, sex, and Native cultures. Nelson opens this piece by recounting childhood memories; she vividly remembers tasting the earth, feeling the smooth curves on driftwood, being wooed by the smell of buckeye blossoms, being aroused by the splash of ocean waves on granite, and the power of a waterfall (229-230). These opening “eco-erotic moments” give us a keen sense of what the rest of the piece is about – the relationship between nature and sexuality.
Nelson defines eco-erotics as “a type of meta (after, higher) -sexual or trans (over, beyond) -sexual intimate ecological encounter in which we are momentarily and simultaneously taken outside of ourselves by the beauty, or sometimes the horror, of the more-then-human natural-world” (230). Through an eco-erotic lens, one is awakened to their pansexual nature, potentially aroused by anything. These powerful eco-erotic moments:
“…can break my heart open, take my breath away, make me shed tears, or force me to listen with the ears of my ancestors. In these moments, I often feel dwarfed, in awe, vulnerable, even shocked. And in the act of sex, I feel these same emotions – these vulnerable feelings combined with a strange sense of authentic, surging power.”Melissa K. Nelson, “Getting Dirty: The Eco-Eroticism of Women in Indigenous Oral Literatures,” 230.
In “Getting Dirty,” Nelson recounts an array of examples from Indigenous stories in which women have erotic encounters with the more-than-human world. In exploring this topic, Nelson references a broader body of scholarship and artistic practice that explores the relationship between sexuality and nature, most notably performance artists Beth Stephens’ and Annie Sprinkle’s work on ecosexuality.
Stephens and Sprinkle have also had a series of performance art weddings to elements of the more-than-human world, including the Earth, the mountains, the forest, water, the sea, the moon, rocks, the sun, the snow, and, most closely related to Nelson’s article, a Wedding to the Dirt.
Stephens and Sprinkle are currently working on a third ecosexual film, Playing with Fire!, on the anthropogenic causes and ecological impacts of wildfires. As part of this project they held their most recent wedding in August 2022, Wedding to Fire.
The idea behind ecosexuality, for Sprinkle and Stephens, is that cultivating an erotic relationship to the more-than-human world will inspire us to treat this world better, as more than a set of resources for human exploitation. Sprinkle and Stephens observe that the earth is commonly considered a mother, however since mothers are in asymmetrical caring relations with their children – often understood as unconditionally loving and endlessly nurturing – this understanding of the planet may encourage the ideas that we can do anything to the earth and her creatures with impunity and that the earth will endlessly provide resources for us, however much we exploit her. While hopefully this is not our understanding of motherhood, Stephens and Sprinkle suggest that thinking of the earth as a lover rather than a mother may inspire a different type of environmental activism.
While Sprinkle and Stephens are the most famous ecosexuals, they are not alone. In 2021, inspired by Sprinkle’s and Stephens’ weddings, self-described “cyber-nympho artist-brides, Ewelina Jarosz and Justyna Górowska” married the brine shrimp. Sprinkle and Stephens attended the wedding, which was described as a “hydrofeminist ecosexual performance.”
Queer ecofeminist scholarship both predating and since Sprinkle and Stephens’ ecosexuality projects has also explored connections between sexuality, feminism, and nature. In the final chapter of her 1997 book, Feminism and Ecological Communities: An Activism that is Not One, queer ecofeminist philosopher Chris Cuomo considers what environmental activism can learn from queer activism, and expresses yearning for a more queerly erotic environmentalism.
For her part, queer ecofeminist scholar, activist, and film maker Greta Gaard has written a number of works at the intersections of queer studies and environmental feminism, such as her chapter, “Toward New EcoMasculinities, EcoGenders, and EcoSexualities.”
In addition to producing a body of scholarship at the intersections of queer and critical animal studies, ecofeminist activist and educator pattrice jones co-founded VINE, an LGBTQ-run farmed animal sanctuary.
As Nelson mentions, recent years have also seen the emergence of eco-erotica and eco-porn.
While appreciative of this body of work, in her essay Nelson “comes out of the tipi” as a person with eco-erotic proclivities in order to explore a specifically Indigenous feminist approach to the relationship between sexuality and the more-than-human world. What is different about the stories that Nelson explores is that the relations between women and the more-than-human world are not only erotic but have deep ancestral and place-based connections. As Nelson observes, for centuries settler colonialism has attempted to sever the sacred relations between Indigenous peoples and particular places and animals, and eco-eroticism can be one way in which these relations are reanimated. Nelson speaks of an “eco-erotic birthright” from which Indigenous people have been alienated, and thus reclaiming what she sees as a universally innate pansexuality from the suppression of Christianity and settler colonialism is a form of decolonizing sexuality.
As an ecologist, Nelson, like Sprinkle and Stephens, ponders whether cultivating a more erotic relationship to the natural world – or pansexuality – could have positive environmental impacts.
“What if every human being – or, at least, a lot more than at present – could awaken to their pansexual nature, to the fact that we are living animals in sensuous interaction with the material fabric of life that provides us with everything we need to survive?…
Walking barefoot on the earth; drinking a cold glass of water; eating a fresh summer peach; breathing in warm air – these basic, often unconscious daily acts are not in fact mundane but are sublime and sensuous eco-erotic connections to the more-than-human world. If we truly felt this, in our guts, in our cells, would we be able to poison our soils and water? Mine our mountains? Genetically alter our seeds? I think not. The metaphysics of eco-erotics teaches us that we are related to everything through a visceral kinship and that our cosmo-genealogical connections to all life demand that we treat our relatives with great reverence and appreciation.”Melissa Nelson, “Getting Dirty: The Eco-Eroticism of Women in Indigenous Oral Literatures,” 234 – 5.
As you read the stories Nelson recounts from Indigenous oral literatures, in which women are in erotic relationships with everything from stars to sticks to beavers and bears, consider how these scenarios are different from the “zoosexual” and “bestiality” relations described in module 9. Why do the ethical and political worries raised about such relationships in module 9 not resonate with the stories Nelson recounts? What differences are making a difference? Thinking back to modules 2 and 5, why do you think Nelson might prefer the term “Indigenous eco-erotics” to “Indigenous eco-sexualities”? How might Nelson be understanding erotics to be different from sexualities, and why might the relationships between Indigenous women and beavers, bears, stars and sticks be better described as “erotics” rather than as “sexualities”?
Find the Nelson reading here.
Qwo-Li Driskill, a Cherokee Two-Spirit person, argues that healing sexualities as First Nations people is braided with the legacy of historical trauma and the ongoing process of decolonization.
Driskill emphasizes the impacts that sexual colonization has had on Indigenous people, two-spirit people in particular. What a focus on sexual colonization brings to the fore is that Indigenous people were not only materially dispossessed from the land, and culturally dispossessed from their ways of life and languages, but also endured an erotic dispossession. The word dispossession means to be torn from, alienated from, or uprooted. Driskill writes:
“I have not only been removed from my homelands, I have also been removed from my erotic self and continue to journey back to my first homeland: the body.”Qwo-Li Driskill, “Stolen From Our Bodies: First Nations Two-Spirits/Queers and the Journey to a Sovereign Erotic,” 53.
Find the Driskill reading here.