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Science and Sexuality: How Queer Ecology can help us better understand our own nature

CW: This article discusses topics of sexuality and queer oppression which may be distressing for some readers.

Two women walk away through a sunlit forest, waving the rainbow coloured pride flag

What is queer ecology?

It’s pride month, and people worldwide are celebrating the freedom to express their sexual orientation and recognising the positive influence that the LGBTQ+ movement has brought to communities. Since starting out as a protest in 1969, pride month has evolved into a worldwide symbol of hope that the binary model of sex and gender identity will continue to be questioned, something which biologists have already begun to explore, leading to the creation of the Queer Ecology movement. Deviations from heterosexuality are considered ‘unnatural’ in society, yet queerness is ubiquitous in the natural world. Queer ecology is a scientific theory that aims to challenge the cultural dualisms that have been imposed onto complex ecosystems by interrupting the heteronormative way that humans understand nature and questioning the current narrative of sex.

Queerness in nature

Many scientific studies still reflect societal norms, ignoring that both gender and sex binaries can be fluid in nature, but queerness is not as rare within ecosystems as it may seem. Same-sex sexual behaviours have been observed in over 1500 species of animals and plants, including the New Mexico whiptail (Aspidoscelis neomexicanus), also known as ‘the lesbian lizard’ which has evolved to reproduce using females only and displays sexual behaviour that is important in producing the hormones needed for releasing eggs. Scientists consider this behaviour to be a form of asexual mating due to the lack of sperm, but some feel that labelling behaviours such as this as ‘asexual’ in science can contribute to cultural biases against queer people in society and helps to justify the opinion that queerness is ‘unnatural’.

Queer representation in science

In a culture where heteronormativity is the social norm, other forms of sexuality can be underrepresented. Thanks to the LGBTQ+ movement, the full spectrum of human sexuality is becoming more widely accepted in science, but there is still much progress to be made in the fight against ‘queer oppression’. There are many figures in science who continue to question the current narrative on sexuality, including the American transgender evolutionary biologist, Joan Roughgarden. Following her transition, Joan shifted her research focus to question Charles Darwin’s theory on sexual selection. In her book, Evolutions Rainbow, she analyses how human sexuality and gender identity can be influenced by biology and explores the diversity within the mating systems in the animal world. Roughgarden’s criticism of the theory of sexual selection has so far been widely rejected by the scientific community, with most biologists defending Charles Darwin’s ideas.

Conclusion: It’s only natural

Queer ecology seeks to re-imagine the way we interpret sex in nature and break down the queer oppression within science. Applying it can help to foster a deeper understanding of the connections between human sexuality and nature, in the pursuit of a more inclusive, sustainable society. By creating awareness that queerness is a part of nature, we can change the way we think about human behaviour and accept that our cultural biases could be preventing us from truly understanding sexuality within nature and our own roles within modern society.


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