Queer woods

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A banana slug found in our parks.

By Austin Harebottle
Marin Park Stewardship Intern

As an LGBTQ+ identifying person, I was excited for the National Park Service’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion week for staff. My curiosity was piqued when I heard of an event entitled “Queer Woods” held at Muir Woods. At first, I thought it would be an event about pointing out examples of homosexuality in nature. But it wasn’t as simple as that. The idea behind this event was to observe nature through a queer lens and see the correlation between heteronormative ideals in the study of nature and the oppression faced by LGBTQ+ persons.  

According to Catherine Lynn Thurmond, a graduate student from Louisiana State University: "Heteronormativity is visible, validated, and normalized in society. Conversely, ‘queerness’ refers to the social structures that dictate what one must not do with their gender and sexuality. Thus, queerness is condemned, threatened, and prohibited.”

Heteronormativity’s rigid ways are embedded in society and are designed to mark queerness as “unnatural.” Much like queerness, the inherent chaos of nature is deemed “unnatural” because it does not suit the anthropogenic aesthetics of structure.

Our grasps for a rigid structure are even evident in how previous stewards protected the natural resources of a park site. Hector Falero, the park ranger leading the event, talked about the channelization of Redwood Creek in Muir Woods. Humans tried to control what they deemed was messy and chaotic by channelizing Redwood Creek, and what they found was that this degraded the health of the ecosystem, causing the water to speed up, which caused soil erosion.

When we try to control chaos (queerness), it has unintended consequences on the organism and the environment—and it limits our way of thinking. The next time you take a walk in the woods, keep your eyes out for the intrinsic value of queerness that exists all around us--and think twice before you deem something “unnatural.”