Queer ecology and collective liberation: the science underground

Ahead of advaya's upcoming online course: Queer Ecology: the science underground, with Dr. Patricia Kaishian, we speak with host and curator Patty, about how the study of mycology, ecology and queer theory can bring us towards a more expansive way of looking at the world. In this conversation, we discuss: how fungi can be our teachers in interbeing, redefining 'normal', and noticing the margins; dissolving the distinctions between humans and nature; what we have sacrificed in constructing the world as we have; and traditional ecological knowledge. How can looking at how we relate and how we think about the world lead us toward liberation?

Tammy (advaya): Hi, everyone, and welcome to this recorded conversation ahead of our upcoming advaya online course Queer Ecology with Dr. Patricia Kaishian, who we are in conversation with today. I'm really excited to be having this conversation, we will be sort of traversing the topics and ideas and key questions of the course through this conversation, through which you can find out what kind of inquiry the course is situated in, and give a bit of context on why this course is so important and timely in these times, as well as what kind of topics you can expect to learn about on the course, as introduced by Patty herself. And so I would love to invite Patty to introduce yourself and also briefly about the course and then we will jump into the questions.

Dr. Patricia Kaishian: Thanks, Tammy. And thanks, everyone listening, my name is Patty. Patricia Kaishian. But you can call me Patty. And I am a mycologist. I'm a professional scientist, I study mushrooms and fungi. And I also work in the realms of philosophy of science, queer theory, and you know... queer ecologies: merging my scientific and interdisciplinary background. I am teaching this course on queer ecologies, which is building off of several years of work that I've been rooting around in this interdisciplinary space between science and queer theory for a few years now. And I want to share my approach to this sort of nebulous field that can be interpreted in many ways and approached in many ways. But I'm interested in sharing the way I'm interfacing with queerness and the sciences, and finding that space where they're making contact, and I'm interested in making these contact points accessible to as many people as possible.

Tammy (advaya): Thank you for that introduction. I love that you described the field as nebulous. A very wonderful point of entrance into a inquiry. Did you want to say more about 'nebulous'?

Dr. Patricia Kaishian: Sure, I can. Yeah, I mean, the 'nebulousness'... I would say queerness is very nebulous, right? It's not a definition, it's something that is, you know... you can use it to define things almost, insofar as to say that they cannot be defined. And science is often seen as this very rigid, linear way of producing knowledge, that is concrete and clear, often though, bringing us to the edge of what is known and into also nebulous spaces. So I'm interested in actually looking at the ways in which science is also nebulous, and what can we learn from those spaces, how can we become confident in that lack of assuredness, right, when we put one foot in front of the other towards understanding the universe?

Tammy (advaya): I love that. And we will definitely get a bit into that question in the context of science, generally—Science, capital S—as a field of study, and also wanted to signpost people to the previous conversation we've had... conversations, is it? I feel like we've had two by now.

Dr. Patricia Kaishian: We've had at least two.

Tammy (advaya): We've had at least two. I'll link it in the description for people to watch. But we definitely go quite into that, and so that's why we will be going into it slightly less today, and more on the other parts of queer ecology. But we had quite a long conversation about science in relation to evolution and evolutionary theory, And so there's a rich amount of information there, so pointing people in that direction if they're curious about that, maybe after listening to this conversation. But so, for today, I think we will start with mushrooms, of course, otherwise known as our fungal associates, which is a term I picked up from our designer and creative person in the team, Priya, who hosted a recent session on spiritual ecology, our study club, on fungal associates, and everyone loves to talk about mushrooms.

Dr. Patricia Kaishian: They're fascinating.

Tammy (advaya): Yeah, they are. And so, in the course, we open with a study of mycology as a queer discipline, which is something that you say. And, I wanted you to tell us a little bit about what the field of mycology reveals about society at large, in relation to queerphobia, discrimination of those at the margins, and then separately, the fragility and the subjectiveness of truth, which is what we're getting into. And so yeah, just kind of talking about why and how the study of mycology has parallels to these very real life problems and real life systems that we are dealing with, especially when it comes to systems of power, systems that cause oppression, and discrimination, etc. Yeah, and just the idea of knowledge in general.

Dr. Patricia Kaishian: Yeah, absolutely. So the course will be... Fungi will emerge repeatedly, they'll fruit repeatedly throughout the course, because I am a mycologist, and I found my way into this realm of queer ecology and queer theory, by way of being a mycologist. So I am, academically trained in mycology, I have a PhD in mycology, but I also would say that my relationship to fungi is not just technical, but it's romantic. It's a love affair, it's something sort of beyond just investigating their biological mechanisms, right? So I couldn't help but be very compelled by the fact that when I was first starting to study mycology, almost 15 years ago, it was very difficult to find information about these beings, right? It's not studied commonly in universities, or anywhere in the world. There are a handful of universities in the US or in North America that have dedicated mycologists. And there are some places... In every continent, you can find a few universities, but they're really few and far between. Especially when I was starting out, 15 years ago, there were so few resources available to me, even though I was completely captivated by this world of fungal biology. There were very few online resources at the time; you know, this prevalence of virtual talks was not a thing in 2010. And there wasn't a mycologist at the college that I went to.

So I was really struck by how expansive and possible these life forms were, and how that was so contradicted by the indifference and sort of rejection that they were experiencing, in terms of formal study, and in terms of general cultural acceptance, especially in the Euro-American cultural lineage. So that juxtaposition was really fascinating to me, and I didn't have language for it for a long time. I was just starting to realise that I knew I wanted to dedicate my life to fungi. But I wasn't actually at the time, even fully cognisant of my own queerness. I mean, I was, on particular levels, but I was still sort of coming out, I was still figuring out what it all meant to me. And what's fascinating is my journey of coming out and identifying as queer and figuring that all out, was in tandem with my experience with understanding fungi. These things happened in parallel over an arc of a decade, and I don't think that's really a coincidence. I think that I learned about myself through studying fungi, I learned about my own queerness through studying fungi, and learning about, like we talk about in queer theory, which is like, what is normal?

Who gets to decide? And how is that a function of power, right? How is the construction of this normative quality... how does that take shape? How does that play out? And what do you lose in the process? Because there's always something lost. And that way of considering both oneself and the beings around you, and your relationship to those beings, whether they're other humans or whether they're other species, you can use the same tools of logic, right? You can ask the same questions, about what is normal and why, who decided that what I'm experiencing is 'abnormal' or somehow needs to be marginalised or, should induce shame or should induce repulsion, or disgust, and all of these things. So fungi, because of the ways in which they function and exist in our ecosystems, also their own biology helps us dismantle ideas and concepts that are very cemented, particularly in Western philosophical, cultural lineages.

So like ideas of the individual, right? It's now becoming widely understood that fungi form mutualistic partnerships with most terrestrial plants, and [in] those partnerships, the fungi are exchanging vital nutrients, like phosphorus and nitrogen, to the plant, which is exchanging carbon, from photosynthesis. And these partnerships have enabled the evolution of plants throughout evolutionary time, as just an example, right? And so these mutualisms, these types of symbioses, are integral to the world as we know it. And this actually challenges what is sort of a really deeply ingrained understanding, of the concept of the individual: where do we draw the lines? How do we partition ourselves? How do we create an 'us' and a 'them'? But these notions are not... I think we often, as we're coming from this lineage of thought and culture, we take those assumptions for granted, right? We take the assumption that there is a legible 'self', in the way that we conceive of it, we assume that that's a universal reality, or something that we must hold on to, and in doing so we're creating this box of normal: what is normal? What is the self? How do you draw the lines, right?

But what can we imagine about the world if we were to dissolve those boundaries, if we were to queer those boundaries? If we were to transgress the boundaries? Both, and again, in human relationships, but also in our understanding of the connectivity of the world. So queerness is this like way of... It's a vector into asking questions about biology. What I'm interested in, as a scientist, is in the process of queering biology, to me, is not to discard scientific knowledge, it's to inflect it with a more expansive set of questions, and a constant engagement with a way of like, asking what is normal, and why right? How did we get to this state of knowledge? In delimiting the state of knowledge, what did we lose, right? What was the cost? And what can we gain back, if we were to reconfigure the limits? So mycology, for me, was this way of... It was so mentally expansive for me to understand fungal biology. And separately, it felt for a moment, it was so expansive for me to understand queer theory and queerness, and my own queerness. But as soon as both of these things were taking shape in my mind, they were blending together. And for me, I can't understand my own queerness without fungi.

I sometimes wonder, like, what my relationship to queerness would be, if I hadn't been so immersed in the world of fungal biology. I mean, I'm sure I would still be queer, but I just don't know that I would have felt so empowered in that queerness.

Tammy (advaya): Thank you for sharing that story with us. And also, clearly from what you were sharing, this course is very near and dear to your heart, because it really brings together so many of these inquiries that are not just like big, head-heavy, like mind-stimulating inquiries—they are, in themselves, and they're very rich academically, theoretically, but it's also such a deeply personal question, which is also why I think, when I was thinking about how to title this conversation, and in settling on collective liberation and how queer ecology is tied into it... it's like queer ecology and mycology, all these threads of inquiry are very closely tied together, and when you embark on these strands of inquiry, like you necessarily kind of weave into this wider, societal and personal transformative journey of trying to figure out like, why we're here and how we can get out of here, which is not something you can say about all lines of inquiry, all academic and theoretical things.

Dr. Patricia Kaishian: Right, right.

Tammy (advaya): Yeah. And so, yeah, building on what you were saying about science, and about how our fungal associates, tell us a lot more about relationships of mutualism and about cooperation... which would be a great segue into the second question, which is really about, week two and week three of the course, where you bring in Dr. Lynn Margulis, and her theory of symbiogenesis. And we've talked about this before, which is where I'm going to bring it in the other conversation, so that we can not have to repeat everything. In that conversation, we really talk about how the economic theories and capitalism reflect onto scientific theories, and it's kind of a big reason why a lot of people when they look at the natural world today, they think only of relationships of competition, and they think that it's about how the fittest survive. But then, actually, there are many possibilities of other relationships. Of course, there are, as you said, in that conversation, there are relationships of competition—you can't refute that. But there's so much more, which is exactly what you were saying, in response to the first question.

And so, expanding on that, I think I would love to, and this also, again, builds on your response already, but I would love for you to talk about how, in embarking on this theory, this very groundbreaking theory at the time, Lynn Margulis was perceived as you said, as a heretic, even though she was on, obviously, the right track and is now today very widely revered. I would like you to share about, what this story tells us, from your perspective, and I think we've heard of this story from various teachers' perspectives, but I feel it's interesting because it feels almost like... what you just described about when you first started in mycology, how you weren't able to find anything, and then kind of having to keep pushing like boundaries in this space, in this field, as you were learning and growing, and I'm sure you also came up against criticisms and questioning, in the same way, and so, there may be some level of like parallel there, so just curious about what you think.

Dr. Patricia Kaishian: Yeah, I'm including work by Dr. Lynn Margulis in the course, and we're starting with that pretty early on in the course because first of all, my approach to queer ecology is to start with the sciences. That's the angle that I'm most interested in, because I'm a scientist. There are many ways to approach queer ecology: some people are doing it much more in the humanities, more in the abstract, more in the art, more in the physical, the body, movement, somatics, there are so many ways in which you can be in the conversation of queer ecology; there are no rules. But what I'm interested in is, again, digging into the history of science, the way that science operates, the major questions in aspects of... and again, obviously, when I'm saying science, I really am more meaning biology and ecology, but then also this larger picture of like philosophy of science, right? So how does science function? What are the rules unspoken, and spoken, rules?

And yeah, so the work of Lynn Margulis is quite inspiring to a lot of people right now, even though a lot of her work was done in the 60s, 70s, 80s. And then, beyond... she passed away, I believe, in around 2012. Luckily, she did survive long enough to see her work vindicated—largely. But actually, on her Wikipedia page, you can see that people had referred to her as a vindicated heretic. And so the vindication did come, and the heresy was that she was promoting this idea that symbiosis was the norm, or at least symbiosis is so abundant that it does not make sense to speak of it as an exception, I guess, we can say, trying to resist a little bit this idea of normal, but it had been historically treated as a very exceptional, rare event that an organism would be in complete dependency with another organism, and often that would be in the form of parasitism. But what she discovered was that not only is symbiosis, which is a spectrum of interaction from parasitism to mutualism, and we'll get into all these details in the course... But it is almost the rule of life. It is almost something approaching ubiquity.

And I think that it's an interesting way of... like it's a case study: I'm approaching her work as a case study in what happens when you ask radically different questions. What happens when you look at the world as enmeshed and blended, and mutually interdependent, which is again, a very fungal way of being? And what are the risks as a scientist, but also what are the rewards, right? What can we gain? What did we lose when we were so particular about how we defined those relationships previously? So I'll explore in the class, I'll explain the science very specifically, but then, it will be also this case study. And while she, Lynn Margulis, did not, as far as I know, ever identify as queer, and did not specifically engage with queer theory, or anything really approaching that, by name, in her work, I think that she actually had a very queer lens. I would say that the types of questions that she was asking, the way that she was transgressive, these things are very much part of the spirit of queer theory. And so even though she didn't use that by name, I've posthumously extended this framework to her work. And I think it just sort of is a powerful way to say like, okay, we know so much about the world, we know so much about biology, (I mean, what we don't know outweighs what we know, but we do know a lot), but how much of that knowledge has been generated in this way that has restricted us from an understanding that can bring us closer to a liberatory way of being, which is one in which we recognise our critical interdependence.

Tammy (advaya): And also, segueing us really well into the third question. I think what I'm realising is also that you've, unsurprisingly chosen the themes really well in this course, because it leads so nicely into each other. Each week, really builds upon the next and it's sensible... you know, what comes next, it's not like, oh, what's next? It's like, oh, yeah, because we started talking about this, in this week, then we will expand more in the next week. And so, from what you were saying, like, you choose to begin with a scientific lens, and focus on a case study in the sciences, because you're a scientist, but then also expanding into the other kind of, I guess, half, technically not half because as you say, there's so many different ways of entering queer ecology. And we of course, will be exploring a lot of that in conversation, I'm guessing, with the participants. But so I guess the other big part is the environmental humanities, which is a field that is really close to my heart because I love the environmental humanities, and I find it a very wonderful kind of like storytelling field of the environmental studies, because it weaves so many beautiful threads into how we view the environment. And so, one of the one of the... We could bring in many, many teachers in the environmental humanities and queer ecology...

Dr. Patricia Kaishian: Yeah, it was hard to choose.

Tammy (advaya): I can't imagine, there's so many! But I was thrilled to see that one of the names that you mentioned was Stacy Alaimo, who I've come across before, of course, and love her work, and I guess like, [she] is one of those teachers and scholars whose work comes across, especially with the big terms, as very scary, like the term transcorporeality is very, you know, as difficult as it is to pronounce, it also sounds very abstract. But it is actually just really quite a simple idea, the idea of enmeshment, which you've already begun to talk about. So I would love for you to introduce a little bit, I know you could go on forever about it. And we could go on forever about that. But I would love for you to bring that in, along with other ideas that you might find relevant in the environmental humanities sort of week that you are bringing us on, and explain how it unravels our understanding of biological realities, which is something that we have been starting to talk about, about how a different way of looking at things can really change your understanding of the science of life, yeah.

Dr. Patricia Kaishian: So yeah, so this is, as you're saying, a week where we'll do a little bit more exploration around the cultural perspectives of nature. And I'm using a feminist scholar, the work of Stacy Alaimo, who does a lot of work in feminist and queer theory, to question, why do we have certain perceptions of nature? How did we arrive at the relationships, again, trying to push back against the Western colonial narrative of this separation between humans and nature? And there's a lot... yes, as you said, such a rich pool of scholars to draw from, who've done a lot of tremendous work around this, but I found Stacy Alaimo's work to be especially resonant on a number of occasions, in different ways. So I thought she would be a great addition to the course.

And one thing that she... I explore it a lot in the piece, Mycology as a Queer Discipline, which I co-wrote with my friend Hasmik Djoulakian. We explore how like she... She's looking at this ideological junction between nature and humans, and she traces this feminist arc where feminists wanted to distance themselves from the really sexist trope, that women and basically anyone who was not a man, was some sort of like a beast, in a way, less than human... And that they were less rational, less capable of logic. And often, their pain and experiences were not taken—and still, obviously, is still true—seriously. And the same sort of arc is true for people of colour and queer people, as well, right, to be compared... and absolutely disabled people, and maybe even at this time of day and age, most especially, compared to animals. And I think that while it's really important to push back against those racist, sexist, homophobic and ableist tropes, what happened was this rejection of nature. So in order to create the like, No, we're not like, animals, we're humans, right? We're sophisticated, we're capable of complex thought and the full range of emotions, just like white, able-bodied, straight men.

And what she talks about is this... she calls this the flight from nature, which is that in order to assert your humanity, you had to throw someone else or something else under the bus, you had to step on someone to get taller, and she identifies that as being nature; you had to sacrifice that relationship to nature in order to justify equal treatment. And she calls this one of the most unfortunate legacies of post-structuralist and postmodern feminism, because it shored up that divide between humans and nature. And of course, it's not to blame the feminists, but it's to identify, I think, a really key point, which is that... it's this idea that we're not free until we're all free, right? It's that your liberation is bound with mine. And this is true, not just amongst human groups, but to our non-human, or more than human relatives.

And her idea of like, transcorporeality, which is a little bit hard to say, there are a lot of r's in there. This is her intervention against this phenomenon, this flight from nature, and she's looking to reestablish this intimacy between bodies and nature, and she does this by emphasising the material engagements, the ways that like matter streams cytoplasmically, the way that fungi are grabbing the roots of plants, the way that you and I eat a fish, right? All of these things are physical, we're in space and time like in an exchange of matter. And that fungi, and my sort of contribution to this is that fungi, I think, just so beautifully, give us all these examples of transcorporeality, which is they literally show us how to do this, they show us how to form webs of interaction. They're only as good as the... like, they're only as healthy as the nitrogen they supply to the plant, like they're gonna get carbon in exchange. And I think that that is just a great way of... They are teachers, right? And as Stacy's a teacher, these fungi are teachers, right? They're trying to show us it's important to push back against these tropes, these racist, sexist tropes, of course, but not at the expense of our humanity, which is... our humanity is our relationship to nature, not the distance between it.

Tammy (advaya): Thank you for explaining that very complex idea, very simply. And also, just going back to showing how fungi can be such a complex teacher of such big ideas, but then expressed so simply and straightforwardly.

Dr. Patricia Kaishian: Yeah, at the end of the day, you know, because you brought this up in the beginning, like, I love getting heady, I love being in the weeds philosophically. But I also at the end of the day, want things to be material. I want people to walk away with practices and concepts that they can feel in their gut, and not just between the eyes. So I mean, that's my hope, obviously, everyone learns different. Everyone has different interests. But my hope is to have this physical element, a physical feeling of knowing... you know, at times, it doesn't have to be always front and centre, but...

Tammy (advaya): Yeah, and that's why you have included I think, the sit-spot exercises, like every week, right?

Dr. Patricia Kaishian: Yeah, yeah. I'm really excited about that component of the class.

Tammy (advaya): Yeah. Do you mind like sharing a little bit about sit spots? Because I feel like not everybody has that, a sense of what that means, actually.

Dr. Patricia Kaishian: Yeah, yeah. I'll give it a really detailed... Like, I'll explain particulars in the course, but the overall idea is that you'll be visiting a spot in your neighbourhood, or in the forest nearby, or in the urban park or anything... It doesn't matter, like how wild it is or anything. And you're going to be doing exercises to basically cultivate a practice of noticing, and increasing species encounters, is sort of how I described it. And well, there'll be opportunities to share observations each week. And I'll give a little bit more instruction and advice about how to do it, but it'll be very much a personal practice that I will hope... it's a way to help stimulate relationship to place. That's sort of the goal. So there's many ways to do it. But a sit spot is just a place that you visit again and again to notice.

Dr. Patricia Kaishian: I didn't invent the term, sit spot. I'm not sure who did, it's kind of widely circulated. But I do have some techniques and things that I've cultivated, and I've included in classes I've taught previously, that I think can really make it quite enjoyable, and a practice that people might want to sustain beyond the class.

Tammy (advaya): I love that. And I really appreciate the inclusion of these sort of very personal exercises that are very easily accessible. And like you said, you know, you don't have to have access to a 'wild'... What does that even mean? Like wild forests... you know.

Anyways, yeah, so moving along, kind of to the penultimate question. We are, in week five, drawing inspiration from Donna Haraway, of course, and we are talking about partial perspectives... and I wanted to read this quote from Donna, that I was looking into, and found really interesting. And she wrote: I am arguing for a politics and epistemologies of location, positioning and situating, where partiality and not universality is the condition of being heard, to make rational knowledge claims. And so this, I think, seems quite central to the spirit of the course, but also seems quite central to a lot of what you're saying as well. I was wondering what you thought when you brought in this specific... of all the ideas that Donna, of course, has put out— so many ideas... Why pick the idea of partial perspectives? And, also, I guess, like there's a broader question here about like... you could say that in these times, there's a collapse of universalising narratives, and the emergence of partial perspectives as something that is legitimate and rational, and in some ways, more true is kind of, I guess, getting more resonant with more people. So, just wanting to throw that in there, and wondering your thoughts about that?

Dr. Patricia Kaishian: Yeah. So I really love Donna Haraway's work. She is trained in biology as well, she has a PhD in biology and then pivoted into philosophy, and then is most known for her work in philosophy of science. And she's not specifically a queer scholar either, but it's similar to the situation with Lynn Margulis. She is engaging in techniques that I think are really exemplary of queer theory, and then applying them to scientific thought. And she, I think most importantly, deals with the concept of objectivity very centrally, which is the core thrust of the scientific method, right, is how do we minimise subjectivity, and move towards objectivity as much as we can? And I don't have a problem with that idea, but I think there's so much that gets taken for granted in how that operates, because it's culturally located. And sometimes, more so than other times... sometimes there's a greater cultural inflection than other moments in science, but like, it's something that we kind of fail to, I think, talk about enough, as scientists... it's like, okay, are we really reflecting on what's objective here, and how does that account for systems of power, how does that account for institutional knowledge versus community knowledge, right?

And so she's interested in this idea of the partial perspective, which is the assertion basically that none of us are omniscient, we are all capable of only knowing what we know, and, like the lenses that we see the world are culturally mediated. Maybe they're plastic, but they're very stable, often, right? Meaning you can't just completely see the world a different way at any given moment... Those types of paradigm shifts happen, but not commonly, right? And so she's interested in this idea of like, how can we rethink scientific endeavours, and how can we sort of see the interactions that occur within them, and sort of see these... How ways of seeing can be sporadic and ephemeral, and how can this make us, at the end of the day, end up learn[ing] more about the world, right? So it's this tension of like, again, always this question of like, what have we sacrificed in constructing the world as we have? How can we... if we were to sort of loosen our grip on this pursuit of objectivity, can we actually, almost full circle, learn more about the world around us?

I mean, it's actually really hard to summarise Donna Haraway's work quickly, because it's so... this is like, I would say, the headiest of the sections of this course, because her work is very, very layered and academic. So I apologise... if there's... there's a lot more to be said, but I feel like that's my best attempt at a very brief summary.

Tammy (advaya): I appreciate that. And it was also I think, a really good summary. And, I mean, I think it makes a lot of sense, also, within sort of the advaya collective inquiry space, because, you know, we've had that course with Andreas Weber. And Andreas obviously, you know, talks a lot about... like, he is also a very heady person. But I think, through that course, I feel like we've been introduced to a lot of the ideas of like subjectivity and what it means to kind of, you know... there is no kind of objective perspective on things, we are all kind of—also building on the previous question, like we're all enmeshed—everyone's subjective. Everyone's perspective is subjective. And if you can recognise that, then, like you said, we can kind of come full circle and really understand what things are and how things stand. And I think that's not actually a super complex idea. And it was explained super well, so.

Dr. Patricia Kaishian: Yeah, and what I want to do here is also just explore these thoughts, and the suggestions of Donna Haraway, with examples from fungal biology. So sort of explaining how the partial perspective can sort of specifically instruct us about different elements of mycology and things like this.

Tammy (advaya): That is super interesting, I would love to look out for that part specifically. Yeah. And so, you know, finally... kind of reaching the final module of the course is the topic of kincentric ecology.

I think it's an interesting kind of place... interesting, but also, it makes sense to me... place to end the course, where you're threading together things but also exploring tensions and, as with any good concluding session, it's really about bringing everything together, but also realising that there are even more tensions, as we bring more of these inquiries together. So I'm curious about why you chose this topic to end on, and also about how coming back to the topic, or the title of the conversation, collective liberation, wondering how this kind of feeds into that.

Dr. Patricia Kaishian: Yeah. So I'm including these concepts of kincentric ecology and the work of Enrique Salmón, and other indigenous scholars that I owe a tremendous debt... intellectual debt to... I don't think that... I've mentioned my sort of trajectory at the beginning of the conversation with mycology and queerness, sort of this self-discovery happening in tandem, but I would be totally remiss if I didn't say that I also learned a tremendous amount about the sort of style of, I guess, sort of a broad style of inquiry from... you know, I learned a lot from indigenous scholars in graduate school, there's the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, where I did my PhD. And there are a number of excellent scholars there that I would get to see talks from, and they would invite other indigenous scholars, and I would see talks and workshops with Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer, and her students, and I'm definitely very much indebted to the lessons that I've learned in those spaces. And it's just a core piece of this sort of intellectual, I think, sphere, even though, again, they're not necessarily, these scholars that I've learned from, aren't specifically identifying as queerness in their personhood, nor in their scholarship, but there are so many lessons that I think queer theory can glean, forage, with gratitude, from, and so it feels appropriate to [and] it's necessary to spend time digging into this.

And in terms of kincentric ecology, I would say, just the most simple of sense, it's just this deep awareness of the interdependencies of webs of life, the human as a partner being, a companion species, sort of part of the constellation of interactions that are happening constantly in our ecologies. So it's a way of sort of mapping and naming and understanding these relationships and not imposing hierarchical structures onto the beings that we are engaged with. So I'm not putting it last because it's an afterthought, but because like you said, it's a way of, I think, bringing a lot of this home. And that even though I'm not drawing from the queer element of it, but I'm, in fact, sort of projecting the queerness onto it a little bit... But nonetheless, sort of working with these concepts, as a way of also sort of charting where we can go, literally, go next, right? How can we take what we've learned in each week, to sort of ideally, hopefully, strengthen our relationship to other beings and to one another. And I think that some of the most emotional lessons and the most powerfully evocative lessons that I've learned about how to be a companion species have come from indigenous scholars. So yeah, that's sort of why I am including this section and how I chose where it would fall in the course.

Tammy (advaya): Thank you, I appreciate that, once again, the explanation and contextualisation. And yeah, what a wonderful way to kind of explain that part. It's about bringing in kincentric ecology to bring everything home. And I also hope that people who participate on this course can get that sense of rich learning that you had in those spaces with those indigenous teachers and bring that to this course, and hopefully, people will also get interested to go into specifically more of those spaces and also acknowledge that a lot of what we know, and a lot of these big ideas, actually, come back to a lot of very indigenous ways of thinking that have existed for so long. A lot of these ideas and theories that we have big names for are actually really quite simple, and come back to very fundamental ways of thinking about the world.

Dr. Patricia Kaishian: And I think, yeah, academics, sometimes can, I think, lose track of... There's sometimes a lack of groundedness that irritates me. And so I think it's important to ask yourself, like, is this urgent in these times, right? And not everything has to be urgent, not everything... there's time and a place for being lost in thought, and being in the realm of the abstract, and I do that, and my brain works like that. But like the world being as jarring, and as intense as it is right now, I think trying to keep it material, keep it grounded, keep it urgent, there's something that I'm interested in, and at least striving for.

Tammy (advaya): Yeah, I appreciate that a lot. And I think that's a great way to close, hoping that people have kind of gotten a clearer idea of what the course entails, and also what kind of learning journey you'll be coming on. The hope is that with these conversations, people get a sense of what being in conversation with you will be like, what learning from you will be like, and I hope that people get a better understanding of that. Although, I will caveat this and say that it is quite late Patty's time now, so I can imagine Patty will be, you know, less tired!

Dr. Patricia Kaishian: More springy.

Tammy (advaya): Yeah, no, but I mean, it's already really, brilliant, given the time of day it is for you so I really appreciate, and also, am always in awe about how you're able to explain such incredible ideas. And, of course, that's only because this entire course is a product of your study for so long. And it's really your expertise, and really honoured to have that shared with the students. And I wonder if you have any final words to close before I kind of end this recording?

Dr. Patricia Kaishian: I mean, not really, I'm really excited about the class, I think it's going to be really fun for me to be in community with whoever decides that it's right for them. So I'm just looking forward to it. I'm looking forward to learning from the students who are going to be joining and I think it's just gonna be a good time. So I look forward to whoever shows up!

Tammy (advaya): Thank you, Patty. Thank you everyone who's listening as well. Hope to see you on the course.


Dr Patricia Kaishian

Dr. Patricia Ononiwu Kaishian is the Curator of Mycology at the New York State Museum, and a professor of biology with Bard Prison Initiative. Her research focuses on fungal taxonomy, diversity and evolution, as well as queer theory and philosophy of science.

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Tammy Gan

Tammy (she/her) leads on content and storytelling at advaya.

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