Queer Unraveling: a participant's reflection

A participant reflection from this month's Spiritual Ecology study club. Zoë Fay-Stindt writes: "Queer ecology teaches us how to spill, how to ooze better. How to queer our relationships with the world around us so that all of us can spiral out, all of us can get free." Guided by queer ecology and fertile, earthly metaphors, how can we settle into discomfort, and unravel towards liberation?

“Part of what intrigues me about queer ecology is that it’s something that’s hard to be sure about,” said Shanhuan Manton. We were in the introduction rounds of Study Club’s Queer Ecology session, and things were already delightfully unraveling, flickering. Shanhuan continued, guiding us into the murk: “Maybe that’s part of the point of many queer things: of not being fixed in a static definition, inviting all the possibilities of sitting with the continued questions.”

This is something study club and queer ecology have in common: continued questions. No clarity, no arrival, just a room of co-wonderings. In this session, one of our first questions was, admittedly, “What even is queer ecology?”

While we found no answers, one of the mycelia we kept branching out from was the idea that queerness is predicated on change. On that elusiveness that Shanhuan mentioned: queerness as a way of being that is in deep relationship with morphing.

In both climate change and in the hopeful dissolution of empire, we greet a shifting world every day. If we learn to listen, queerness can be one of our greatest teachers from within this instability, showing us models for morphing delightfully, for becoming a permeable, inconstant creature alongside other permeable, inconstant creatures. What an utterly terrifying gift. In this precarious world, queerness and queer ecology teach us how to loosen our grip on the selves and worlds we’ve known. As wrasse and chalk bass change their gender, as slime molds resist classification, so do we, as human-animals, shift in and out of identities, refuse clean and easy categories.

Of course, that kind of deep change and fluid identity is not always easeful—in fact, it is often also predicated on loss. But for Priya Subberwal, our fearless study club host, loss is a gift, too: “That, to me, is a core part of queer ecology: the ending being a seed in and of itself, a generative space. I think of rot being one of the most biologically active times of any of our lives. There’s so much to be gleaned from the unbecoming of things. To me, queerness has been quite a lot about unbecoming and decomposing a lot of ideas, a lot of stories that did not quite fit.” For Priya, as they write in their essay “The Shape of Time,” part of this shedding included shaking the heterotemporality they had inherited: marriage, the picket fence, kids. Instead, queerness offered a new sense of time altogether—alongside a widened sense of self and of what, outside this straight (and narrow) image of “success” might be possible.

Listening to the wisdom queerness has to offer, would happen if all of us embraced “unbecoming”? Instead of amassing more and more on this rickety “progress”-bound train, what if we became practitioners of decomposition? What if we allowed loss its rightful place in the mix? Instead of gathering gadgets or amassing wealth, what if we practiced losing instead? Sitting with grief and sitting with discomfort is our work, too.

In her essay “Humus,” which reflects on the lessons that soil and decomposition have to teach us about dissolving generously and becoming good ancestors, Catriona Sandilands asks, “What will be the quality of the soil that I cannot help but become?” What nutrients come from our dissolution? How can we lose more generously? And if we let go, what world can sprout from the disintegration of this one?

Something else I am trying to learn is not to turn that disintegration into a path towards reintegration, but to just let it be. Dissolution can be dissolution in and of itself, and not just for something new to grow. As Báyò Akómoláfé writes, “In an open-ended world, the anthropocentrism of positivity obscures the pressingly urgent ways things fall apart - not to get back up again, but to be apart. The undulating waves of becoming do not carry any guarantees with them. And ‘healing’ is not the final end of all things or rights we are entitled to.” No, Bayo argues, “The world is too rich, too promiscuous, too generative to host hope and stability alone.” Loss is not a means to an end, but part and parcel of this living—not a thing to be moved through, but a center all its own. Rot is not just for the future living it feeds, but for the disintegration itself, too.

Báyò also said that “There is no encounter that does not leave you hyphenated.” This has become a kind of mantra for my days of late: who am I hyphenated with? What creatures am I co-becoming?

This is one of the gifts queer ecology offers us: a practice of noticing these rich and messy and morphing entanglements. Of recognizing the ways we are of and for relation, made from bodies of bodies, sharing this electric, weird, oozy space, whether we like it or not. Queer ecology teaches us how to spill, how to ooze better. How to queer our relationships with the world around us so that all of us can spiral out, all of us can get free.

If, as Sophie Strand writes, “our queerness is a group event, a bodily question, a hermaphroditic flowering that doesn’t stay still,” we are constantly creating and re-creating that queerness, that question, that flowering. We are constantly reinventing the world, and being reinvented by it, not in protected and undissolvable isolation, but gratefully, graciously, in community.

If this is true, then part of our task is to greet that change, and settle into the discomfort, the grief, the precarity, without resisting it.

Without trying to contain our slime, our ooze, to better fit in a taxonomic container. Open to whatever morphing might be up around the bend, we make more room to shift and be shifted. We brush up against each other. We spill. We unbecome, we decompose. We are—gratefully, irreconcilably—changed. And changing.


Zoë Fay-Stindt

Zoë Fay-Stindt is a queer, bicontinental poet with roots in both the French and American south.

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