Today I’m celebrating our interdependence, not celebrating colonization and genocide. I was introduced to the work of Melissa K. Nelson yesterday and I haven’t been the same since. Sometimes someone puts into language an idea or a knowing that I’ve had without having access to words to adequately describe it. The term “eco-erotics” resonated immediately, is just what I didn’t know I was looking for.
Sex educator/sex worker/porn star Annie Sprinkle has been going on for years about sexecology, maybe still is (ecosex manifesto) but that just didn’t impact me in the same way at the time I encountered it. Struck me more as performance than it resonated with my own experience and understanding. The idea of eco-erotics weaves together sexuality, our relationships with nature and all beings as well as the dissolution of subject-object and the prison of binary thinking that, when dissolved, can support survival, thriving and liberation.
In her essay “Getting Dirty: The Eco-Eroticism of Women in Indigenous Oral Literatures” Nelson writes, “Reclaiming our eco-erotic birthright as human beings and Indigenous citizens requires a peeling away of the colonial and religious impositions of patriarchy, heteronormativity, internalized oppression, original sin, shame, and guilt (among many other idiosyncratic layers), especially in relation to our bodies and our capacity for intimacy and pleasure. These beliefs are based on a fear of the wild and uncontrollable, both in nature and ourselves. After centuries of oppression, expressing the joy and diversity of our Native sexualities is truly an anticolonial, liberating act. Questioning the internalized authoritarianism that denies and demonizes our psychospiritual and animal closeness to “nature” is a decolonial and revolutionary act of survivance.” (Nelson)
Feels relevant to share this work today– I see lots of folks out there waving flags and feeling patriotic, pretending the nation’s founding fathers were heroes rather than enslavers. Have your point of view, I’ll have mine. For me, the 4th of July is a great time to add to the energy of all decolonizing and liberation efforts. Nelson’s essay is a great contribution I’m happy to lift up. The essay concludes recognizing our interdependence and the urgency of decolonization:
“’Getting dirty’ means we become fully human by remembering and embodying our trans-human animalness. This requires a decolonization process, because we must question and shed the conditioned beliefs that say we are more intelligent than, different from, or better than our animal nature and other natural beings (i.e., human exceptionalism). Our bodies are filled with intelligences that are faster than and beyond the intelligence of our cognitive brains… All life depends on other life for survival, regeneration and celebration.. Indigenous eco-erotics… remind us that humans (and all life forms) are capable of profound intimacies and transformations if we embrace rather than repress our fundamental desires and the permeability of our consciousness. Embracing our eco-erotic nature helps us recognize the generosity of creation, and our part in it, so we can truly embody an ethic of kinship.” (Nelson)
This feels very related to something from a longer piece I’m working on that explores some of the same themes of embodied ecology and relating with more than human worlds. I’ll share some of that here (written before encountering Nelson’s essay).
Intimacy with all of life
Why do you imagine I can’t have a mutually satisfying relationship with the earth? With the plants and the trees and the soil. With the water and the rock formations, with the creatures of the air and the creatures of the sea and all that walk and crawl and slither on the earth. Trees support me. I don’t mean it metaphorically. I mean they hold me up. My spine to their trunks we combine our energies and they project it up into the heavens and down through their roots into the earth. My relationships with these beings are meaningful and supportive to me.
I grew up drinking dew and rainwater and I still drink dew and rainwater. I dance in it, I bathe in it, I sing in it, I celebrate it. When I was younger, nuclear war seemed imminent. I was told and I believed that the rain would turn to acid and kill us all if the bombs didn’t wipe us out first. I didn’t expect to live past thirty.
My prayers started then. I prayed for clean air and water every chance I got. Every wish I got. Birthday wishes, eyelash wishes, dandelion wishes. Every wish that ever came my way I returned to the earth. May you be well. Be happy. May you be healthy and strong. Live with ease and joy no matter what the people do. Decades before anyone told me about metta practice it just flowed out of my heart on its own.
I spread seeds for future forests, I celebrated the clean water that there was. My best friends were the birch tree, the rhododendron, the honeysuckle and the mulberry. (Apologies for leaving anyone out.) The morning glories, the pokeweed and the milk thistle. I’ve got a lifelong love for milk thistle. I love the plants and I’ve always loved the plants. (My plant people know what I’m talking about here, I see you making those elixirs, smokes and salves. Bless up!) Plant allies have always been important in my life. The green witches told me to get to know a plant deeply, spend time with it before moving on to another’s medicine, so I did. I spent a whole summer in a monogamous relationship with dandelion once. Eating its bitter leaves in every kind of way, every day. Raw, cooked, made into teas. That’s intimacy.
Oatstraw too, milky oats: eating it, drinking it, bathing in it. Red clover’s supported me for ages as do nettles. I can’t be without my nettles for long. Tulsi– all mints have been supportive friends. I can’t shout out all the allies I count in the plant kingdom because there are so many. (Not just plants either. I had a very passionate affair with a strong wind outside of Taos one winter, but that’s a story for another time.) I love and honor them knowing my health and happiness depends on them. That may be why I grate at these superficial relationships with nature I hear folks been pushing lately. It looks painfully shallow, coming from and processed entirely through the intellect. Walking on the earth in bare feet! Admiring “nature” from a distance or through a theoretical framework– isn’t nature nice, isn’t it nice that we’re part of nature– annoying af.
I don’t need to be irritated by it though. It’s fine. It’s sweet. Everyone has to start where they are. Walk on the earth, sit with a tree. That’s beautiful and important. Also I want to see right relationship, deep relationship, true honoring. Take the earth as your lover, your mother, your partner. In a real way. In the body, in the flesh. I mean fucking in the hedgerows to help bring in the harvest. Covering the bare flesh of you with mud, sitting there until it cracks and flakes off revealing a new you inside.
Laying still on the earth when the rain begins and not moving until you’re saturated, soaked through receiving it. Soak in the hot springs until you can’t bear it anymore, repulsed at the sulphur smell, but soothed and softened by the heat. How hot can you take it? How much can you withstand? What are your limits? Where are the boundaries? I join in calling for an eco-erotics, honoring our interbeing. Where does the earth end and you begin? Where do you end and the earth begins? This is making love with the earth, being love, being a good friend, partner, relation. Celebrating each other and ourselves, human and more than human, all together.