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Nature is Queer

The lush forests, rugged coastlines, and majestic mountains of the Pacific Northwest are a haven for biodiversity, from the tallest of trees to the smallest of critters, including fluid gender and sex binaries among a large array of flora and fauna. Queerness isn't confined to human constructs of sexuality and gender; it’s about the diversity, fluidity, and celebration of all forms and ways of life. In the wild spaces of the Pacific Northwest, this diversity is on full display, challenging conventional norms of ecology and expanding our understanding of nature as queer. 

Here are just a few examples:

  • In the avian world, Canada geese (Branta canadensis) are a familiar sight, flying in perfect V-formations across the sky over the wetlands of Humboldt Bay. What some may not know is that geese defy heteronormativity, with a reported 15% of pair-bonds occurring between two males. Same-sex pairs of Canada geese have been observed sharing nests, raising young together, and forming lifelong partnerships of more than 15 years. Sometimes a male pair is joined by a female, and the trio raises a family together. These queer phenomena aren't unique to geese, and have also been documented in a variety of bird species, including seagulls, swans, and penguins.

  • Meanwhile on the forest floor, western fence lizards (Sceloporus occidentalis) engage in a behavior known as "gay mounting." Male lizards often engage in mounting rituals with other males, which scientists believe may serve social or territorial functions, rather than strictly reproductive ones. Such same-sex interactions challenge the traditional notion that sexual behavior in the animal kingdom is solely about procreation.

  • In the plant kingdom, hermaphroditism (or monoecy) is more common than one might think. Take the Pacific bleeding heart (Dicentra formosa), for example, a delicate wildflower native to the Pacific Northwest. This monoecious flower boasts both male and female reproductive organs within the same blossom, allowing for self-fertilization. Similarly, the ghost pipe (Monotropa uniflora), a ghostly white plant that thrives in shaded forests, reproduces via underground networks of interconnected roots, bypassing the need for traditional pollination altogether.

  • A bright celebrity of Pacific Northwest forests, banana slugs (Ariolimax sp.) are also hermaphroditic, with both male and female genitalia. Both slugs may become pregnant after mating, and, under extreme conditions, individual slugs can even make themselves pregnant. Click here to read more about the romantic lives of banana slugs.

  • Underneath the shimmering surfaces of Pacific Northwest rivers and streams, another queer phenomenon unfolds. The blue rockfish (Sebastes mystinus) exhibits sequential hermaphroditism (also known as protogyny). Born as females, some individuals transition to males later in life, likely because they will have greater reproductive potential as different sexes during different times of their life, based on size or age. This ability for transformation, present in at least 15 fish families, challenges our traditional binary understanding of sex in the animal kingdom.

The examples above represent only a tiny fraction of the queer natural diversity that helps the Pacific Northwest thrive. From intersex deer to polyamorous sea otters, the region's ecosystems are teeming with life that defies traditional, heteronormative categorization—and is all the better for it.

Celebrating this biological diversity isn't just about acknowledging the existence of queer phenomena in nature; it's about recognizing the simultaneous uniqueness and interconnectedness of all living things, and the importance of embracing such diversity in our communities, as well. Just as the natural world flourishes when we embrace the full spectrum of life, so too does human society benefit from inclusivity and acceptance.

In a human context, LGBTQIA2S+ is an acronym that aims to collectively and inclusively describe queer identities, communities, and groups:

  • L = Lesbian

  • G = Gay

  • B = Bisexual

  • T = Transgender

  • Q = Queer

  • I = Intersex

  • A = Asexual

  • 2S = Indigenous two-spirit people

  • + = people who identify as part of sexual and gender diverse communities, and use additional terminologies

LGBTQIA2S+ describes “a mix of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and many other things that are included within this umbrella…[and] as this conversation evolves, the important feature of the LGBTQ+ community is inclusion—creating spaces where people feel like they can belong, not places where they feel kept out and policed.”

As we continue to explore and conserve the wild spaces of the Pacific Northwest, let us remember that queerness isn't an aberration—it's a fundamental aspect of the rich tapestry of life on Earth. By honoring and protecting the diversity of nature, we ensure a brighter, more vibrant future for us all.


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