Ecofeminism & Postgenderism’s Liberatory Effects: On Bodily Autonomy, Gender, and Environmental Justice

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This is the twelfth post in the series, Succession II: Queering the Environment, a fourteen-part series in which contributors explore topics related to unruliness, care, and pleasure. Succession II centers queer people, non-humans, systems, and ideas and explores their impact within the fields of environmental history, environmental humanities, and queer ecology.

Thanks to biotechnology and scientific advancements, humans have been benefiting from an increased  life expectancy — or, rather, some of us have been. From 1950 to 2022, global life expectancy has increased from 45 years to 72 years. From accessing wearable and implanted medical devices and replacing vital organs with prostheses to choosing our future children, life as many of us know it today is beyond what our ancestors could have possibly imagined. Bodies that do not belong to the white cis-gender hetero-conforming category, however, do not have equal access to longevity and bodily enhancement privileges (which ought to be human rights). In many parts of the world, the life expectancy of transgender women rarely exceeds 30-35 years. While rapid scientific evolution has allowed us to challenge our species’ bodily limitations, marginalised people are still fighting for fundamental integrity, autonomy, and agency within a multi-oppressive system that dictates their level of freedom and, sometimes, even their humanity.

In a postgender world, one may or may not have a gender identity, and this would not make them any less human nor less dignified than anyone else.

Bodily autonomy and the freedom to express one’s gender identity are human rights. Yet the persecution of queer people and the lack of policies that protect us come with the rise of danger and violence that put our lives at risk and our rights in jeopardy. Hence the conversation about climate justice, since this latter is not possible without the liberation of not only nature, but the human and the non-human as well. This renders climate and environmental violence deeply intertwined with the oppression of the LGBTQIA+ community. Queer and trans people of colour suffer from intersecting oppressive hegemonic systems, where racism, colourism, transphobia, and homophobia intertwine. Because this renders them particularly vulnerable to the impacts of pollution and climate change, climate justice depends heavily on the liberation of queer bodies and of minoritized groups globally. This will only be possible if climate issues are looked at through a human rights lens, since environmental degradation does not impact people equally.

One of the grassroot movements linking climate justice to social justice that quickly gained popularity worldwide is ecofeminism. This movement, as I defined it in an earlier piece of mine, is an activist movement and literary theory that emerged in the 1970s and linked the oppression of women and minorities to the oppression of nature. While I focused two years ago on queering and de-essentialising the field, this year I aim to dig deeper into the anti-essentialist work I have done on ecofeminism and to intersect the field with postgenderism.

On Biological Essentialism: Sex, Chromosomes, and Gender

Biological essentialism has long determined a hierarchical system among humans. From birth to death, a person’s assigned gender and in most cases expected (if not imposed) sexuality are imposed by their surroundings. For decades, ecofeminism has aimed to investigate and improve how oppressive gender hierarchies shape the ways we relate to and interact with nature and each other. Despite the field’s critique of patriarchal domination and its acknowledgement that we are deeply embedded with — not at all separate from — our ecosystems, the field still often relies on essentialist notions of bodies, sexuality, as well as binary conceptions of gender. For instance, femininity and womanhood have long been coupled with reproduction and maternity. I’ve written previously that queer ecofeminism offers a promising avenue to free ecofeminism from its essentialist approaches by, among other things, disrupting attachments to “natural” biological sex,  chromosomal sex, and neural sex-differentiations that (purportedly) “prove” a scientific basis for binary thinking.

A person holds a whiteboard with rainbow lettering that reads "Hello, my pronouns are."
Nature has never been binary so neither are we. Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash.

Despite the persistent binary misconceptions about gender and biological sex, some researchers challenged these fallacies and published outstanding work that demonstrates that our planet, with its human and non-human inhabitants, are in fact far from belonging to binary constraints. In Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality (2000), Dr. Anne Fausto-Sterling challenged the widespread misbelief that sex, unlike gender, is firmly biological and fixed. As shocking as it may come to many, the “M” or “F” letters on national identity cards, driving licenses, and travel documents are political acts, not biological truths. Although western society has a proven history of denying non-binary and non-conforming truths for the sake of biopolitical control, nature has never been binary and has never limited us to two sexes only.

Queer ecology helps us understand sexual dynamics across a non-binary spectrum of sexualities among all species. Evolutionary biologist Joan Roughgarden exposed the sexual activities and gender roles that exist outside of traditional and binary understandings of gender among humans and other-than-humans. By paying close attention to non-human species, Roughgarden demonstrated that a wide variety of gendered and sexual interactions are in fact “natural”, which finally opens the door to recognizing non-essentialist diversity and heterogeneity as a spectrum of long-existing, diverse human identities. The intimacy between species that queer ecology reveals reminds us that we exist, as a species, beyond a binary system.

A queer approach that includes transgender and non-binary people’s experiences would expand ecofeminism by breaking the constraints of essentialist expectations of bodies.

In Brain Storm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Differences (2011), Dr. Rebecca M. Jordan-Young challenged popular assumptions about male/female brains and countered claims that there are differences in the way that male/female brains are wired. People often turn to the “male brain” or the “female brain” to explain their support of biological essentialism. But ultimately, as Jordan-Young argued, there is no comprehensive and valid scientific proof that that brains are inherently sex differentiated.

When it comes to the genetic binary of the X and Y chromosomes, Dr. Sarah S. Richardson dove into the history of genetic research in their book Sex Itself: The Search for Male and Female in the Human Genome (2013). Richardson brought gender and intersected it with genetic studies. She wrote about how the two chromosomes were gendered and were therefore anchored “a conception of sex as a biologically fixed and unalterable binary.” The philosopher went on naming the multiple words that have been used to describe the X chromosome such as “she” that is “more sociable”, “controlling”, and “motherly”. The Y chromosome became a “he” and has been attributed “macho”, “active”, “dominant”, and “hyperactive” qualities. According to the author, this resulted in the portrayal of both chromosomes as a heterosexual couple. What Richardson revealed in their book is the political agenda behind the reinforcement of the gender-sex binary by using the X and Y to define essences of maleness and femaleness even though this difference in chromosomes does not alter the fact that human genomes are 99.9% identical. Richardson’s overall argument is that the gendering of the chromosomes was pushed by cultural factors and not solid biological substantiations and scientific evidence.

The brain, like chromosomes and genitalia, does not offer clear biological “proof” to support gender essentialist and binary thinking. Photo from pxhere.

A queer approach that includes transgender and non-binary people’s experiences would expand ecofeminism by breaking the constraints of essentialist expectations of bodies. Numerous scholars have begun to do valuable work in this direction despite not linking their work directly to ecofeminism. Catriona Sandilands, Marna Hauk, Paul M. Pulé, Martin Hultman, and Lucy Nicholas are some of the researchers who have revolutionised queer theory, gender studies, and environmental humanities. It is time to move beyond the binary limitations of ecofeminism by intersecting the field with not only queer ecology but also postgenderism, which will bring novel perspectives to the field.

On Postgenderism

Postgenderism calls humanity to move forward beyond gendered identities in order to leave behind hegemonic conceptions of masculinities and femininities. Unlike how many may (mis)understand the term, postgenderism does not call for an ending of gender identities: it calls for the celebration of more than two contrasting ones and the liberation of our species from the necessity to identify as gendered in the first place.

In Queer Post-Gender Ethics, Lucy Nicholas argues that the gender binary is so resilient and so pervasive because bigenderism is a compulsory understanding of selfhood. The fact that intersex babies undergo non-consensual surgeries, for example, reflects the “inextricability of gender, sex, and sexual orientation“. Such medical interventions define sexual intercourse as penetrative intercourse: for sex to be valid, there needs to be a penetrating person and one to be penetrated by this latter. Such an expectation of how bodies are meant to interact sexually organically imposes a rigid binary division by assigning not only femininities and masculinities but also reinforcing the “naturalness” of heteronormative sex acts, denying the fact that some of us, if not most of us, live lives of continuous fluidity, changing our gender expressions, our gender identities, and our sexualities.

Climate justice depends on the liberation of queer bodies and of minoritized groups globally.

Postgenderism means freeing people from being defined by opposing gender hierarchies. It acknowledges that our species does not require people to have fixed binary gender identities in order to fit in the “human” category. In a postgender world, one may or may not have a gender identity, and this would not make them any less human nor less dignified than anyone else.

Postgenderism may seem futuristic and, dare I say, even surreal. However, we already have access to biotechnology, reproductive technologies, and queer ecological scientific findings that render essentialist arguments about sex, gender, and sexuality obsolete. It is time that ecofeminism moves beyond the gender binary, the victimisation of females and demonisation of males, and essentialist approaches to gender and climate matters. By intersecting it with postgdenderism, ecofeminism will finally, and holistically, consider the diversity of human bodies and shift away from a system that normalises hetero-cisgender-conformity.

Featured image: Photo by RODNAE Productions, 2021.


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Asmae (pronounced Es-muh, They/Them) is a queer non-binary Moroccan writer, researcher, activist, and artist residing in Dublin, Ireland. After obtaining a BA and MA of Arts, they are currently in their final year writing their Ph.D. thesis by research on ecofeminism. Passionate about intersecting gender, sex, and race issues with climate issues, they are a firm believer that bodily autonomy, health care accessibility for all, the end of racism and colourism, and achieving a level of non-chalance when it comes to gender and sexuality, are all essential to the environmental movements. This is because climate justice will not be possible without social justice. Asmae's thesis is agreed to be published as a book by Lexington Books. Their most recent publication is a chapter entitled 'Gender Essentialism and Ecofeminist Literature' for The Routledge Handbook of Ecofeminism and Literature. This latter is a book edited by Dr. Douglas Vakoch and it explores the interplay between the domination of nature and the oppression of women, as well as liberatory alternatives, bringing together essays from leading academics in the field to facilitate cutting-edge critical readings of literature. It is scheduled for publication in September 2022 and is now available for pre-ordering here:

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