Blog / 2023 / Queerying Nature at the ACME Screening Room: My Big Screen Début!
April 27, 2023
Culture iterates in such fascinating ways! I love tracing how one thing becomes another and then another as different human minds wrestle with similar concepts, each expressing themselves in their idosyncratic ways.
Case in point: in 2004, Dr. Joan Roughgarden came out with Evolution’s Rainbow, a book that reveals the queer behaviors of many animals and then explains how this queerness has benefitted those species in evolutionary terms. Then, in 2012, inspired by the ideas in that text, I created a queer science picture book. I made Crime Against Nature for the questioning kid I’d been, the one who would have wanted to know that, contrary to what I was being taught in school, nonhuman animals were just as queer as me. And now, in 2023, Dr. Roughgarden’s work has become a fantastic new film by Aline Magrez and Leonor Palmeira called Queerying Nature, which features interviews with Dr. Roughgarden and me.
Both the books as well as the documentary present similar information—they celebrate the true diversity of the natural world when it comes to gender and sex—but they each do it in slightly different ways. And I happen to think that the film does it best!
Some of that is the form it takes—movies tend to have a more general appeal than books. But a lot of what makes Queerying Nature so good is the way it’s put together, from the design of the script and the thoughtful editing to the fantastic music and touches of animation. (I ended up voicing a spotted hyena character, and I don’t think I will ever get over the thrill of hearing my voice come out of a cartoon’s mouth!)
Still, I think my favorite part of the doc is the title, because it’s a beautiful iteration of culture in itself. It starts with the word “queer” which was an insult for homosexuals as well as gender nonconforming people and which was subsequently reclaimed by the community as a symbol of our power. Mashing up “queer” with “query” makes a whole new kind of curiosity, the sort that’s open to answers that don’t follow the usual heteronormative conventions.
It’s like my partner always says: people who live the barefoot-and-pregnant ideal for the ladies and pair it with the bringing-home-the-bacon model for men are expressing a fetish. Extreme heteronormativity may be the lifestyle that traditional media pushes, but it’s still just one kind of sexual role play that people might enjoy—a way that individuals might act in order to make their partners feel loved or turned on. To believe that the fetish of heteronormativity is more “normal” than another kind of behavior is nothing more than denial.
And destroying that denial has been an especially important aspect of Dr. Roughgarden’s work. She has shined a light on the many instances of queer behavior that scientists have, for generations, either discounted as aberrations or simply overlooked by assuming that, if one animal is mounting another, then the one doing the mounting must be male and the one being mounted must be female. While that may have a feel of truth to it, it only seems so because the prevailing paradigm is heteronormativity.
I like to imagine a world where scientists aren’t scared of reporting the true diversity of natural behaviors they witness, worried that it will make the rest of their work seem less credible or too queer to take seriously.
I like to imagine a world where scientists don’t query, but instead queery.
I like to imagine a world where we all embrace that open kind of curiosity.
If you look over my shoulder in the screenshot further up in this post, you can see that this duck is one of the paintings I was working on when we were filming the doc last year. The image is all done now, and it’s for sale for $2500 plus shipping (and tax if you’re in New Jersey)—contact me if you’re interested. You can order prints and t-shirts here.
If you’re curious about what it was like to have a film crew follow me around for a few days, I talk more about it in this article from last spring. And if you want to see the film and you’re in or around Lambertville, New Jersey, I hope you’ll join me for the showing next month at the ACME Screening Room!
Screening with Q&A to follow
Sunday May 21st from 3p to 4:45p
Buy tickets here!
ACME Screening Room
25 S Union St
Lambertville, NJ 08530
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