Permaculture and Pride: Queer Gifts in a Time of Climate ChangeD
David R. Weiss – June 21, 2019
The Gospel in Transition #31 – Subscribe at www.davidrweiss.com
I have one more essay on “dominion” in Genesis 1:26 to write, but this week, in honor of LGBTQ Pride, I want to consider how Pride offers some timely gifts that should resonate in faith communities adapting to climate changeD.
Permaculture, as we’ve seen, begins with the presumption, Earth knows Earth best. Because of its capacity to “think” and “problem-solve” across a geological timescale, Earth can patiently tease out the best way to do things. Hence, permaculture encourages us to work with Earth’s “best practices” when interacting with Earth (e.g., farming) and to learn from Earth as we earthlings fashion the physical communities and cultural worlds where we dwell. Permaculture says we’re wise to follow Earth’s lead rather than dictate terms that may be more to our immediate liking but aren’t likely to be sustainable. And permaculture gently, persistently reminds us that because we are Earth first, if it isn’t sustainable for Earth, it isn’t wise for earthlings.
Pride is a celebration of resistance by the LGBTQ community. Sure it has its gaudy, fabulous, festive expressions, but it began—fifty years ago in the Stonewall riots of 1969—as an act of resistance and ultimately a declaration of authentic selfhood. After decades, generations, centuries of being marginalized, ostracized, criminalized, and demonized, through Stonewall the queer community said, ENOUGH!
Now, there is a long complex history here, and I’m not fully competent to tell it. But I can say a few things. While Stonewall became “the” lightning rod event, it was far from the first moment of resistance. And the visible faces, audible voices, and leading figures within the queer community have been contested at length. Although the Stonewall riots were led by drag queens and transwomen, in the wake of the riots it was primarily gay men, whose relative social/economic status gave them more power than others in the queer community, who emerged as most visible vanguard of Pride. But over the past five decades—with plenty of vigorous discussion along the way—many others have emerged, bringing their own particular colorful identities to Pride: lesbian, bisexual, transgender, asexual, gender fluid, intersex, queer persons of color, and more.
Regardless of their pathway into Pride, what links these persons together is their resistance to being socially othered: deemed criminal, forced out of view, condemned as sinful, or branded as “queer”—queer as “that-which-fouls-the-normal.” And the positive expression of this resistance, seen in Pride celebrations and even more importantly in the daily dignity with which these persons carry themselves is this permaculture-like assertion: We know our own truth best, and we will live from the truth that is ours.
Over against a dominant patriarchal society that has worked relentlessly to objectify earth, animals, persons of color, women, and LGBTQ persons—pressing them all into the service of foolhardy dreams of domination, Pride becomes one more voice among many saying, ENOUGH. Earth knows Earth best. Animals have intrinsic dignity, “knowing” themselves in way we can only humbly guess at. Persons of color bear witness to an experience of life—especially in white-dominant societies—that is unknown to the rest of us unless we listen in rapt silence. Women know women (across a multitude of particular experiences) best. And queer people (in all their extravagant diversity) know queer people best.
In some ways the Garden of Eden myth of eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (in Genesis 3 and discussed in GIT #28) is the story of the primordial “fall” into the arrogant—and often deadly—presumption that I can know you absolutely and without needing to listen to you. It tells of the temptation for those with social power to believe they can map out the world’s morality without reference to the world’s diversity—as though the measure of “good” and “evil” is ours alone. Such efforts are worse than foolish. They inevitably alienate us from Earth, animals, and others, and usually that alienation is costly—even deadly—for those with less power.
Indeed, one might view much of the arc of human history through this lens. Different empires competing for whose version of the world can “map” the rest of the world most to their advantage. It’s a story of human folly and tragedy … and evil and genocide. And as human technology has advanced the stakes have gotten higher for everyone, including Earth herself.
There are at least two fundamental gifts that Pride might bring to conversations about how we live toward Transition in light of our changeD climate. Foremost is this permaculture-like assertion: each community, whether Earth or animal, gender, or sexual identity, knows itself best. And deserves to be met on its own terms. That’s the heart of Pride. It sits at the intersection of resistance, celebration, and wisdom. And it’s a truth we all need today.
The second gift is more sobering but just as essential. Both on account of its enduring across long generations of oppression and more keenly through its searing experience with HIV/AIDS, the queer community has learned—by sheer necessity—to foster community by leveraging inner resources more than outer resources. Even to tend to its dying members with grace without knowing when—or if—its suffering would end. This is NOT a lesson anyone would be eager to learn. But as the disparities in our world deepen and as ecosystems became more strained and as we begin to experience the backlash of having lived so long out of sync with our own Earth home, we may need this “gift” most of all.
I just finished watching HBO’s miniseries, Chernobyl. It’s a piercing look at the factors that led to that nuclear catastrophe and the devastation it wrought. I’ll be haunted for a long time by words spoken by Valery Legasov, one of the lead characters in assessing how this unimaginable disaster could’ve happened: “Every lie we tell incurs a debt to truth. Sooner or later that debt is paid.”
Our consumptive industrialized world, so dismissive of the wisdom of permaculture, has lived a long lie. The rising rate of carbon in the atmosphere is but one indicator of how great our debt to truth has grown. And it is coming due soon. It is no small thing to suggest, as Pride celebrations swirl around us this week, that if we can learn the first lesson of Pride, acknowledging and honoring the integrity of each Earth (and earthling) community we will be better able to transition away from the lie that has claimed most of our lives to date.
And it is no small thing to whisper that if (when?) chaos, uncertainty, and suffering come to define our world it may be the hallowed memory of the queer community that can help show us how to hold onto dignity and joy even then.
PS: I’ve set up a Patreon site to help fund my work in this area. I hope you’ll invest in my thinking and writing. You can learn more about how to support me here: www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith
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The Gospel in Transition by David R. Weiss is a year of reflections on facing our climate crisis, finding hope, and the alchemy of Christian community. My weekly essays consider climate change, Transition, and faith—using biblical images, liturgical seasons, science, and theology, as conversation partners. Writing in a voice a bit too restless to call “devotional,” I aim to be insightfully evocative and usefully provocative. I’d be delighted to have you join me on this journey. In fact, I hope you’ll subscribe (go to the top right sidebar!) Thanks for reading and see you next week! Contact me at: drw59mn(at)gmail.com!
 True, some persons choose to wear “queer” itself as a term of pride, “turning the symbol” so that its othering power is erased. Such acts may render the symbol itself harmless to certain hearers, but it’s a much bigger project to render the systems that use the term harmless.