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A Queerness of Perception – Men, Together in Nature

by James on September 29th, 2017

My work has always explored my bodily relationship with the material (natural) world. To me everything is ‘Nature’, and my practice is all about experiencing oneself as part of nature, and ultimately experiencing a sense of connection and belonging.

Experiencing a sense of connection and belonging has been life changing for me as a gay/Queer man. If you are a little boy growing up gay, you don’t feel much of a sense of belonging at all, you look for people that mirror yourself back to you in popular culture, and you see nothing.

From an early age, time in Nature (time experiencing myself AS Nature), was vital. It gave me a sense of right-ness, of acceptance, that wasn’t present elsewhere. I wrote about this in the March 2014 edition of Earthlines Magazine in an article titled The Art of Belonging, whose title referenced Belonging, photographic piece that I created back in around 2010.

Yesterday I watched Gods Own Country with my partner in a little cinema in Bath, and the film has been occupying my thoughts ever since. In the film, a young farmer falls in love with a agricultural labourer from Romania, against a backdrop of a wild open moorland landscape, stone walls, stillborn lambs and mud. Its a beautifully raw film, and it made me think about the experiences of Nature of LGBTQI people which go unseen and unheard, with gay men so often depicted in film and TV as living a solely urban existence.

There seem to be certain kinds of landscapes and natural forms that are thought of as masculine enough to associate with a ‘real man’, and others that are inherently linked to femininity or effeminacy, and so with being gay. I remember when I came out as gay, one friend said “Is that why you have flowers in your room?”. How bizarre is it that appreciating the bright fresh new life of Daffodils in Spring can mark you out as being ‘Queer’?

Of course there are exceptions, the poppy for instance is one flower which in its association with fallen soldiers is very closely associated with the bravery and physical prowess of men (including gay men of course), whilst other plant-based imagery is also seen as acceptable, for instance the fern of the All Blacks in rugby.

Gods Own Country is interesting for me (and this is one of many ways) because it sets non-straight men in a wild, dark, physically challenging natural environment, experiencing their own bodies through interaction with the landscape and each other, with no or at least very little suggestion of homophobia (except perhaps internalised), and whose story is ultimately hopeful.

Other famous gay figures are associated with ‘Nature’, but not often in a way that celebrates their physicality, their strength, their determination in the face of environmental adversity. Oscar Wilde is known for his green carnation, Derek Jarman his garden on the shingle at Dungeness. They too of course are famous for facing their own battles, although largely due to those who sought to demonise them and their work because of their sexuality, and the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS.

In this post I’m thinking out loud. Its not a finished piece, its a beginning. I’m returning to thinking and making work about this subject because its something that quietly weaves throughout my work. I see the potential for sharing the insights of men who, like myself, and through the freedom of a Queerness of perception, offer new ways of seeing and being with the natural world.

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