“As I walk the ten minutes down the lane, the evening breeze lifts my mullet from my neck and parts my fringe. I am perfectly aware of how ridiculous this looks. But I do not care, for nature cannot judge me. I walk, arm extended to catch the tops of the grasses on the verge in my fingertips. The evening sun has sunk into the spire of the Church in the distance, but its rays still illuminate the tops of the trees that line the lane. Their leaves glitter, reflecting light from their smooth leathery surfaces, and I feel awed. Emotional. Overwhelmed. Sometimes I feel so much that I am amazed I can hold it all inside me. Some days just moving too suddenly makes me feel like it is spilling over into my surroundings. Today is one such day. I feel stirred up inside. Like I could cry, but not necessarily out of sadness.”
The passage above perfectly captures my feelings about nature, and touches on its importance for me navigating my life as a member of the LGBTQIA+ communities.
I recently suffered a rupture in my life that necessitated a move from Brighton back to my hometown; where things are cosy and familiar in some ways and awkward and uncomfortable in others. Brighton is a place where anything goes; it is impossible to stand out there precisely because everyone does. My hometown is a small conservative town in Bedfordshire where it feels impossible for someone like me to blend in.
I identify as non-binary and pansexual. Except I don’t really. Because I haven’t yet settled on a term that describes who I am better than ‘Anna’, but I use these words to communicate about myself with others because people (tend to) understand what they mean.
Being non-binary and pansexual in Brighton feels easy(ish) – people there are well-acquainted with difference and there’s a general warmth towards LGBTQIA+ topics and language, which means people like me have to do less educating to get by, and the sting of being misgendered is experienced less frequently. In my hometown, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia still have their ugly claws in many of the residents. For someone with ADHD and anxiety, leaving the house can be a struggle at times because it comes with the threat of another wary look or microaggression that could give rise to a whole afternoon of overthinking or an anxiety attack.
Throughout the transition between living there and living here, one thing remained a constant comfort in my life; nature. Since moving back to this countryside town, my connection with nature has blossomed into something so overwhelmingly beautiful and emotional that I find it difficult to articulate using words.
The events that led to me leaving Brighton left me with some emotional scars that I needed time to heal, and I began a long process of rebuilding a positive self-image. Every day when I stepped outside my front door and walked to the edge of town, nature was there to welcome me into its arms. At a time when I felt like I couldn’t be close to many humans, nature stepped in to nurse my psychological wounds. Over the last few months, I have cried in fields, woods, trees, on footpaths and by rivers and felt held by nature in the most profound way. I have pictured the grass and trees around me absorbing the negativity and providing peace in return. Because of this, there is a part of me that almost feels as if nature cares for me back, although I am aware that I’m personifying it inside my own head. But then again… Am I? Throughout evolutionary history, nature has provided safety, warmth and sustenance to the human race, so it is no surprise that many of us feel some sense of comfort from its presence.
Because nature is not governed by the same socially constructed value systems that human societies are, I feel that I can bee 100% authentically myself in its presence. The environment has no eyes with which to stare and no mind with which to judge. It simply is. And it welcomes people of all backgrounds. The only problem is that the humans that exist within nature do not. In an ideal world, no-one would be judged, discriminated against or marginalised for looking or being different. But this isn’t an ideal world, and people suffer as a direct result of oppression, discrimination, and xenophobia. Nature must be preserved because it offers a place for these people to turn to, a place where they can feel that they belong, in a world that consistently makes them feel as though they do not. We must act now to address the underrepresentation and xenophobia still present in the environmental and conservation sectors. Our current systems and methods of conservation were developed within the context of oppressive and colonialist models of land ownership, and the impacts of this history are still evident in the stark inequalities in access to nature today. In order to address this, we need to drastically rethink and re-imagine how we conserve nature and make the natural world a relevant and welcoming place for people from all backgrounds. Having been privileged enough to experience first-hand the healing power of nature, I know how important it is that we, as a society, uphold the right of every human to have access to it. It is vital that we ensure nature is for everyone.
Since childhood, I’ve always understood that our relationship with nature is fundamentally symbiotic. We rely on it for comfort, entertainment, exercise, emotional wellbeing and we literally could not survive as a human race without it. Nature meets our most primal human needs; water, resources, oxygen. It is also important to remember that we are a part of nature ourselves, in all of our beautiful Queerness and diversity, and that going into nature is, in essence, coming home.
Self-education is a vital part of the journey towards becoming more inclusive in the way that you interact with the people and world around you.
A great form of self-education is building diverse voices into the social media content that you consume. Below are some LGBTQIA+ conservationists and activists that you can follow:
- Jasmine Qureshi (they / she)
- Pattie Gonia (they / she)
- Pınar Ateş Sinopoulos-Lloyd (they / them / it / its)
- Ajay Tegala (he / him)
- Dan O’Neill (he / him)
- Estraven Lupino-Smith (they / them)
- Jonny Fisk
- Kane Brides, WWT