Working on the Zoophilia paper for a conference…

…and I found this quote from Stacy Alaimo‘s essay “Eluding Capture: The Science, Culture, and Pleasure of ‘Queer’ Animals” (in Queer Ecologies, Mortimer-Sandilands and Erickson, eds.) particularly interesting:

“Despite the scientific aim to make sense of the world, to categorize, to map, to find causal relations, many who write about sexual diversity in nonhuman animals are struck with the sense that the remarkable variance regarding sex, gender, reproduction, and childrearing among animals defies our modes of categorization, even explodes our sense of being able to make sense of it all. These epiphanic moments of wonder ignite an epistemological-ethical sense in which, suddenly, the world is not only more queer than one could have imagined, but more surprisingly itself, meaning that it confounds our categories and system of understanding. In other words, queer animals elude perfect modes of capture” (67).

This captures (pun intended) my interest in trans-species sexual encounters quite well. The purpose of such a project, I think, is not to rush to a moral condemnation or defense of zoophilic practices. Instead, the fact that erotic desires and relations seem to cross what are usually presumed to be impenetrable species boundaries evokes (for me) the sort of epiphanic moment of wonder Alaimo mentions: a wonder at how bodies and desires as well as the entire notion of species might be rethought and reconfigured when the traditional markers of sexuality are abandoned or, at the very least, radically suspended.

Furthermore, what kind of political possibilities might follow from this inquiry? At the CSU Fullerton conference Thinking Through Animals where I presented the original zoophilia paper, Anat Pick asked me a pertinent question I haven’t been able to answer in a satisfactory way. Citing the 2007 film Zoo based on the life and death of Kenneth Pinyan (Pinyan died while having sex with a horse), Pick pointed out that before these soirees in which groups of zoophiles had sex with horses, they would eat fine meats – the point being that zoophilic relations do not necessarily lead to a vegan or animal liberation politics. It is easy to concede that there is no necessary causal relation between zoophilic explorations of human-animal relations and the animal liberation politics Pick and I would want to see cultivated. But this point can be made on several registers – hence, the need to find linkages between various practical and ideological formations. My only response, then, is that the lack of this causal link does not add weight to the condemnation of zoophilia, only a further exploration and elaboration of its political possibilities.

Another point of interest: in queer eco-criticism, there is still a focus on queer activities within specific specie communities, i.e. the prevalence of female-to-female sexual encounters in bonobo populations. Karl Steel has pointed out to me that it is enough to point to the prevalence of trans-species nonhuman-to-nonhuman encounters. However, why then are these encounters seen as merely curious biological oddities whereas human-to-nonhuman sexual encounters elicit social, political, and sexual anxieties that utilize a number of intense and reactive mechanisms within the heteronormative repertoire? When in Madagacar: Escape 2 Africa (which I watched a dozen times last week thanks to my three year-old nephew) a giraffe confesses his love to a hippopotamus, why are the two animals de-sexualized (we never expect to find them fucking in the African bush)? Why is there not an intense visceral response to the transgression of these species boundaries? By focusing on queer desires and practices within the confines of particular biological communities, does queer eco-criticism risk preserving the very notion of “species” it would seem to find suspicious?

About A Geology of Borders

My name is James Goebel and I am a graduate student in the Comparative Literature department at UC Irvine. My interests lie mainly in animal and environmental studies, Indigenous histories and European philosophy (though I am known to wander elsewhere).
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