Derrick Jensen is a wonderful environmental writer and activist. His articulation of what human civilization is doing to wild nature situates him among the pantheon of environmental thinkers. To the fact that he falls short of carving out a plausible antidote to our rapacious habits – short of wholesale societal dissolution – does not detract from his vision of what is going on from the board rooms to the extraction sites to the depths of the human heart. I do not know him, nor have I met him. But from what I have read, he is both principled and comfortable in what he stands for.
As you know, I am all about nature myself. Preserving its biodiversity, learning its lessons of harmony and balance, and operating from a place that gives nature a standing in our society is my primary compass heading. Exploring Jensen’s ideas has been a valuable guide in that respect. Wading into his perspective is to follow a forensic detective at a crime scene who interrogates the suspects of consumption, then capitalism and finally the ultimate villain: patriarchy and gender. While I cannot usually afford any protracted stays in the land of ideology and theories, I did read into it long enough to gain a slightly deeper appreciation of the (some say) radical feminist orientation that intertwines his call toward environmental change.
Thus it was a strange vertigo when I unexpectedly came across a blizzard of on-line comments indicating that Jensen (and his associate, Lierre Keith) were at odds with the transgender community. It reminded me of the time when I met a truly amazing player on a jazz gig. In between sets, we chatted about the legends we admired from Clifford Brown to Elvin Jones to Pat Metheny, and club date happenings on the local scene. I was having a great time until he suddenly puts his hand on my shoulder and says, “So tell me, what is your relationship with the lord and savior Jesus Christ?” To this day, how in the hell we switched keys from Steely Dan to Christianity, I’ll never know.
Derrick, my man….I thought we were grooving about salmon and buffalo?
Like the proselytization on a jazz gig, the dust up between Jensen/Keith’s organization, Deep Green Resistance (DNR) and transgendered folks was something that I did not expect to encounter. In most movements, there are a few things I like, some things I understand, and other aspects where we do not line up. I am all for equality between gender and sexual orientation, but admit that my focus is in the environmental struggle, not gender politics. Jensen and Keith attempt to deconstruct planetary degradation down to the element of patriarchy. Transgender identity is apparently irreconcilable with some particulars of that paradigm, such as the claim that trans people are guilty of an appropriative raping of the female form or conversely, trying to attain male privilege (which must be quite a power trip, hurling such an accusation upon another soul). Other people, with equal skill, have proceeded to slow roast DGR’s transgender arguments on an open spit.
I encourage you to go online and read their position for yourself; it is too context heavy to describe here. But if you do, make sure to read the rebuttals (Ben Brucato’s posting comes to mind: http://www.benbrucato.com/?p=413). Watching the rhetorical judo of both sides is fun, but after a while, I have to ask myself where I stand with all this. My opinion is that it feels like a distraction from where we should be fighting: species extinction, off-shore drilling, our need to develop non-carbon emitting technology, and the growing potential for wholesale ecosystem collapse.
Put another way, we’re about to go over a cliff and y’all are carrying on about who gets to pee in which rest room. Jensen may be quite clear in his mind as to why the transgender struggle lies at cross-purposes to the principles of feminism and by extension(?), environmentalism. And I, for one, do not spend much time in the acrotelm, much less the catotelm, of this particular bog. But my gut just doesn’t cotton to any gesture that demeans or denies justice, compassion and humanity to anyone based on their self-orientation. They are the one living their experience – you are not. And I don’t really care how much sophistry you slather on it just to make it consistent with your theory of how you’d like things to be.
I know someone who went down the transgendered road, and to call it grueling doesn’t begin to describe it. That person is caring and compassionate – two qualities of which the world is in dire need.
Living in the real world is a hot mess, and there’s more that doesn’t add-up than does. Yeah, I’ve heard the line before, “you can’t be trans-gendered any more than you can be trans-black.” Not only can’t I afford to waste energy debating who gets to call themselves what, but it looks damned petty when juxtaposed against other worldwide atrocities. Learn to count beyond binary and live and let live already. If thinking you’re a goldfinch somehow inspires you to pick up the trash, then I’ll bring you some bird seed. People are more important than theory.
The dramatics surrounding this folderol for the past few years are not refining anyone’s focus to keep us clear of parboiling the planet. We have to keep our eyes on the ball, people. I have learned the hard way not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I’ll not stop reading Derrick Jensen merely because of how transgender orientation factors into his mosaic of principles which are deeper than mine by orders of magnitude. That said, I disagree with him on this, and do not see how this has moved us forward in any way. Environmentalism needs Jensen along with every other human being we can get our hands on, and I couldn’t possibly care less about whether you see yourself as a man, woman, somewhere in the middle or Frosty the Snowman. I can either put my energies towards helping salmon and buffalo, or argue over who should be allowed to call themselves a dude or a lady. Fortunately, Jensen and Keith have no say in the matter.