True Colors

Photograph by Cyril Ruoso / Minden


Words by Willow Defebaugh

The journey we take back to ourselves is part of the queer and trans experience—rediscovering, under all the learned shame, our true nature.

“Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.”

Brené Brown

It’s pride month, meaning it’s time for us to celebrate all things related to queer ecology—a subject that knits together queer theory with elements of ecological study, seeking to reweave our cultural tapestries of identity. It’s a topic I’m personally quite passionate about. As I pointed out in my newsletter on sex and gender a few months ago, nature and biology have historically been weaponized against queer and trans people, and still are. This week, we’re looking more closely at what queerness and nature have in common—and what it has to do with pride.


I often wonder if humans are the only species that are capable of denying our own nature. Do animals ever hide who they are? Do flowers ever refuse to bloom? Do fungi ever forgo their own unfurling? The argument that queer and trans people are unnatural is not just wrong, it’s backwards entirely. At the heart of both nature and queerness lies an innate and indelible sense of authenticity—a fealty to oneself that cannot be denied by even the most powerful efforts of cultural control and societal conformity.


When I was a child, nothing came more naturally to me than femininity. There was no separation between myself and my own nature—I knew exactly who I was. But that knowing was conditioned out of me, coerced into adapting an identity that was entirely foreign. Coming out, transition—these are expressions we use to describe the process of returning to yourself and reconnecting with who you were before anyone told you that you had to be anyone else.


My transition has been inseparably intertwined with Nature. The first time I accepted my femininity as an adult, I was working with psilocybin mushrooms. I was sitting on a beach, watching the sway of the waves and the trees that caressed them, and I felt myself connected to this world in a way I never had before. I saw her power and beauty, and how deeply she has suffered. And for the first time, I felt the same in myself. I felt the weight of a lifetime of repression—and it was then and there I decided that I could no longer deny who I was.


I have spent the years since unlearning everything that I was taught, letting go of everything that isn’t me. It’s been a process of personal renaturalization; the more I embody my truth, the more I realize how much of my life was spent acting in ways that were entirely unnatural to me. And while there was grief in that discovery, it was nothing compared to the joy that followed—the pride I feel in authentically expressing myself to the world. I think that’s what pride is: the authentic awareness and expression of our unique being.


Of course, it’s impossible to talk about pride without addressing its antithesis: shame, a cultural tool used to make individuals conform by instilling in them the belief that they are bad. Shame creates dissociation, a kind of distance within that prevents us from seeing ourselves clearly, our vision distorted by the opinions of others. We’ve already covered one example of this, the narrative that queer and trans people are unnatural. This separates us not only from ourselves, but from the rest of the Earth—despite the fact that we are creatures of it like everyone else.


The journey we take back to ourselves is part of the queer and trans experience—and it’s a journey we must continuously commit to when living in a world that tries to erase us. It’s not so different from the journey our species must embark on, the journey of remembering ourselves as truly belonging to this world. To be queer and trans is to be unabashedly and authentically true, liberated from the insidious shame of societal norms that have been ingrained in us. To have pride is to let our true colors show. What could be more natural than that?

Keep Reading


60 Seconds on Earth,Anthropocene,Art & Culture,Climate Migration,Black Liberation,Changemakers,Democracy,Environmental Justice,Photography,Earth Sounds,Deep Ecology,Indigeneity,Queer Ecology,Ethical Fashion,Ocean Life,Climate Solutions,The Frontline,The Overview,Biodiversity,Future of Food,Identity & Community,Movement Building,Science & Nature,Well Being,