Explorative Musings on the Insufficient Politics of Inclusion: (Part Two) Learning from Trees

Perhaps, the reason we struggle to create a society of equitable diversity
is precisely the result of the language, and thus the thinking, we use
to frame it.
To create something different, we have to think something
different. We have to envision, dream, language, and speak something
different.                                                                               (from, Part One)

Movement One—to shut up, enclose, contain between or within: 
There are over 11,300 known, accepted species of grasses, but there are over 64,000 named species of grasses which await full acceptance into the known world of grass. This is a human set of designations; grasses do not observably seem to be bothered by difference. These various grasses are likely populated by representatives of 11,000 known species of grasshoppers, within the order, orthoptera, and the suborder, caelifera—all of them, hopping, feeding, living, reproducing, and evolving within the many fields and meadows of diverse grasses and other foliages.

It is estimated that there are approximately 10,000 species of birds we might find flying over grass and grasshopper alike. There are, however, only seven living species of equus, including horses, zebras, donkeys and asses (excluding the human ass, which is a completely different, though proliferate, animal)—any of these might be found trotting through grasshopper-filled meadows.

I, personally, have seen at least two types of grasshoppers bounding and hopping between brushy outcrops while hiking in the Red Rocks of Arizona. But, then, I am prone to notice such things, to quietly lean in, looking more closely, whenever I sense a wisp of movement at the edges of my sight, or discern even the faintest of rustling sounds signaling some nearby creature being its creature-self: another living testament to the vast particularity of a diverse creation.

There are over 60,000 species of trees. Trees coexist with all manner of grasses, grasshoppers, and other trees, while also providing homes to all types of birds, not to mention insects and other fur-bearing creatures. Forest ranger and author, Peter Wohlleben has found, through scientific research and observation, that trees communicate, even count, form and hold memory, nurse and care for one another, warn one another of danger, and even feed ancient stumps of felled trees (The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from a Secret World).  Others have noted similar qualities. Evidence suggests trees communicate with, care for, and protect one another; sometimes, across species.
In the genus grouping, homo, we sapiens are assumed to be the only extant species of hominids to be keeping company with birds, grasshoppers, trees, grasses, of course, one another. The term denoting our genus, homo, as we generally know, means “the same,” clarifying for us that we humans share the same overarching characteristics, genetic make-up, limitations and potentialities, and are capable of exchanging genes for reproduction. We’ve been known to claim our extant status is due, almost solely, to our having greater capacity for rational thought, ethical discernment, and creative survivability than other homo species. We are, it could be said, one. Yet we are not—we seem to be hell-bent on creating internal classifications of difference by which we then determine who is “in” and who is “out,” who is one of us and who is not…and, worse yet, who is somehow an aberration and, therefore, in need of correction, removal, or erasure. Unlike trees or grasses, or even grasshoppers and birds, we are violently adversive to and suspicious of intra-species difference. We set up all manner of exclusionary criteria and systems of hierarchal preference. Moreover, we do this to our own detriment—ultimately, to the detriment of our planet.

Perhaps, despite our big, overly-prized brains, we’re not as smart as we think we are. It would seem trees, which possess no discernable brain (at least as we understand brains), have learned things we have yet to learn.

Movement two:  something different—something that frees, rather than shuts in, all of us.
Still, now and then, despite our relative density, we discern it is beneficial to try to address this tendency to eradicate our kin, and we do so by way of “inclusion,” the invitation to others to join the fold, to be absorbed and take a place among the whole, as long as the invited includees are willing to assimilate their difference into the dominant group: the cherished norm; the favored; the collective hive, representative of the true genus—the mythical universal human.

On the screened-in porch this morning, I noticed, again: at a glance, hummingbird moths—also known as hawk-moths, or sphinx-moths—can quite easily be mistaken for small, young hummingbirds. Though the likeness is stunning, and more than a little astounding, hummingbird moths are not hummingbirds. Evolutionarily, these moths do appear to have adapted to mimic their namesake birds. Survival breeds its own forms of intelligence. It occurred to me that we gender-diverse peoples have adapted in similar ways. As I considered our various forms of survival intelligences, a red shouldered hawk (sometimes referred to as a brown shouldered hawk due to the brownish-red hue) graced me with a low-flying pass. Red shouldered hawks are like, but not the same as, red tailed hawks; they are, each, a different species of the genus, buteo. Conversely, trans persons—and our intersex siblings—are homo sapiens.
Likeness, indeed, does not mean sameness.
It seems grasses and trees, in some way, know this too.

Nonetheless, we have become subjects of our culturally transmitted language and thought systems—perhaps more accurately, we have become captives. Some of this language, to be sure, is intentionally cultivated by members of the powerful minorities who benefit from the ways linguistic frameworks become socio-cultural systems and keep us divided. Nonetheless, our collective imagination has been dulled. Because language forms all our efforts, it has also created the paradigms of injustice we seek to change. And because empires have been doing the work of empire since the dawn of empires, this change we dream of, envision, and work for is new to us all. To achieve it, we are tasked with visioning and creating something different, something new—something that frees, rather than shuts in, all of us. To create something different, we need to think something different. We need to envision, dream, language, and speak something different.
Perhaps, we need the grassy brush of our imagination stirred by the boundless jumps of grasshoppers, illuminated by streams of light through the leafy branches of trees, fanned and whooshed by the flapping of bird wings.

Movement Three: Acceptance, Affirmation, Accommodation
In this work of reimagining, we are always beginning. We begin with our language: the thing that forms all our ideas, concepts, beliefs, and thus, our work. The more we use the homogenizing, minimizing, universalizing language of the dominant (and dominating) culture, the more we are at risk…the more we are simply groping around in circles in the shadows, grasping at word-scraps left on the floor in the master’s paradigm lab. Acknowledging that the just world we seek is a new thing means creating new language for a truly world-changing movement. At the very least, it means reframing the language handed down to us by the forefathers of oppression.

Inclusion, by definition, means that the included body does the work of adaptation into the space it is given; it embeds itself and conforms to the space it is allotted. This has been the case in our collective practice.  It is more than insufficient. Thinking in terms of inclusion keeps us—all of us—from becoming free to be who and what we are: grasshoppers trapped in a glass canning jar with holes poked into the lid, we can see the grassy field we might move into, the trees and plants that might shelter and nourish us; we can even taste the air, smell the smells, hear the sounds, and see the world of liberation out there, but we cannot get out of the jar.
There are, perhaps, more meaningful—and praxis-informing—ways of imaging a way out of the pretty glass jar.

Trees, we now know, communicate with, care for and protect other trees…and they do so in multiple ways, often across species.
Acceptance: refers to the action—the behavior—of receiving something offered, some person, thing, belief, or point of view; it means, first and foremost, to accept, to receive, the person, thing, or belief as favorable; to consent to regarding a person, thing, or belief as valid, correct, right or true, and worthy of receiving.  Trees, it seems, accept other trees.
Affirmation: refers to the action—again, the behavior—of affirming something, some person, thing, belief, or point of view; to affirm some person, thing, belief or idea is to recognize and to assert that thing, person, or belief is valid; it is to demonstrate belief in and dedication to the thing affirmed. Where acceptance is about regarding as valid and worthy and, then, consenting to receive with favorable regard something—or someone—seeking acceptance, affirmation is the overt assertion of that acceptance with high regard. Affirmation is about how we treat and respond to the person, thing, or belief we have accepted and consented to receive among us; it is about asserting validity and demonstrating dedication.
Trees, we can observe, affirm other trees by warning one another of impending dangers. Wohlleben has found that trees will actively support and nurture the ancient stumps of felled trees by feeding them a sugar solution through their roots. We homo sapiens seem to have trouble agreeing it is worthwhile to feed the living. Trees, incidentally, are rather gender-sex-expansive; it is not uncommon for trees to manifest both tree-sexes, so to speak. Some trees even alter, or change, their sex.
Accommodation: sociologically speaking, accommodation is about a process of mutual adaptation between persons or groups; it refers to the activity—yes, again, the behavior—of making changes and adjustments for a thing, person, or group; to accommodate another is to, purposefully and intentionally, make space for, adjustments, or arrangements for the care, stay, safety, or life of another. Making accommodation refers to making intentional changes, adaptations, to provide sufficient space, resources, and support to meet the needs of the other. It is the provision of receptive, affirming hospitality.
Trees accommodate, care for and make space for, other trees. Trees will adapt the growth of their branches to point away from their neighbors, making space for the others to access sunlight.

Beyond this stifling language of inclusion, I wonder if we can imagine a world among the trees—a fecund place where the light is available to all; where even a seemingly damaged stump is fed; where all are nurtured, cared for, made space for and protected.


About liammichael

I am a gender theorist, theological activist, writer, trans activist-advocate, and educator. I also work directly with trans and LGBTQ persons through workshops, support activities, and community-building. My work is informed and shaped by a deep concern for addressing the intersecting layers of disenfranchisement and oppression which stymie our efforts to create a just and meaningful common good. I work with, consult with, educate, train public sector groups, secular groups, and faith groups seeking to be affirming, accommodating, and celebratory of trans/non-binary and gender non-conforming persons. This space is a small part of the work.
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