Queering My Garden, Let Me Introduce Myself


Funny how a pandemic has us all a bit numb now—and very tired. Some weeks I’m on the ball, while others, I’m just lost in thought. Blogging again has me seeing gaps in the stories I tell myself and others. It also has helped me to have candid talks with friends. So again, let me quickly re-introduce myself.

Hi, my name is Ann. I’m a bisexual woman who has chosen to be married to a man. I am still, and always will be, bisexual. My pronouns are she/her. I’m gender nonconforming. I’m queer. I’m in-between. Ann the Man is a nickname from childhood and I might actually swear like a sailor in my day-to-day life. I used to say I’m a gender bending tomboy but the stakes are too high now not to take this more seriously. This stuff matters and I want to represent.

My chosen family means too much to me to remain silent. I represent the B in LGBTQ and this can, and should be, read into my garden too. I’m the author of this space, the creator of my garden. Both of my families live their lives in my garden. It was made for all of them.

I’ve known that I was bisexual since I was quite young… maybe since the 4th grade. I was in church and I looked around at everyone and thought, “I could spend the rest of my life with a boy or a girl. I don’t see the difference.” It was a Catholic Church, and I attended Catholic school for 12 years, but I never felt badly once for who I was and I’m grateful my parents were friends with a gay couple, had a lesbian typesetter at our office, and later they remained in the care of a physician during her transitioned from male to female, as did my elderly grandmother. They wanted to be supportive and they were.

My grandmother always said, “People are just born that way.” She also added that back in her day people would commit suicide because of these issues and I knew she must have known someone who did, but I was a kid, so I never asked. I wish I had.

I learned the expression that people “swung both ways” from my older brothers and their pornography consumption before I learned the word “bisexual”. I remember that learning that word was a relief. It sounded scientific and not so pervy. It was a relief to know what I was once and for all. I found comfort in the label, but I was nerd and had learned many labels for many things. This one though, it was mine.

Later, after finding myself fully sexually attracted to both sexes, it was a relief and I knew then exactly 100% who I was, but like others, I’ve been quiet about it, saying it’s no one’s business but my own, but I’m part of a rainbow spectrum, and I know there are others like me out there, and it is important for us all to be seen and heard. The diversity amongst us all is something I’ve come to not only embrace, but I see it as wildly beautiful. There is so much diversity in the LGBTQ+ world.

I might be pansexual, but I would need more time to think on that one. My youth was filled with fewer options, so I am just going with what I have known. Currently, I’m just working at feeling more comfortable as myself, as I am, and as I need to be, and not as society has continually told me to be.

The pandemic has seen me embracing my boyish ways, getting a mullet, and buying a JEEP with 4WD. I’m sure that these were all part of the code used when young men broke off relationships with me saying things like, “You’re not as feminine as I’d thought you’d be.” Ok then, let me finally explore what that means to me in my own way.

The more masculine I’ve become recently, my aging and ailing father continues to tell me I’m more beautiful to him than I’ve ever been and that he’s proud of me. I’d expected that my parents would both suggest that I tone down the new me, but nope. They love it. I’m lucky though. Very lucky. This is so often not how a story like this ends up.

And, while this sounds like the most boring coming-out ever, it had to be done. Coming out to my family was a non-event. I still married men twice, so I’m not all that “radical”. If I happened to end up with a woman in a committed relationship later in my life, it might be awkward at first, but they are genuinely ok with who I am and I know that. All of my friends who are close to me know too. I have really just been putting this off. Part of it being the fear that doing it here would end up with another comment like, “But I don’t care about who you are, what does this have to do with gardening?”

And right now some of you are likely feeling that uncomfortable feeling. You know the one. It’s when you realize that someone you thought might be like you, is NOT, and you’re likely to not want to spend as much time with them anymore since you’re too “different” than them. I bet if you feel this, you’re likely female, but maybe not… No, I’m not like you and lots of other people, but if you’re a good person, I want to know you. If you’re shallow and self-involved, well… I doubt you’ve read this far.

You might even want to say something like, “But you know I’m not gay too, right?” That’s kind of the fearful approach and it’s likely I’m very aware of this if we’re friends and you’re likely not even my type and that comment can seem kind of homophobic actually but you might not realize it. (Insert the arrogant female friend here who thought I was hung-up on her due to her own self-delusion and huge ego. Couldn’t be rid of that toxic friendship fast enough.) So much fear of the unknown and other baggage can come into friendships with folks who are not comfortable with otherness. If I can accept heterosexuals, I would like the same respect—and some space. You can be friends with gays and not think that they always want into your pants. Folks need to get over themselves.

I have felt left out and unseen quite often while reading what we’ve been calling garden writing. I have participated awkwardly in the gardening community. Let’s just say it honestly though, I do not identify with a lot of the content out there, and never have, but as the houseplant folks online have run with accepting and loving all things LGBTQ+ and #blacklivesmatter I feel like people out there finally want to hear from the real me, and I can just be more of myself now. The pandemic has made me fully #wtf about it all. Who doesn’t want to feel INVITED though. That IS inclusion.

Of the many spaces that I live in, this one here has felt crushing at times. I have been TERRIBLE at this garden blogging thing for nearly 15 years. Don’t think it’s because I’ve been hiding in the closet, it’s just that over time I’ve been surrounded by more and more gay men and it’s funny how the pandemic has had me sitting back and examining this. Sh*t or get off of the pot, right? Well, I’m writing weekly for the next year and then I will decide if this will end or not. It might. For this reason, I’ve been giving it my all and I’ve been enjoying it.

I have been in a very good place for the last few years now, but I’ve not been open or honest about it all publicly. It seems like I should and see what happens before moving on to something else.

“For f*#cks sake though! I have to say something. But what?”

I suck at marketing myself, and always have been lousy at it because I cannot advertise a version of myself back to all of you that is palatable enough to make you feel like you want to buy into my lifestyle “brand”. I’m a writer that will always refuse to write things for you, flattering you, following the trends, mommy blogging, showing you soothing images, leaving you with a comfortable and happy feeling since I reflected you back at you, thereby giving you existential validation and a sense of belonging when we actually don’t know one another. I’m the friendly verbal slap on social media that no one asked from or even wants but I might be a refreshing glass of cold water in your face from time to time.

I do better leaving my readers with things to think about, maybe opening up a conversation folks might want to be included in. I’m good at being an outsider, sitting on the edge a bit, looking for the other misfits, helping them to find a way in too, showing them that it’s not all bad. Hey! If there are enough of us misfits in the same spot at once, maybe we can have our own party! I am always going to be in the minority.

As a writer, I might even want to upset you sometimes if it means that you as a reader might actually think about your own anger and where it came from since I’d rather change a mind than make more friends and get more followers. Make a difference or make a buck? Clearly, I also suck at being a capitalist but at least I work hard.

But again, in general, garden writing is very narrow and miopic. Juxtaposed with nature writing, garden writing is a comforting Marie Cassatt painting compared to a profound work by Helen Frankenthaler. I see myself in the bigger theoretical picture, but I also see myself crashing norms more and more in the small garden rooms of acceptability in the smaller one too.

And does this all offend? Do you want to censor me or ask me to tone my thoughts down to appeal to more people or a wider audience? Both have occurred to me in recent weeks and it’s been rather funny to me. That’s exclusion. Of all the voices out there right now blurting out personal opinions, it’s hilarious to me that gardeners have wanted me to muffle my own. THAT ALONE says that the community is NOT inclusive. I’m a privileged white woman and I will not deny that fact to anyone and yet I’m being asked to calm my tits? Satire folks. Chill out. I am both sarcastic and satirical.

There is nothing worse than a room full of privileged white people complaining about the issue of the lack of inclusion and how few people of color there are in their group when they can’t even deal with differing ways of existence amongst their own ranks. Conformity to societal norms is overrated and I can now see how that can infect gardening behaviors and choices. And DO NOT TELL ME that this is just about plants and about the subject matter of how you grow them. Plants didn’t invent garden writing and plant groups, people did.

This is about sitting down and listening in an effort to be inclusive. It’s about NOT taking up all of the space AND air in the room. It’s about being passive in order to learn from others, to give them the space and respect that says, I am here to listen and learn from you too. Don’t be anxious about change, embrace the change because it is always coming. Life is change. Gardening is change. None of us can control the plants.

I touched a nerve with some gatekeepers recently and it was an interesting experience. I hope you’re grateful for my experience lol.

No, I am not writing this to get a book deal. I’m not writing this to get more followers (although I got a lot more with my satirical one than I’ve had in a few years. Thank you.) I’m just here to rattle the cage and I hope in so doing to bring more voices to the table that feel like they’ve been shut down, cut off, or spoken down to over the years.

I write to be honest and because I honestly love plants. I also very much believe in the power of words, of communication, and of the power of people when they work together for a common goal. My goal as an outsider has always been to be accepted as an insider and to leave the door open to all, so long as they respect all others as equals.

But you can fact check me and make sure that all of this, every word, is acceptable. I crave nothing more than the approval of others lol. (Sarcasm)

Back in the 1990s, when I travelled between the biology and English literature departments, queer theory and ecofeminism were popular with the “crunchier” students. I was a radically minded cynical grungy punk so I kept clear of these schools of thought. As I became a bit less feral thanks to academic mentors, I gathered steam in other theoretical schools of thought, and so I now find myself returning to fields that I should have learned years ago, but hey, we’re never too old to learn new things. I am working again on ethnobotanical items as well to “fact check” the recent rash of #colonialism name callings that I’ve been seeing. (Yes, many of these are very accurate, but it’s been abused more and more and that’s not the kind of name calling that we should be bandying about willy-nilly. Words can lose their impact and power. I care about that.)

While sitting down late after work on Thursday to write this post, I found this article How to Queer Ecology: One Goose at a Time, A lesson plan, and in many ways, it says everything I really wanted to say in this post tonight, about so many OTHER things. I jokingly called the process of this piece The Queerening with a friend this evening. (Yes, I’m a fan of Highlander.)

In all seriousness though, if you can keep up with this thought train I’m on, please give this a spin too.