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Queers & Wolves: Mapping Eco-Social Resilience-Scapes

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Last month, I learned that wolves “storytell” by rubbing their bodies against something to pick up its scent. They then carry that scent back to the pack, communicating it to the other wolves with the playful movement of their bodies upon each other. I didn’t learn this from the internet or even from an informational and slightly outdated documentary. I learned this, first hand, as an alpha wolf of the pack chose me (me?) as the “story of the day” and proceeded to nuzzle and rub his entire body against mine, diving back and forth with his fur, with enough friction to start a fire.

How did I happen to get so close to an actual wolf to experience this kind of encounter, you ask? No, I was not wandering around in Yellowstone, magically stumbling into a pack of wolves and having some kind of new-age “me and the wolves are one in the moonlight” moment. Last month, I spent three days with a group of queer folks at Mission: Wolf, a wolf sanctuary in occupied Ute territory or so-called Colorado. It was there that I had this experience.

This magical outing was organized by a project my mentors and friends run, called Queer Nature. QN is dedicated to cultivating earth-based queer community through traditional skill-building, and it has been the home of much of my queer soul-searching recently.

I received so much in the three days I spent sleeping on the land and dreaming to the sounds of synchronized wolf howls (did you know that wolves howl in the key of E?! and that when a wolf’s mate dies, the howl changes, signaling it as a howl of mourning!?). I learned about the myths poured and projected onto these fierce and wild creatures by a colonial mindset. Most of us are probably familiar with the fairytales like Little Red Riding Hood and the vicious role the wolf plays in that story. I also learned that wolves and queers have a lot in common in the experiences of being othered and misunderstood in mainstream society.

Wolves have undergone a horrific genocide, much like the barely talked about genocides that have been enacted on indigenous nations of humans. Pre-european colonial contact, there used to be two million wolves across the lands of Turtle Island or the so-called usa. Before wolves were put on the endangered species act in 1967, there were a couple hundred. After conservation efforts have kicked in, the number is somewhere around five thousand now.

But still, wolves remain resilient and free. Even the wolves I met this past weekend who were confined to well-maintained cages within the context of this sanctuary. You can just feel it in the way they move and how they hold strong boundaries with humans. There is a wildness that remains and can never be tamed.

At first, having a sixty pound wolf dog shove his body into mine and being chosen as the “story of the day” in this way was frightening. Genocide is built by and thrives on fear. I have been taught to fear/demonize these friends, and as this bold one started wildly rubbing himself all over me, gathering my scent for a story and telling me a story with his movement, I froze up. I didn’t know what was happening. The many times I have been attacked by canines in this life came back to me. The more I resisted, the more intense the movement and the urge to share the story became, until finally, I surrendered. I chose to receive. I took a deeper breath. I faced my fear, and I looked him in the eyes… his face coming right up to mine, soul-to-soul, we stared into each other.

Meeting my indoctrinated fear of the Other and of the wild is incredibly healing and humbling. It allows me to see how I have been continually caged by the conditioned fear of my own wildness. The story the wolf passed down to me did start a fire. It rekindled and fed a fire in me that burns to to go deeper, to reclaim forgotten knowledge, and to show up more for the human and more-than-human communities who are impacted by the racist, abelist, colonial cis-hetero-patriarchy.

This showing up must be rooted in my lifelong commitment to be present to the shadow work of unweaving the trauma of the colonizer and the colonized in me. To my ancestors who were druids, faol (or wolf, pronounced “foil”) brought learning, inner strength, and intuition. They were considered a messenger for when it is time to cross barriers, to take risks, to go beyond the limited compass of what is ‘normal’ behavior in order to learn and grow. Faol brought an awareness of our deepest self, the inner power and strength that comes from spending time alone.

I see it is as a sacred duty to remember, to reconnect, and to queer my relationship to these wise creatures, in ways that my most recent ancestors who were colonizers and settlers have forgotten. I see it as connected to my soul purpose in this life to plant seeds of learning to heal the trauma of the oppressor that I have inherited and that I benefit from every day, as a white queer genderfluid being. It is so important that queer folks who share the intersection of whiteness remember this work. We are our intersections, and there is no real way to hide from our skin privilege and the work it calls us into doing in ourselves and with our communities.

I am unspeakably grateful to these wolf teachers for the way their stories have reminded and empowered me. I am grateful for the teachings of their harmonized dawn and dusk howls. For helping me cross barriers of ‘normal’ in my own body and mind. For schooling me in new and old ways of telling stories and for sharing story with me.

I could not have faced my fear so courageously if it wasn’t for the queer community of solidarity and love that I was surrounded and supported by in this meeting with the wolves. I feel that queer family is a social and ecological imperative. The folks at Queer Nature often say that the more-than-human world can be life-saving allies and accomplices to people who are othered and oppressed by human society, and that there is a special connection we as queer folks have to the natural world. The curriculum of Queer Nature seeks to re-weave skills of belonging, to each other and to the land, and it is through these feelings of belonging that I find my bravery.

And so, I say: Thank you Faol and specifically the wolves of Turtle Island. I am in deep sorrow for the ways my own people have fallen out of relationship with you and caused you harm, and I ask for your forgiveness. Your stories will remain with me, in my cells, in the haunting memory of what it means to be alive and tangled and here and human. To you, I bow. To all those across generations who have treated you with the respect and reverence that you deserve, I bow. May we all remember what it is to be woven in wild webs of sacred intimacy that hold us accountable to our dreams, our powers, our souls, and to each other. So may it be.

*Images courtesy of Pınar Ateş Sinopoulos-Lloyd

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About the Author: Fēnix Grace

Fēnix (they/them) is the moment before sunrise, as the dew settles itself to being touched by the breaking open of a soft dawn. A student of somatic and ritual technologies, they are a deep feeler, a world-bridger, and a warrior healer. Recently graduated from Naropa University with degrees in Somatic Psychology, Peace Studies, and Gender Studies, they are passionate about storytelling, embodiment practices, and eco-social restoration. fēnix is a queer, white, non-binary, economically privileged, tender-hearted human whose ancestors are slavic, welsh, irish, and english. They are a member and budding organizer with Resource Generation, which is an organization that mobilizes young people with class privilege and/or access to wealth to redistribute land, resources, and power. They are a writer and facilitator and have mostly worked at the intersections of rites of passage, nature connection, and eco-social justice.

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