Nature Loves Weird Plants & So Do We
Over the years, I’ve written hundreds-ok, thousands-of articles about gardening. Judging by reader responses, it’s pretty clear that for gardeners, what’s news is what’s new and different. However, results may vary: when I was first getting truly obsessive about plants, I happily fell in with a fervent band of collectors who lusted after the old, the heritage and antique forms of certain plants. Elizabethan hose-in-hose primulas, archetypal back-bred daffodils, heirloom apples, all were prized as much as the newest hosta or heuchera. This often led to the species stage, where instead of hybrids, one develops a deep need for every possible parent species of the chosen obsession, which often means growing from seed, which may or may not be available commercially, which leads to making swapping relationships with other mad collectors.
Clearly, the oddity factor is enormously appealing for collectors of all kinds, from plants to model trains to stamps to tea pots. For many gardeners, collector-itis starts with the gotta-have-them-all phase in which we seek out every mainstream-available type of whatever it is we are fixed upon. However, if we truly get hooked, we then start seeking out the oddities; rare and unusual forms, colors, textures, sizes. It’s only recently occurred to me that the gardening community’s delight in diversity isn’t mirrored in many other places these days. It seems that, just as we gardeners love and determinedly collect weird plants, we also, generally speaking, are able to appreciate non-normative people more than the culture as a whole. Could this acceptance be in part based on the fact that many of us are at least a bit non-normative ourselves? Asking for a friend…
Perfect Doesn’t Exist
Like many people, I needed some nudging to develop acceptance of some forms of plant diversity. I admit that I still think some yellow foliage looks chlorotic and find certain wilder types of variegation unappealing, especially the less symmetrical. Growing up in a very traditional New England town and having been deeply influenced by Gerard Manley Hopkins’s views about the nature of beauty, I found symmetry soothing, and had to work at broadening my assumptions to include asymmetry and variegation. With enthusiastic teachers ardently pointing out the desirability of variety and variation, eventually I could open my mind to many fresh viewpoints.
As the mother of a brilliant neuro-diverse kid who is now a transgender woman, I’ve had to stretch open my mind a whole lot more over the years. Today, I’m grateful for each of the nudges (not to say shoves) that were required, and my own slow opening makes me more patient with folks who have a hard time accepting diversity in their family or community. Sometimes, especially lately, I catch myself wondering why it’s so hard for some people to be open minded (not to say kind), and I need to remember my own faltering early progress. A friend used to say, “Progress, not perfection,” and now I really know why. Indeed, one big nudge came for me when I was in nursing school, doing an OB/GYN rotation. One of the delivery docs was explaining why a newborn had tiny gills under his ears and how they would close up undetectably before very long. Faced with a zillion shocked questions from a gaggle of nursing students, he said, “In all my years of delivering babies, I’ve never yet seen one that was 100% “perfect”. Everyone has something a little bit different about them, and even people who appear totally symmetrical aren’t.”
The Spaciousness Of The Queer
Frantic variegation aside (it still makes me nervous), I’ve come to truly treasure the gardening community’s acceptance of and appreciation for the unusual, which has been a huge help for my own development. I’ve been working with several groups that are trying to expand acceptance of diversity and understanding about what inclusion might look like, and it strikes me that there is so much more spaciousness in the queer community than the “normal” culture can offer. Where mainstream culture has very rigid rules about how people are supposed to look, talk, and act, especially in gender-assigned roles, queer culture is actively opening to an ever-broader set of possibilities.
We are really seeing that stretch in the number of people who are reaching past binary definitions of any kind. Even a few years ago, very few people who transitioned into transgender status de-transitioned. The road to transition was so rocky and painful that nobody got there on a whim and only a tiny percentage ever changed their decisions. That road is still rocky today, despite many helpful changes in best practices that smooth out the process a little, but an increasing number of people are recognizing themselves as simply transgender, rather than being a trans woman or man. Now that more possibilities are being acknowledged, called out by exploratory pioneers, more people, young and older, are moving happily into a status such as gender fluid, gender flexible, or gender expansive. On beyond the binary, turns out there’s a whole universe of options to explore. Onward!