California

Fierce Love

On Sex, Ecology and Climate Change with Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens


In the last twenty years, scientists have argued that we have entered a new geological age: the Anthropocene, the Age of Man, in which human beings have become the most powerful influence on the earth’s terrestrial, marine and atmospheric systems. There is no part of the Earth that humans have not altered to serve our own needs. Humanity’s transformation of the earth’s systems is now leading us to the brink of disaster as we are now coming to terms with the perilous consequences of human-induced climate change. In many ways, California has long been on the front lines of the climate crisis. In July 2021, Governor Gavin Newsome called on Californians to reduce their water use by 15 percent in response to an extreme drought that has affected 85 percent of the state. Wildfires continue to rage across the state and checking the Air Quality Index has become a daily ritual during fire season.

But the rest of the country is catching up. This summer, Hurricane Ida tore through New Orleans producing floods in the city and taking down its power grid. More than a million people were left stranded without clean drinking water or electricity in a scorching Louisiana summer. But Ida wasn’t finished. She traveled 1,300 miles to the Northeast and dumped up to 10 inches of rain on the region – causing massive floods in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania that left some 40 people dead. While the Biden administration has identified climate change as a central policy imperative, many of the proposed measures to address the climate crisis barely scratches the surface of the massive changes needed to curb CO2 emissions and mitigate the worst effects of our impact on the planet and avoid unleashing a wave of irreversible environmental effects that will make life for humans and non-human species on planet Earth increasingly untenable. 

The science is clear and the findings are unequivocal: we’re fucked.

As an artist and feminist scholar who teaches and makes art about climate change and environmental destruction, I will admit that these developments leave me with a sense of anxiety and despair about the future of the human species that at times feels immobilizing. I am not alone. A recent study by the researchers at Stanford University and the University of Bath in the UK found that nearly 45 percent of respondents said that anxiety and distress about the climate crisis is affecting their daily life and ability to function. The scale of this existential crisis is overwhelming, and it can be hard to shake the pervasive sense of dread that characterizes this moment. But a pair of San Francisco-based multimedia performance art sex radicals have some different ideas about how to face the end of the world as we know it. 

Beth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle are wildly in love with each other – and the Earth. So much so that in 2008, they married the Earth in an extravagant, carnivalesque wedding ceremony under the redwoods in Santa Cruz. They knew immediately that they were onto something. Since the green wedding, Sprinkle and Stephens have married the sky, the moon, the Appalachian Mountains, the sun, coal, the sea, soil in Austria and Lake Kallavesi in Finland. They’ve woven these performative eco-nuptials into a trilogy of campy environmental documentaries that explore what it means to love the earth. In Goodbye Gauley Mountain, followed Beth as she returned to her hometown in West Virginia and confronts the violence of mountain top removal. The second film, Water Makes Us Wet, a playful exploration of the very serious water politics of California. In April 2021, the two artists received the prestigious Guggenheim award to make their third film, Playing with Fire. 

Sprinkle and Stephens identify as proud ecosexuals, which they define as “a person who imagines the Earth as a lover and finds nature (human and non-human) sensual and erotic.” The pair argue that ecosexuality is a way of imagining a radically different way to be in relationship with the earth. One rooted in sex, love, play, humor and a deep appreciation of the earth’s many pleasures. The black feminist writer and movement facilitator, adrienne maree brown, states that we need to place joy and pleasure at the center of our activist work. Centering what makes us feel good is not about running away from the problems we face or trying to wish them away; rather, pleasure helps us to weather the crises that we must face as we go about the doing the work of making the social world a better place.

Ecoseuxality operates on a continuum. You don’t have to fuck a tree to be an ecosexual – though you certainly might (questions of consent are admittedly fuzzy in this case). But human beings derive pleasure from the earth in ways that we often take for granted (ask any woman who has ever bathed with a detachable shower head). The challenge of ecosexuality is to engage in a reciprocal relationship with the earth in which human beings take seriously the idea that we might need to pleasure the Earth as well. In addition to hosting multiple eco-weddings, Sprinkle and Stephens also have led a series of ecosexual walking tours in the United States and Europe in which they invite participants to find new ways to activate their desires for the earth. They offer some tips for what this might look like in a short manifesto entitled, “25 Ways to Make Love to the Earth.” Suggestions range from simply telling the earth that you love them (Sprinkle and Stephens treat the earth as non-binary entity that contains all genders) to massaging the earth with your feet to doing a strip tease to talking dirty to plants to planting your seeds (literally or figuratively) in the ground (in a nod to Vito Acconci’s infamous 1972 performance, Seedbed, in which the artist masturbated under ramp in an art gallery as the art patrons walked above him). 

The theory hasn’t come without its critics. Indigenous scholars, for example, have argued that the ecosexual framework is not applicable to the spiritual and epistemological traditions of indigenous communities. Sprinkle and Stephens shared that some environmentalists and LGBTQIA+ activists have accused them of making a mockery of these movements. And ecosexuality makes a lot of people just plain uncomfortable. But maybe that’s the point. The feminist environmental scholar Lauran Whitworth suggests that “Ecosexuality’s campy eco-erotics simultaneously entertain and bewilder (and perhaps can arouse) stirring an unsettling array of responses apropos to these unsettling times.” 

The two admit that their work has often been misunderstood. But they’re mostly okay with that. As Stephens explains, “We kind of play [the role of] these absurdist coyote fools and so we get the response that you get from being in that position.” The pair have been deeply inspired by the work of other artists who work in the absurdist tradition, particularly the Fluxus art movement, feminist performance artists and many others who act as cultural tricksters. That enagement with absurdism has often made it difficult to see just how serious Sprinkle and Stephen’s work actually is. But more folks are taking them seriously. In addition to the nod from the Guggenheim, the two participated in documenta 14 in 2017, and it feels like the culture is finally catching up to them. This year, they published Assuming the Ecosexual Position: The Earth as Lover a work that is equal parts memoir, manifesto, theoretical treatise and performance art manual.

In many ways, Sprinkle and Stephens’ ecosexual art is a quintessentially California product. And frankly, I suspect that it could only have been made in California. Despite the violent social inequality that defines life in a state that is simultaneously the world’s fifth largest economy and also home to one of the nation’s largest homeless populations, California, and the San Francisco Bay Area in particular, remains a haven for hippies, freaks, dropouts and radicals of all stripes making it a particularly rich environment for experimental art. California is acts as both lover and muse in much of Sprinkle and Stephens’ work, and their love for the landscape in all of its beauty and diversity — from the deserts to the mountains, rivers and streams, the wild Pacific coastline that are home to seals and sea lions, and the state’s chapel-like redwood forests – is palpable. But the natural beauty that has made California the envy of the world is now imperiled by the crisis of climate change. Sprinkle and Stephens argue that the California dream needs a radical transformation.

The jury is still out on how much we can do to reverse the effects of climate change. We may indeed be screwed. But if “we are going to go down in flames,” then we might as well, as Sprinkle suggests, “go down filled with love and joy and pleasure.” That’s how I’d like to go. 

I caught up with Beth and Annie while they were on the road promoting their new book and traveling to Utah to participate in a wedding to brine shrimp with Polish hydrofeminist and performance artist, Ewelina Jarosz. In a series of free-range conversations over Zoom, text messages and emails we talked about what it means to love the earth fiercely, how ecosexuality might help us imagine a new, more exciting (and equitable) California wet dream, and why ecosex is for everyone. 

***

Courtney Desiree Morris: Thank you so much for making time for this. It feels so right to be having this conversation with you at the end of this particular week, because I feel like climate change is at the center of public discourse in a way that it hasn’t been and really should have been years ago. Watching all of the news coming out of New Orleans and the reports coming out of the Northeast and how Hurricane Ida tore through the country. We have fires everywhere in California. I mean, it’s just — 

Beth Stephens: And in Minnesota too. Northern Minnesota and the pipeline up here is crazy. 

CDM: It’s wild. So now finally, everybody is ready to have a conversation about climate change. It’s here, it’s happening. It’s not something that’s on the horizon. And it is hard not to feel a sense of despair. But you two have taken a completely different approach to how we should think about the climate crisis. I am really intrigued by the pleasure- based approach to climate change that you outline in your new book, Assuming the Ecosexual Position: The Earth as Lover. I wanted to ask you to talk a little bit more about what that means. As I understand it, part of the argument is that we need to relate to the earth in a different way, right? Relating to the earth and thinking of it as our lover, rather than our mother. For people who aren’t familiar with the term, what does it mean to be an ecosexual and how does it help reorient the way that we should be or that we could be in relationship with the earth?

Annie Sprinkle: Well, first of all, we’re not against the idea of thinking of the earth as mother. It can morph into all the archetypes, but for some of us imagining the earth as a lover opens new doorways and paradigm shifts and brings more pleasure into our lives. And we’re interested in pleasuring and loving and adoring the earth — 

BS: Or at least giving the earth a good massage. A foot massage! 

AS: And getting people to love the earth more and appreciate all the pleasure and beauty that it gives us so maybe they’ll take better care of it. And we like to think that maybe the earth likes it too. 

BS: I think of the earth as a sentient body. I think Annie does too. We also think of ourselves as part of the earth. And so this is really about self-care and self-love and extending that to the furthest environmental and ecological realms that we can. It’s an ecology of love and an ecology of sex. It really is a different way of approaching it rather than still trying to commandeer the world through technology or through engineering or through, you know, whatever our government wants to throw out. It’s a really humble place to start. 

AS: Also times are tough. There’s a lot of challenges for people in the world today. I don’t need to list them. So if we are going to go down in flames — and there’s a lot we can’t do anything about personally — let’s at least go down filled with love and joy and pleasure.

BS: Well, probably some fear, too. But love can be scary as hell, too. 

CDM: Yeah. 

BS: Right? I mean, love’s not this Hallmark thing. We’re not talking about that kind of squishy, capitalized love. We’re talking about a kind of fierce love that really can walk through fire if we have to. The kind of love we’re talking about is that you would give your life for the land that you love. I mean, it’s just, it’s very complex and very emotional and very embodied, really. 

AS: We say one of the, our goals as eco sex, activists and artists is to try and create an environmental movement that’s more sexy, fun and diverse because a lot of us don’t fit into the mainstream environmental movements very well. We have to kind of morph into something we’re not. So we imagine the earth as trans all genders, which is a paradigm shift that is more inclusive from a feminist perspective. 

CDM: That actually is perfect because it leads into my next question in terms of thinking about the queerness of ecosexuality. I was thinking about this when I was reading an article by the queer feminist environmental scholar, Lauran Whitworth, who wrote a piece about your first film, Goodbye Gauley Mountain, which she described as “eco-camp.” She used the term to talk about how your work draws from queer performative traditions that makevery productive use of irony, parody, humor, sincerity. And so I just wanted to hear more about the way you talk about queerness in terms of eco sexuality. Cause you’re, you’re both really clear that anybody can be an ecosexual but it’s also a very queer framing of how to engage with the environment through a sexual politics. So can you talk more about what’s queer about ecosexuality and why is that important? 

BS: Well, it’s really just, I mean, for me it was. It was both a parody and an expansion of GLBTQI, you know, that whole acronym, which if you put that together correctly, spells giblets, right? I mean, I think in some ways people take themselves too seriously and that kind of seriosity takes away the joy of why you want to sleep with somebody. Sex is so silly and people have just made a mountain out of a like, you know, really sexy molehill, right? I mean, the demonization of sex and the sex phobia that we have in this culture — and it doesn’t matter if you’re gay, straight, queer, whatever, we all have it. 

I was just reading my student evals, which is always a little painful, right? I mean, cause I always focus on the bad ones. So one kid said they were triggered by ecosexuality. And then a few years ago, another student said to me, oh, well, you’re just really trying to ruin the GLBTQI movement. And I just feel like if we can’t be joyful and have sex with abandon, I don’t mean irresponsibility, but I mean, abandon —  

CDM: Yeah. 

BS: We’re just controlled. And neo-liberalism tries to control everything, including sex. I feel like queer is a hugely expansive invitational field — it’s like Alcoholics Anonymous. All you have to do is say, I’m queer, like go be queer, but I love that about it. But then there are the gatekeepers of queerdom and we just drive them crazy. 

AS: I was heterosexual most of my adult life — 

BS: Well, she thought she was —

AS: But this is a travel magazine. I wanted to say, if you’re driving around a place, why not eroticize everything, if it makes it more sexy? You got your ecosexual gaze on. So there’s an eco sexual gaze that people can have as they move through the world. You can eroticize what’s around you or, you know, feelings, for example, of being penetrated by sun rays, or eroticizing the air you breathe. Or if you’re eroticizing the mountains as breasts, you’re going to bring to your ecosexual gaze, your own desires. Every human being is an entire erotic universe unto themselves. One thing I’ve learned from being a sex educator is that everybody’s different. 

BS: An ecosexual really means somebody who loves the earth. But then the question is what’s the earth? And we are the earth. So there’s a macro and micro.  

CDM: As I was reading Assuming the Ecosexual Position, I was really reminded of the work of adrienne maree brown and her work on pleasure politics and how she talks about the goal of pleasure activism is learning to make justice and liberation the most pleasurable experiences that you can have on the planet. And I thought, that’s ecosex! 

AS: Pleasure activists unite! Yeah, I blurbed her book. I used the term pleasure activist in the early nineties, as well. It’s a great term and I think her book’s amazing. It’s definitely aligned with the work we do. I mean, obviously our work pushes up against sex negativity. If you are a pretty sex negative person, you are not going to resonate with the ecosex thing. It’s going to be a sin, a taboo and disgusting and sick. If you’re a sex positive person and you see the beauty and uses for sex positivity then you might resonate with ecosex. 

CDM: You’ve both been thinking about these questions around the environment and environmental justice and pleasure — you really have been doing it your whole careers in different ways, just looking back at your larger body of work.. But you know, you’ve really been rooting down into that work over the last 20 years in an intentional and focused way. And it kind of feels like the culture is finally ready for you. Like people are kind of catching up to stuff that you’ve been talking about for a really long time. What’s that been like for you? 

BS: Well, it’s funny. We’ve gotten some nice recognition in the last few years. We were in documenta, which was just incredible. And people there didn’t quite know what to make of us. I mean, a lot of people make fun of us. 

AS: A lot of people don’t like it. 

BS: But it’s okay cause we love humor so they can make fun and we can take that fun and give it back to them. You know? Paul B. Preciado has taken our work very seriously for a long time. He wrote an afterword in our book and his support has been really important to us. He has been building a curation of us in Europe for many years. But then the zinger was — we got a Guggenheim! 

CDM: I know I saw that! 

BS: You know in the UC, there’s all this pressure to get grants, get grants, get grants, get grants. But you know, it’s been very difficult for us for many years. I’ve never gotten a big documentary film grant. Cause these grant makers, you know, they’re not going to fund ecosexuality cause they think we’re crackpots. Environmentalists have told us that we make their movement less serious. So a lot of places won’t fund us, but the Guggenheim was just a huge honor, but neither one of us could believe it. So I think some people are starting to take us seriously. And so we know that we kind of play these absurdist coyote fools and we get the response that you get from being in that position. Some people know what we’re doing. And I think more and more people are understanding the seriosity of what we’re doing, but we do it with such humor and such absurdity. We have really looked to like absurdist art movements like Fluxus, or Dada, or the Surrealists. So we really raise people’s dander. 

AS: Well, for me, the shocker with the Guggenheim is let’s face it: I did 22 years of mainstream porn and prostitution. That is like not usually appreciated by big art organizations. [But] I think the there’s [been] this resurgence of the Andrea Dworkin-ites, and that people realize that sex workers are on the front lines. Until prostitution’s decriminalized we can’t really be a sex positive world. So, they’re really on the front lines of what we’re doing, as well. 

CDM: Yeah, it’s interesting that some institutions are beginning to recognize that sex workers have really important contributions to make to the culture. I mean who understands sex better than someone who’s done this as labor? And who can really help you think about the commodification of the body or, what it means to perform labor where there’s not a safety net and the state doesn’t protect you? It makes me wonder: what would it mean to take those insights seriously and to treat sex workers as not only workers, but theorists, as well? 

AS: We’re experts. We do a series a called free sidewalk sex clinics, where we offer free sex advice to people on the street. We always have sex workers offering free sex advice, and they don’t often think of themselves as sex educators and they really are. They know so much. 

[But in terms of ecosex] It’s a taboo to acknowledge that we’re having sensual pleasure, even from laying on the beach, and the sand and the sun, the smells, the tastes, the feelings you’re not supposed to eroticize those things. And we say, why the hell not? Why only fantasize about people? Why not fantasize about bees pollinating flowers or a mountain range?

CDM: So I wanted to just backtrack a little bit to the Guggenheim. And I know that you’ve received that award because you’re working on the third film in your trilogy of environmental documentaries, and this one’s going to be called Playing with Fire

BS: Yeah. 

CDM: That is right on time, my friends. Could you talk a little bit more about that film project?

AS: This one is her vision. 

BS: I’m trying to look at the environmental and the social together to make a film about environmental justice. And so I see what’s happening with the fires in California and who died in these floods in New York and who died in Minneapolis. I mean, yesterday we spent time talking to a woman who is doing a project called Memorialize the Movement. Her name is Leesa Kelly and she collected all of the boards that were put over store windows to prevent protesters from breaking those windows and people did graffiti on those boards. They made amazing artworks and she collected these boards and she displays them as artworks and she’s trying to archive them. 

But I’m really trying to weave together the really deep tragedy of this country, where we have really squandered a beautiful land. I mean, it is just, you know, I laugh and say, sometimes that California is becoming like West Virginia because we have this beautiful land and we did not take care of it.  And beautiful people that we have just let capitalism and tech overrun what is really life giving. And so, you know, I don’t know what I’m going to be doing with this quite yet, but I’m interviewing people and that’s, that’s how I start a film. I talk to people. Right? So yesterday we talked to Leesa about the George Floyd protests and how exhausting doing political work is. And we [were] trying to talk to her about the joy of doing that kind of work. And she said so eloquently, doing this kind of really heavy political work, it’s not fun, but it gives me deep satisfaction. We’ve also talked to people in Boulder Creek, California, where the CCU fire was last year. We talked to a theater artist who has a costume shop there, who lost her house completely, and we talked to her in the ruins of the house. It was really intense. And then, we’re friends with Melorra and Melonie Green and so we talked to them about the African-American Arts and Culture Center and what they’re doing. We talked to Melissa K. Nelson, who runs the Nature Conservancy. She’s an indigenous friend of Kim Tallbear’s. So we’re moving around and we’re talking to people and trying to find sort of what the thread of this film will be, but it’s going to be an environmental justice film and it’s going to address big issues — because fire is not just a bad thing either. I mean, fire can be a cleansing. 

AS: It’s a metaphor. 

BS: Yeah. It’s a metaphor. 

AS: Burn it down. It can renew. It can be beautiful, so it’s going to be the whole range. And we work with montage on some level — 

BS: See how she collaborates with me?

CDM: I love it. It’s very organic. 

BS: We’re going to do gender reveal parties, too. We might start out with a gender reveal cannon, you know, those blue and pink things that start fires and people get killed, making them.

AS: And people die putting out those fires of theirs. 

BS: Yeah, they’ve started forest fires. I mean, it’s really cuckoo. I had never even heard of one until we started doing research for this fire documentary — 

AS: But fire is also hotness, hotness and passion and fire rituals and campfires, getting hot, getting sweaty. And so it’s a great topic. 

BS: Yeah. Right now we have a big cauldron of stuff — 

AS: Fire is terrifying and it’s also so beautiful — 

BS: So beautiful. What would we do without it? 

 

CDM: I want to pivot for a minute and talk about California. Beth, you mentioned that you see California becoming more like West Virginia these days. Engaging with your two most recent films the natural landscapes, communities and cultures of California feel like central characters in so much of the creative work that you do. It almost feels like a muse. Annie, you grew up in southern California and I’ve heard you talk a bit about how having the sort of quintessential southern California childhood with a swimming pool in the backyard was the site of your earliest environmental awareness and consciousness. Beth you are a naturalized Californian and you have been out here since the 1990s and have really seen the California Dream morph and change into something of a nightmare. Can you talk about your relationship to California and how it has shaped the work you make?

AS: I lived in L.A.’s San Fernando valley from ages 5 to 13 in the 1960s. I hated it. It was antisemitic, racist, white bread and my friends only cared about their Go-Go boots. Thankfully our family had a swimming pool where I spent most of my time. Then when I was 13 our family moved to Panama for four years. Those years in Panama shaped me far more than my bland early years in LA. My friends in Panama were worldly hippies experimenting with psychedelics. I hated LA so at 17 I moved to Manhattan where I spent the next 22 years in the sex underground. Eventually I ended up with Beth in San Francisco, which is what I call the clitoris of the USA. These days, I can enjoy San Fernando Valley. My family home and pool are still there. It is diverse. Plus there’s GPS!  GPS is a gift from the Gods for driving around LA and traveling in general. A traveler can still get lost enough to make it fun, but still find their destination. Since most of my years have now been in California, I must admit that I am a California girl. 

BS: I always laugh and say (although it’s not funny) that California is becoming my birth state of West Virginia. Both places suffer the effects of ongoing colonialism based on capitalist greed, resource extraction and the brutality against nature that those things entail. Now the chickens are coming home to roost. I first came to California chasing the dream for a place that was environmentally stable, open-minded and more equitable than either Appalachia, where I grew up, or the Northeast where I’d gone to school. Plus, I needed a horizon. California beckoned me, and I have thrived here. It still seemed that there was a great deal of opportunity in terms of jobs, shelter and adventure in the mid-nineties, but I ended up working so hard that I didn’t have time for adventure. However, my commute to work, down Highway 1 from San Francisco to Santa Cruz, is the most gorgeous drive in the world. I commute, even though driving down the coast past the beautiful forests and the ocean has carbon consequences that the drought and related fires now exacerbate.

Additionally, the ongoing extraction of resources consumed by Californians and the global community that enjoys our products depletes our environment. During this drought, the millions of gallons of water wasted during fracking for “natural” gas, raising livestock, and growing tons of lettuce and almonds add up fast. Also, diseases thrive in extraction zones, especially cancers, which people (and animals) who live in resource extraction zones suffer. This ongoing suffering, plus pandemic conspiracy theories and toxic politics that prevent people from getting vaccines to alleviate more death and dying, is now, in part, California’s reality. Altogether, these things have frankly turned California into a bit of a nightmare, I do still love it here. I try to follow Donna Haraway’s lead by “staying with the trouble.”

CDM: It’s hard to do. It feels like the myth of the California Dream — the idea that the earth is an inexhaustible resource that human beings can use to get rich quick beyond their wildest fantasies –is reaching its ecological limits. How do you both respond to this through your work and how might an ecosexual perspective help us rethink what the California Dream might look like at this moment? Can we reimagine it to be something more attuned to the earth, more humane, more sustainable? Or do we need a different kind of dream altogether?  

AS: California is an absolutely spectacular state. It is a dream, in that there are so many different kinds of ecosystems—deserts, ocean, snowy mountains with gorgeous lakes… There are so many eco-sensual pleasures—redwood trees, bougainvillea galore, sand dunes, Yosemite…We have it all.  But it’s painfully clear, we are majorly eco-sinning all over ourselves and facing a California nightmare. We are running out of water, the fires are raging out of control, animal species are suffering and dying off… WTF! If we can get people to love and appreciate the Earth and it’s living things and its sensual pleasures more, maybe we humans can get to stay here. We have to create a new kind of California dream or we won’t survive. It has to be a humane, community minded, eco-rotic, California wet dream. 

BS: As an ecosexual, I deeply appreciate the beauty of California’s landscapes, waterways, oceans, forests and skies. They are orgasmic on a cosmic scale. I also feel their pain, and there is a lot of pain and agony now. These feelings profoundly influenced our work, from producing Goodbye Gauley Mountain and Water Makes Us Wet, our two ecosexual films, to our ecosex walking tours. Assuming the Ecosexual Position: The Earth as Lover, our book attempts to articulate how deeply we’ve been influenced by becoming more aware and watching the environment degrade in front of our eyes. The human assumption that, as you say, “the earth is an inexhaustible resource that human beings can use to get rich quick beyond their wildest fantasies” is a killer. First of all, only a few humans were ever able to make that assumption work for them, and they became the 1%. The rest of us work for them, and in so doing, we are complicit in the environmental disaster that is now knocking down our door. 

The ways that an ecosexual perspective helps us rethink the California Dream by insisting that we think of the Earth as a lover to have a more reciprocal relationship with the planet, a relationship guided by the planet’s well-being and pleasure, rather than only by our own. We are proponents of all the things that pleasuring our lover entails. And we invite everyone to think of more ways too. As with lovemaking, we need to insist on a slower pace, where everyone is safe and has adequate shelter, free healthcare and sustenance, which is a tall order for the ecosexuals to bring about by themselves. However, we slow things down with our work and are huge advocates of public and private kitchen gardens—victory gardens or potted herbs. We’re all in for loving the Earth as a young, middle-aged and post-menopausal lover. We ecosexuals talk about love a lot, and it has been critical to our development even as it has turned some people off and made others laugh at us. We like laughter and humor too. We know that love is a powerful emotion, and it motivates and inspires people to change. Love might even help us reimagine California and inspire others to become more attuned to the Earth, more humane, and to practice living in more sustainable ways. If we could stop harming the Earth, which we are all part of, that would go a long way towards bringing about environmental justice for all. While highly idealistic, we don’t know what else we can do.

CDM: Love is so central to all of your work and I wanted to ask you to talk about the role of love and sex in your creative collaboration. Watching your films and reading your work, so much of your creative practice is rooted in your relationship and the intense love that you two share. It’s really sweet to watch. And so I was just curious, how do you navigate that in your work? How do you negotiate being creative partners, married, making this work together and trying to pursue your own individual creative visions as you’re also making this work together?

AS: We learned that sex and creativity are very similar. We did a seven year piece… First year was survival and security. The second year was sex and creativity. And we came out of that second year going, “wow they’re the same thing, you know?”

BS: So, ecosexuality is really an expanded notion of sex and how so many things that we don’t consider sexual can be. 

AS: It’s a fantasy, a lot of it’s really fantasy —

BS: But it’s also embodied experiences. Eco-sensing with other living things. 

But anyhow, you know, our relationship is pretty codependent,

AS: She does butch, I do femme.

BS: I mean, I don’t think co-dependent’s bad all the time, you know. It can be, but we don’t try to repress each other. I think it’s bad when one person tries to repress the other. But our relationship’s like the weather. We try to be sunny and put a sunny face out there, but we can really kind of you know, we can, we can really play our feelings against each other.

AS: We can vent with each other.

BS: And when we’re in creative mode, sometimes it looks like we’re having fights, but we’re really just kind of exchanging energy to try to get to what that next level is, right? So we’ve had to learn how to work with assistants and things like that. We had one assistant, Diane Ani, who was great, she would say you to go back to your corners, you know what I mean? Cause sometimes we can get really into its intensity and our culture doesn’t have room for certain kinds of intensities. We’re also always supposed to be nice and we’re always supposed to be whatever, you know, but we have a full range of ways we are with each other. 

In a way this pandemic was fabulous cause we just got all our time together — 

AS: On a personal level. 

BS: Plus our dog. Well, I mean, the pandemic wasn’t fabulous, right? Sorry. I take that back. It was horrific. But for us, you know, it was really interesting because we were together all the time. I wasn’t going to Santa Cruz to teach. We weren’t traveling around doing gigs. And I love being with her all the time. And we traveled from our home. It was like Emily Dickinson. We went around the whole world without ever leaving home. You know what I mean? I always loved that about Emily Dickinson. She never traveled anywhere and she wrote these extraordinary poems. It felt that way spending time with Annie and at home in San Francisco. It also made me really love San Francisco. I’ve spent so much time in between San Francisco and Santa Cruz that I never really got to appreciate San Francisco the way that I did walking. But a lot of people had a really hard time staying home, but somehow for us, maybe because we’ve traveled so much, staying home just felt really, really good. 

AS: But also you need change of scenery. People need changes of scenery. And I really felt for people who didn’t have changes of scenery — 

BS: Well, we know people who broke up. We won’t name any names, but, you know, we know people that had certain differences that they couldn’t resolve. 

AS: We have parks in our neighborhoods, so we’re very blessed. 

BS: We’re super lucky.

AS: We had a car so we could drive somewhere. But I just really sympathize with people who were in a bad relationship or a difficult relationship and couldn’t get a change of scenery. 

CDM: I love that. I mean, just like the way you talk about — or, you know, thinking about earlier, when you’re talking about that idea of fierce love, I think your creative practice really reflects that. And just the ways that y’all navigate that, I think really comes across in the work that you do. I was really curious about — 

BS: I just want to say that, that we’re, we’re very different from each other. 

AS: But we’re politically exactly the same, thank goodness. I can’t imagine being stuck with someone, like some members of her family and my family, Democrats and Republicans living together. I can’t even fathom… 

BS: Well, yeah, it’s taken a toll on my family members, too. That’s hard. 

AS: We’re both against the death penalty. I couldn’t live with someone that was pro death penalty. So I think politically we’re alike — 

BS: We’re aligned. 

AS: We’re aligned. 

BS: And then we also get a kick out of each other. She’ll do things that will just delight me.

AS: Also, I was saying to Beth yesterday, it’s so nice to be able to share everything that we do. Like we did this great shoot for the fire film that she’s working on and we were high after [the interview with] Leesa Kelly, was amazing and we were just blown away. And we were so excited that we captured this history. It was so satisfying. And to do that alone? I would have got in the car alone and driven off to the next shoot. I couldn’t have talked about it and shared my excitement. So I have always dreamed — we both had solo careers for 20 years before we got together — and to have someone to share it with was something I never thought I could find someone I’d be that compatible with. 

BS: Oh, me neither. Really be, 

AS: I never thought it would last 20 years — ever.

BS: I’m not that easy to get along with. 

AS: She was a little more positive about it. I thought, okay, we’ll give it seven years and then we’ll break up and we’ll make art out of it. 

BS: We haven’t quite gotten there yet. 

CDM: You talked about how the pandemic created space for you to really enjoy each other and the city of San Francisco. I wanted to ask you how your creative practice has been affected by the pandemic?

AS: There’s a travel story, you know, in Water Makes Us Wet. We had a terrible crash and got rear ended. And we traveled back and forth between San Francisco and LA on Highway 5 all the time. Cause my family’s there and I go every couple of months, my elderly blind mother’s there. So every two, three months we’re on Highway 5. And we got rear-ended, we went and we rolled in our camper van across the freeway — 

BS: We don’t know how we’re still alive. 

AS: We recreated some of it in the film. We had a little bit in the phone footage in the hospital. We had to go to the hospital in the ambulance and our dog disappeared and miraculously Beth found the dog. So there’s a whole scene in Water Makes Us Wet about our travel excitement.

But what was amazing is we were hurt, but not seriously. Super seriously. So, we could celebrate and we actually made it romantic. These kinds of bumps in the road can be romantic. We knew right away, we loved each other on our first road trip, 

BS: Yeah, we took a road trip. That was one of our first dates in a VW van – and it blew up in Texas.

AS: We actually just laid for three hours looking at the moon and had a blast while we waited for AAA. I think that the bumps in the road in travel and in life, can be spun into magnificent parts in the adventure — 

BS: They teach you to improvise. Immediately. 

AS: I hope that young people can travel. I mean, we grew up, we could travel. I hitchhiked as a teenager from LA to New Mexico and back in trucks, and it was relatively safe, you know. Today, I would never do that. Kids today can’t do that. Or even just, if they hitchhiked down to Panama from LA. 

BS: I hitchhiked around Mexico…there were some scary moments to learn how to navigate that. 

AS: You can’t do that now. But young people, if they can get a camper and live. I would live in a camper if I was a young person and could get a hold of it. 

BS: There’s also that incredible book, Black Faces, White Spaces by Carolyn Finney. But it is about who can travel, which people can travel. I mean, I really understand that, but this year, the pandemic — I mean again, I love Emily Dickinson. The fact that Emily Dickinson wrote so much in that house in Amherst about the world and her worldview. And she never went anywhere. I mean, I have a sister in West Virginia who is sort of the same way. She never leaves her little mountain. It’s traumatic for her. We stayed 40 miles away from her. Cause her husband’s a raving Republican. And I was just not going to stay at her house this time. Right. She was traumatized driving 40 miles home, to come stay with my cousin, you know. I drive 2000, however many miles it is to get there. And it’s like 40 miles, but she’s traveling in her head a lot. And so I think that during the pandemic, we were able to take care of some things at home, but we were also able to creatively travel without ever leaving the farm — like smoking pot!

AS: Or like having sex, you can travel having sex or eating some magic mushrooms or whatever. There’s a lot of inner travel we can do, but also being out in the world and away from the computer. 

BS: And I think speaking about environmental issues. I think we’re going to have to really curtail travel a lot. We need to learn how to travel in like a rowboat, right? Or we need to travel walking or we need to travel riding a bike and it would do us, you know, it would do us good.

AS: Traveling is an incredible privilege. 

BS: You gotta keep moving. And whether it’s just around the block or from here to Europe or Africa or Siberia. 

AS: Or go outside.

BS: It’s important. It’s important to be around people. It’s important to be around people who don’t share your same cultural values, you know, to really mix it up. And that’s the great thing about travel is it allows you to really be in a place that’s different and to be the minority in a place that’s different so that you don’t always get to live by your own assumptions. You have to actually open up to other people’s assumptions. That’s been a huge learning experience for me because I really did grow up in a very isolated, rural community. And I could have stayed there and been a real humdinger, right? I mean, I still have all the trappings of white supremacy that any white person in this country’s had, but traveling has opened my mind. It’s opened my heart. It’s really made me want to have conversations with people who are so different than I am. 


Contributor

Courtney Desiree Morris

Courtney Desiree Morris is a visual artist and assistant professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Her forthcoming book is To Defend This Sunrise: Black Women’s Activism and the Authoritarian Turn in Nicaragua.

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