Plant Gays

Here’s why plants and fungi are nonbinary icons

Plants and fungi have always felt queer. There’s a whole subset of the queer community who identify as “plant gays,” and there’s no shortage of rainbow-colored mushroom merch for sale across the internet. But one scientist is going the extra mile to prove that plants and fungi are more than just symbolically queer: they’re literally gay, or as gay as organisms can be without brains.

Patricia Ononiwu Kaishian is a doctor of mycology (aka the study of fungi) and forest pathology, whose work focuses on the intersection of queerness and nature. In a new interview with TMZ, Kaishian broke down why plants and fungi are inherently queer.

“There is basically an idea that a lot of organisms exist in some sort of binary, right? Like, male and female, and nothing in between. But what we actually see in both plants and in fungi is this whole spectrum of different reproductive strategies that organisms engage in to continue to produce offspring.”

There you have it: plants and fungi are binary-breaking icons.

It’s far from Kaishian’s first time thinking about what makes fungi fun-gay (excuse the pun). In a 2020 research article titled “The Science Underground: Mycology as a Queer Discipline,” Kaishian and her co-author Hasmik Djoulakian identified a number of reasons fungi are fundamentally queer: 

  • Organismically (“Fungi are nonbinary: they are neither plants nor animals, but possess a mixture of qualities common to both groups, upending the prevailing binary concept of nature,” they wrote. “It is rare for a fungus to have only two biological sexes, and some fungi … have as many as 23,000 mating types”).
  •  In its investigators (Referencing a 2018 survey, Kaishian and Djoulakian note that “12 percent of mycologists identified as LGBTQ, which is three to four times the national reported average”).
  • And even methodologically (“Mycologists use sensing, intuition, experience, and storytelling, with experts operating outside of institutional affiliation more often than with other organismal fields,” they wrote).

Kaishian is one of the featured voices in Queer Planet, Peacock’s new documentary on the queerness of the natural world (as narrated by Broadway superstar Andrew Rannells). Kaishian’s section is, naturally, about mushrooms, but she told TMZ about how queerness manifests among animals, too.

“Scientists have for many decades been recording instances of same-sex couples in the animal kingdom,“ Kaishian said. “In the documentary you learn about penguins and flamingos and all sorts of other animals that engage in same-sex pairings — and they not only just have sex with other members of their same sex, but they actually raise children together that they adopt from other couples.”

When the interviewers asked Kaishian whether animals are discriminatory about queerness like humans can be, she said there are no examples she can think of.

“It seems like animals tend to be pretty accepting of one another in this regard,” Kaishian said. Humans, on the other hand, tend to overcomplicate things. “We get caught up,” she concluded.

Queer Planet is now streaming on Peacock.

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