After viewing the cancerous blight that mountain top removal (MTR) strip mining was creating throughout my beloved Appalachian Mountains, I was compelled to make a documentary film, Goodbye Gauley Mountain: An Ecosexual Love Story. For many years I was not aware of the full scale of destruction that MTR strip mining had caused because mining companies intentionally keep it well hidden from public view. People can only see it from an airplane, which I eventually did on a trip home to West Virginia 5 years ago in 2007. The destruction I witnessed made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I was compelled to start doing research about how much, and what kind of destruction was taking place in the state where I was born and to the mountains that I deeply love.
The more I found out about MTR and the mining industry, the angrier I became. My outrage compounded when I discovered that Gauley Mountain, whose shadow I had grown up in, was in the process being forever altered using MTR techniques. This, in addition to the other 500+ mountains that have been decapitated, and the over 2300 miles of streams which have been covered by this method of mining, made it all too personal. Then I learned about the social damage MTR wreaks; huge cancer rates, birth defects, kids getting asthma and their teeth falling out, undrinkable water, families being torn apart by the politics of MTR, the threat of living down the hill from dangerous sludge pond impoundments, so many animals killed, and more. West Virginia is the richest state in the union when it comes to natural resources, and is also one of the states with lowest income per capita. Most of the profits from coal are taken out of the state by the wealthy coal corporations whose CEOs live elsewhere.
While I was researching MTR, simultaneously, my partner, artist Annie Sprinkle and I were doing a series of performance art weddings to protest our lack of equal rights as a queer couple. After becoming legally married in Canada during our third wedding, we decided that we wanted to move beyond the issue of same sex marriage. That is when we decided to marry the earth. Our fourth wedding to the Earth took place in the California redwoods, with four hundred guest witnesses and one hundred and fifty collaborators who helped create the wedding. After we made our vows, we found ourselves falling more deeply in love with our planet each day, and actually felt a romantic connection. We explored the idea of changing the metaphor from Earth as Mother, to Earth as Lover. Then we came to realize that we were ‘ecosexuals.’ The sensuality and eroticism of nature delighted us. We started to explore ecosexuality as an environmental activist strategy to inspire others to have more empathy with nature. Over the next few years we had ten more environmentally focused weddings, one of which we married the Appalachian Mountains at Ohio University. This moving, fecund and fun wedding is featured in Goodbye Gauley Mountain.
My hope for this film, in addition for it being a compelling story, is that it will inspire and raise awareness in groups of people not normally associated with the environmental movement, especially as GLBTQ communities. (We’d like to see an E added for ecosexual!) There are relatively few films about environmental issues that feature out queer people. Gays, lesbians, transgendered people can live without gay marriage, but they cannot live without clean air and water, or fertile soil to grow our food. Films have been a powerful source of inspiration for changing the way I view the world, and I hope this film will help others to see that the Appalachian Mountains and the people who live among them are worth fighting to preserve for the good of the whole planet. MTR is part of overarching global environmental crises that we all need to pay attention to in order to try to slow down the damage that is being done and help shift the rate of environmental decline earth is currently undergoing.