A Weed by Any Other Name…

A Weed by Any Other Name…
(Soundbite: fermenting Knotweed)
What's in a name? That which we call a weed by any other name would taste as sweet
This project for Tenderfoot is the preparatory research for my supper club A Weed by Any Other Name…, hosted by Come Together on the 4th of May 2024. It contributes to a larger body of ongoing research into weeds, the philosophies behind their aesthetic perceptions, and how this relates to other eschewed social notions. 
The title grew from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (1597),(1) the tragedy of star-crossed lovers whose main misfortune was hailing from enemy families. In this tale, public perception unites in the lament of their ill-fated romance; were it not for the fact of their birth, their innocent love might have thrived. 
Shakespeare’s line ‘What’s in a name?’ is our entry point. Translating our empathy for their condemned tryst; might we better see how labels—or names—can impact a being’s agency? The right to exist unaffected by others’ perceptions?
Returning to the dictionary definition of a weed being in the wrong place, without beauty, or use; let us now look back at the pointed finger of blame, and identify who is doing the defining. Perhaps doing so might stop us ostracising the defined, and instead change the perceptions of the definer. By perceiving the definer as well as the defined, we can begin to understand the causality of these prescriptive perceptions and reveal their damaging patterns. As the adage goes, ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder;’ but are not judgement and condemnation too?
This project is particularly close to my heart, for it’s also an exploration of my queer identity. I see weeds as my kin, for they have tirelessly adapted to their human ostracisation, seeking only to survive in a world that denies them their existence. Importantly: my intent is not to label queer identity as being in the wrong place, or without use or beauty. It is the opposite; to understand how, by sitting outside of prescriptive perceptions, these identities become imbued with freedom and uncontrolled power. 
In Purity and Danger (1966), philosopher Mary Douglas speaks of ‘matter out of place’. She suggests the undefined gains power in its lack of constraint; it can be, or do, anything. This scares normative thinkers, for it strays social notions from their predefined path. This notion of ‘straying’ is borrowed from another philosopher Jonathan Dollimore, whose Sexual Dissidence (1991) highlights that in thinking outside of prescriptive perception—‘straying’—we might become enlightened to undefined possibilities.
Just as they thrive in the peripheries of our existence, weeds inhabit a liminal space in our minds. Each of us holds the power to define plants as weeds by merely perceiving them as misplaced, unaesthetic, or without use. The causality of this power is affected upon the weed, whose existence relies on this perception. 
By reassigning how we define these species, and understanding their agency beyond our interpretation, we might learn to see them anew. Socially, this becomes a practice in understanding the autonomy of those who do not conform, and prevent ourselves from judging them for their attributes; for they, too, simply seek to exist.

(1) Act II, Scene II. Shakespeare, W. (1597). Romeo and Juliet.