Excerpts

Photo by Yuvan Aves.

Looking Beyond Binaries: An Intertidal Meditation

In his book, Intertidal: A Coast and Marsh Diary (2023), Yuvan Aves intersperses stories from his personal history amidst dreamy notes on urban, marsh and coastal wildlife, and introspective thoughts. There are six poignant and varied mediations, each of which marks a new section of the book. This excerpt is from the intertidal mediation, which explores Tamil words, plants, animals and zones which exist beyond the binary and celebrate queerness as a natural state of being. Yuvan gently and empathetically highlights underexplored liminal spaces: the intertidal and queer spaces within.

You can read another excerpt from Intertidal: A Coast and Marsh Diary here. Don’t miss his personal essay, A Tamil Animist: Gleaning Identity, Nativity, and Animate Wisdom from Tamil Culture, and his audio story Wild Learning.

The following excerpt has been shared with permission from the author and publisher, Bloomsbury Publishing.

The cover of Intertidal: A Coast and Marsh Diary, designed by Mugdha Sethi.

Urur Kuppam Beach

Thin moon in the noon sky. I walk to the ocean before an art activity with the youth at Urur Kuppam, just as one would visit a friend having come to the neighbourhood. Low tide has left an intertidal space at least 20 metres wide. I walk within it towards the Adyar estuary following a single sanderling scuffling along the beach searching for lugworms. It shuffles up and down the shore while waves wash in and out. The bird’s tiny footprints are drawing waves on the sand. I look back at my own path—it too is wave-like, curving upshore when water surges in and back down when it recedes.

In my mind, a recent conversation with a friend on the new queer glossary in Tamil surges to the fore, invoked by the metaphoric power of the land–sea junction I am walking on being made and remade. The sanderling bobs its whole body and looks back. In Tamil, the word for queer is paal pudhu1, translating literally to ‘gender new’. A word fully open like the low-tide shore. A non-binary person is eermaraikku apparpattavar—meaning somebody ‘beyond’ binaries. Words more in celebration than their English counterparts, and those which can describe and have a depth beyond people and sexualities. The many mergings of non-binary meanings the coast shows me open a window into my own many intertidal/queer spaces within, washing away several opposites, binaries. I remember that in all the living world and especially in the ocean, most species exist in a sexual intertidal zone—hermaphroditism—among other ways. In Evolution’s Rainbow, Joan Roughgarden writes, ‘The most common body form among plants and in perhaps half of the animal kingdom is for an individual to be both male and female at the same time, or at different times during its life2.’ That is just one example. I come back home inspired and write an intertidal meditation.

Starfish and crabs make their homes in the coastal sands. Photos by Yuvan Aves.

(Intertidal meditation to be read out slowly on a safe place at a beach, preferably at low tide. With sufficient pauses between sentences/phrases and longer pauses between paragraphs, giving enough time for inward searching and visualizing. In the end, a sharing of what different people recalled, visualized, felt can be invited within a safe group.)

Face the ocean and close your eyes. Bring your awareness to the sound of the waves, where the ocean meets and merges with land. Let your awareness stretch across this intertidal space, from horizon to horizon. Listen closely to the aliveness of water and anything else you can hear—birds, sounds from the sand, the different textures of waves rising, crashing and pulling back in. Listen to the crashing of larger waves, smaller waves and those which just gently slide in.

Gently bring your attention to another intertidal space, the entire surface of your skin, the junction where your body meets, merges with the atmosphere. Feel the embrace of air over you which keeps your body intact and in shape with its pressure. Feel the gentle hug of the atmosphere from the hair over your head, down to your face. When you reach your nose, notice the tides of your breath, where the air rushes in like a creek and keeps your body alive. Feel the intertidal space in your lungs. Then feel the air–body junction down your neck … chest … stomach … then slowly down your legs.

Softly notice your awareness of yourself—a vast intertidal space between your mind and body. Notice its tides, movements, blurring the distinctions between what is mind and what is body, as coast blurs what is land and sea.

Now, let the intertidal’s wave sound, aliveness, energy flow into you. Explore other intertidal spaces in you which dissolve binaries. Know that the logical part of the mind, which has evolved fairly recently in time, uses the filters of binaries, of opposites, to make sense of the world in simplified terms. Let that nascent part of the mind rest. Reach into a deeper, more ancient part of yourself which observes without judgement, without classifying, which just observes keenly, curiously, even the simplest thing. A place which lets you experience what is beyond opposites and binaries, which lets you see in vivid complexity, richness and queerness—the world and yourself.

Enter yourself now to explore your intertidal spaces. Search your body, your memories, your experiences and feelings where one or more of the following binaries dissolve.
mind–body, male–female, land–water
mind–body, male–female, land–water
Bring to mind one intertidal space or experience within you which dissolves one or more of these binaries. Give it your full attention, to the space it fills in you, to the feelings it evokes. Watch this for a minute.

Now enter yourself again, search your body, memories, experiences, feelings where one or more of the following binaries dissolve.
good–bad, joy–grief, pain–pleasure
good–bad, joy–grief, pain–pleasure
Bring to mind one intertidal space or experience within you which dissolves one or more of these binaries. Give it your full attention, to the space it fills in you, to the feelings it evokes. Watch this for a minute.

Now enter yourself one more time, search your body, memories, experiences, feelings where one or more of the following binaries dissolve.
living–non-living, inner–outer, I–other
living–non-living, inner–outer, I–other

Bring to mind one intertidal space or experience within you which dissolves one or more of these binaries. Give it your full attention, to the space it fills in you, to the feelings it evokes. Watch this for a few moments.

Now gently move your awareness to the embrace of the atmosphere over your entire body. Feel fully this intertidal space, this junction between you and the atmosphere.

Now gently move your awareness to the sound of the waves, of the ocean’s intertidal zone. Let your attention stretch across this space, from horizon to horizon. Honour and offer thanks to this intertidal space, and also all the intertidal and queer spaces within you, enriching and deepening you, completing you.

1Notification Regarding the Glossary for Addressing the LGBTQIA+ Community, G.O. Ms. No. 52, Social Welfare and Women Empowerment [SW-3(1]), 20 August 2022.

2Joan Roughgarden, Evolution’s Rainbow (University of California Press, 2009).