Tag Archives: gay animals

Same-Sex Parents, Furred and Feathered.

There have been an increasing number of research studies which show that as parents,  same sex couples are at least as good as opposite sex- couples. As a gay father and grandfather myself, I don’t really need to be told this by modern research: I first learnt of the evidence decades ago, from a family friend who was then a child welfare social worker, and is today a top authority on the subject. I also have the best of all possible authority, the experience of my own family. My daughter is very clear on the subject: she is on record as saying “Gay Parents? I recommend them”. She has told me that when she says a young child with two dads, her immediate response is – “Lucky child”. Still, it’s good to see the evidence getting a more public hearing. and reaching the mainstream.
I was interested though, to find that in this, as in so many other areas, of human sexuality, the same pattern is found in many species of animals and birds.
Two Dads, with Kids

Homosexuality in animals has been known since ancient times, but still fails to penetrate the public consciousness. Nevertheless, researchers are now starting to publicize the abundant evidence for same sex coupling, pair bonding, and parenting. (And contrary to the protestations of Focus on the Family, NOM, et al, these do not always go together, not in humans, not in animals.) The nature and variety of the forms that animal parenting can take is breathtaking, with all the variations found in human society, and more (some of the animal practices would land humans in jail. “Nature” is not all sweet and lovable).
How do same sex couples find their next generation? In many of the same ways humans do, but excluding the turkey baster and in vitro fertilization. Quite often, they were in the same position I was – offspring resulted from an earlier, opposite-sex partnership. For females, Laysan’s Albatross and many other birds may use sperm donors, finding an obliging male to copulate with, for the sole purpose of fertilizing their eggs. Male couples may find surrogate mothers: Black Swan male couples may hook up with a female in a menage a trois – then boot her out after the eggs have been laid. Adoption is also common: many species have same sex couples that take on orphaned or lost youngsters. Some couples are rather more cavalier though, and simply kidnap their youngsters – quite literally, in this case. (Don’t try this if you’re human, though.) Just as in human society, some youngsters biological parents who either can’t or won’t raise them themselves – and they may dump them on same sex couples to raise, in nest parasitism.
Are they good parents? Quite often, not only as good, but better. There are many reasons for this. In birds, quite often it is not true that children “need” a mom and a pop. Many species (such as Warthogs, Red foxes and Sage Grouse) are raised by just one parent. When they get two parents, even of the same sex, that is immediately a bonus – they get double the parenting right off. Often, they get better, more spacious homes. Some female bird couples (Greater Rheas, Canada Geese) build what amount to double nests to hold two clutches – but where only one clutch has been fertilized, bingo: a double size home for a standard size family. Some male couples get bigger nests because only the male does the nest-building. Two males = two builders, and again, a bigger home. Other male couples get not so much a bigger home, as a bigger lot. Black Swans use their superior combined size and strength as two males to grab bigger or better territories – and thus better feeding grounds. Mammal youngsters sometimes get better feeding, simply by having to moms to nurse them: some females will suckle their partners’ young – grizzly bear mamma pairs may both nurse and protect each other’s young. Then there are the family variations not usually seen in humans. If two parents are better than one, how about three, or even four? Grizzly bears are often raised by female pairs – and sometimes by female trio (The familiar term “gay bears” takes on a whole new meaning).
When sexual activity between males, or between females has been professionally observed, it has too frequently been dismissed or explained away as “deviant”, or the result of “accident”, or even as “immoral” behaviour (as in “A Note on an Apparent Lowering of Moral Standards in Lepidoptera”, the title of a published scientific paper. I kid you not.) In many parts of modern Western culture, there has arisen a deeply held assumption, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, that the only “natural” form of sexuality and family is “one man, one woman”. Even when faced with evidence to the contrary,from the animal world or from human anthropology and history, these people dismiss such evidence as “freakish”, or unnatural. In their own observations, their hetero normative assumptions distort the evidence. When one animal is observed mounting another, it is simply assumed that the one on top is male, the other female. And so the myth is perpetuated that only opposite sex mounting occurs.
The plain truth is that in nature, sexual diversity is the norm. (It may well be that what is truly “unnatural” is exclusive heterosexuality . Fortunately, several writers over the last decade have begun to expose the way in which these biases have been distorting scientific research and its dissemination. We will be hearing a lot more about animal same sex relationships and parenting in future – which will help to counter the lies and ignorance propagated by the sexual morality brigade.
Also See:
Previous Posts at “Queering the Church”

Books:

Queer Bonobos: Sex As Conflict Resolution

In trying to understand “natural” sexuality, a look at the world of the bonobo is intriguing. Often loosely described as “chimps”, bonobos are in fact a quite distinct species, closely allied to both chimps and to humans, and may in fact be the closest of all primates to humans in evolutionary development. In addition to physiological and genetic similarities, they also show some features of sexual behaviour that are unusual in animals – but familiar to humans. For example, females remain sexually receptive for far longer than other species. Instead of being physically ready for sex for just a few days in her cycle, the female bonobo is almost continuously sexually attractive and willing for sex. Intercourse is more frequent than in other primates, although the reproduction rate is similar: there is a partial separation between sex and reproduction. Mating is more often face to face, like humans, than in other animals, where the dog-like position is almost universal. Both males and females become sexually aroused remarkably easily. Oh, and there’s a great deal of same sex activity. Frans De Waal, on whose research I base my notes,  says that the most typical sexual pattern is genital rubbing between females:
One female facing another clings with arms and legs to a partner that, standing on both hands and feet, lifts her off the ground. The two females then rub their genital swellings laterally together, emitting grins and squeals that probably reflect orgasmic experiences.
Males also engage in genital contact, including “penis- fencing”, and rubbing the scrotum of one against the buttocks of another.
De Waal first became interested in bonobo behaviour not for its sexual component, but as part of a study into primate aggression. In continuous observations of bonobos in a zoo, he found that a standard feature of the behaviour was sexual arousal and intercourse immediately before feeding. As soon as a caretaker approached with food, the males would develop erections, and the animals would invite each other for sex. (This is not just an aberration of captivity. Other researchers have observed the same association between food and sex in the wild: after a group had entered trees with ripe fruit, or after they had killed a young prey animal, there would be a flurry of sexual contacts before settling down to eat.)

De Waal later found that it is not just food that leads to sexual arousal, but anything that gets the interest of more than one animal at a time – in other words, anything that could lead to competition. In the zoo environment, when two bonobos share an interest in a cardboard box thrown into the enclosure, they briefly mount each other before playing with the box.
In some aggressive contexts related to conflicts between animals, there will often be genital contact to follow. Where one male drives another away from a female, the two males may later reunite for some mutual genital rubbing. Or if one female strikes a juvenile, its mother may lunge at the other female – but as with the males, this brief conflict will be followed by the two rubbing their genitals together.
De Waal thus concludes that sexual behaviour among bonobos is a mechanism to reduce conflict:

During reconciliations, bonobos use the same sexual repertoire as they do during feeding time. Based on an analysis of many such incidents, my study yielded the first solid evidence for sexual behavior as a mechanism to overcome aggression. Not that this function is absent in other animals–or in humans, for that matter–but the art of sexual reconciliation may well have reached its evolutionary peak in the bonobo. For these animals, sexual behavior is indistinguishable from social behaviour.

Sexual relationships are also used in a more positive way, to forge social bonds, particularly between the females. As with many animal species, bonobos live in clan groups. In their case, the males remain for life in their birth clans, so they will know all the other individuals. It is the female bonobos who leave, and start a new life as adults in a new clan, where they are strangers. They routinely approach one or two senior females, and attempt to establish a sexual relationship. If this is reciprocated, the association becomes permanent, with the older females acting as guardians to the younger. Later, as the newcomers themselves become established seniors within the clan, they may likewise accept sexual approaches from new female arrivals, and take on their guardianship.
Here we can point out that this use of sexual relationships to promote social bonding and avoid conflict has clear parallels in human society.  At the domestic level, the “kiss and make-up scenario” is well known, in which a quarrel between partners may be followed by particularly intense love-making. At a grander level, for many centuries of European history, formal marriage was usual only for the wealthy classes, to protect property and inheritance rights. At the highest social levels, dynastic marriages were frequently arranged to ensure political alliances between royal houses – and to reduce the risk of war. Elsewhere, other societies have used homosexual relationships between men in the same dynastic way, to promote cordial relationships between clans. This has been noted in medieval Egypt, and in China.
There is one other feature of bonobo sexuality that I found has a remarkable resemblance to some human practice. Freed from the tight connection between intercourse and reproduction,young and attractive bonobo females are able to use their charms for material gain.   Some females have been observed to approach males with an enticing food supply with clear a clearly sexual offer. After intercourse, the male will share his food with the female, who then leaves.
Females offering males sexual favours for profit: sound familiar?
Source:
de Waal, Frans B.M. : Bonobo Sex & Society, Scientific American, arch 1995, which I found on-line here
Books:

Bighorn Rams: Macho Homos, Wimpish Heteros

To look at them, bighorn rams are the very image of hypermasculinity. They live on the rugged mountain slopes of Montana and Canada, in an environment that demands strengh, athleticism and stamina. Their appearance is impressive, with large thick horns curling back behind the ear, and they’re big, weighing up to 300 pounds. They exude so much machismo, that their image has been appropriated by numerous as a symbol for many  male athletic teams. And they like their sex – with other males. Those few who don’t, are described by researchers as “effeminate” .
Lovers, maybe?

For bighorn sheep (and also for thinhorns), “natural” sex is same-sex, including elaborate courtship rituals, genital licking, and anal penetration. (Many rams also find a way to “masturbate” – not with their hooves, but by rubbing on the ground.)  In this “homosexual society”, almost all rams routinely participate year-round in sexual activity with each other, but heterosexual intercourse is limiting to the rutting season. Even then, not all rams, especially the younger ones, get to participate.

For Bighorn and Thinhorn Sheep, heterosexuality is definitely not “normal”.

From “Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People ” (Joan Roughgarden):

“The females live separately from the males. The sexes associate only during the breeding season, from mid fall to early winter. A female is receptive for about three days, and will not allow herself outside of these three days.”

This emphatically does not mean that the males endure sexual abstinence for the rest of the year.

The males have been described as `homosexual societies`. Almost all males participate in homosexual courting and copulation. Male-male courtship begins with a stylized approach, followed by genital licking and nuzzling, and often leads to anal intercourse in which one male, usually the larger, mounts the other. The mounted male arches his back, which is identical to how a female arches her back during heterosexual intercourse. The mounting male ahs an erect penis, makes anal penetration, and performs pelvic thrusts leading to ejaculation.
The few males who do not participate in male sex are described as “effeminate”,. These males are identical tin appearance to other males but behave quite differently. They differ from “normal males” by living with the ewes rather than joining the all-male groups. These males do not dominate females, are less aggressive overall, and adopt a crouching, female urination posture. These males refuse mouning by other males. These nonhomosexual males are considerd “aberrant”, with speculation that that some hormone deficiency must underlie their behaviour. Even though in physical appearance, including body size and horn development, these males are indistinguishable from other males, scientists urge further study of their endocrinological profile.
This case turns the meanings of normal and aberrant upside down. The “normal” macho bighorn has full-fledged anal sex with other males. The “aberrant” male is the one who is straight – the lack of interest in homosexuality is considered pathological. Now, why would being straight be a pathology, requiring a hormonal checkup? According to the researchers, what’s aberrant is that a macho-looking bighorn ram acts feminine! He pees like a female – even worse than being gay.
(Same sex mountings have also been described in several other species of sheep and goats in North America and Europe, and in farm animals).

Related Posts on Animal Sexuality:

Also The effeminate sheep and other problems with natural selection (at “Seed Magazine”)


Books:

Bagemihl, Bruce: Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity (Stonewall Inn Editions)

Roughgarden, Joan: Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People Sommer,

Volker and Vasey, Paul: Homosexual Behaviour in Animals: An Evolutionary Perspective

Lesbian Lizards

This is another for your wildlife rainbow collection: lesbian lizards. For a fun take on this from a lesbian site, have a look at “Leapin’ Lesbian Lizards“, at Wish You Were Queer, Girls

In the deepest darkest depths of Vietnam, two new herpetological (reptile and amphibian) species have been discovered. These creatures – dubbed ‘lesbian lizards’ and ‘psychedelic geckos’ – were found by expert Lee Grismer and his son, Jesse on a 2 week expedition to Southeast Asia. The lesbian lizards are asexual and arouse each other by mock mating. This in turn causes them to ovulate and lay eggs – and produce clones of themselves.

Or, for a more orthodox, formal news report, try Seattle Times – but the link, which was working fine this morning, is down right now. Perhaps it will be  up again later.
These are by no means the only lesbian  lizards, as this report from Time also shows:

So far biologists have identified 27 kinds of parthenogenetic lizards—all-female species that lay eggs to produce exact genetic copies of the mother. On field trips in Arizona and Colorado, a team of researchers headed by Psychobiologist David Crews found that four of these species engage in mock male-female sex. An active female mounts a passive one, curves the tail under the other’s body, strokes the partner’s back and neck, joins genital regions, and rides on top for one to five minutes. The active female lizard always has small undeveloped eggs, while the passive female has large pre-ovulatory eggs. But there are cyclic variations in behavior and egg size in these reptiles, and roles reverse; the passive female of one encounter can be the active partner of the next. Says Crews: “We are now trying to determine whether this malelike behavior facilitates reproductive function.” Translation: the psychobiologist does not yet know why the females mock the male-female behavior of related two-sex species. The eggs hatch with or without the lesbian courtship.

Now, here’s the thing: Lee Grismer’s finds are recent, but the report in Time is from 1980 – thirty years ago! So how come people still don’t get it that same sex interactions are not in any way “unnatural”?
File it alongside those Bisexual Snails, and those peace -loving bonobos.
Also see additional QTC posts:

The Wildlife Rainbow Queer Bonobos: Sex As Conflict Resolution Bisexual Snails Exclusive Heterosexuality Unnatural? Natural Law and Laysan’s Albatross

Exclusive Heterosexuality Unnatural?

“I don’t know of any species that is exclusively heterosexual”
– Zurich Zoo tour guide, Myriam Schärz.
The argument that same -sex relationships are supposedly “unnatural” is so fundamental to the homophobes’ case, that it needs to be countered at every opportunity. At Bilerico Project, Jesses Monteagudo has a good rundown of just how widespread same sex behaviour is in the animal kingdom. Here are some extracts:

 

In 1999 the standard work on the topic, Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity (Stonewall Inn Editions) by Bruce Bagemihl, was published.

“On every continent, animals of the same sex seek each other out and have probably been doing it for millions of years,” Bagemihl wrote. …….According to Bagemihl, “Homosexual behavior occurs in more than 450 different kinds of animals worldwide, and is found in every major geographic region and every major animal group.”
But we don’t need Bagemihl for anecdotal evidence. Hardly a week goes by that we don’t hear stories about same-sex oriented otters or rabbits. You don’t have to go to the Zurich Zoo to learn about “the indiscriminate and almost insatiable sexuality of bonobo apes” or “how gay male dolphins use their lovers’ blowholes for sexual gratification.” Just last year a review paper by Nathan Bailey and Marlene Zuk of the Department of Biology at the University of California in Riverside concluded that “same-sex behavior is a nearly universal phenomenon in the animal kingdom, common across species, from worms to frogs to birds.”
“Female western gulls sometimes pair off for several years and mount each other while incubating eggs,” Steve Hogan and Lee Hudson wrote in Completely Queer: The Gay and Lesbian Encyclopedia. “Similar behaviors have been documented among female sage grouse, male mallard ducks, and female and male greylag geese and turkeys.” According to the authors of Out in All Directions: The Almanac of Gay and Lesbian America, same-sex behavior has been documented in all kinds of animal species, including antelope, bugs, butterflies, cats, cattle, cockroaches, crickets, dogs, donkeys, elephants, flies, geckos, guinea pigs, hamsters, horses, hyenas, lions, martens, mice, moths, octopuses, orcas, porcupines, raccoons, rats and wasps.

Gay animal behavior seems to alarm religious conservatives almost as much as the human variety, and they have tried their best to deny it. Those who do admit that same-sex behavior exists in the animal kingdom try to explain it away as being playful antics or dominance behavior to assert hierarchy.

“Some conservatives and religious groups now admit that homosexuality is common in the animal kingdom, but many of them have also put forward theories to explain the phenomenon,” said Myriam Schärz of the Zurich Zoo. “Some argue that homosexuality only occurs when animal populations become too large, or that animals only turn to homosexuality when they have no other alternative, but there is no evidence to back up the population theory, and there is plenty of proof against the harem argument. Dominant silver-back gorillas, for instance, have frequently been seen engaging in homosexual activity and deliberately shunning available females.”
“Humans seem to be the only species where homosexuals are not readily accepted in society,” Schärz said
I have just one problem with Ms Schärz’s conclusion: it is not true that among humans as a species homosexuals are not accepted. The evidence from history and anthropology is that across all periods, and in all major regions of the world, many humans societies (possibly most) have been tolerant or even encouraging of same sex relationships. (In some societies, homosexual activity has even been compulsory for boys or young men.) Compulsory, exclusive heterosexuality for humans, as demanded by the religious right, may be just as unnatural for humans as it is for animals.

Books:

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