November 13, 2011

Watching the wildlife (on unnatural animals)

Ok, this is old news, but I would like to share it with you anyway, as the story says a lot about people's reluctance to abandoned cherished prejudices.

In 2006 the Natural History Museum in Oslo arranged an exhibition called Against Nature. The idea was to document same-sex relationships between animals.

The project leader for the exhibition, Geir E. Søli, hoped that it would weaken prejudices against human homosexuals.

"It turns out that as many as 20 percent of the black-headed gull [Larus ridibundus] pairs are of the same sex. Same sex relationships have been documented among 1500 species in modern times. The percentage of 'gay' animals varies from five to forty percent. The record is held by a species of parrot."

He pointed out that 100 percent of our nearest relative, the bonobo, is bisexual. Among the orcas scientists have found life long sexual relationships between males.

I have argued that information on "gay" animals is important for transgender people, partly because it tells us that the word "unnatural" is meaningless. If animals display same-sex behavior,  same-sex relationships between humans cannot be "unnatural".  

Secondly: What we are seeing here is not necessarily homosexuality in the modern Western sense, but various types of gender-crossing behavior. Being transgender is not "unnatural". Male birds who behave like female birds are not "autogynephiliacs".

And if this is the case among other mammals, we should be very careful before we reduce all human transgender conditions to sexual perversions or merely a cultural phenomena.

The reaction to the exhibit demonstrated clearly that many use the word "unnatural" to brand people as perverts. It has nothing to do with nature per se.

Jan-Aage Torp, pastor in a local Pentecostal church, was for instance shocked when told about the exhibition, arguing that there must be better ways of using the tax payers' money.

"These are two separate sexes, meant by nature to produce kids," he argued, Tea Party wise, doubting that these researchers could be right.

At his blog he argued that the exhibition  photos showed "animals in natural play" (ref. photo of playing males above).

"But if this was true, that does not mean that it is good," he continued. "This might be a perversion or sickness we should help the animals cure."

I still have this image in my head of him running around in the Norwegian forests with a looking glass, checking the sex of blue tits, and stopping them from unnatural fornication.


  1. "But if this was true, that does not mean that it is good," he continued. "This might be a perversion or sickness we should help the animals cure."
    This statement seems like an apriljoke to me LMAO

  2. There is nothing caled homosexuality, biexuality or heterosexuality. All kinds of sexualities are simply preferences. There is nothing feminine about homosexuality, neither is there anything masculine about heterosexuality (for men) and vice-versa for women.
    What is important is gender and gender alone. Gender-orienation is an identity, not sexual orientation.

  3. @Chris29

    Fool, yes, April's Fool, no. This is a good example of how fundamentalists -- religious or non-religious -- will force the real world to adhere to the map, if that is what it takes to salvage the theories they love.


    "There is nothing feminine about homosexuality, neither is there anything masculine about heterosexuality (for men) and vice-versa for women."

    I agree! I am always using the example of same-sex relationship among animals to document the diversity of sexual orientations and gender identity in nature, not to reduce the one to the other.

    People like Blanchard and Lawrence, on the other hand, actually believe that being a woman can be reduced to "femininity" and a sexual orientation towards men.

  4. Jack,
    I wonder how Lawrence could have ever come up with the idea. She was gynephilic?

  5. Yes, she is, and she clearly consider herself an "autogynephiliac", which makes her a narcissistic and perverted man with a target location error according to the theory she herself promotes.

    I am at loss at explaining how a woman can do this to herself, let alone spending so much time labeling a majority of transwomen perverts.

  6. The assumption here (and in other postings) is that if this is natural and normal for animals, then it should be natural and normal for people. If 20% of black-headed gulls are in same-sex relationships, then it must be okay...

    So if we look at other "natural" and "normal" things that some animals occasionally do such as eating their young or the female killing her male partner after sex, then these should be "natural" and "normal" for people as well.

    However, if these should not be "natural" and "normal" for people and are actually very perverse and immoral but are okay for some animals, then one has to accept that there may be other things that are okay in the animal world but not okay for us.

    "Just because..." becomes an invalid argument for some human behaviors.

  7. @Robyn P
    You're mixing up "natural" with "moral"; the former is objective, the latter is subjective. There are cultures where people eat each other, even their own children, usually for a ritual but sometimes perfectly normally.

  8. @Mykel

    No, I am not the one mixing natural with moral, the religious fundamentalists are. I am just pointing out that if you want to use the word "natural" in a moral debate, you'd better know what happens in nature.


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