Tag Archives: homosexuality

"Unnatural" Nature, Immoral Butterflies: The Great Cover-Up of Animal Homosexuality

Back in 2000, an eminent and otherwise respectable biologist declared that except for a few instances observed among primates, there was no evidence of homosexuality among animals:

When animals have access to the opposite sex, homosexuality is virtually unknown in nature, with some rare exceptions among primates.”

-G. Barlow, 2000
This was breathtakingly inaccurate. Just the previous year another biologist, Bruce Bagemihl,had published a book summarizing previously published scientific papers which described homosexual behaviour in over 300 species of animals and birds (listing dozens of papers for each), and also listing additional species of reptiles, amphibians, fish and even insects – over a thousand species in all, and tens of thousands of peer-reviewed articles. The first recorded observations of animal homosexuality were two millenia ago, by the ancient Greeks. In modern times, the first formal publication of scientific observations go back over 150 years. Photographic evidence of male swan couples has existed since the mid-nineteenth century.

Even this illustration, of male beetles doing it, was published as long ago as 1896:

Male Scarab Beetles, 1896

How could there be so much scientific ignorance- especially as same -sex mountings are so well known among domestic livestock, that serious research efforts have been underway for years to try to prevent activities which are so uneconomic (to the farmer)?
Such wilful blindness by a professional would be ludicrous, if it were not also a sign of the ignorance shared by many others, in the scientific community as well as the wider population. It typifies the widespread assumption that underlies the popular pseudo-religious belief that homosexual relationships are unnatural, that biological “plumbing” dictates only one form of legitimate sexual expression, and (for the Vatican) that the “purpose” of sex is procreation, and so sexual activity not geared to making babies must be rejected. How does this ignorance persevere? In addition to Bagemihl’s book, two more major works of the last decade (Roughgarden, Sommer and Vasey) have atempted to explain this widepread ignorance. All three reach similar conclusions.
First, please note that the number of species where such behaviour has been described is certainly an underestimate. Detailed, close-up observation of any animal sex is difficult and rare. Frequently, where sexual activity is observed, there has been a simple assumption that this is between two different sexes – unless there is specific evidence to the contrary. One scientist after observing whales had the grace to publish his mistaken assumptions:

…..after about twenty minutes I realized that what I was watching was three males involved in most erotic activities! Then one, two, and eventually three pene appeared as three males rolled at the same time. Obviously, all three were males! It was almost two hours after the first sighting …. and up to that point I was convinced I was watching mating behaviour.

In many other cases, observers mistakenly identify biological sex and gender behaviour. Where one animal is observed mounting another, it is simply assumed that the mounter is male, the one being mounted female – even in the complete absence of corroborating evidence. More detailed observations have recorded how frequently this assumption can be wrong: males also mount other males, females mount females.
Mistakes in observation are understandable, even if the observers should take more care assessing their assumptions. Other factors are less excusable. One of these is a deliberate avoidance by some researchers of any attempt to publish their observations, out of a fear that they will be assumed by colleagues to be gay themselves – a form of academic closet keeps their observation hidden. Even after publication, a form of closet keeps the facts hidden – the anthologies and text books that usually introduce specialist papers to a wider scientific audience routinely ignore references to homosexual behaviour.
Although the first reports of homosexual behaviour among primates were first published >75 years ago, virtually every major introductory text on primatology fails to even mention its existence.
(Vasey, 1995)
More serious than mere burying of the evidence, is the attempt to deny its nature, in contorted attempts to explain it away as something other than it plainly is. Some researchers for example, attempt to explain their observations of two male birds involved in intercourse as “mistaken identity”. Do they really suppose that although they as human observers are able to correctly identify the sex of the chosen partner, the poor ignorant bird can not, and has chosen an “inappropriate” partner by mistake?
They also attempt to explain it away as a result of numerical imbalance, suggesting that males do it themselves when there are not enough females to go around – quite ignoring the observations that show the same phenomenon where females are abundant.
Others recognize what they are seeing, but simply deny that the bahaviour is sexual. Perhaps the most risible is this explanation of Orang-utan oral sex:

Two males regularly mouthed the penis of the other on a reciprocal basis. This behaviour, however, may be nutrively rather sexually motivated.

Got that? An Orang-utan blow-job is for – nutrition?

Other explanations attempted to explain sexual behaviour as aggression or dominance displays, rather than what it plainly was – pleasurable sex. Here’s another researcher, writing about bighorn rams, who eventually had to face the facts with honesty:
I still cringe at the memory of seeing old D-ram mount S- ram repeatedly. ..True to form, and incapable of absorbing this realization at once, I called these actions of the rams aggrosexual behaviour, for to state the males had evolved a homosexual society was beyond me To conceive of these magnificent beasts as “queers” – Oh God! I argued for two years that, in wild mountain sheep, aggressive and sexual behaviour could not be separated. I never published that drivel and am glad of it. Eventually I called a spade a spade and admitted that rams lived in an essentially homosexual society.
Here is the key point – heterosexual assumptions are so deeply embedded in some people that they cannot believe the evidence of their own eyes that homosexuality is entirely natural, and must instead explain it away. There is extraordinary circular reasoning here: the starting point is an assumption that only heterosexual behaviour is natural, and that becomes drummed into us as a moral imperative. That assumption then colours our perspective, so that what we see is assumed to be heterosexual – unless there is clear evidence to the contrary. When it is acknowledged to be not heterosexual, it is explained away as not actually sexual, but something else – aggression, or pseudo-sexual, or mistaken identity, or some such. Anything, in fact, that allows to continue with our insistence that only heterosexual, procreative intercourse is natural. And so the conventional widom continues to tell us, in the face of all evidence, that only opposite sex interaction in the animal world is natural … and that humans homosexuality is “contrary to nature”.
But the most ludicrous of all comes from those observers who cannot avoid acknowledging that what they are seeing is clearly sexual behaviour, and clearly between individuals of the same sex – and then describe it, in anthropomorphic terms, as “immoral”, degenerate, or – “unnatural”!
In these snippets, note the adjectives – “perverted”, “unnatural”, “aberrant” – my italics.
This might be mistaken for fighting, but perverted sexuality is he real keynote.
Three unnatural tending bonds were observed a two-year old bull closely tended a yearling bull .. with penis unsheathed.
Among aberrant sexual behaviours, anoestrous does were very occasionally seen to mount each other.
That’s right, folks. If we accept the assumption that homosexuality is unnatural, then any evidence to the contrary must be – unnatural, or immoral.
I close with the priceless words of W J Tennant, who as late as 1987 published the classic paper
A Note on the Apparent Lowering of Moral Standards in the Lepidoptera.”
It is a sad sign of our times that the National newspapers are all too often packed with the lurid details of declining moral standards and of horrific sexual offences committed by our fellow Homo sapiens; perhaps it is a sign of the times that the entomological literature appears to be heading in the same direction.
So: we dare not publish reports of animal homosexuality – because we should not draw attention to the poor moral standards of butterfles?

Books:

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Census: More same-sex couples in more places

“Researchers from Alfred Kinsey to local nonprofits have tried for decades to count the United States’ gay, lesbian and bisexual population, and still, there were no hard numbers.

But for the first time, the decennial census results report counts of same-sex partners and same-sex spouses, regardless of whether same-sex marriage is legal in their states.
Headlines from across the country reveal common themes: There are more people who identify as gay, and they’ve dispersed to more places.”
-full story at  CNN.com

‘via Blog this’

The Fall of Rome, Reality Based History – and Gay Adoption

The vocal opponents of family equality are fond of making sweeping statements (in flagrant disregard of the evidence) about how marriage has “always” been between one man and on woman, how the proponents of equality are “redefining” evidence, quite ignoring the ways in marriage has been constantly redefined in the past – not least by the Christian churches. A variation on the theme has been that homosexuality has destroyed great civilizations, such as that of Rome. Illinois state Rep. Ronald Stephens has repeated this claim, blaming “open homosexuality” for the fall of Rome.
In a fun, sane response in the Chicago Sun-Times, Neill Steinberg dismisses the claim, basing his response on, well, historical fact, not what he calls Stephens’ talking points. His most important observation is that the best known extensive study of the fall of Rome, Edward Gibbons “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire“, concluded that Roman civilization collapsed not because of homosexuality, but because of – guess what? Christianity.

Would that be a argument to ban Christianity today, for fear that it could cause the collapse of modern Western civilization?

The point I want to make is not that Gibbons was either right or wrong, but to heartily endorse Steinberg’s larger point, that grand claims about the lessons of history really ought to be checked against the facts. This is certainly true in the secular sphere, but also in religious discourse. The often -repeated Vatican claims of Catholic “constant and unchanging tradition” are a smokescreen, often used to used to hide the importance of recently introduced changes, as Martin Pendergast noted recently, writing about gradualism in Benedict’s theology.

But today, I do not want to explore this theme of the Church’s constantly changing tradition. Let’s just enjoy, instead, Steinberg’s thoroughly delightful response to rep Stephens’ ignorance. Here are some extracts:

Ignorance is the great engine of human misery, the fertile field where its fruit, hatred, grows in all its awful forms, from the first human, crouching on a dark savannah, screeching terrified defiance at a shape silhouetted on the horizon, to Rep. Ronald Stephens, rising to his feet in the Illinois House, blaming “open homosexuality” for the fall of Rome.

….the Roman Empire — even lopping off the first 700 years, from Rome’s founding to Julius Caesar — lasted 500 years.

We should only fall so quickly.


Let us consult Edward Gibbon, whose classic The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire isn’t read in high schools, at least not Downstate, apparently, the way it once was.
Gibbon puts the blame — and this really is too delicious — not on homosexuality, but on Christianity, which he says made the Roman population more worried about their place in heaven than about barbarians at the gate.
“I have described the triumph of barbarism and religion,” Gibbon concludes, famously, in his epigram.

What were they like – The barbarians who sacked Rome were not only a bunch of lazy Teutonic drunks, according to Gibbon, who only cared to conquer Italy because beer, while “sufficient for the gross purposes of German debauchery,” wasn’t good enough for “those who had tasted the rich wines of Italy and . . . sighed for that more delicious species of intoxication.”

To top it off, the Huns, unlike Rome’s Christian emperors, were not on the anti-gay bandwagon, but practiced a warrior homosexuality, according to some scholars.
That’s right – a “warrior homosexuality”, just like so many other militaristic societies, where male love in the ranks was par for the course, if not obligatory. So much for the DADT argument that accepting gay soldiers would weaken military effectiveness.
All this is fun stuff – but he is softening us up for a really important point – that attacks on the queer community are frequently made by accusing us of the crimes and failings of our opponents. This is most clearly illustrated in the case of adoption. Whereas the opponents are loud in their insistence that all children need both a mother and a father, and that only a  mother and a father can offer the required degree of love and care – the overwhelming majority of children needing adoptive parents do so precisely because they have been let down by their own biological mom and pop.

Look at gay adoption, long opposed by the faithful on the premise that gays shouldn’t be allowed around children, even their own.

Where did all these kids in need of adoption come from – Oh right, that would be from heterosexual couples who so completely failed their children that they were seized by the state. And what about the gays who want to adopt them – Any equal fault, any evidence that they provide less of a home than any other adoptive family – Here’s a hint: No.

But just in case any reader mistakes his argument for a reason to abandon the Christian faith, he closes with a final reminder:

The truth is that societies are complex; all have good and bad qualities. I can savor the wit and intelligence of Roman times while recognizing that they were slave-owners capable of the most staggering cruelties. To fault Ancient Rome for coddling gays is like blaming the Nazis for bad civic art.
That Christianity has been a scourge to gays is without doubt. The question now: Is that intrinsic to the faith – Given the many — gay and straight alike — who say it is not, who focus on the love, tolerance, grace, and human dignity that Christianity offers, those who insist it must be and flail against gay citizens are reading from an uncorrected text.
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What Irish Catholics Believe

This is getting monotonous, but it must be stated again. What Catholics believe and practice on matters of sexual ethics, as a matter of empirical fact, is simply not what the (nominally) celibate bishops in their ivory towers would like us to believe, or falsely proclaim as “Catholic” belief, when it is in fact no more than Vatican doctrine.
The latest evidence, in a long line of similar research, comes from Ireland. This makes it all the more notable, given that country’s long reputation until recently as a “priest-ridden country”, where the dictates of the clergy meant that even contraception was forbidden by law, and people would journey across the island to Belfast just to buy condoms.
In a marked turnaround, the Irish people do not simply tolerate pre-marital sex, they believe it is desirable for young couples to spend time living together before committing to marriage. The bishops, on the other hand, maintain that all sex outside of marriage and not “ordered to procreation” is sinful, and presumably support their American colleagues’ pronouncement that cohabitation before marriage, like homosexuality, is gravely disordered.
The Irish politicians have come a long way in standing up to moral bullying by the church officials, notably over the investigations into clerical sexual abuse, but have some way yet to go. They have succeeded in passing civil partnership legislation, which will come into effect early;next year, but lag well behind their voters. Fully two thirds would support full marriage equality.
From the Irish Times:

Two-thirds support gay marriage, poll finds

JUST OVER two-thirds of people (67 per cent) believe gay couples should be allowed to marry, according to an Irish Times /Behaviour Attitudes social poll.
It is one of a series of findings in a poll on “sex, sin and society” that indicates Irish people have adopted a more liberal attitude towards personal relationships and sexual behaviour.
In addition showing strong support for gay marriage, a significant majority (60 per cent) also believe civil partnerships for gay couples will not undermine the institution of marriage. A large majority (91 per cent) also say they would not think less of a person if they revealed they were gay or lesbian.
These numbers are consistently high across most age groups, as well as in urban and rural areas.
People are divided, however, on whether gay couples should be allowed to adopt children. Some 46 per cent support such a move, while more than a third (38 per cent) are opposed. Younger people, urban dwellers and women are more likely to be supportive of the idea.
The findings also indicate there is a growing consensus that living together before marriage is likely to result in a more stable marriage. A majority (57 per cent) believe cohabitation is a positive development. This view is reflected consistently across most age groups.
Even higher numbers (79 per cent) do not regard sex before marriage as immoral. When broken down by religion, most Catholics – again, 79 per cent – did not see anything wrong with the practice.
Just 15 per cent, mostly older people or those living in rural areas, see it as immoral.
There are also significant differences across the generations in attitudes towards issues such as celibacy and virginity. In total, just under half (48 per cent) of people admire those who choose to be celibate for moral or religious reasons.
A majority of older people (62 per cent) aged 65 or more are much more likely to admire celibacy, while this falls to well under half among younger and middle-aged people.
Even among Catholics, respondents are just as divided. While 51 per cent of Catholics admire celibacy, the remainder either do not (33 per cent), or say they do not know (16 per cent).
Not all the poll findings point to increasingly liberal attitudes, however. The average age most people feel teenagers should begin to have sex at is 18 years, above the current age of consent which is 17.

Also:
Survey reveals more relaxed attitude to sex
Two-thirds support gay marriage, poll finds

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Gays in the Military: Japan

Now that DADT is finally under serious review, it is once again appropriate to consider how other military regimens deal or have dealt with with their queer members – or aspirant members.
As I have noted before, across the EU this is simply not a question at issue.  Gay men and lesbians serve routinely, just as any other servicemen and women. Here in the UK, every July some members routinely join the annual “London Pride” through the streets of London, either in uniform, in military squads, or as individuals in other groups of specific (non- military) interest. In South Africa, the constitution’s non-discrimination clause guarantees that sexual minorities should be able to serve on the same basis as anyone else. Last month, I was intrigued by this report from Peter Toscano, telling of a South African soldier who faced a gender identity issue by transitioning – and the military authorities provided a female officer as mentor and support to help her through the process.
In European history, gay soldiers were prominent in the Greek armies: notably in the Sacred Band of Thebes and its pairs of lovers (where only gay lovers were admitted), but also in other Greek fighting forces, where they were often crucial in creating or defending democracy.
Today, I want to discuss another renowned military culture with a strong homoerotic tradition – the Japanese shoguns and samurai.
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Samurai and Shoguns
For centuries, love and sex between men have been recorded and celebrated at the highest levels of Japanese society, including several emperors, and have especially associated with the military establishment and with the monasteries.
Back in the 12th century, the Japanese Emperor Go- Shirakawa (1156 – 1158), who was a devout Buddhist, fell in love with Fujiwara Nobuori. Then, in 1192,a later emperor Go-Shu named Minamoto Yoritomo as his military commander – i.e. “shogun”, who came to act in the name of the emperor. Yoritomo took as a lover a young officer, Yoshino.
Many succeeding shoguns followed this example, taking as lovers apprentice warriors known as “wakashu”, giving rise to the name for this type of relationship: “wakashudo”. The name given to the younger warrior lovers in these relationships were known as “gomotsu”:

“most of those who storm the battlefield, warding off the enemy and accompanying their lords to the end, are the lords’ male sex-partners.” (p 421)

“As in ancient Greece, Japanese culture idealised shudo as a source of morality and military courage.”

“In our empire of Japan, this way flourished from the time of the great Master Kobo particularly. And in the abbeys of Kyoto and Kamakura, and in the world of the nobles and the warriors, lovers would swear perfect and eternal love …..whether their partners were noble or common, rich or poor, was absolutely of no importance.

During the Ashikaga shogunate, (1338 – 2573), 6 shoguns out of 15 are known to have had wakashu lovers. Add in the succeeding Tokugawa shoguns (1573 – 1837), “at least half” of all shoguns had male love affairs.
eg. Yoshimochi, the fourth Ashikaga shogun (1395 -1428) loved a young samurai Akamatsu Mochisada, to whom he granted three provinces, simply for homosexual favour.
Yoshinori (1429 –1441 ) was a Buddhist monk from age 10 until he became shogun at 35. He invited temple entertainers to share his bed, and planned to bestow three provinces on a young man who tad taken his fancy – but this led to his death.

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