The Nature of Being

rethinking the facts of life


March 2017

Queer Animals: Vulture Fathers

After my post about a couple of male lions, the question of what should be considered as sexuality or sexual behaviour under animals elvoves. The criteria seen by some biologists reveal an androcentric view. For example another argument from the previously mentioned expert Craig Packer was that there is no sign of ejaculation or even penetration during the act. If these are suitable criteria, it excludes all female animals from having same sex relationships or behaviour. That illustrates the androcentrism. Moreover we can easily think of behaviour that we would intuitivly think of as a behaviour that reveals something about the sexual orientation of somebody even if there is no penetrative act. One example here is a famous pair of two male vultures who incubated an egg together. I do not think that it is a coincidence that we again consider a “gay” couple again instead of two “lesbian” animals. I take it as another proof of androcentrism that a couple of male animals is more likely to appear in the media than a couple of two females. But in this case nobody speaks of penetration and the vultures are still discribed as living in a longterm homosexual relationship. The two vultures named Dashik and Jehuda are living together in a zoo in Jerusalem. Although they were not able to lay eggs themselves they build a nest together. Luckily for them the zoologists made the decision to give a fake egg to Dashik and Jehuda. After watching them for some weeks taking care of it, they replaced it with a newborn chick. According to the zoologists they raised it by the highest standards. Not in one single article I found was in question wether the two vultures were really gay, at it was with the lions all the time. Only one article wrote that they were mating, which could be seen as proof but is still very vague. I think the reason is that sexuality is seen as above all linked to reproduction and succesfully building a family. That the vultures managed to bring up a chick gives them some sort of legitimation. One article told the reader, that gay vulture couples play an important role in breeding programs, because vultures often lay to eggs from which only one survives. The other one can survive too, if given to a gay couple. And finally the most powerful argument: It is more natural to let two male vultures raise a vulture chick than the remaining possibility, which is that the chick would be raised by humans. Obviously the attempt to to everything as naturally as possible does not stop us from transfering our values and culture on animal behaviour. We are only able to see them trough our cultural glasses. Some years after Dashik and Jehuda raised a second vulture Jehuda left Dashik and „fell in love“ with a female Vulture. But we are very quick to conclude that Jehuda was falsly classified. Obviously he can not be gay, he has to be bisexual. Would it not be easier to accept that animals just do not think in these categories and therefore do not fit them? Coming back to the opening question, sexuality and sexual behaviour is discribed differently in this story than in the articles about the two lions. In discourses about the sexuality of animals, cultural and biological terms are blended in a misleading way.



Queer Animals: Two Male Lions

After my first post where I had a short look at Nemo’s father’s transsexuality, I would like to write about a pair of Lions which were pictured during sexual activities. The special thing in this story is, that both of them were male. The series of photos were taken by Nicole Cambré in Botswana in March 2016 during a Safari.


On the one hand Cambré’s pictures gave many gay people a lift. Something nice that they can show to homophobic people who are claiming that homosexuality is unnatural. On the other hand a large amount of articles appeared which stress the arguments why the two lions are probably not gay at all. I will focus on these speculations and theories that were brought in to defend heteronormativity, which is build on the assumption that sexuality is only meant to reproduce and that therefore homosexuality can not exist in nature. The first thing that comes into people’s mind is, that one of the lions is actually a maned lioness. But unfortunately for all conservatives in addition to the photographs there is also a video win which you can see the „male parts“ of both of the lions. As far as lions are concerned it is very simple to identify the gender, that this is not the case with all species might be one of the reasons why same sex behaviour has not been seen by science for such a long time. When a scientist saw two animals mating he or she automatically assumed that they were male and female. Another classical theory is that a male only mounts another male to show and reinforce his dominance. Craig Packer director of the Lion Research Center at the University of Minnesota explanes this behaviour that way. I think it’s very interisting, that he still describes the mounting of the lions as „affectionate“. This discription leaves me with the question, why it than is not a sexual act. Moreover there are videos which show two lions mounting each other, that is to say one time the one lion is on top of the other and the other time vice versa. That seems to be a clear falsification of that thesis. 
Last but not least we have the claim that they are only doing it because of the lack of a lioness. Here it is assumed that once an available lioness appears, they will let go of each other and focus on the lioness. In this special case there was one lioness living in the same area. That the two males showed no interest in her lead the photographer to the assumption that this lioness must have been pregnat and therefore not available. This shows how heteronormativity is read into animals by deducing in a circle. Males do only have sex with males if there is no available female, therefore any female in the area must be not available, here we have two males having sex and one female which after these premises cannot be available, therefore we have to conclude that the two males are only dealing with each other because there is no female. This is just one of the tautologies on which heteronormativity its naturalisation is based on.

Queer Animals: Finding Nemo

It is interisting to see how humans project their cultural formed concepts on animals. Of particular interest are cases when heteronormative and gender binary concepts are applied to animals which actually do not fit at all into this picture. A nice example is the movie „Finding Nemo“. For the few people who do not know the movie, it tells the story of a clownfish named Nemo who gets cought by a human, to be a birthday present for a child. Nemo’s father now has to pass many adventures to save his son from this fate. Everone knowlegable of this popular species of fish should already wonder about the terms „father“ and „son“. The reason is that these fishes are actually all born without any gender. This is until within their school of fishes the largest individual develops into a female and the second largest into a male in order to reproduce. I think the terms male and female are not sufficiant in this short discription, because it does not tell a lot about what actually happens here. Instead a gender binary and heterosexual picture is again applied to give an overly simplefied description. Back to the movie we can easily see that a father living together with his son is an impossible setting for clownfishes because if Nemo is to small to reproduce he has no gender. The other possible interpretation would be that if Nemo is old enough, his father would have changed into a female to produce descendants with Nemo. And this is in fact a discription you can find in some newspaper articles from people who found it a sensation worth writing about the fact that Nemo’s father might be transsexual. Two questions are evident here. Number one: what was going on in the heads of the people who wrote the script of „Finding Nemo“? Number two: how can we escape the trap of imposing our cultural pictures on animals? The discription of clownfishes changing their gender might be closer to the truth than the movie, but is still a discription in cultural terms imposed on an animal which does not have that culture. I will hopfully manage to approach to the second question in the next posts, while it is still some space her to have a short look at the first question. It is obvious that society does not see topics like transexuality siutable for children. Instead movies for children are only allowed to deal with settings that are completely „normal“ as far as it comes to gender and reproduction. The funny thing is, that we often assume that normal is what ever is natural. While society is most of the time convinced that normal and natural reproduction means a male and a female are having a child, and gender is something you have from the moment of your birth, the nature of a clownfish tells another story. So it comes that the movie stays quiet about nature, and spreads instead our normative opinion of what is natural. A colorful contradiction that shows how absurd the naturalisation of gender is.


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