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The Nature of Being

rethinking the facts of life

Author

monaschlachtenrodt

Queer Animals: Make Love Not War

The following post is going to be the last one dealing with sexuality of animals from my side. For that reason this time I chose a species that really does not seem to care about gender at all when it comes to pick a partner for sex. This is one of the reasons why they are considered as hippies, another reason is that they seem to use sexual practice to avoid or to solve conflicts. Therefore they are also called make-love-not-war-apes. The species I talk about is the Bonobo, one of the smaller representatives of the great apes. Bonobos break all rules about sexuality that were ever made. They do not only ignore gender, they also seem to ignore age, because even the young ones participate in sexual activities. Moreover they use different positions and practices like for example oral sex. Scientists often observed that bonobos started to have sex when conflicts arise. For example when two bonobos see something to eat, the conflict that they both want it for themselves is followed by sex between them and afterwards they share the food peacefully. In fact this can not be the only reason for them to have sex as they do it very often during the day. My first reaction to this theory was to think that it is another way to negate sexual activities among animals that are not heterosexual. But I think the difference is that in this theory the interaction is still seen as sexual even if it is said that it has another reason than reproduction. Bonobos seem to make clear that there are different reasons and different ways to have sex. German media seems to be kind of excited about the bonobos’ strategy to organise their social live. Us humans, we live in a reality that is totally different and seems to be not as good as the peaceful way of life bonobos share. For many of us it is an utopia to live that way instead of leading wars and exploit each other and the most exciting thing is that bonobos are one of the two species that are related the closest to humans. But coming back to reality it is obvious that we cannot just all start to have sex every time we have a conflict like bonobos do. Again we come to the border of seeking our natural behaviour by watching animals. We have our culture, our social rules which we should try to question and to improve as much as we can, but not by looking for the most natural thing because this is neither interesting from a moral point of view, nor even possible for us to discover. It is inviting to look at the bonobos and draw the conclusion that we are all born to have sex all day and be peaceful, but the second species that is as close related to us as the bonobos, the chimpanzees, is a very aggressive species that has a totally different social structure. We can surely choose one of the two for a role-model but we should be aware that this can only be for inspiration and does not reveal a deeper truth about our own nature.

 

References

 

http://sz-magazin.sueddeutsche.de/texte/anzeigen/44135/Das-Liebesdiktat-der-Hippie-Affen

 

https://www.welt.de/lifestyle/article5679413/Bonobos-sind-Meister-der-sexuellen-Versoehnung.html

 

http://www.focus.de/wissen/natur/forschung-und-technik-sex-fuer-den-frieden_aid_168490.html

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Queer Animals: Lesbian Albatrosses

The animal I want to talk about this time is a bird which has been seen as an icon for heterosexual monogamy. That was the image of the Laysan albatross until 2008. The reason for this image is that most of these birds nest with the same partner for their entire lives. Even the former first Lady Laura Bush praised their lifestyle in a speech about Oahu, an island of Hawaii, where a big colony of the birds live. Imaginable that Laura Bush was not amused when in 2008 an article of a team of scientists revealed that almost one third of the couples of albatross consist of two females, at least in this area. The reason why this has been undiscovered for such a long time is the fact that the sexes of albatrosses are very difficult to distinguish, paired with the heteronormative ideology of past scientists who did research on the albatross. Whenever two animals are seen together doing something that is linked to reproduction, it is automatically assumed that they are male and female. Considering the albatross a pair is defined by two individuals that incubate eggs and raise chicks together. The female-female pairs are able to do this because their eggs get fertilised by male individuals which are often themselves part of a pair. The fact that there are so many same-sex couples among these birds was however a bigger scandal than the infidelity of the paired males. Although one of the researchers said that they were very careful in their writing, which probably means that they tried to not make it a political pro homo article, it was on the one hand used to argue in favour of homosexuality and on the other hand attacked for being pro homo propaganda. When I read the article I thought that it actually lets the female-female pairs appear in a more unflattering light, using descriptions likefemalefemale pairing in the interim appears to make the best of a bad job[1]. Of course good and bad refers here to the reproductive success. But still negative judgemental words are used and the relationships between the birds are not euphemized at all. Nevertheless to me it seems like the scientists really tried to be neutral and to stay with biological terms. For example Lindsay Young who is cited and interviewed most often, refuses to call the female-female pairs lesbian and the male-female pairs heterosexual and insists that these terms have nothing to do with her researches. Unlikely that she manages to be totally neutral because we are all up to some point bound to our culutural ideology. This might be part of the answer to the question how we can stop imposing our cultural images on animals, which I posed in my first post. It seems not to be possible, even if a scientist does their best on being neutral, one never knows what the further usage and interpretation of results will be.

 

References

 

https://www.welt.de/wissenschaft/tierwelt/article7243977/Wenn-schwule-Tiere-moralische-Werte-bedrohen.html

 

http://rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/4/4/323

 

http://www.foxnews.com/story/2008/06/02/female-albatrosses-set-up-same-sex-partnerships.html

[1] Lindsay C Young, Brenda J Zaun, Eric A VanderWerf; 2008

Queer Animals: Hyena Genitals

In this post I will focus more on the anatomy of an animal than on their behaviour. If we have a look at animal genitalia, the spotted hyena is a species that is kind of mysterious for scientists. What makes the anatomy of this kind of hyena unusual is the large clitoris of the female. Large means here it can be as long as the penis of the male. It is used for urination, for reproduction and for birth. indexThis seems so uncommon to us that a bundle of questions turns up. But before answering them I would like to have a look at the way female hyena are described. Two aspects are striking in the description. Above all the female hyena is described as masculinized. This applies to its genitals which are described as „pseudo-penis“ but also to her bevaviour which is quite aggressive. Due to this and their body size which is bigger than the size of the males, they always have a higher rank in the clan than the male individuals. It seems that people are confused about these characteristics that do not fit into our ideology and the only way to escape this, is to use words that on the one hand show how extraordinary it is and at the same time imply how it normally should be. The second eye-catching thing about the reports is that they use a lot of negative judgmental words like for example awkward, weird and bizarre. All of this leaves no doubt about what is normal and what is abnormal, even though for a female spotted hyena having a penis and being strong and aggressive is the most normal thing in the world. Now let’s move on to copulation and giving birth. To reproduce the male has to insert his penis into the clitoris of the female. Like many animals this happens while the male mounts the female. This surely is more difficult and therefore takes more time than it does for other mammals, but I think here the descriptions are again exaggerating when they stress how painful it is, how hilarious it looks and especially how tough it is for the male. Seriously, which animals do not look funny when they have sex? Besides, this way of narration implies that hyenas are not really enjoying it but only doing it to produce descendants, which is quite doubtful. That the female hyenas give birth through this clitoris seems to be a problem too. Proof of this appears to be the fact that the clitoris tears during birth, which kills some hyenas after getting an infection. But if we, for a second, think about the large number of human women who get a tear of perineum and that this does only not pose a problem because most of our birth happen under medical observation, the problem seems to relativize. The way spotted hyenas are described still gives us the feeling that something went wrong which matches the bad reputation hyenas have. But they are just one species under millions of totally different species and should not be considered ugly, abnormal or pitiful just because they do not fit into our ideology.

 

References

 

http://www.spektrum.de/alias/soziobiologie/muetterliche-aggression-als-vorteil/1054058

 

http://www.livescience.com/699-painful-realities-hyena-sex.html

 

https://curiouscox.wordpress.com/2012/01/11/the-spotted-hyenas-she-penis/

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.

References

http://www.focus.de/wissen/experten/ludwig/kuriose-vaeter-im-tierreich-warum-schwule-geier-so-wichtig-fuer-die-arterhaltung-sind_id_4167452.html

http://www.thefrisky.com/photos/10-animals-with-bisexual-tendencies/bisexual-animals-griffon-vulture-jpg/

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/gay-vulture-couple-raise-surrogate-chicks-1110120.html

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.

Lions

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.
References

http://www.livescience.com/54491-male-lions-in-botswana-not-gay.html

http://www.snopes.com/gay-lions-mating/

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.

References

http://www.businessinsider.com/clownfish-sex-changes-and-finding-nemo-2013-8?IR=T

http://evolutionfaq.com/articles/sex-change-nature-coral-reef-fish

http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2010/01/clownfish/prosek-text/3

http://www.faz.net/aktuell/gesellschaft/umwelt/fische-nemo-ist-ein-transsexueller-1132859.htmA

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