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Jesse Monteagudo

Gay Sex Among the Animals

Filed By Jesse Monteagudo | June 30, 2010 8:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: animals, LGBT, penguins, switzerand, transgender

A few years ago the Zurich Zoo in Switzerland conducted guided tourspenguins-760587.jpg that centered around homosexual behavior among the zoo animals. Unfortunately, the one hour tours were held in the early evenings, at a time when most animals were asleep. But this did not stop the gay zoo tours from being a success. Though there was no same-sex activity in evidence, tour guide Myriam Schärz assured her tourists that same-sex behavior is a common part of animal life: "I don't know of any species that is exclusively heterosexual," Schärz told "swissinfo," Switzerland's news and information platform. "Right here in Zurich we once had a gay flamingo couple who remained partners for life. In Cologne Zoo they have a pair of lesbian penguins who each year steal an egg from one of their neighbors and treat it as their own."'

The last time I wrote about same-sex behavior among the so-called "lesser" species was in 1999. Later that year the standard work on the topic, Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity 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. "They court each other, using intricate and beautiful mating dances that are the result of eons of evolution. Males caress and kiss each other, showing tenderness and affection toward one another rather than just hostility and aggression. Females form long-lasting pair-bonds - or maybe just meet briefly for sex, rolling in passionate embraces or mounting one another. Animals of the same sex build nests and homes together, and many homosexual pairs raise young without members of the opposite sex. Other animals regularly have partners of both sexes, and some even live in communal groups where sexual activity is common among all members, male and female. Many creatures are 'transgendered,' crossing or combining characteristics of both males and females in their appearance or behavior."

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.

"In 1994," according to the Almanac, "two male flamingos in the Rotterdam Zoo in the Netherlands got the nesting urge and set up a same-sex co-habitation. After the two repeatedly sought to steal eggs from female flamingos to hatch them as their own, the zookeepers decided to provide them with a fertilized egg. The proud parents successfully hatched their own little chick, and remained faithfully by the side of the baby flamingo for a while." The whole world knows about Roy and Silo, two male chinstrap penguins at the Central Park Zoo in New York who lovingly hatched and raised an adopted chick, Tango. (The story of Tango and her two daddies appears in 2005's often-censored children's book, And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell.)

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," Sch¨rz said. "Animal societies tend to stay together and accept each other. Of course, animals do get excluded occasionally but that tends to happen if they get injured or if they are not liked, rather than because of their sexuality." Here is another instance where we humans could learn from the animals.

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Always with the penguins. Those little suckers are all about the gay.

I'm grateful you chose to include in your post this:

Many creatures are 'transgendered,' crossing or combining characteristics of both males and females in their appearance or behavior.

if only as an afterthought.

When we talk about people--and one of the reasons for referring to the sexual, and other behaviour, of animals is for what it illuminates about us--we always include how they think: about themselves, about their partner(s), and about their relationship(s).

When we think about animals, particularly their same-sex behaviour, we just think about that, their plumbing.

How do we know that, rather than just being gender non-conforming, as some have claimed homosexuality is, they didn't really need to change sex?

It seems rather like the faulty media reports throughout the world which make the absolute assumption that two persons, male-assigned at birth, having sex or some other intimate relationship, are gay.


Their thoughts and feelings about themselves, each other, and their relationship are not relevant.

Rather like the historical assumption about two female assigned persons being together, since, unlike men, we have very little evidence of how women thought about anything at all historically.

Maybe all there is about sex is the plumbing.

Maybe there is no such thing as thought and feelings--rather B. F. Skinner redux.

I don't think so, but then as a woman of transsexual history there are many gay men who think of me as a self-mutilated man--because I have challenged their theory of plumbing.

"I don't know of any species that is exclusively heterosexual,"

Love it.

"I don't know of any species that is exclusively heterosexual,"

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.

I can only wonder where transsexual and transgender people fit in this monochromatic analysis.

In most cultures and societies, except our western Europe-England-North American one, transsexual and transgender people have been included and revered; to this day, in western Europe-England-North America we are subject to the most extreme violence.

The most interesting thing about the historical lives of transgender and transsexual people, just as the transgender and transsexual lives of animals today, is that they have been appropriated by most gay writers to justify their existence at the expense of ours.

The history of the last half of the 20th century is no exception, though much clearer and the stuff of mobilization whereas earlier, in the works of writers such as Will Roscoe, the lives of transgender, if not transsexual people are expropriated as simply gay men.

People sometimes wonder at the vehemence with which the transphobia of a Ron Gold or Michael Mustos is met; it is because of the generations long appropriation of transsexual and transgender lives and our violent oppression a tradition these people culminate.

That's because there are no right-wing conservatives in the animal kingdom to be judgmental.