Queer Politics for the Birds

brokeback icebergHomophobia runs deep!

So deep that it also impinges on the animal world.

Toronto’s zoo is splitting up a pair of same-gender penguins. These Happy Feet males, Pedro and Buddy — jokingly referred to as “Brokeback Iceberg” — have been nesting with each other for a year.

The reason for the boys’ split-up, a zoo official says, is because African penguins are an endangered species.

The pair has what’s known as a “social bond,” but it’s not necessarily a “sexual bond,” Tom Mason, the zoo’s curator of birds and invertebrates told the Associated Press.

“Penguins are so social they need that…company. And the group they came from was a bachelor group waiting for a chance to be paired up with females,” Mason stated. “They had paired up there, they came to us already paired, and it’s our job to be matchmakers to get them to go with some females.”

But Buddy, I opine, may have been involuntarily “on the down low” for breeding purposes until he was able to express his true penguin passion with Pedro.

According to the zoo’s curator, Buddy, who’s 21, had a female partner for 10 years and produced offspring, but his female partner died. Pedro, on the other hand, who’s 10, has yet to produce offspring.

While we can banter and bicker about the heterosexist actions of a zookeeper, our actions on animal homophobia aren’t any better.

For example, who would have thought that the politics of same-sex coupling of birds would a debatable topic in the marriage equality state of Massachusetts?

But during the summer of 2005, more than a year after same-sex married became legal in the state, Boston’s beloved pair of swans in the Public Garden – named Romeo and Juliet — had been having a love affair that dares not speak its name. And as Bay Staters bantered and bickered over whether the two should be allowed to stay together or be separated, these swans were being subjected to the same queries that have plagued same-sex couples in heterosexist societies for centuries.

Assuming that the swans were heterosexual until one of the couple’s eggs went unfertilized, Boston’s Parks and Recreation Department decided to conduct a “detailed gender test” by examining the swans’ reproductive organs. The findings disclosed that Romeo and Juliet were really more like Juliet and Juliet.

The city disclosed its findings, but very reluctantly, “for fear of destroying the image of a Shakespearean love story unfolding,” as reported in The Boston Globe.

But some people thought like Laura Elsheimer of Hudson, Mass., who told the Globe that the city “should have a Romeo.” And spokeswoman Mary Hines of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department told the Globe, “Each year when the swans go in, the kids immediately come to us and say, ’Which one’s Romeo and which one’s Juliet?’”

Where the public might think a male is needed to make them a complete or authentic couple, neither of the girls seems to be lamenting, “O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?” Why? Because on any given day at the Public Garden you saw them swimming happily together in the lagoon.

Moreover, the swans have been cohabiting for two years. Animal scientists have observed the monogamous nature of swans whether they are in opposite-sex or same-sex coupling — they stay with their mates until death, which can occur between 20 to 30 years.

While there was also debate whether Romeo should be renamed to reflect the swan’s gender, I can imagine Juliet saying about all this much ado, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Same-sex coupling is not a new phenomenon in the animal world. However, its disclosure and acceptance of it comes in a homophobic society that will attempt to pathologize it.

more from irene monroeBut in fact, scientists at Oregon Health & Science and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Sheep Experiment Station are discovering that all sexualities may be biologically driven. In a recent study on rams, researchers at OHS found that 8 percent are gay, but with such a low percentage finding, the Christian Right can still hold to its premise that homosexuality is an aberrant behavior and found only in those lost few.

More controversial studies on animal homosexuality, being denounced by Christian conservatives, are Bruce Bagemihl’s Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity, and the findings of Deric Bownds, a University of Wisconsin-Madison zoology professor. In fact, Bagemihl’s book was cited by the American Psychiatric Association in a “friend of the court” brief submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court in theLawrence v. Texas case that lead to state anti-sodomy laws being found unconstitutional.

According to Bagemihl, homosexual activity occurs in more than 450 species of animals both in the wild and in captivity, and same-sex couplings in animals can be as enduring and life-long as they are in humans.

For the religious fundamentalists, however, these findings are discarded on the premise that man can fight such instincts whereas animals cannot because God has given us the capacity to reason.

“Yes, animals can be forced to perform homosexual acts, by depriving them from the possibility to perform their reproductive function in the natural way,” Shams Ali wrote in Homosexuality Among Animals and Humans. “All this means is that animals are not free — they are driven by their instincts. …But the difference between a man and an animal is that Man has reason, which he uses to control his instincts and urges.”

Let’s not forget how we have seen many religious fundamentalists express their distain for same-sex coupling in us humans with the well-known vitriolic protest placard: Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.

Rev. Irene MonroeAs for the fate of Happy Feet males Pedro and Buddy, being allowed to stay together is swimming in a homophobic tide.

But for us humans, the lesson here is that a heterosexual-only view of love not only constrains and constricts our human capacity to love one another, but it also limits our capacity to tell the whole story about the birds and the bees.

Rev. Irene Monroe

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Comments

  1. Jack says

    Homosexuality evolved in many animal species because same-sex pair bonding enhanced the survival of individuals, offspring and biological relatives. The difference between animals and humans is not that Man can reason, but instead that humans are often UNREASONABLE. A perfect example of that unreasonableness and irrationality is when religious fundamentalists can’t understand a basic biological concept such as the evolutionary basis of homosexuality.  

    They’re not going to change their silly beliefs, so all we can do is work around them to ensure that our nation’s gay and lesbian citizens have the rights and respect they deserve.  

    Contact your US senators and representatives and demand they pass the Respect for Marriage Act that repeals the shameful law passed during Bill Clinton’s presidency, DOMA. Equal rights for gays are long overdue, and as long as Democrats and Independents allow our government to oppress LGBT citizens, the right wing will continue to use this hot button issue to fundraise and get out the vote for their lousy candidates. We need to fix this problem now so we can stop squabbling over gay marriage and move forward with programs to fix our serious economic issues.

  2. Bob says

    It’s amazing that you see fit to anthropomorphize penguins, and accuse the zookeeper of “heterosexistm”. Good gravy.

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