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Wendell and Cass had been living together as a same-sex couple for four years when they became parents. In the beginning of their relationship, officials tried to keep them apart, but the lovebirds couldn’t stay away from one another. The first chance they got, Wendell and Cass were back together, defying society’s expectations. Yet, soon after the couple became parents, the same officials who tried to separate them were praising their parenting abilities. Not the typical response from authority figures, but then, Wendell and Cass aren’t your typical gay parents: they’re Chinstrap penguins, and the officials who followed them so closely were the keepers of the New York Aquarium. (“They’re in Love. They’re Gay. They’re Penguins…And They’re not Alone” - Christina Cardoze, Columbia News Service, 10 June 2002.)


Wendell and Cass would be perfect to headline the Oslo Natural History Museum’s recent exhibit, “Against Nature?” The exhibit focuses on homosexuality in the animal kingdom, which is apparently more common than most would imagine, as 1,500 breeds of animals engage in homosexual behavior. The title of the show, of course, refers to the frequently made argument that homosexuality is unnatural.


And what a loud chorus there is singing that particular argument. According HateCrime.Org’s
resource on religious right hate speech, those who have referred to homosexuals or homosexual behavior as “unnatural” include the Claremont Institute, American Family Association, Family Research Council, Americans for Truth about Homosexuality, and preacher Pat Robertson. Dr. Laura calls homosexuality “deviant” and “dysfunctional”, Anthony Falzarano of the Family Research Council refers to it as a “neurosis, Jerry Falwell says it is a “perversion”, and the medical opinion of Robertson’s 700 Club is that homosexuality is “a pathology. It is a sickness.” 


Which makes the Oslo exhibit so important. It shows that homosexuality isn’t really all that unnatural.  Indeed, it is a regular occurrence in the animal kingdom. The sexual behavior featured in the museum’s show is also detailed on LiveScience.com . Among the species featured on the website are the giraffe, American bison, walrus, gray whale, and Kob antelope. Almost all Bonobo chimpanzees are bisexual, and female-female sex in the species is prominent, whereas most male Guianan-Cock-of-the-Rock (a bird, not a bad pun) are bisexual, with some being exclusively homosexual.


Most notable of the species is the black swan. One-fifth of all black swans are in same-sex relationships, and one-fourth of all black swan families are headed by gay parents.  That’s right, not only does homosexual coupling occur in the wild, but homosexual parenting does, as well. Frequently, male black swan couples will “borrow” a female to lay eggs for them, and then raise the brood as their own. And the young ones grow up just fine. And the homosexual parents are an integral part of the overall society.  Go figure.


Of course, this phenomenon is nothing new. In his book Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity, author Bruce Bagemihl maintains that homosexuality in the animal kingdom exists on all life-bearing continents and has for millions of years. Not only that, Bagemihl notes, but also “same-sex behavior in animals exhibits every conceivable variation.” Bagemihl’s contention is substantiated by numerous scientific studies and observations by other researchers. National Georgraphic, The Journal of Avian Behavior, and Nature Australia are three of the numerous journals to have reported on the occurrence of homosexual behavior among animals.


If, in fact, animals instinctively engage in same-sex behavior for whatever reason (some say it is pleasure driven, others maintain it is a form of bonding), then one can safely assume that such behavior is natural. It’s hard to imagine that radical lesbian Japanese macaques are hanging out in the wild enticing innocent young macaques with anti-patriarchy speeches, or that flaming male ostriches are luring younglings into a life of debauchery against their will with jello shots and disco music. Dolphins don’t have ex-gay ministries, and flamingoes, who also participate in same-sex couple parenting, don’t have to worry about being declared unfit parents due to their choice of a mate.


The implications of all this rampant gayness in the wild is that it casts doubt on the assertion that homosexuality is a “choice”. Animals engage in homosexuality without concern for the moral implications; it is instinctive. Could the same be true for people?
Many scientists would argue “yes”. Although no “gay gene” has been identified, biological factors have been found which indicate that homosexual tendencies are predetermined.  Numerous aspects of the human body have been studied to determine if there are defining factors for homosexuality, from the human inner ear to the human response to pheromones. Among the various findings:


- The interstitial nuclei of the anterior hypothalamus 3 (the portion of the brain which controls sexual impulse) in gay men is similar in size to the INAH3 of women and not straight men.


- Lesbians have cochlea amplifiers in their inner ears which more closely resemble those of men than straight women. Likewise, the “spontaneous otoacoustic emissions”, faint sounds emitted by the inner ear, are similar between lesbians and straight men.


- Many gay men have a higher number of ridges on their fingerprints.


- Gay men produce sweat with unique odors not found in straight men and women or lesbians, and other gay men are better at detecting those odors.


- Lesbians and straight men react more strongly to the odor of female pheromones than the pheromones of men.


- Prepulse inhibition, or involuntary eye-blink response, is similar between lesbians and straight men and between gay men and straight women. Such responses are controlled by the same part of the brain which controls sexual activity.


- Exposure to certain hormones while in the womb increases the likelihood of males being homosexual (and left-handed).


- On average, gay men have larger penises.


- Lesbians are three times as likely to have a sister who is a lesbian, and identical male twins have a higher rate of homosexuality for both twins than non-identical twins.


Many of these studies are controversial, and proponents on both sides of the nurture / nature debate have chimed in with criticisms and praise. Regardless of whether all the studies, of which only a few are cited above, are accurate, one can easily conclude that there are marked biological differences between gay men and women and their heterosexual counterparts. The fact that many of these differences are formed in the womb, such as fingerprints and brain formation, would indicate that homosexuality is determined before birth.


If homosexuality is predetermined, how can homosexuals be condemned for it? Our society has progressed to the point where most acknowledge biological differences and refuse to denounce those who are different on that basis. A person’s race, physical disabilities, and ethnic characteristics are largely off-limits for criticism. Should it be proven irrefutably that homosexuality is a genetic trait and not caused by circumstance, environment, or choice, then homosexuality would have to be added to the list of physical traits that are out-of-bounds for attack. How can you condemn a person to eternal damnation when he / she has no choice in the life that he / she desires?


Of course, homosexuals could deny their true nature. We do have free choice. But research has shown that such denial can cause significant psychological damage, as evidenced by the high suicide rates among gay teens struggling with their sexual orientation in hostile societies. And in modern society, as we know, we would never presume to ask others to deny their biological composition . . .


There is a downside to the idea that homosexuality is genetic, and it is straight out of science fiction: if it is genetic, then it can be cured (or at least, altered). Assuming there is some biological factor that leads one to be gay, then one can assume that science will eventually find a way to “fix” that factor. Some evangelicals have actually embraced the idea that homosexuality is genetic for this reason, so that scientists can begin to work on a way to correct the wayward genes. It’s simple . . . with surgery we’ll just tweak that part of the brain that malfunctions, there, with drugs we’ll alter the DNA strand before this kid is born, and with a bit of hoo doo magic we’ll alter the genetic composition of the person to make him or her look and act just the way we’d like. Now, isn’t that natural?


And what a slippery slope that would be. A far more rational course of action would be to accept that the Supreme Maker, God, the Spirit, Nature, the Cosmos, Mother Earth—whatever force one believes governs life—intended for there to be homosexuality. And if it was intended to be, there is no reason to eliminate it. After all, should scientists one day eradicate all signs of homosexuality in humans, they still have 1,500 species of animals flaunting “deviance” to remind them that homosexuality is natural.


I’m not a terribly religious person, but in my mind, Wendell and Cass won’t be condemned to eternal hell-fire and damnation for falling in love. And neither will the millions of deceased gay men and women who have led moral lives, had loving relationships, raised families, and contributed to the good of society. The religious right is correct when they say homosexuality is about choice. But the question is, do we have one?

Michael has been writing for PopMatters since 2000. His primary focus, aside from queer culture, is television reviews and commentary, and his article Male Bashing on TV has been reprinted in two college textbooks. He currently lives in Louisville, KY, and is a Lecturer of Communication Studies at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany, IN. As a teacher, he has an interest in the study of contemporary political rhetoric and argumentation. He and his partner Jim have been living in un-wedded bliss since 1995.


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