Heteronormativity and penguins

Buddy and Pedro are two male penguins who bond and nest together.  The Toronto zoo is breaking up this male/male relationship to force the penguins to reproduce with female penguins.

Buddy and Pedro are originally from a zoo in Toledo, Ohio, and were bonded before the reached the Metro Zoo. Twenty-one year old Buddy had a female partner for ten years with whom we produced offspring but she is now deceased. Ten year old Pedro has never produced offspring and the zoo feels it’s their job to ensure that the penguins are matched with females and bred.

Buddy and Pedro are not the first same-sex animal pair, nor even the first same-sex penguin couple. In 2004 a pair of same-sex chinstrap penguins named Roy and Silo at New York City’s Central Park zoo incubated, hatched and raised a chick together, a female named Tango. Tango’s birth was the subject of a popular and controversial children’s book called And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson.

A pair of male penguins at a zoo in Germany also successfully hatched a chick. It is almost rarer to find an animal species wherein there is not same-sex pairing than it is to find a completely heterosexual animal species. Same-sex pairings have been observed in elephants, giraffes, dolphins, apes, lions, sheep, swans, hyenas and vultures. The list of same-sex pairings in insects and marine species is too long to list.

via » Marriage of the Penguins Gender Focus – A Canadian Feminist Blog.

Humans like to use specific animal case studies to help confirm their own stories about how humans have to act.   In essence by finding animals in the world who act in certain manners, humans extrapolate that there is a universal drive or that particular behavior is natural in other species. This is biological essentialism.

Considering this case of same-sex animals, one might ask if the science is being used by leftists to support the naturalness of human homosexuality?

Sure, I guess that is probably true in this case.  Humans are story-loving animals, and we generally want to gather information which supports our prevailing points of view.  But how we get the stories which are the foundations of our own beliefs — in this case nature or nurture — is the real question. Schools, clergy, parents, books, authority figures, and anecdotes we’ve collected invite us to invest in some particular ways of understanding.   Some communications corrode against other communications.   One example is same-sex coupling in animals:

For more than a century, this kind of observation was usually tacked onto scientific papers as a curiosity, if it was reported at all, and not pursued as a legitimate research subject. Biologists tried to explain away what they’d seen, or dismissed it as theoretically meaningless — an isolated glitch in an otherwise elegant Darwinian universe where every facet of an animal’s behavior is geared toward reproducing. One primatologist speculated that the real reason two male orangutans were fellating each other was nutritional.

via Can Animals Be Gay? – NYTimes.com.

Sexuality in nature appears to be quite diverse and hard to map out in any deterministic fashion.  Language, words and the human desire for classification spin stories from observations.  These lived realities then influence how we exist in the world.

Communications give birth to us.  They also mark the ideas of the past, making visible our often embarrassing intellectual histories.  The desire to open up those old ideas with more thoughtful understandings is valuable.  More importantly, it is fruitful to be reflective about how we self-constitute our ideas about sexuality.


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Filed under Animals, communication, human rights, learning, nature

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