These Gay Gorillas Remind Us that Animal Homosexuality Is Much More Common Than We Think
This week, a photographer with the Caters News service snapped some images of two young male gorillas‚ Aybo and Thabo, engaging in homosexual sex play. However, the Metro story used judgmental words like “mischievous,” “naughty” and “awkward” to describe the gay gorillas’ behavior, reminding us how often humans — both gay and straight — treat stories of same-sex animal pairings as uncommon and a way to push human sexual values. This doesn’t line up with reality, though — animal homosexuality and same-sex pairings, like the gay gorillas, are common in the wild kingdom.
Gay animals are much more common than most people might realize
In his 1999 book Biological Exuberance, Canadian biologist Bruce Bagemihl’s said that animals exhibit “much greater sexual diversity — including homosexual, bisexual and nonreproductive sex — than the scientific community and society at large have previously been willing to accept.” He then documented same-sex activity in over 450 animal species including creatures in every major animal group and every major geographic region around the world. Since then, over 1,500 animal species have been documented as exhibiting homosexual behaviors.
This flies in the face of anti-gay activists who call homosexuality and bisexuality “against nature” Of course, confronted by evidence of same-sex activity in nature, these activists then claim that humans should be “better than animals” by resisting their same-sex orientation.
LGBTQ activists, on the other hand, point out that of the over 1,500 animal species that exhibit homosexual behavior, only one exhibits homophobia — humans. Who’s unnatural now?
Here’s a Discovery Channel video discussing the prevalence of gay animals:
Why do animals exhibit same-sex sexual behavior?
If Charles Darwin’s groundbreaking 1859 book, On the Origin of Species, is correct and all animal behavior serves to spread one’s genes via sexual reproduction, animal homosexuality may seem abnormal or a waste of energy. Keep in mind, however, that not all animal homosexual activity involves actual sex: Sometimes it just involves courtship, grooming, bonding, mounting and parental activities.
Bagemihl and other biologists have found that same-sex animal behavior actually serves several purposes: Some animals pair with same-sex partners because of a shortage of opposite-sex partners. Some do it to build strong and peaceful social bonds or to avoid raising their young alone. Some male insects deposit sperm on same-sex partners with the hopes that these partners might inadvertently impregnate females with their sperm. And other animals have gay sex just because it feels good, provides comfort or burns off excess energy.
Is it wrong to assign animals a sexual orientation?
But pointing out homosexuality in animals is still considered taboo. Scientists say that researching gay animal behavior can harm your career because of colleagues who consider the topic too politicized or unserious. Books on same-sex animals, like the children’s book And Tango Makes Three — about two male Chinstrap penguins who raised a chick in New York’s Central Park zoo — get blasted by both sides.
Biologists say it’s a mistake to label animals as “gay” or “straight” at all, warning that these labels often exist to humanize animal behavior or push a particular worldview. It’s hard to know an animal’s full sexual history or whether they have a “sexual identity” like humans at all. Thus, most biologists avoid assigning a sexual orientation to animals at all, preferring to say that they merely “exhibit same sex behavior for a set time.”