Stephanie Farnsworth looks at the historic arguments that being LGBTQ+ is unnatural
As Planet Earth II returns, the LGBTQ+ community should take heart; if anything proves that our identities are natural then it is the animal kingdom.
Although the BBC has long been accused of ignoring LGBTQ+ identities when it comes to its nature documentaries, it’s a charge that can be levelled at all the major broadcasters. It’s not just Attenborough’s fault as there are very few documentaries that show LGBTQ+ identities.
It’s a conscious choice that has been motivated by several factors. Nature documentaries are generally seen as apolitical (at least before the rise of the understanding of climate change) and therefore staying away from LGBTQ+ identities was seen as an easy choice. Furthermore, sex is only ever shown in the documentaries when it attempts to show reproduction. It’s an inherently LGBTQ+phobic motivation, designed to appeal to the masses an avoid bombardment by angry viewers that everywhere is being taken over by the ‘gay agenda’.
Nature documentaries are generally seen as apolitical (at least before the rise of the understanding of climate change) and therefore staying away from LGBTQ+ identities was seen as an easy choice..
Many may wish to argue that filming animals is particularly difficult; anyone who has ever worked with them will know well that they do not follow a script. However, this argument falls flat when you consider the sheer commonality of same gender sexual behaviour and gender variance among species. It’s impossible to avoid unless intentionally done so.
The interesting thing about the natural world is that, in scientific terms, there isn’t a lot of variety at all between what we think of as the sexes. Sexual dimorphism between animals often isn’t radical, and nor is it with humans (humans actually display far less differences than many other creatures).
If anything confirms that gender is not determined by a very limited definition of the word ‘sex’ then it is the natural world. There’s huge overlaps between the animals we distinguish as male and female, and we manage to completely erase any animal that may be genderfluid or non binary. Animals cannot tell us their gender and so it is left to humans to assign them and it’s an area where we often go spectacularly wrong.
There was the case of the female lion this year that seemed to take the internet by storm and was described as gender fluid because it had a strong mane which is usually associated with what we class as ‘male lions’. Such gender variance is not actually uncommon, and if documentaries gave a more realistic picture of animal life than it certainly wouldn’t have been the first time a story like this was paid attention to. That distinctive mane isn’t even common to all species of lions; if you look at Asiatic lions then the males have tiny tufts of hair but are they any less male than their African counterparts? The one thing that we can discern is that we’re almost about as bad as assigning gender to animals as we are with human babies.
Such gender variance is not uncommon, and if documentaries gave a more realistic picture of animal life than it certainly wouldn’t have been the first time a story like this was paid attention to.
Many types of fish can spontaneously change their sex, even multiple times, as do some amphibians such as the west African common reed frog. Male sea horses are well known for the fact that they are the ones who carry offspring. Male snakes can mimic female snakes to try to find a mate (such as garter snakes). Stag beetles have been known to take a similar route to securing mating success. Some males are born to look incredibly similar to females and can produce pheromones which can be used to convince other males that they are females. Intersexual traits are particularly common in lobsters, crabs and even birds (although it is possible for any creature to be intersex). Same gender pairings adopting is not uncommon among birds – I’m sure everyone knows of the famous penguin example, which is, happily, a much better penguin story than the cheating one. Bonobos have sex as a way of greeting, regardless of gender. Then there are even famous cases of lesbian elephants. Animals have also been long documented engaging in sexual acts that under no circumstances could ever produce offspring. They do it simply for pleasure.
Any suggestion that this is a new revelation that has been observed through modern technology and the wealth of studies from the twentieth century onwards is also false. The spotted hyena has long been well known as breaking the narrow binaries we push on different genders. Female hyenas have higher levels of testosterone than the males and their clitoris is elongated to the extent that confusion over sex was common. As a result, centuries ago people would use the term ‘hyena’ as an insult towards women whose femininity was brought under question. The most well known example of this is from ‘The Duchess of Malfi’, written in 1612 by John Webster the protagonist was called a hyena as her feminine virtues were brought under question by her ambitious brothers.
As a result, centuries ago people would use the term ‘hyena’ as an insult towards women whose femininity was brought under question.
If these examples show anything it’s that reproduction is not everything and that even for the animal kingdom life is about much more than survival. Subtle variance is common but they seem earth shattering to those who believe rigidly in bio essentialist values that simply don’t stand up under scrutiny.
Life is much more fluid than we often allow and when people say that being LGBTQ+ isn’t natural they only show their supreme ignorance of the world around them. Feminists whop believe in the rigid binary of sex and gender (but only ever in the context of transgender women) also reveal that they’re quick to appoint themselves experts clearly without ever bothering to even type in ‘Google’ on the address bar. Bioessentialist arguments make absolutely no sense when applied to any living creature. Those opposed to LGBTQ+ rights often like to shame us into feeling that even animals are better than us – and they are, but only because they don’t spend their time trying to hound others for their sexuality or gender.
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