Skepticism

Why are Scientists Ignoring all the Gay Animals??

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It’s June, and that means we have to talk about the gays. It’s not my rule, it’s the LAW. 

And yeah, I already talked about the Cass Report, but that video was serious and a little depressing, so I figured we could do another one that’s a bit more entertaining.

You’re probably already aware that LGBTQ+ people throughout history have been overlooked, ignored, buried, and of course retconned as “best friends,” to the point that I think it’s totally fair to assume any historical figure with a same sex ride-or-die was probably going to pound town with them, up to and including Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Fry Speed, who were best friends who shared a bed for several years despite the fact that they had plenty of money to afford a second bed. Can two hetero dudes share a bed and only stay up late gossiping? Yes, and I love that for them and we should absolutely normalize non-erotic adult sleepovers. But this is the deal with the devil homophobes made: they get centuries of gay people forced to hide their essential selves and in return now we get to imagine Abe Lincoln’s top hat bobbing up and down while he’s coring out this twink slaver’s butthole. Don’t like it? Well, don’t push gay people back in the closet.

Anyway, I mention all this because it turns out that it isn’t just homosexual humans who have been disappeared from the historical record: Same-sex sexual behaviour among mammals is widely observed, yet seldomly reported: Evidence from an online expert survey

This is a cool little poll some anthropologists did, in which they asked 65 mammalian biologists–by which I mean biologists who study mammals, not biologists who ARE mammals. I mean, I assume they are mammals but just to be clear the study doesn’t detail whether any of them are, like, Argonians or whatever.

Anyway, they asked these 65 biologists to report on their observations on same sex sexual behavior and what they ended up publishing about the behavior. They found that while 77% of them HAD observed same sex sexual behavior, only about half of them bothered to collect that data and then only 18.5% published it.

Now, my first thought upon reading that was, “Well, maybe they didn’t bother to publish it because it was already a well-known thing. Maybe these were bonobo researchers observing two females getting freaky for the 8th time today and it’s like okay, we get it, you like cunnilingus, can you please do something novel?”

But the study authors reveal that in fact, “Of the unique species identified as engaging in SSSB in the survey, 38.6% (N = 17) have no existing reports of (same sex sexual behavior) to the knowledge of the authors.” These were no horny lesbian bonobos! These were supposedly heterosexual South American coatis! The extremely vanilla South African ground squirrels! The formerly conservative common woolly monkey, newly revealed to be a certified freak.

It’s a publish or perish world out there and these researchers seem to be leaving free and easy papers on the table. Why is that? Do they hate the gays?

According to the surveyed researchers, no. None of them expressed discomfort with homosexual behavior, or felt pressured by their field or their employer to hide these behaviors. Instead, the study authors suspect that the main reason is “a publishing bias against anecdotal evidence.” It’s funny because there’s this snarky thing skeptics say to people who believe in psychics because a psychic told them something crazy once: the plural of “anecdote” is not “data”! And I’ve hated that for a long time because YES IT IS. ANECDOTES ARE DATA. Anecdotes are often the data that kicks off interesting scientific research. They are not the END of the research, but the beginning.

And so sure enough, here are actual biologists working in the field, gathering anecdotal data that even they are discounting. And because of that, we are missing out on SO MUCH GAY SEX in the world. And that’s sad.

The lead author of this study, Karyn Anderson, told The Guardian that “the perception that same-sex sexual behaviour was rare in animals had fed into a narrative that it was “unnatural” in humans. “I think that record should be corrected,” she said. “One thing I think we can say for certain is that same-sex sexual behaviour is widespread and natural in the animal kingdom.””

Let’s be very clear: even if humans were the only species on the planet with same sex sexual behaviors, that would still be A-okay. We’re the only species to wear glasses, ride bicycles, or rocket ourselves into space. Fuck “natural.”

It can definitely help push back on conservative narratives about “unnatural” behavior by pointing out that in fact, we find same sex sexual behavior in pretty much every branch of the evolutionary tree. Every branch we bother to look at and record, that is. But I just want us to be careful about making moral judgments based on “natural.” I bet in another ten years, conservatives will argue that homosexual behavior is wrong BECAUSE animals do it. Be ready for that.

Anyway, I hope this survey encourages more researchers to start recording their observations and get that stuff published, because the world could use more fun facts about animal sex. For instance, did you know that giraffes are extremely gay? Biologists have observed them displaying more same-sex coupling than between sexes, which seems to be something they do begrudgingly to, you know, continue the existence of their species for a bit longer so they can continue having fun gay sex.

Rams are another fun one. Researchers estimate that about 8% of rams are gay–not just occasionally mounting other males or whatnot but consistently choosing other male sheep over female sheep. Like, researchers take a ram and offer him two rams and two females that are in estrus, and let him go and mate with whoever he wants. Almost one out of every ten rams completely ignores the females and fucks the shit out of the other rams.

A significant portion of the remaining rams have been found to be bisexual or asexual.

A fun coda to all this is that while some female sheep have been observed hooking up with each other, they don’t seem to be as gay as the rams. There’s a hypothesis floating around that the reason isn’t that female sheep aren’t gay, but that they are used to their sexual partner making the first move so all these lesbian sheep are just standing around waiting for someone else to hit on them. Which. Uh. Yeah, big mood. Big mood.

I’ll end with a recommendation, if all of this interests you. One of my favorite actor/director/writers is Isabella Rossellini. Depending upon your age and interests, you may know her as the daughter of Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini, Dorothy in Blue Velvet, or Jack’s love interest on 30 Rock. But in 2007, when she was on 30 Rock, she enrolled in college to learn more about animal behavior. She then funneled that knowledge into an incredible short TV series called Green Porno, which she wrote, directed, and starred in, and in which she demonstrates the mating rituals of various animals. It’s deeply weird and beautiful and I need you to see it. You can find them on Sundance TV’s YouTube channel or on the Criterion Channel.

Gosh, I hope this doesn’t awaken anything in me.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon mstdn.social/@rebeccawatson Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky @rebeccawatson.bsky.social

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