Friday, June 23, 2006

450 different vertebrate species can't be wrong!

"The flies get it
And the frogs get it
And all them big jungle cats get it
And I bet your little dog gets it
Yeah, I want you to get with it
Yeah, come on, and get with it
Whoo!"

-The White Stripes, from "Instinct Blues" (Sorry, couldn't resist!)



You know, I really didn't set out to turn my blog into a gay rights soapbox, it's just been an interesting arena to engage in, and every time I think I've said my piece and get ready to move on to an article about the evolution of video games, or my pet peeves with the structure and ideals of propriety in essay composition, or looking at narcissistic vs. topical blogging... something else comes to my attention and I'm back on the rainbow wagon.

So Waldo posted a link to this article and it pulled me back in for another go.

Homosexual behavior in the animal kingdom is not really a new thing; or rather, I should say the discovery of it. I remember several years ago coming across an article online about primate lesbianism. The problem has always been that this fact seems to almost hurt the cause of gay rights more than help it. Obviously, proving homosexuality is a natural part of societal evolution and behavior would be a tremendous victory for gay rights, but the problem lies in the opponent. The primary opposition to gay rights is religious fundamentalists. Homophobia can be sprinkled over a variety of different opposing forces, but the real big daddy in this country really is the church. The same people that push for intelligent design to be taught in schools, because they do not believe in evolution. People that take word for word verses 26-31 of Genesis Chapter 1, to heart and ego. If you try to justify homosexuality because da monkeys do it, then the opposition will just point out that we are above the animals and that this is proof that homosexuality is a savage thing of beasts and degenerates. Then you respond that we are animals too and it's like talking to a wall.

In many ways the evidence of animal behavior seems only to preach to the choir. Yet on the other hand it does reaffirm the choir, and I believe the choir is getting bigger.

More so, Roughgarden is not simply portraying the species, about actually challenging Darwinian sexual selection. (Gosh, Darwin's really having a tough year!) She's purposing a natural utility to sexual diversity both in animals and people. These kinds of scientific leaps, though radical, might make more ripples than the average kinky dolphin story.

I looked at the sample online at Amazon and was happy to see chapters in her content listing exploring homosexuality utilized in various past and present cultures. So I think I'm gonna give it a read. Anthropologically, this has been a subject of interest to me since I did a presentation on Two-Spirits back in high school.


On another note, when looking at the article this struck me more on a feminist level:
Furthermore, the mechanics of sex helped explain why the genders were so different. Because eggs are expensive and sperm are cheap, "Males of almost all animals have stronger passions than females," Darwin wrote. "The female...with the rarest of exceptions is less eager than the male...she is coy." Darwin is telling the familiar Mars and Venus story: Men want sex while women want to cuddle. Females, by choosing who to bed, impose sexual selection onto the species.
Biologically, this makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever. I know this level of sex education is pretty elementary, but I don't know how to respond to this but to state the obvious: Women do have a finite number of eggs, but they don't ejaculate them during sex! They are disposed naturally through the menstrual cycle. If an egg is not fertilized, it's pretty much lost anyway. Pregnancy puts this cycle on hold though. So the logic escapes me. It is true that women inevitably face menopause, an in this respect do not have their entire life time to find their ideal partner like men who constantly produce seamen on into their 70s. But with the individual act of sex, the argument does not hold up.

Of course I'm approaching this with humans, whose cycles are less seasonally dependent like that of a Lion's for example. And exception is acknowledged in the theory, but if we are to apply these theories to humans then we must address them under our own sexual conditions.

This idea that men are horny little sex machines and women prefer to "cuddle" is more of a cultural product. If you want to get down to the mechanics of it, because men have to produce sperm, we're typically less capable of repeated rounds of sex than women. There also seems to be considerable evidence that women are capable of substantially larger numbers of orgasms at a time than men. They also reach sexual prime at later and more mature stage of life then men. When you take it all in, is it any surprise that many cultures seem intimidated by women? That they emphasize virginity before marriage and in some cases force forms of FGC to try and keep the female sex drive under control?

There is one distinct biological difference though that does account for women being more couscous and selective then men. Regardless of childcare laws... women can get pregnant and men can't. If a guy hits the road, he can in many cases wash his hands of the matter and get away with it. The woman is still pregnant. Why this wasn't pointed out seems odd to me, because it's a much more obvious and a better biological argument when looking at humans. Perhaps I'm reaching too far out from the original intent. Either way the article does go on to challenge the theory pointing out that, "Nobody is hornier than a female macaque or bonobo (which mount the males because the males are too exhausted to continue the fornication)."

To me this whole thing seems kind of ironic. For centuries fundamentalists have been agitated by biology and similar fields of science because in addition to concepts like evolution, which seem to challenge Genesis (anyone else find it interesting that God made humans AFTER making all the other animals?), they have broken us down to our basic mechanics. They are slowly showing us that we are but soft machines, our emotions are chemical reactions and our minds little more than advanced computers. Naturally these conclusions aren't held by all scientists, but that's often the image given. On the other hand, it seems that in face of much more complex and provocative implications of sex and relationships, the religious right (who surely love that play on words) seems to be stressing that sex should be purely a function of procreation, reverting to a much more primal and mechanical way of life. Science, for a change, seems to be stressing that there is more to this than we'd think.

I've noticed in the message boards and entries of other bloggers a stressing that fundamentalists, in all this talk of separation are actually losing track of the concept of love in their pursuit to preserve the institution, concept and sanctity of marriage. They're all about the idea and not about what it really means to marry someone. Regardless of my somewhat conservative lifestyle, something about sex being meaningless beyond procreation, that procreation should be the primary focus of two people pledging themselves to one another... strikes me as rather soulless.

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