One year on from GIST surgery: (2) Surgery

(Continuing from a previous post, here)

It came as a shock to me that the shrinkage had stopped. I am by nature an optimist, and after the early good response to medication, I rather assumed that this would continue indefinitely. It also didn’t help, the way the news was broken to me. Instead of being told so by a doctor in consultation, I had a phone call from the specialist nurse, who told me that the medication had “stopped working”, and that the surgeon had booked me in for a given date in September 2014. She said I should stop taking the medication In preparation for surgery, and she was booking appointments for some preparatory sessions.

I had several objections to this. The timing was awkward (I was due to be in Rome for a conference at the end of September), but more importantly, I objected strongly to such decisions being taken without any consultation. At this point for the first time, I thought seriously it might be wise finally to transfer to a specialist GIST centre. I’d been happy enough with RSCH as long as the treatment was fairly routine, and primarily about monitoring progress – but when it came to decisions about actual surgery, I wanted much more information. I wanted a second opinion. I told RSCH so, and prompted by a suggestion from Michael Sayers in our listserve group, arranged one with Dr Beatrice Seddon at University College Hospital, London.

When I met her, I was totally impressed at the thoroughness of her preparation for the meeting, how carefully she listened to my story and concerns, and the clarity and detail of her responses. I learned that it was not true that the medication had “stopped working”. It was no longer shrinking the tumour, but would still be effective in preventing regrowth. It was therefore a mistake to have stopped taking it, and I was told to resume. Based on the CT scans to date, she had called for a surgical opinion. This confirmed what I’d been told early on, that surgery would likely include removal of all or most of the stomach – and possibly also part of the pancreas and spleen.  The really difficult, delicate decision I was trying to resolve, was whether it would be wise to stay with RSCH for surgery – or should I transfer for ongoing treatment, and surgery, to a real specialist unit? My conclusion was that given the size of the tumour, at 15cm and therefore classified as still “large”, I wanted a specialist. Based on my very favourable experience of meeting her initially just for a second opinion, I then requested a formal transfer to her care. Ever since, I’ve been very pleased that I did.

One of the first things we did, was discuss a date for surgery. Unlike RSCH, she did not feel that this was urgent, provided we did not delay too long. Because it suited my schedule, we agreed on timing for some time around February. In the meantime, I would continue with 3-monthly consultations and scans. As the time approached, she called for a fuller surgical opinion, which again stated that I faced losing my stomach, pancreas and spleen – and also possibly part of the liver and diaphragm. Each surgical opinion seemed to be getting more dire!

By the time that the date came around, nearly eighteen months after I was first told that I would face such major surgery, I’d had ample time to get used to the idea. I was at least, resigned to the prospect. I checked into the Royal Free early on Tuesday 9th February. After some preliminary discussions with assorted staff, I was wheeled through for anaesthetic – and came to some hours later, thinking that if this was what it’s like without a stomach, it wasn’t any different to before. Apart from the discomfort of assorted tubes and cables hooked up to me, I was not in any particular pain – nor did I experience too much, throughout my stay in hospital.

I was in intensive care for short while. At some stage while there, I had a visit from one of my surgeons, who gave me the good news that they had taken out the stomach and spleen as expected – but nothing more. My memories of this time are blurred – one of the odder features of this recall, as that in my mind’s eye, during this discussion with the surgeon we were sitting in deck chairs on a bright green lawn: definitely not the case. After a short stay in IC, I was moved to a high – density ward instead. One of the first visits I had, was from a pain nurse, who told me not to hesitate to push the pain button whenever I wanted to, which would release pain medication from a store I was hooked up to. I’d also been advised on our listserve group, not to wait for pain to kick in before pressing the button, but to do so pre-emptively. There’s another reason this pain medication was useful. When I first used it, I experienced a strange, floating sensation. When I mentioned this to my surgeon on his second visit, he pointed out that as it is an opioid, its effects are hallucinogenic and soporific as well as just in pain relief. The “soporific” was what interested me. Apart from the discomfort of being stuck in bed with so many tubes and cables, my biggest problem was getting enough sleep at night, when we were constantly interrupted for blood pressure readings, medication and the like. I made a point, after nocturnal disturbance, to give myself a good dose of the pain medication – which quickly put me back to sleep. Just in case I was overdoing things, I checked with the pain nurse. He assured me that I was doing fine. It’s not possible to give oneself too much – the mechanism won’t allow it. He was also able to check a record of what I’d been dosing, and that turned out to be just about exactly what was recommended.

My only other continuing gripe was a permanent problem with dry mouth. I’d been expecting to have no solid food for a while after surgery, but what I was not expecting was that I’d also not be allowed anything to drink – nil by mouth. Initially, all I could get was a wet sponge to wet my lips. Later, I was allowed to take a sip of water, but had to spit it out without swallowing. I had to endure this nil by mouth routine for almost a week. When the day finally came that I was permitted something to drink, I was surprised to find that at the same time, I was allowed to eat “soft” food. Based on my reading and advice on our listserve group on life after gastrectomy, I’d expected to start out on a liquid diet, followed by smoothie type soft foods, semi-solids and then a very gradual return to proper solids. I was surprised to find on the lunch menu I was given, that the soft foods choices were far more solid than I’d expected – including a tuna/pasta bake, a bean casserole, and lasagne, which were three of my choices for two lunches and dinner.

For the first few days, I’d been confined entirely to bed, but soon enough physiotherapists began to call, helping to take short walks around the ward (with assorted tubes hooked up to a stand on wheels), and gave me a few exercises to do in bed. A week after admission, I finally had the tubes removed. Freed of all encumbrances, I found that I was able to walk easily enough around the ward, and more. The great joy at this point, was the ability to get to the toilet myself and take a proper shower.

Finally, late on Friday afternoon eight days after admission, I was discharged and was taken home, to a quiet bed without constant disturbance from nurses and other patients.

LGBT relationships are illegal in 74 countries, research finds

LGBT rights have come a long way in recent years. In 2015, the US Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional and the Republic of Ireland became the first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage by popular vote following a country-wide referendum.However, while stigma against LGBT communities is certainly lessening in some countries, many states continue to criminalise same-sex sexual contact under the threat of imprisonment or even death.

New research published by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) serves as a stark reminder of just how widespread such criminalisation can be. In a total of 74 countries, same-sex sexual contact is a criminal offence.

More: The Independent

Homosexuality ‘not un-African’: report undermines anti-gay laws

A step forward for equal LGBT rights in Africa. Last week, the influential Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) published a study on the science of human sexual diversity.

A comprehensive review of recent scientific papers on the subject, it concluded that sexual behaviour is naturally varied, and discrimination unjustified. It stated that there is no evidence that orientation can be altered by therapy or that being gay is contagious.

The report also sets straight the idea that homosexuality is a Western malaise: “There is no basis for the view that homosexuality is ‘un-African’ either in the sense of it being a ‘colonial import’, or on the basis that prevalence of people with same-sex or bisexual orientations is any different in African countries compared to countries on any other continent.”

Going further, the report asserted not only that tolerance of sexual diversity benefits communities but it positively affects public health, civil society and long-term economic growth.

 

More: New Scientist

Our Queer Primate Cousins

A favourite argument used by the religious right against homoerotic relationships, and by the Vatican theologians against any form of sexual expression outside of marriage and not open to making babies, is that such sexual activities are “against nature”, and that the “purpose” of sex is procreation.
Well, the people making these claims have never considered the actual evidence from , well, you know, – “Nature” itself, which shows the exact opposite. (But then, when did the Vatican, or the wingnuts, ever consider the trifling matter of evidence to interfere with their convictions?)

 

In the lively comments thread after an earlier post in this series, reader CS in AZ reminded me of a famous exchange with Anita Bryant:

This reminds me of Anita Bryant, back when she was on her anti-homosexul crusade … she said that homosexuality was unnatural and so repulsive that “even barn yard animals don’t do it” — then someone pointed out to her that barnyard animals in fact DO do that, with some frequency, as anyone who grew up around farm animals knows very well! LOL… well, she was only momentarily flustered, then she just pivoted 180 degrees and said, “well, that doesn’t make it right!”

Well no, but it sure as hell don’t make it wrong, either. On the subject of sexual ethics, “Nature” is entirely neutral. However, as so many self-righteous bigots attempt to introduce nature into ethical and political discussions, it is worth knowing just what “natural” sex really is (it’s also just fun to know.)

In all the animal kingdom, those closest to us humans are the primates, who are generally divided into three classes – apes, old world monkeys, and new world monkeys. In all three of these groups, and in other mammals, birds, reptiles, birds, fish and even insects, homosexual and non-reproductive sexual activities have been widely reported in formal scientific studies. It is striking though, as Joan Roughgarden notes in “Evolution’s Rainbow”, that these supposedly “unnatural” sexual activities have been most widely reported among the primates, and especially among the apes, who are closest to us on the evolutionary scale.
 
So, in today’s lesson from nature, I want to consider just these. What do they tell us about “natural” sexual behaviour? Do they in fact indulge in what the theologians call “sins against nature”? Do they have sex which cannot produce babies? You betcha!
In some species, same sex encounters are actually more common than heterosexual activity. Among Bonobo Chimps, the most common form of sexual activity is between females, in a unique form of genital rubbing. Some evolutionary biologists have even speculated that the particular shape of their genitals has evolved to facilitate this.(Male same sex activities are also commonplace, but not to the same extent as females).

 

For Orang-Utans, Bruce Bagemihl describes homosexual activity as “characteristic” of younger males, but less common as they age. Gorillas live in small groups, some of which are “cosexual”, with a dominant mature male, younger males, and females, and some of which are all-male. In the all-male groups, homosexual encounters occur daily, and may exceed the frequency of heterosexual encounters in the cosexual groups.

 

What about “orientation”? Can we learn anything that might contribute to the vexed essentialist / constructivist debate for human sexuality? Without getting into a formal analysis, I was interested in Bagemihl’s accounts by two features: that in many of the species he describes, most individual animals practice both same-sex and opposite-sex activities, resembling the human descriptor “bisexual” – but individuals vary in the balance between them. Some are more primarily hetero, some more homo, which reminded me inevitably of Kinsey’s well-known thesis that we all sit somewhere along a bisexual scale. The other striking feature is that in many species (found among other primates as well as the apes), there are substantial variations between specific local troops. In some species where overall, same sex activity is commonplace, there are specific troops where it is much less so – and others where it is almost mandatory, immediately prompting parallels in my mind with human ideas about the social construction of homosexuality.
What about the specific sexual activities? Are they (at least the heterosexual ones)”geared to procreation”? Hell, no. For both same-sex and between sex activities, there is an extraordinary range of activities that have been observed. For full details, read Bagemihl’s book, but in summary these include the obvious opposite-sex copulation supposedly demanded by the “plumbing”, but also a great deal more. These include fairly conventional-seeming mounting, but without penetration or ejaculation, fellatio and cunnilingus, solitary and mutual masturbation, stimulation by a finger inserted into an anus or vagina, and activities less familiar or impossible for humans: anus to anus rubbing, clitoral penetration by females, and “penile fencing” by male Bonobos – while suspended from tree branches. I also bet you can’t do this: one female was described as masturbating herself with a foot, while using her hands to do the same to her partner. Many animals also use, or even make their own, “sex toys” – dildos and other objects for insertion into available orifices, and masturbation aids from leaves and fruits.
In another notable departure from Vatican descriptions, I was also impressed by the number of species where researchers observed more displays of simple affection between same sex couples than for opposite sex couples, and more frequent incidents of violence used to force submission (i.e. “rape”) in opposite sex couples. So much for the Vatican’s dismissal of “homosexual acts” as mere gratuitous self-indulgence, to be contrasted with (heterosexual) “loving conjugal relationships”. Onlookers are also less likely to disrupt or attack homosexual interactions than heterosexual ones: “homophobic” violence is less of a problem than violence directed at opposite sex mating.
Even where sex is of the standard, male-female variety including penetration and ejaculation,it is emphatically not exclusively directed at procreation. Heterosexual intercourse often continues almost right through pregnancy, and resumes soon after birth. In some species, young females reach sexual maturity, and begin sexual intercourse, several years before reaching full maturity and fertility – a period (known as adolescent sterility)where their completely “conventional” sexual activity cannot possibly lead to pregnancy. What then, is the “purpose” of sex?
Joan Roughgarden puts it neatly, in describing “at least six” situations that lead to sex among bonobos:
  1. Sex facilitates sharing for example, reducing conflicts over food supplies)
  2. Sex is used for reconciliation after a dispute
  3. Sex helps to integrate new arrivals into a group
  4. Sex helps to form coalitions
  5. Sex is candy – females sometimes barter sexual favours to obtain gifts of food from males
  6.  “Oh, I almost forgot – sex is used for reproduction”
There’s something else she forgot – sex is fun.

 



Books:

Bagemihl, Bruce: Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity (Stonewall Inn Editions)
Roughgarden, Joan: Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People
Sommer, Volker and Vasey, Paul: Homosexual Behaviour in Animals: An Evolutionary Perspective

Our Queer Primate Cousins

A favourite argument used by the religious right against homoerotic relationships, and by the Vatican theologians against any form of sexual expression outside of marriage and not open to making babies, is that such sexual activities are “against nature”, and that the “purpose” of sex is procreation.
Well, the people making these claims have never considered the actual evidence from , well, you know, – “Nature” itself, which shows the exact opposite. (But then, when did the Vatican, or the wingnuts, ever consider the trifling matter of evidence to interfere with their convictions?)
In the lively comments thread after an earlier post in this series, reader CS in AZ reminded me of a famous exchange with Anita Bryant:
This reminds me of Anita Bryant, back when she was on her anti-homosexual crusade … she said that homosexuality was unnatural and so repulsive that “even barn yard animals don’t do it” — then someone pointed out to her that barnyard animals in fact DO do that, with some frequency, as anyone who grew up around farm animals knows very well! LOL… well, she was only momentarily flustered, then she just pivoted 180 degrees and said, “well, that doesn’t make it right!”
Well no, but it sure as hell don’t make it wrong, either. On the subject of sexual ethics, “Nature” is entirely neutral. However, as so many self-righteous bigots attempt to introduce nature into ethical and political discussions, it is worth knowing just what “natural” sex really is (it’s also just fun to know.)
In all the animal kingdom, those closest to us humans are the primates, who are generally divided into three classes – apes, old world monkeys, and new world monkeys. In all three of these groups, and in other mammals, birds, reptiles, birds, fish and even insects, homosexual and non-reproductive sexual activities have been widely reported in formal scientific studies. It is striking though, as Joan Roughgarden notes in “Evolution’s Rainbow”, that these supposedly “unnatural” sexual activities have been most widely reported among the primates, and especially among the apes, who are closest to us on the evolutionary scale.
So, in today’s lesson from nature, I want to consider just these. What do they tell us about “natural” sexual behaviour? Do they in fact indulge in what the theologians call “sins against nature”? Do they have sex which cannot produce babies? You betcha!
In some species, same sex encounters are actually more common than heterosexual activity. Among Bonobo Chimps, the most common form of sexual activity is between females, in a unique form of genital rubbing. Some evolutionary biologists have even speculated that the particular shape of their genitals has evolved to facilitate this.(Male same sex activities are also commonplace, but not to the same extent as females).
For Orang-Utans, Bruce Bagemihl describes homosexual activity as “characteristic” of younger males, but less common as they age. Gorillas live in small groups, some of which are “cosexual”, with a dominant mature male, younger males, and females, and some of which are all-male. In the all-male groups, homosexual encounters occur daily, and may exceed the frequency of heterosexual encounters in the cosexual groups.
What about “orientation”? Can we learn anything that might contribute to the vexed essentialist/constructivist debate for human sexuality? Without getting into a formal analysis, I was interested in Bagemihl’s accounts by two features: that in many of the species he describes, most individual animals practice both same-sex and opposite-sex activities, resembling the human descriptor “bisexual” – but individuals vary in the balance between them. Some are more primarily hetero, some more homo, which reminded me inevitably of Kinsey’s well-known thesis that we all sit somewhere along a bisexual scale. The other striking feature is that in many species (found among other primates as well as the apes), there are substantial variations between specific local troops. In some species where overall, same sex activity is commonplace, there are specific troops where it is much less so – and others where it is almost mandatory, immediately prompting parallels in my mind with human ideas about the social construction of homosexuality.
What about the specific sexual activities? Are they (at least the heterosexual
ones)”geared to procreation”? Hell, no. For both same-sex and between sex activities, there is an extraordinary range of activities that have been observed. For full details, read Bagemihl’s book, but in summary these include the obvious opposite-sex copulation supposedly demanded by the “plumbing”, but also a great deal more. These include fairly conventional-seeming mounting, but without penetration or ejaculation, fellatio and cunnilingus, solitary and mutual masturbation, stimulation by a finger inserted into an anus or vagina, and activities less familiar or impossible for humans: anus to anus rubbing, clitoral penetration by females, and “penile fencing” by male Bonobos – while suspended from tree branches. I also bet you can’t do this: one female was described as masturbating herself with a foot, while using her hands to do the same to her partner. Many animals also use, or even make their own, “sex toys” – dildos and other objects for insertion into available orifices, and masturbation aids from leaves and fruits.
In another notable departure from Vatican descriptions, I was also impressed by the number of species where researchers observed more displays of simple affection between same sex couples than for opposite sex couples, and more frequent incidents of violence used to force submission (i.e. “rape”) in opposite sex couples. So much for the Vatican’s dismissal of “homosexual acts” as mere gratuitous self-indulgence, to be contrasted with (heterosexual) “loving conjugal relationships”. Onlookers are also less likely to disrupt or attack homosexual interactions than heterosexual ones: “homophobic” violence is less of a problem than violence directed at opposite sex mating.
Even where sex is of the standard, male-female variety including penetration and ejaculation,it is emphatically not exclusively directed at procreation. Heterosexual intercourse often continues almost right through pregnancy, and resumes soon after birth. In some species, young females reach sexual maturity, and begin sexual intercourse, several years before reaching full maturity and fertility – a period (known as adolescent sterility)where their completely “conventional” sexual activity cannot possibly lead to pregnancy. What then, is the “purpose” of sex?
Joan Roughgarden puts it neatly, in describing “at least six” situations that lead to sex among bonobos:
1. Sex facilitates sharing (for example, reducing conflicts over food supplies) 2. Sex is used for reconciliation after a dispute 3. Sex helps to integrate new arrivals into a group 4. Sex helps to form coalitions 5. Sex is candy – females sometimes barter sexual favours to obtain gifts of food from males 6. “Oh, I almost forgot – sex is used for reproduction”

 

There’s something else she forgot – sex is fun.

See also:
Animals Use Sex Toys, Too
Same Sex Parents, Furred and Feathered
Natural Law, Laysan’s Albatross,  and the Question of Evidence
The Wildlife Rainbow
Queer Bonobos: Sex As Conflict Resolution
Exclusive Heterosexuality Unnatural?
Bighorn Rams: Macho Homos, Wimpish Heteros


Books:

Bagemihl, Bruce: Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity (Stonewall Inn Editions)
Roughgarden, Joan: Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People
Sommer, Volker and Vasey, Paul: Homosexual Behaviour in Animals: An Evolutionary Perspective

“Unnatural” Nature, Immoral Butterflies: The Great Cover-Up of Animal Homosexuality

Back in 2000, an eminent and otherwise respectable biologist declared that except for a few instances observed among primates, there was no evidence of homosexuality among animals:

This was breathtakingly inaccurate. Just the previous year another biologist, Bruce Bagemihl,had published a book summarizing previously published scientific papers which described homosexual behaviour in over 300 species of animals and birds (listing dozens of papers for each), and also listing additional species of reptiles, amphibians, fish and even insects – over a thousand species in all, and tens of thousands of peer-reviewed articles. The first recorded observations of animal homosexuality were two millenia ago, by the ancient Greeks. In modern times, the first formal publication of scientific observations go back over 150 years. Photographic evidence of male swan couples has existed since the mid-nineteenth century.

How could there be so much scientific ignorance- especially as same -sex mountings are so well known among domestic livestock, that serious research efforts have been underway for years to try to prevent activities which are so uneconomic (to the farmer)?

Such wilful blindness by a professional would be ludicrous, if it were not also a sign of the ignorance shared by many others, in the scientific community as well as the wider population. It typifies the widespread assumption that underlies the popular pseudo-religious belief that homosexual relationships are unnatural, that biological “plumbing” dictates only one form of legitimate sexual expression, and (for the Vatican) that the “purpose” of sex is procreation, and so sexual activity not geared to making babies must be rejected. How does this ignorance persevere? In addition to Bagemihl’s book, two more major works of the last decade (Roughgarden, Sommer and Vasey) have atempted to explain this widepread ignorance. All three reach similar conclusions.

First, please note that the number of species where such behaviour has been described is certainly an underestimate. Detailed, close-up observation of any animal sex is difficult and rare. Frequently, where sexual activity is observed, there has been a simple assumption that this is between two different sexes – unless there is specific evidence to the contrary. One scientist after observing whales had the grace to publish his mistaken assumptions:

…..after about twenty minutes I realized that what I was watching was three males involved in most erotic activities! Then one, two, and eventually three pene appeared as three males rolled at the same time. Obviously, all three were males! It was almost two hours after the first sighting …. and up to that point I was convinced I was watching mating behaviour.

In many other cases, observers mistakenly identify biological sex and gender behaviour. Where one animal is observed mounting another, it is simply assumed that the mounter is male, the one being mounted female – even in the complete absence of corroborating evidence. More detailed observations have recorded how frequently this assumption can be wrong: males also mount other males, females mount females.

Mistakes in observation are understandable, even if the observers should take more care assessing their assumptions. Other factors are less excusable. One of these is a deliberate avoidance by some researchers of any attempt to publish their observations, out of a fear that they will be assumed by colleagues to be gay themselves – a form of academic closet keeps their observation hidden. Even after publication, a form of closet keeps the facts hidden – the anthologies and text books that usually introduce specialist papers to a wider scientific audience routinely ignore references to homosexual behaviour.

Although the first reports of homosexual behaviour among primates were first published >75 years ago, virtually every major introductory text on primatology fails to even mention its existence.

(Vasey, 1995)

More serious than mere burying of the evidence, is the attempt to deny its nature, in contorted attempts to explain it away as something other than it plainly is. Some researchers for example, attempt to explain their observations of two male birds involved in intercourse as “mistaken identity”. Do they really suppose that although they as human observers are able to correctly identify the sex of the chosen partner, the poor ignorant bird can not, and has chosen an “inappropriate” partner by mistake?

They also attempt to explain it away as a result of numerical imbalance, suggesting that males do it themselves when there are not enough females to go around – quite ignoring the observations that show the same phenomenon where females are abundant.

Others recognize what they are seeing, but simply deny that the bahaviour is sexual. Perhaps the most risible is this explanation of Orang-utan oral sex:

Two males regularly mouthed the penis of the other on a reciprocal basis. This behaviour, however, may be nutrively rather sexually motivated.

Got that? An Orang-utan blow-job is for – nutrition?

Other explanations attempted to explain sexual behaviour as aggression or dominance displays, rather than what it plainly was – pleasurable sex. Here’s another researcher, writing about bighorn rams, who eventually had to face the facts with honesty:

I still cringe at the memory of seeing old D-ram mount S- ram repeatedly. ..True to form, and incapable of absorbing this realization at once, I called these actions of the rams aggrosexual behaviour, for to state the males had evolved a homosexual society was beyond me To conceive of these magnificent beasts as “queers” – Oh God! I argued for two years that, in wild mountain sheep, aggressive and sexual behaviour could not be separated. I never published that drivel and am glad of it. Eventually I called a spade a spade and admitted that rams lived in an essentially homosexual society.

Here is the key point – heterosexual assumptions are so deeply embedded in some people that they cannot believe the evidence of their own eyes that homosexuality is entirely natural, and must instead explain it away. There is extraordinary circular reasoning here: the starting point is an assumption that only heterosexual behaviour is natural, and that becomes drummed into us as a moral imperative. That assumption then colours our perspective, so that what we see is assumed to be heterosexual – unless there is clear evidence to the contrary. When it is acknowledged to be not heterosexual, it is explained away as not actually sexual, but something else – aggression, or pseudo-sexual, or mistaken identity, or some such. Anything, in fact, that allows to continue with our insistence that only heterosexual, procreative intercourse is natural. And so the conventional widom continues to tell us, in the face of all evidence, that only opposite sex interaction in the animal world is natural … and that humans homosexuality is “contrary to nature”.

But the most ludicrous of all comes from those observers who cannot avoid acknowledging that what they are seeing is clearly sexual behaviour, and clearly between individuals of the same sex – and then describe it, in anthropomorphic terms, as “immoral”, degenerate, or – “unnatural”!

In these snippets, note the adjectives – “perverted”, “unnatural”, “aberrant” – my italics.

This might be mistaken for fighting, but perverted sexuality is he real keynote.

Three unnatural tending bonds were observed a two-year old bull closely tended a yearling bull .. with penis unsheathed.

Among aberrant sexual behaviours, anoestrous does were very occasionally seen to mount each other.

That’s right, folks. If we accept the assumption that homosexuality is unnatural, then any evidence to the contrary must be – unnatural, or immoral.

I close with the priceless words of W J Tennant, who as late as 1987 published the classic paper

A Note on the Apparent Lowering of Moral Standards in the Lepidoptera.”

It is a sad sign of our times that the National newspapers are all too often packed with the lurid details of declining moral standards and of horrific sexual offences committed by our fellow Homo sapiens; perhaps it is a sign of the times that the entomological literature appears to be heading in the same direction.

So: we dare not publish reports of animal homosexuality – because we should not draw attention to the poor moral standards of butterfles?

See also:

Our Queer Primate Cousins

Animals Use Sex Toys, Too

Same Sex Parents, Furred and Feathered

Natural Law, Laysan’s Albatross, and the Question of Evidence

Queer Bonobos: Sex As Conflict Resolution

Is Exclusive Heterosexuality Unnatural?

Bighorn Rams: Macho Homos, Wimpish Heteros

Books:

Bagemihl, BruceBiological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity (Stonewall Inn Editions)

Roughgarden, JoanEvolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People

Sommer, Volker and Vasey, Paul: Homosexual Behaviour in Animals: An Evolutionary Perspective

PoaniAldo:Animal Homosexuality: A Biosocial Perspective

Some Albatross Same-sex Parents

A key part of the argument against homoerotic relationships, fundamental to the Catholic Magisterium, to the religious opposition more generally, and to the supporters of so-called “traditional” marriage, is that same sex relationships are somehow “unnatural”, “against natural law”. This claim is entirely without foundation. What these groups have in common, apart from their conclusion, is a total disregard for the evidence.  Some research into the Laysan albatross neatly illustrates this.  The disregard of the need for evidence does not only apply to claims for natural law: exactly the same charge can be made against Vatican claims that “homosexuals” are motivated solely by  -indulgence, and that homosexual “acts” lead one away from God – claims that likewise do not stand up to scrutiny. For now, though, I am concerned only about the problem as it applies to the argument from natural law
All albatrosses are large birds nesting in isolated colonies free from natural predators, which makes them easy to study (the birds are trusting and allow researchers to get up real close and personal). Much of their behaviour is well-known. For instance, in one colony at Kaena Point, Hawaii, there are about 120 breeding pairs, who gather for mating every November. They form long-term partnerships, and after copulation, lay a single egg, which they incubate in shifts, taking turns to leave the nests for weeks at a time to feed at sea. They form long-lasting, often life- long pairs, and were praised by former US first lady Laura Bush for their commitment to each other, and the example they offered as icons of monogamy. The obvious assumption that these monogamous pairs represent one male and one female in a neat nuclear family, though, turns out to be false. One third of the pairs are female couples, some of whom had nested together every year since right back to the start of data collection – 19 years.
Ornithologist Lindsay C Young  has been studying this albatross colony since 2003, as part of her doctoral dissertation.  She says that the discovery of so many female pairs forced her to question assumptions she didn’t even know she was making.  This in itself was something of a breakthrough: observations of same sex behaviour or relationships in the animal world are not new, but too often in the past, biologists have simply ignored them, or attempted to explain these observations as aberrations.
Joan Roughgarden quotes one notable scholar who claimed in 2000, at the end of a long and distinguished career,  that  “When animals have access to members of the the opposite sex, homosexuality is virtually unknown in nature, with some rare exceptions in primates”.
But just the previous year, Bruce Bagemihl had published a book reviewing published academic research into over three hundred vertebrate species which engage in same-sex courtship and genital contact. In some of these, homosexual activity is even more frequent than heterosexual intercourse.
In the case of the albatrosses though, the female pairs Young studied displayed same-sex relationships – not same-sex activity. They were female couples, conscientious parents, and engaged in just about all the activities together that other couples do – except for physical sexual intercourse. Instead, they would find a male albatross purely for copulation so that they could produce a fertilized egg.
As female pairs, these couples were physically capable of producing twice the number of eggs that other pairs could. Each bird is capable of producing only one egg each year, and so most nests hold only one egg. Yet obrsevers have frequently noted  that some nests contain two eggs, in what the biologists call a “supernormal clutch”. Early attempts at explanations speculated that perhaps some individual brds were after all capable of laying two eggs, or that some inexperienced younger females were inadvertently “dumping” their eggs in the wrong nests.. Harvey Fisher, he researcher who proposed this dumping hypothesis in 1968, after seven years of daily observations, justified his conclusion in part with the observation that “after all, promiscuity, polygamy and polyandry are unknown in this species”
It simply had not occurred to anyone to consider that the nest might hold two females.
That was until Brenda Zaun, a biologist studying Laysan albatrosses forty years later, observed that year after year, it was the same nests which yielded double eggs. When she sent feathers from a sample of the two-egg breeding pairs and sent them to Lindsay Young  for laboratory DNA sex testing, Young simply disbelieved the finding that every brd was female, and assumed she had erred in the testing procedure.
She repeated the tests, and got the same result.. To be sure, she then went back to the field and sexed every bird in the colony, and found that 39 of 125 nests were of female – female couples: 19 where double eggs ahd been seen, and an additional 20 with single eggs.
This example is not about “lesbian” birds, or about avian “homosexual” intercourse. However, it does illustrate how easily even professional observers have in the past mistakenly applied heterosexist assumptions to their observations, which have led to completely false assumptions. Testing these assumptions against evidence leads to  very different conclusions.
The albatross female couples also illustrate how in the natural world, procreation and pair–bonding can be quite distinct. Albatross pairs, including female couples are monogamous, mutually devoted couples and careful parents: but in some cases, the physical act of copulation is only about fertilizing an egg and nothing more.
Although these albatrosses do not show signs of sexual activity by the female couples, many other species do. Bagemihl listed over three hundred such species in 1999, Joan Roughgarden and, Vasey and Sommer, have since listed many more, across all branches of the animal kingdom.  The evidence is clear: in the animal kingdom, same sex relationships and homoerotic sexual activity are no less “natural” than left-handedness.
This does not in itself make homosexuality morally “right”, but it does show that “natural law” cannot be used to argue that they are wrong. On sexual ethics, the “law of nature” is simply neutral.
Sources:
Can Animals be Gay?” (New York Times)
Books:

Bagemihl, Bruce: Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity (Stonewall Inn Editions) Roughgarden, Joan: Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People Sommer, Volker and Vasey, Paul: Homosexual Behaviour in Animals: An Evolutionary Perspective  Also See Additional QTC PostsThe Wildlife Rainbow Queer Bonobos: Sex As Conflict Resolution Lesbian Lizards Bisexual Snails Exclusive Heterosexuality Unnatural?

Animals Use Sex Toys, Too

The more I explore the nature of sexuality in the animal world, the more amazed I am at the extraordinary number of ways in which animals show all the diversity of human sexuality, and more. Male dolphins and whales have an extra orifice to penetrate (their partners’ blowholes); some primate male couples can indulge in “penis fencing” while hanging from a tree branch (I bet you’ve never tried that); and female spotted hyenas have a pseudo- phallus that they can (and do) use for penetration. More familiar activities are the usual mounting and penetration, either vaginal or anal, usually from the rear but sometimes from the front, or even the side; masturbation, using hands if they have them, but also flippers or just the ground; oral sex – forms of both fellatio and cunnilingus are known; and just plain cuddling and caressing.

Relationships are equally diverse, including long term pair bonds, in both between-sex and same-sex couples, one-off copulation, strictly monogamous and non-monogamous relationships, polygamy, polyandry and group orgies.

Families and child rearing are diverse. There’s male and female pederasty, incest, and likewise butch/femme female relationships. There are single parents, between- sex parent couples, and same-sex parent couples, who may acquire kids by finding sperm donors (if female), surrogate mothers (if male), or by adoption. (In some species, male couples turn out to be more successful parents than between-sex parents, just like research suggests for humans).

As in humans, there are a range of “purposes” of sex, from the obvious one of simple pleasure, to asserting domination and status, to procreation. Bonobos even use it as a form of social peacekeeping.

There’s also a negative side: rape and sexual violence also occur.

I confess I’ve not yet come across the wildlife equivalent of consensual S/M, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I did. Just about everything else is there, including transgender (routine in some species), transvestism, and the use of sex toys.

Yes, sex toys, as in dildos and masturbation aids, but instead of visiting a sex store or going on-line, they just make their requirements themselves.

Bruce Bagemihl, in “Biological Exuberance” describes numerous examples among the primates, including female Orang Utans and Bonnet Macaques who manufacture their own dildos from plant materials, males who make masturbation aids by forcing a hole in a leaf, and others who simply use natural materials as they find them, twigs, stones, or fruit, for rubbing against their genitals or for inserting into a vagina. (There are not yet reports of male use of dildos, but no doubt that too will be observed some day.)

The use and manufacture of tools by primates is considered an important example of cultural behaviour in animals, and a forerunner of the activities that are so widespread among human beings.although many different forms and functions are evident in animal tool use, these examples show that nonreproductive sexual activities are part of the overall behavioral pattern: the primate capacity for object manipulation extends seamlessly into the sexual sphere.

Similar types of activities occur among people too, of course, and sexual implements of various sorts have a long and distinguished history in human culture. …Examples have been found from as far back as the Palaeolithic through to medieval times – including some Biblical references – as well as in the ongoing traditions of many indigenous peoples throughout the world.

Bagemihl, Bruce, Biological Exuberance.

Related articles

 

Books:

Bagemihl, Bruce: Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity (Stonewall Inn Editions)

Roughgarden, Joan: Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People

Sommer, Volker and Vasey, Paul: Homosexual Behaviour in Animals: An Evolutionary Perspective

Homosexuality in the animal Kingdom

Well, OK – not so much GOD, as Her/His creation:

“Just ask the animals. As soon as they stop having all that homosexual sex”

but for what that says about the Divinity, there may not be too much of a distinction.

Mark Morton writes in his column on SFGate about new research in the animal kingdom which shows that some homosexuality occurs in virtually every animal species.  It has long been known  that some animals engage in homosex, but the new research shows that this is in fact far more widespread than previously recognised.  I saw the news reports that Morford refers to when they first appeared, but he writes about them with humour, style and verve, producing a piece which is irreverent but fun, as well as important.

“I am sitting here right now smiling just a little, fondly recalling that famously controversial children’s book, the one about the gay penguins.

Remember? That positively adorable pair of them, at the Central Park Zoo, who had adopted an abandoned egg and then hatched it themselves and were raising the chick together as a couple, even though the chick was clearly not theirs — though of course how penguins can actually tell whose kid is whose is still a question. Never mind that now.

The best part: the story was absolutely true. The book, “And Tango Makes Three,” was beautiful and sweet and touching in all the right ways — except, of course, for the fact that it was also totally evil.

For indeed, the penguins in question, named Roy and Silo, were both males. This meant they were clearly in some sort of ungodly, aberrant homosexual relationship, mocking natural laws and defying God’s will that all creatures only cohabitate with the opposite sex and buy microfiber sofas from Pottery Barn and eat their meals in silent resentment and never have sex.

Worst of all, the book depicted this relationship, this “family,” as perfectly OK, as no big deal, as even (shudder) normal. After all, Roy and Silo didn’t seem to give much of a damn. Tango sure seemed happy, what with not being left for dead and all. As of this writing, the Central Park Zoo has yet to be swallowed into a gaping maw of sinful doom. Unless you count those parents.

I am right now amused at this because it turns out Roy and Silo were not really so much of an anomaly at all. Nor were they some sort of unholy freakshow, an immoral mistake in the eyes of a wrathful hetero God. Far from it. Turns out they were, in fact, far more the norm than many humans, even to this day, want to let on.

Behold, the ongoing, increasingly startling research: homosexual and bisexual behavior, it turns out, is rampant in the animal kingdom. And by rampant, I mean proving to be damn near universal, commonplace across all species everywhere, existing for myriad reasons ranging from pure survival and procreative influence, right on over to pure pleasure, co-parenting, giddy screeching multiple monkey orgasm, even love, and a few dozen other potential explanations science hasn’t quite figured out yet. Imagine.

Are you thinking, why sure, everyone knows about those sex-crazed dolphins and those superslut bonobo monkeys and the few other godless creatures like them, the sea turtles and the weird sheep and such, creatures who obviously haven’t read Leviticus. But that’s about it, right? Most animals are devoutly hetero and straight and damn happy about it, right?

Wrong.

New research is revealing so many creatures and species that exhibit homosexual/bisexual behavior of some kind, scientists are now saying there are actually very few, if any, species in existence thatdon’t exhibit it in some way. It’s everywhere: Bison. Giraffes. Ducks. Hyenas. Lions and lambs, lizards and dragonflies, polecats and elephants. Hetero sex. Anal sex. Partner swapping. The works.

Let’s flip that around. Here’s the shocking new truism: In the wilds of nature, to not have some level of homosexual/bisexual behavior in a given species is turning out to be the exception, not the rule. Would you like to read that statement again? Aloud? Through a megaphone? To the Mormon and Catholic churches? And the rest of them, as well? Repeatedly?

Would you like to inform them that such behavior is definitely not, as so many hard-line Christian literalists want to believe, some sort of poison that snuck into God’s perfect cake mix, nor is it all due to some sort of toxic chemical that leeched into the animal’s water supply, suddenly causing all creature to occasionally feel the urge wear glitter and listen to techno and work on their abs?

And so we extend the idea just a little bit. Because if homosexual/bisexual behavior is universal and by design, if gender mutability is actually deeply woven into the very fabric of nature itself, and if you understand that nature is merely another word for God, well, you can only surmise that God is, to put it mildly, much more than just a little bit gay. I mean, obviously.

But let’s be fair. That’s not exactly true. God is not really gay, per se. God is more… pansexual. Omnisexual. Gender neutral. Gender indeterminate. It would appear that God, this all-knowing and all-creating and all-seeing divine energy that infuses and empowers all things at all times everywhere, does not give a flying leather whip about gender.

Or rather, She very much does, but not in the simpleminded, hetero-only way 2,000 years of confused religious dogma would have us all believe.

God’s motto: Look, life is a wicked inscrutable orgy of love and compassion and survival instinct, shot through with pain and longing and death and suffering and far, far too many arguments about who did or did not pay the goddamn mortgage.Life on Earth is messy and bloody and constantly evolving and transmuting and guess what? So is sexuality, and love, and connection, and what it means to exist. And if you uptight, hairless bipeds don’t soon acknowledge this in a very profound way, well, it ain’t the damn penguins who will suffer for it. You feel me?

This, then, is what science appears to be trying to tell us, has been telling us, over and over again: Nature abides no narrow, simplistic interpretation of its ways. Nature will defy your childish fears and laughable behavioral laws at nearly every turn. God does not do shrill homophobia

Of course, until very recently, science was also beaten with the stick of right-wing fear for many, many years, told to keep quiet about those damnable facts, or else. Homosexuality is a lifestyle! A choice! And you can be lured into it! Seduced by the evil rainbow! Just like those poor penguins! Right.

Let us be perfectly clear. Not every individual animal necessarily displays homosexual traits. But in every sexually active species on the planet, at least some of them do, for all sorts of reasons, and it’s common and obvious and as normal as a warm spring rain falling on a pod of giddy bottlenose dolphins having group sex off the coast of Fiji.

And either humankind is part of nature and the wanton animal kingdom, a full participant in the messy inexplicable glories of the flesh and spirit and gender play, or we are the aberrant mistake, the ones who are lagging far behind the rest of the kingdom, sad and lost in the eyes of a very, very fluid and increasingly disappointed God.”

This discovery in the animal kingdom ties in well with the simple fact, wilfully ignored by so many, that in human societies too, some degree of homosexuality is commonplace.  It is not homosexuality that is perverse and “against nature”, but exclusive heterosexuality.

Read the full article here.