of related species are capitalized to indicate their inclusion in part 2 and the appendix). Alternatively, those readers more interested in a general cross-species survey or the interpretive/historical aspect can focus almost exclusively on part 1, while those who wish to gain a more in-depth understanding of particular animals can focus primarily on part 2. This dual structure allows the reader to access information on animal homosexuality/transgender in a variety of ways, suited to his or her own reading style.

Chapter 1, “The Birds and the Bees,” presents a broad overview of animal homosexuality and transgender, exploring the full range of behaviors and phenomena covered by these terms. Comparisons between animal and human homosexuality are the focus of chapter 2, “Humanistic Animals, Animalistic Humans,” including a discussion of the advisability and implications of making such comparisons in the first place. This chapter also exposes the false dichotomy of the “nature versus nurture” debate, by examining the sociocultural dimensions of homosexuality within animal communities. Next, the history of the scientific study of animal homosexuality is chronicled in chapter 3, “Two Hundred Years of Looking at Homosexual Wildlife.” This includes documentation of systematic prejudices within the field of zoology in dealing with this subject, which have often hampered our understanding of the phenomenon. Chapter 4, “Explaining (Away) Animal Homosexuality,” continues the historical perspective by examining the many attempts to interpret and determine the “function” or “cause” of animal homosexuality and transgender. Most such efforts to find an “explanation” have failed outright or are fundamentally misguided— particularly when they try to show how homosexuality might contribute to heterosexual reproduction. In the next chapter, “Not for Breeding Only,” animal life and sexuality are shown not to be organized exclusively around reproduction. A wide range of nonprocreative heterosexual activities are described and exemplified, as are the diverse ways that homosexual, bisexual, heterosexual, and transgendered animals structure their relationship to breeding.

The final chapter of part 1, “A New Paradigm: Biological Exuberance,” calls for a radical rethinking of the way we view the natural world. This revisioning begins with an exploration of another, alternative set of human interpretations: traditional beliefs about animal homosexuality/transgender in indigenous cultures. Particular attention is paid to the ways in which these ideas are relevant to contemporary scientific inquiry. As it turns out, Western science has a lot to learn from aboriginal cultures about systems of gender and sexuality. In the remainder of the chapter, a synthesis of a number of “new” sciences is suggested, including chaos theory, post-Darwinian evolutionary theorizing, biodiversity studies, and the theory of General Economy. The approach taken throughout this chapter is exploratory rather than explanatory. Ultimately, this synthesis leads to a worldview in which animal homosexuality and other nonreproductive behaviors suddenly “make sense,” while still remaining, paradoxically, “inexplicable”—a worldview that is also remarkably consistent with indigenous perspectives on gender and sexuality.

In the second half of the book, A Wondrous Bestiary, the reader is treated to a series of individual profiles of homosexual, bisexual, and transgendered animals, from Antbirds to Zebras. Each profile is a verbal and visual “snapshot” of one (or several closely related) species, allowing the reader to “meet” the animal and “get to know” it in detail. Part 2 is divided into two major sections, one for mammals and one for birds, each of which in turn is organized around the formal subgroupings of animals in that category. The section on mammals, for example, includes separate groupings for primates, marine mammals, hoofed mammals, and so on. Each profile within these groupings contains a wealth of information—everything from detailed descriptions of courtship displays to statistics on frequency of homosexual behaviors, to background information on the animal’s social organization.

Although its focus is primarily on animal homosexuality and transgender, the book actually moves far beyond these subjects to consider much broader patterns in nature and human society. Sexual and gender variance in animals offer a key to a new way of looking at the world, symbolic of the larger paradigm shifts currently underway in a number of natural and social sciences. The discussion is rooted in the basic facts about animal homosexuality and nonreproductive heterosexuality, information that is presented most fully in the individual animal profiles. Using these to expose the hidden assumptions behind the way biology looks at natural systems, a fresh perspective is developed, based on the melding of contemporary scientific insights with traditional knowledge from indigenous cultures. Taking a broad interdisciplinary perspective, the narrative builds upon a solid foundation of scientific and cultural research to arrive at some conclusions that have the potential to fundamentally alter the way we think about the world and our position in it. Biological Exuberance is, ultimately, a meditation on the nature of life itself, and a celebration of its paradoxes and pluralities.

As such, the book seeks not only to convey “the facts” about animal behavior but, perhaps as importantly, to capture something of their “poetry” as well. The beauty and mystery of nature can be found in many forms. And one particular form of natural beauty is the diversity of sexuality and gender expression throughout the animal world. In addition to being interesting from a purely scientific standpoint, these phenomena are also capable of inspiring our deepest feelings of wonder, and our most profound sense of awe.

Part 1

A Polysexual, Polygendered World

Chapter 1

The Birds and the Bees

The universe is not only queerer than we suppose, it is queerer than we can suppose.

—evolutionary biologist J. B. S. HALDANE1

In the dimly lit undergrowth of a Central American rain forest, jewel-like male hummingbirds flit through the vegetation, pausing briefly to mate now with a male, now with a female. A whale glides through the dark and icy waters of the Arctic, then surges toward the surface in a playful frenzy of churning water and splashing, her fins and tail caressing another female. Drifting off to sleep, two male monkeys lie gently in each other’s arms, cradled by one of the ancient jungles of Asia. A herd of deer picks its way cautiously through a semidesert scrub of Texas, each animal simultaneously male but not-quite-male, with half-developed, velvety antlers and diminutive, fine-boned proportions. In a protected New Zealand inlet, a pair of female gulls—mated for life—tend their chicks together. Tiny midges swarm above a bleak tundra of northern Europe, a whirlwind of mating activity as males couple with each other in midair. Circling and prancing around her partner, a female antelope courts another female in an ageless, elegant ritual staged on the African savanna.

Although biologist J. B. S. Haldane was not (necessarily) referring to homosexuality when he spoke of the “queerness” of the natural world, little did he know how accurate his statement would turn out to be. The world is, indeed, teeming with homosexual, bisexual, and transgendered creatures of every stripe and feather. From the Southeastern Blueberry Bee of the United States to more than 130 different bird species worldwide, the “birds and the bees,” literally, are queer.2

On every continent, animals of the same sex seek each other out and have probably been doing so for millions of years.3 They court each other, using intricate and beautiful mating dances that are the result of eons of evolution. Males caress and kiss each other, showing tenderness and affection toward one another rather than just hostility and aggression. Females form long-lasting pair-bonds—or maybe just meet briefly for sex, rolling in passionate embraces or mounting one another. Animals of the same sex build nests and homes together, and many homosexual pairs raise young without members of the opposite sex. Other animals regularly have partners of both sexes, and some even live in communal groups where sexual activity is common among all members, male and female. Many creatures are “transgendered,” crossing or combining characteristics of both males and females in their appearance or behavior. Amid this incredible variety of different patterns, one thing is certain: the animal kingdom is most definitely not just heterosexual.

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