Non-Binary Animal Sexuality Explored in New Young Adult Book
Animal sexuality is not as binary as we once thought, according to a new book by Eliot Schrefer. Schrefer, the author of Queer Ducks (And Other Animals): The Natural World of Animal Sexuality is a young adult book that is designed to be teenager friendly. The book is meant to be accessible, humorous, and includes numerous studies on the surprising diversity of the animal kingdom.
Schrefer told NPR’s Sacha Pfeiffer that he structured the book as if “we’re kind of sitting in the science classroom, passing notes back and forth,” and that pages even have doodles on them. Artist Jules Zuckerberg did a one-page comic for each of the animal species that are discussed in the book. Schrefer says that the book is an easy-to-read sort of ‘gender sexuality alliance meeting.’
Each of the animals takes a turn introducing themselves. “And so the bonobo takes a turn introducing how her family works, and then the doodlebug and the dolphin and so on,” says Schrefer.
Schrefer says that the hardest part about writing the book was trying to figure out which animals he should focus on. “The bonobos are famously promiscuous, and the majority of their sexual activity is between females. So I knew they had to be in there, is an early chapter,” he continued.
The host points out how the animals are all very ‘promiscuous’, commenting that “there’s almost this orgy-like way about how they behave sometimes.”
Bonobos, until the 90s were considered just to be a close, smaller version of chimpanzees. However, studies have shown that these animals are quite different than the chimp, prompting their name change from pygmy chimpanzees to bonobos. Schrefer says that scientists began to study bonobos in zoos in the 90s and witnessed sexual activity in bonobos that were not known prior. The species seem to use sex, and same-sex activity, in particular, to avoid conflict and soothe feelings after a conflict.
Schrefer talks about a study where they gave honey to bonobos and chimpanzees, who are very close relatives. Researchers found that the two species reacted quite differently to the very “desirable food source”. In the chimpanzee group, the strongest males grabbed the food and handed it out to their allies. However, in the bonobos, the group circled the honey and not a single one of them touched it. The animals appeared to become anxious about how they would split up the food source amongst the group. Rather than starting to eat the food, the animals began to have an orgy and all started having sex with each other, no matter their gender. Once the animals were calm, they started to eat the food.
Source: National Geographic/Youtube
Pfeiffer brought up a chapter that she found interesting about bulls, which are often exploited for breeding and assaulted so that workers can inseminate females. What Schrefer points out in this chapter, is how the handlers get the bulls “in the mood.” The handlers will often bring in other males to achieve this. According to Schrefer, bovids are one of the most known for their same-sex behavior within their populations.
Schrefer says that in the 1960s a man named Valerius Geist studied bighorn sheep and found that the males lived nearly completely until the age of 6 or 7 having intercourse with other males. Geist said years later in a memoir that he couldn’t stand the idea that the “magnificent beasts were queers.” so he did not publish it.
This is exactly the reason that Schrefer is trying to make this topic as digestible and accessible as possible. These things are natural and common in the animal world and it’s nothing that there should be surrounded by shame when talked about. Schrefer knows that the book will be controversial but he wants young people to know that it’s not controversial at all.
“I’m not trying to argue for human behaviors from certain – the ways that animals can behave. Instead, I’m trying to say that we can no longer argue that humans are alone in their queerness or in their LGBTQ identities – that instead, we are part of millions of years of tradition within the animal world of a varieties of approaches to sex and a ton of advantages that come around from it,” he said.
Schrefer says that it’s something he wishes he would have known when he was younger.
“I think there’s a loneliness to human queerness, that there is this idea that it is something that happened recently to this species and that we are alone in it, and that queer people can find each other and find community with each other, and that that is the goal that they can – they should hope for when we are heavily integrated into the natural world. And that is the part of the message that I think is lost, and that LGBTQ behaviors and identities are absolutely natural.”
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