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  • Pauline Hoffmann

It's Pride Month. Let's Unpack the Truth.

It's June, which is National Pride Month. A month in which we celebrate our similarities rather than our differences and encourage unity with our LGBTQ+ community, recognizing their contributions, culture and achievements. This past Sunday was also the United Nations International Day for Countering Hate Speech. Coincidence?

One of the arguments I often hear about those who identify as LGBTQ+ is that this behavior is so unnatural and against what God has decreed (men and women should be together to procreate - it's God's will – never mind that we don’t all believe in ‘God’). Or, we need to procreate because it’s natural to continue the species.

I'm here to challenge those narratives.

Let's go back in time a bit. I was fortunate to attend the summer program at the Duke University Marine Laboratory in 1990 (egads, am I that old?!). I took two classes: marine ecology and physiology of marine invertebrates. I know what you're thinking, you sure know how to summer.

One of our field trips included an encounter with dolphins. One of the cetacean (fauna order that includes dolphins and whales) researchers took my class out on one of the boats to study a pod of dolphins (essentially a herd of dolphins). To say that this was amazing is an understatement but you're probably wondering what this has to do with Pride Month.

We saw two of the dolphins engaging in behavior that looked sexual and being college students we commented and giggled and maybe said something about animal porn. I believe a student even asked how to tell the sex of the dolphins apart and to help us to identify which was female and which was male.

The researcher’s response? They are both male. Then she went on to explain to us that many animals exhibit behavior that we would consider homosexual. It blew my 20-year-old mind. What? Homosexual behavior in the animal kingdom? That's fantastic! How are we not hearing about this?

I think we know why we are not hearing about this. I don't need to explain. But I will.

Bias. Negative attitudes. Politics. Religion. Ignorance.

Scientists have seen same sex behavior in a number of animals including invertebrates but I want to focus on mammals. Why? Because we are mammals. We are not so far removed from other mammals. It's nature.....and perfectly natural.

It does present as a Darwinian Paradox. Are you familiar with Charles Darwin (I own his book On the Origin of Species because, of course I do)? He proposed the Theory of Evolution based on the idea of natural selection. We are all descended from a common ancestor and we have all evolved through the process of natural selection. What does that mean?

Billions of years ago, life on Earth formed. Organisms that we know today evolved from a single-celled creature and formed life as we know it.....over years and years and years. Creatures evolved and adapted to their surroundings.

Darwin's Paradox describes behavior that seems to contradict natural selection - same sex behavior, for example. If we are here to procreate and carry on the species, same sex behavior seems counterintuitive (the paradox to natural selection). Same sex behavior does not seem to impart any obvious reproductive benefit. Same sex partners cannot reproduce by themselves.

Pause for a moment.

Are you thinking that I am proving the point of homophobes everywhere?

Ah…..but wait…..

A blog post on the National Wildlife Federation website explains very well that the Paradox may not be quite so paradoxical. Same sex behavior is incredibly common in the animal kingdom. Scientists have identified more than 1,500 animals that exhibit same sex behaviors. Why? Recent research suggests we should ask, “why not?” instead.

Scientists have posited that while evolution favors reproductive advantages it may also favor non-reproductive advantages. (As a women who is child-free by choice, this appeals to me and makes so much sense.) Research suggests that same sex relationships and behaviors do serve a purpose. Perhaps reproduction isn’t the only thing we should focus on. Same sex relationships provide a benefit that is different from, but just as important as, reproduction. Some of those benefits may include stress reduction and community building. It is also argued that heterosexual behavior evolved from homosexual behavior. What?

Think about it..... “In order for an animal to choose one sex over the other, they must first be able to determine the difference between a male or female of the same species. And in order for these sex-specific differences to evolve, sexual reproduction must evolve from asexual reproduction (cloning) first. Therefore, there must have been some time after sexual reproduction evolved and before sexual signaling evolved, where animals had no choice but to mate indiscriminately.” (NWF blog referenced above)

Sounds like a Saturday night in my 20s.

We approach survival based on costs and benefits. Very economical. Recent research also posits that we may be approaching this the wrong way. Scientific American addressed recent studies on the subject.

We assume that same sex relationships are costly in that they don’t produce offspring to carry on the species. How many heterosexual relationships don’t produce offspring? (Ahem.) How long does it take couples, sometimes, to produce offspring? Isn’t that costly?

Let’s also consider that nature is quite good at establishing its equilibrium. Every creature does not need to reproduce! Look at humans. Do we all need to be procreating? The world cannot sustain that (we humans don’t seem to have our own natural checks and balances).

Asking “why not,” instead of “why” is an interesting approach. The two blog posts I referenced are worth a read. They give much more detailed information about the recent research. Hyperlinks are provided.

And while we are at it, think about hate and hate speech. Why do we hate? Why not stop? Same sex behaviors are perfectly natural and we should be accepting of behaviors and attitudes that are different from our own without having to ridicule, accuse, point fingers or hate. Accepting that we all have a purpose and that those purposes aren’t necessarily at cross-purposes is key. (I need a thesaurus.)

Happy Pride! #NoToHate

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