Nature is Queer!
So I have recently finished a book that I am obsessed about, obsessed with, and super excited about. It has totally affirmed all of my queerness in general, but sometimes, I somehow still feel like I need to be affirmed in my queerness even though I’m super queer and like, that’s awesome but we all need some affirmation sometimes, right?
So I would love to share with you this book Evolution’s Rainbow from Joan Roughgarden who is a trans woman biologist. An amazing person who wrote this amazing book. So, it’s Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People.
I love everything that I read in this book, I do feel like there were some kind of outdated terms in this book which kind of makes sense because it’s from 10 years ago. It’s been out for over 10 years. So, whatever potentially incorrect language is used in the book, I highly doubt like there was any kind of malice in using those terms. I would like to give Joan and the amount of time it’s been since Joan wrote his book, the benefit of the doubt that some of the like outdated language that was used wasn’t really on purpose. Language from 10 years ago, even if it’s not totally the way things would go today, but it’s nothing like super… what’s the word I’m looking for? Negative, I guess?
Distracted me! Yay. But anyway, this book is amazing. I wanted to go over this little section called Gender Defined, because it’s real great and it’s probably one of my favorite parts of the book and it’s pretty close to the beginning.
If you’re curious about like gender or, not gender, about nature being super fucking queer this is your book. This is all the science behind how queer nature is, nature is super fucking queer. So queer! Like, of course, humans are queer, because queerness is all throughout the animal kingdom! I don’t even like that term, okay, let’s find another term… all throughout life on this planet!
So I’m gonna read a little bit from this and let’s affirm your queerness too.
All right, Gender Defined.
“Up to now, we’ve come up with two generalizations. One: most species reproduce sexually, and two: among the species that do reproduce sexually, gamete size obeys a near universal binary between very small: sperm, and large: egg. So that male and female can be defined biologically as the production of small and large gametes, respectively. Beyond these two generalizations, the generalizing stops and diversity begins!
The binary in gamete size doesn’t extend outward. The biggest error of biology today is uncritically assuming that gamete size binary implies a corresponding binary in body type, behavior, and life history.”
(I’m going to read that sentence again because I think it is so important to really get in our brain. Here we go, reading a second time.)
“The biggest error of biology today is uncritically assuming that gamete size binary implies a corresponding binary in body type, behavior, and life history.
No binary governs the whole individuals who make gametes, who bring them to one another for fertilization and who interact with one another to survive in a native social context. In fact, the very sexual process that maintains the rainbow of a species and facilitates long-term survival automatically brings a cornucopia of colorful, sexual behaviors.
Gender, unlike gamete size, is not limited to two. Gender usually refers to the way a person expresses sexual identity in a cultural context. Gender reflects both the individual reaching out to cultural norms and society imposing expectations on the individual. Gender is usually thought to be uniquely human. Any species has sexes, but only people have genders.
With your permission though, I’d like to widen the meaning of gender to refer to non-human species as well. As a definition, I suggest gender is the appearance, behavior, and life history of a sexed body. A body becomes sexed when classified with respect to the size of the gametes produced. Thus gender is appearance plus action, how an organism uses morphology, including color and shape, plus behavior to carry out a sexual role. Now we’re free to explore the zoological and botanical counterpart of human gender studies.
So, we may ask how much variety occurs in gender expression among other species? Let’s take some favorite stereotypes and see. We will look mostly at vertebrae, but even more variety occurs with invertebrates and plants.”
(All right, this is going to be a list and it’s really great. I want to make this into a like, infographic post because it’s so good.)
“An organism is solely male or female for life.
No. The most common body form among plants and in perhaps half of the animal kingdom is for an individual to be both and female at the same time or at different times during its life. These individuals make both small and large gametes during their lives.
Males are bigger than females, on the average.
No, in lots of species, especially fish, the female is bigger than the male.
Females, not males, give birth.
No, in many species the female deposits the eggs in the pouch of the male, who incubates them until birth. In many species males, not females, tend the nest.
Males have XY chromosomes and females, XX chromosomes.
No, in birds including domesticated poultry like chickens the reverse is true. In many other species, males and females showed no difference in chromosomes. In all alligators and crocodiles, some turtles and lizards, and the occasional fish, sex is determined by the temperature at which the eggs are raised. A female can control the sex ratio among her offspring by laying eggs in a shady or sunny spot.
Only two genders occur, corresponding to the two sexes.
No, many species have three or more genders with individuals of each sex occurring in two or more forms.
Males and females look different from one another.
No, in some species males and females are almost indistinguishable. In other species males occur in two or more forms, one of which resembles a female while the others are different from the female.
The male has a penis and the female lactates. (This is probably my favorite one!)
No, in the spotted hyena, females have a penis-like structure externally identical to that of males, and in the fruit bat of Malaysia and Borneo, the males have milk producing mammary glands.
Males control females.
(Obviously hell no.) In some species, females control males, and in many, mating is a dynamic interaction between female and male choice. Females may or may not prefer a dominant male. Period. (I added the period.)
Females prefer monogamy and males want to play around.
No, depending on the species, either or both sexes may play around. Lifelong monogamy is rare, and even within monogamous species, females may initiate divorce to acquire a higher ranking male.”
Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People by Joan Roughgarden
11 Animals That Can Change Their Sex by Sidney Stevens
These are the only 3 animals on Earth who produce offspring this way by Molly Sequin
Sex Redefined: The Idea of 2 Sexes is Overly Simplistic by Claire Ainsworth
How Birds Become Male or Female, and Occasionally Both by Jenny Graves
We Have the Wrong Idea About Males, Females, and Sex by David Robson
Female Animals with Pseudo Penises by Katie Mach
And this is in the animal kingdom, or in the life that is non-human on the world… okay!? Yeah so nature is queer as fuck. There’s like transgender hummingbirds. There are plants that are male in the morning and female in the evening, and others of those plants are the opposite, female in the morning and male in the afternoon. Even different genders throughout like one day.
There’s like fish that like are very, like queer, gender weird. At all the things I’m just… *makes excited face*
Spotted hyena, all of them have penises. Also, it doesn’t say it in that section that I read to you, but in another section about those spotted hyenas, it’s probably, it’s one of my favorite things! Now I’m just like “haaa” …build expectation.
Female hyenas have penises too, they all have penises. The spotted hyena all have penises, and an erection is a sign of submission!!!!!!! In spotted hyena world!!!!
Okay, I’m done. So nature’s queer, end of story. I love you. Let’s go. Let’s check out more queer nature things.