Saturday, April 6, 2013

As You Wish-A Post for Friends, Family, and Readers

Okay everyone, sorry that I've fallen behind in posting.  The last few weeks have been pretty busy between my advisor leaving for Brazil (and me getting everything wrapped up before he left) and dealing with a side project that sort of consumed me last week. 

As some of you may know, I had an encounter with a man in a coffee shop.  The encounter began cordially enough...the man was sitting at the table with some friends I met a while back who meet once a week to discuss positive psychology. As I approached them with my delicious mug of Moroccan mint tea, I heard them discussing (or rather this man lecturing) about faith, hope, and love. I smiled thinking that this  would be a pleasant conversation....I was in for a surprise.  One of the men (the one in charge of these meetings) had to leave a little early (by "early" I mean early for him...we had already exceeded the one-hour time slot for this group discussion and had all opted to continue discussion outside of this scheduled discussion) so he excused himself and off he went, leaving me, the retired physicist (let's call him "D"), and the man still rambling (let's call him "R"). The conversation took an odd turn as R began to describe why he felt churches should be more exclusive and not let in people who do drugs and other such characters. I disagreed, but my opinion was barely noted before R continued ranting. As the rant evolved, somehow we got on the subject of homosexuality. At this point, the high and mighty R asserted that homosexuality was "unnatural".

I interjected, correcting him with a simple, "No it isn't." 

This comment sent in soaring into a rage of hellfire and brimstone and culminated with him telling me "You don't know what you are talking about". 

His comment unearthed within me a fury I hadn't realized dwelled within me.  I leaned forward assertively and got right in his face as I said, "I have two degrees in biology, I DO know what I am talking about."

 The man glared at me as I sat back into my seat and asked, "How old are you?"

I responded with my age only for him to assert that he was "3 times your age" (the guy couldn't have been any older than late 50s or early 60s) and that I couldn't possibly know more than him because I was younger. D interjected with a quick, "So you are in your 70s?" I asked if R had ever studied biology or the natural world....I asked if he had any degrees in the subject, to which he responded that he had a "degree from the university of life" and that he "had been a father and knew homosexuality was unnatural"....both excellent qualifications for discussing the subject at hand. O.o

This went on and on....he rambled about things that weren't pertinent to the discussion and tried to assert that they formed the basis for his argument. He confused gender identity issues with sexual identity issues, he claimed the bible and God himself said homosexuality was unnatural, and he said he had gay friends and loved them as people, but didn't believe they should be married because they would ruin the institution of marriage (though somewhere in there he revealed that he was of those damn gays must have ruined his otherwise perfect marriage). Here D and I were, trying to get a word in, but maintaining a calm demeanor as R flew off the handle and caused a scene that had people all over the shop staring at us.  R challenged me to find "one shred of scientific proof" that homosexuality exists in nature.  All I could think was CHALLENGE FREAKING ACCEPTED!

After R left, D and I discussed the issue in a more civil manner where both of our opinions (though they were similar) could be voiced.  We also had one of the barista come over and tell us that he admired our patience with dealing with R. Over the next week, I spent more time that I intended searching the literature for examples of homosexuality in nature.  There was certainly no shortage of such evidence, in fact, I had to choose which studies to include in my report for R and which to just read for funzies. I learned a's amazing what you find when you look more intensely at a subject. 

The next week I waited for R at the coffee shop. I even made it a point to arrive early than I am usually able to arrive to make sure I wouldn't miss him. He never showed up. I was there from noon until a little after three and there was no sign of him, so my 23 page document remained in my backpack, along with my Principles of Biology textbook, flagged with passages touching on the subject from various chapters. Several friends and family members have requested to read this document, so I decided to post it here.  I know this isn't dealing with parasites themselves, but I believe that ignorance is parasitic, so in a metaphorical sense, this qualifies for the blog's theme. Plus it's my blog, so bite me.

The following is my report to R. This has been somewhat edited from it's original content to protect my own privacy in the event of pissing off someone crazy (and probably angrily ignorant), but I promise to try and leave it as untouched as possible. Be warned, it's kind of a long read. Also, please keep in mind that I wrote this in a week, so don't judge too harshly! Without further ado:

Authentically Natural: An Examination of Homosexuality as a Component of the Natural World
By: Me :)
Who is this 26-year-old punk biologist?
            When we officially met for the first time last week, you made several incorrect assumptions about me. First, I must apologize for accidentally deceiving you. I recently had a birthday and I’m not used to calling myself 26 yet. So, I’m not 25…sorry about that. The way I figure, if we are going to have a civil conversation, we should know more about one another.  Here’s who I am. 
            I’m a 26-year-old Christian woman raised on a farm in a small town in Texas. Despite not having a lot of money growing up, I was extremely active in my community and in high school activities. I was an athlete for a short period of time (basketball, cross-country, track, and long jump). I was an artist in many different ways (musician, thespian, prose orator, poet, writer...I also dabbled in a number of craft-type works of art). I loved science as a general subject…it was always my favorite subject. Biology held my fascination the most of any of the branches of this subject. I competed in U.I.L Science along with a multitude of other academic competitions. I also loved promoting school spirit by serving as my school’s mascot for the last two years of high school. I graduated in 2005 as the class valedictorian. I remember praying as I prepared for my speech. I asked God to give me the right words, and as always, my God delivered.  In my speech, I quoted one of my favorite songs by Semisonic. The quote was “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end”. I knew that these words were perfect for such a speech, but I didn’t know just how often they would return to resonate throughout my life.
            As this chapter of my life ended, I began a new chapter as a college student. I learned many things over the next four years. I learned more about the natural world and fell in love with it for its fascinating complexity. I learned that I didn’t know nearly as much about this subject as I had once thought.  I also learned that there were a lot of other things I didn’t know. I made lots of new friends and embraced a diversity of people that I had never been exposed to before. I learned about other cultures and other races. I learned about other faiths and other political viewpoints. I learned about people by not judging them and by actually taking the time to get to know them. I met gay people, lesbian people, transgendered people, and asexual people. I’d like to emphasize that I didn’t meet “gays” or “lesbians”, I met people. These people were interesting and taught me that there were more to them than I had ever realized. I’ve always felt like I was a compassionate person, but these new friends helped me to realize just how uncompassionate I had been towards people who were different from me. I was never outright mean to anyone, but I certainly had my prejudices. I’m not proud of this fact, but that doesn’t make it any less true. I am proud that I was mature enough to admit this fact and after intense prayer, I feel as if I have truly repented of my judgmental sins. I know in my heart that God blessed me with the ability to analyze information critically and to use that information to rationalize things that don’t make sense to me. I firmly believe that he sends people into our lives for a reason. Jesus was known as the great teacher, so it makes sense that we are all students, and that we all have lessons to learn. But like any good student, we have to keep our minds and hearts open, and we can’t fall asleep when we don’t like the subject matter if we actually want to learn anything.
            Getting back to college, I graduated in May 2009 with a Bachelors of Science in Organismal Biology with a second major in History (the majority of my history classes were in U.S. history, but were still generally well-rounded). I began graduate school the following August. I finished my Masters of Biological Sciences in May of 2012. A few months previous I had received my acceptance letter from a PhD program to which I had applied. I first laid eyes on my new home-city in June when we came to look for a place to live and for my fianc√© to apply for jobs in our future new home. In July I married the love of my life after dating for four years, and then we jetted off to a resort in Mexico for what most experts would have to agree was the most amazing honeymoon anyone has ever had ever. In August, we packed up our belongings and headed up to this city. I began my work as a Ph.D. student a few weeks later. So many new beginnings born from the end of this chapter of my life.
            I am now studying ancient parasitism under a world expert in the field of Archaeoparasitology (in fact, he coined the term itself). I’ve learned a great deal more since moving here. My knowledge of parasites and the people who study them has at least tripled since I arrived last August. As before, I’ve made a lot of new and diverse friends. I’ve learned even more about how different people are and how wonderful those differences can be. Some of my new friends are homosexuals. They are such amazing and fun people! They throw great parties and always go out of their way to make people feel included at group events. I can’t even count the number of gay men I have met in the last few months because if we are at a gathering, they always make it a point to introduce themselves and ask me about what I do. Such a simple act of kindness is appreciated when you don’t know many of the people surrounding you.  After meeting you last Friday, I attended a birthday party for a gay friend. I wore a pretty, full-length dress and pair of adorable shoes. We ended up walking more than we had expected to be walking and my feet began to hurt terribly. I mentioned my pain to my friend and without much thought he offered to run a few blocks back to another friend’s apartment to get me some flip-flops, but I didn’t want to split up the group on my account. Then my friend did something totally unexpected…he offered to swap me for his flat, comfy-looking shoes. I didn’t think he was serious, but he was. He wore the heels even after some fraternity boys walking along the sidewalks downtown called him a “faggot”. He didn’t care. He didn’t want me to be in pain anymore. He wore those shoes until my feet had recovered and then we swapped shoes again so he could go dance with his friends for his birthday. This was the most selfless act of love anyone other than my husband had done for me in years. Words cannot express how blessed I am to know this man, nor can they adequately express how thankful I am that God opened my eyes and my heart so many years ago.
            I suppose this all boils down to me needing you to realize that I’m not just some punk that pissed you off with bullshit last week. I am a person who has been fascinated by the natural world all of my life. I have spent the better part of the last decade dedicating my life to studying biological systems and the organisms that comprise them. I moved to a new state where I barely knew anyone with my wonderfully supportive husband to become better educated about my passion, and to build a career as a biologist. I am qualified to discuss matters of biology despite my age and your perception of the correlation that is, in all actuality, non-existent between the two. I am also an avid supporter for the rights of homosexuals. I support their civil rights not because some politician told me to, not because my parents told me to, not because my priest told me to…but because I got to know homosexuals. I also support their rights because I have logically analyzed both sides of arguments regarding the rights of homosexuals over the years and the only rational explanation from legal, scientific, and religious viewpoints was that they have the right to enjoy the same lives, liberties, and pursuits of happiness as any other American. 

A Biological Perspective
            I suppose the best way to start is to begin with the subject about which I know the most. First, let us define a few words so that we are all on the same page about what those words mean.

Gender Identity--This refers to a person’s sense of and subjective experience of their own gender. Whether a person identifies themself as being male or female is not a function of their sex chromosomes. Rather, gender identity is a function of one’s own inner perceptions and feelings about their gender.

Sexual Identity--This refers to how one thinks of oneself in terms of whom one is romantically or sexually attracted to. Like gender identity, this is not a function of sex chromosomes, but rather a function of physical and psychological attraction.

Sexual Orientation--This refers to an enduring personal quality that inclines people to feel romantic or sexual attraction to persons of the opposite or same sex or gender or to both sexes or to more than one gender. These attractions are generally called heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, or asexuality, but there are subcategories within some of these more broad groupings. Generally, there are three components that make up one’s sexual orientation: Sexual attraction, sexual behavior, and sexual identity. There is no simple cause for sexual orientation. Research suggests that biological factors such as genetics and biochemistry as well as environmental factors influence sexual orientation. Sexuality has also been shown by research to be fluid, and to be existent in various gradations rather than existing dichotomously.

Transgendered--This refers to individuals who have tendencies that are different from the conventionally accepted gender roles. Transgendered individuals feel there is a discrepancy with their assigned gender and their internal sense of gender. These individuals typically do not seek to change their bodies surgically. This is a state of a person’s gender identity and has nothing to do with one’s sexual orientation.

Transsexual--This refers to individuals who do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth.  They often (but don’t always) seek surgery in order to make their bodies reflect their gender identity. Again, this is a function of gender identity, not sexual orientation.

Intersex (a.k.a. hermaphroditism in non-human species)--This refers to a variation in sex characteristics including chromosomes, gonads, and/or genitals that do not allow an individual to be distinctly identified as male or female. Being an intersexed individual may include genital ambiguity, and/or combinations of genotypes or phenotypes other than XY or XX and their associated phenotypes.

Gynandromorph--This refers to an organism that contains both male and female characteristics. These animals have astonishingly distinctive demarcations between their male and female appearances.  Gynandromorphic individuals are found in various species of animals including spiders, butterflies, moths, lobsters, crabs, birds, and even small mammals.

Parthnogenesis--This is a type of asexual reproduction through which embryos develop without fertilization from sperm. Offspring are genetically identical to the parent individual.

            Okay, now that we all know what these words mean, let’s talk sexual diversity in nature.  There are over 1,500 species that have been observed displaying homosexual behaviors. (Bagemihl, 1999) Many instances of humans observing such behaviors were never formally documented or were outright rejected for fear of reprimand by the scientific community existing within societies not yet accepting of such concepts. However, the sexual diversity of the natural world remains a biological truth whether or not man choses to believe in its existence. 

            There are a variety of homosexual behaviors displayed by non-human animal species. These behaviors include mating rituals directed at members of the same sex, copulation with members of the same sex, displays of affection among members of the same sex, genital stimulation of members of the same sex without copulation, and even parenting of offspring by two members of the same sex. 

“The animal kingdom [does] it with much greater sexual diversity--including
homosexual, bisexual, and non-reproductive sex--than the scientific community
and society at large have previously been willing to accept.”

--Bruce Bagemihl, Ph.D. (Canadian Biologist and Linguist)--

            A plethora of species display such behaviors. (See Appendix 1-7).  Let’s start with insects. At least 11 species of dragonflies and damselflies have been documented as having mating damage on the heads of males in 20%-80% of a population. You see, these animals have an interesting way of engaging in sex. The males have little claspers on their abdomens that they use to grip the region behind the head of the females during copulation.  In the process, females contract “mating damage” to those bodily regions. Males do not use their claspers for defensive purposes. The discovery of mating damage on these animals indicates that they engage in homosexual coupling behaviors (Utzeri and Belfiore, 1990).  Bed bugs also have been shown to engage in homosexual mounting (Ryne, 2009). Fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) have been used to study the genetic basis of homosexuality. If a male of this species bears two copies of a particular allele within a certain gene, the male will mate exclusively with other males of the species (Gailey and Hall, 1989).  Later studies covered the alteration of brain structure in homosexual individuals (Yamamoto, et al., 1998). Other studies further examined this phenomenon in this species, but we won’t cover them further for our purposes. 

            Okay, but these are just insects, higher animals couldn’t possibly be homosexual, right? Wrong. Whiptail lizards (belonging to the family Teiidae) undergo parthenogenesis more often than they engage in sexual behaviors for reproductive purposes. For this reason, males are rare in many of these species. Often times, female will engage in homosexual behaviors in order to stimulate ovulation. Hormones are triggered by such behaviors and engaging in such behaviors have been shown to actually increase the success of asexual reproduction. Mating pairs will switch between “masculine” and “feminine” sexual positions and roles from one mating season to another.  Some geckos are also known to reproduce in a similar manner (Kearney, et al., 2005).  Female homosexuality has also been observed in American chameleons (Anolis) and male homosexuality has been observed in members of the family Iguanidae (Denniston, 1980).

            Still, those are lizards, surely there’s not more advanced animals that are homosexuals.  Wrong again. Birds have been shown to display both homosexual and transgender behaviors. The list of birds that display such behaviors is extensive to put it mildly. Everything from black swans to ibises, to gulls, to mallards, to pigeons, and vultures can be found on this list. Flamingos and  penguins have been known to form homosexual committed relationships in which same-sex birds engage in sex, travel together, live together, and even raising young together (Smith, 2004). Almost a quarter of all black swan (Cygnus atratus) couples are homosexual. Male homosexuals will sometimes form temporary threesomes with a female, and then drive her from the nest in order to raise the offspring without her help (Goudarzi, 2006; Imaginova, 2007).  A South American bird (Rupicola rupicola) is known to have populations with upwards of 40% of the population engaging in regular homosexual activities.  Some of these birds never copulate with members of the opposite sex (Bagemihl, 1999; Imaginova, 2007).  Just like with insects, I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point about birds and homosexuality.

            Still thinking all of this evidence doesn’t apply? How about we look at mammals?  Domestic animals such as sheep, cattle, and horses have been known to engage in homosexual activities, as have pets such as budgerigars, cats, and dogs (Bagemihl, 1999).   Ever wonder why dolphins are sometimes associated with lesbians?  Perhaps it is because at least two species of this animal have been observed performing homosexual (and heterosexual) acts of nasal sex (penetration of the blowhole).  Or perhaps it is because some bottlenose dolphin females have sexual encounters known as “beak-genital propulsion”, in which a female inserts her beak into another female’s genital opening while swimming forward. (Norris and Dohl, 1980).  Males of this species have been known to rub their genitals together, swim belly to belly, and even engage in anal sex (Wells, 1995). Dolphins have also engaged in group sex of both homosexual and heterosexual compositions.  Some dolphins will even have sex with dolphins of other species.  It is also evident that dolphins have sex for pleasure in addition to sex for procreation (Bagemihl, 1999; Sylvestre,1985).

            Let’s move out of the ocean and onto land.  Some of the first homosexual behaviors observed in animals were among wild rams.  Male rams were seen readily mating with other males even when females were readily available for coitus.  These males seemed to refuse to mate with the females despite seasonal conditions.  A behavior known as “foreleg kicking” is part of the mating ritual in these animals.  This behavior involves the male gently tapping their forelegs on the genitals of the female to prepare for intercourse.  This behavior has been documented between males.  As many as 10% of these rams displayed this and other homosexual mating behavior in the populations observed (LeVay, 2011).  Foreleg kicking is also a part of mating rituals in other animals.  In kobs (a type of African antelope), females are often observed performing foreleg kicking and mounting other females.  As in rams, these behaviors occur even during the breeding season when there are plenty of males available for procreating (Imaginova, 2007; Bagemihl, 2000).

            The American bison has been known to have courtship, mounting, and full anal penetration between bulls (Bagemihl, 2000).  Native Americans even had ceremonies reenacting this behavior to make sure the buffalo would be back in the next year. Speaking of gentle homosexual giants, elephants and giraffes also engage in same-sex mounting and pair bonding, as demonstrated by shows of affection such as d trunk playing and necking. Heterosexual relations among these animals are typically fleeting, while homosexual partnerships may last for years (Bagemihl, 1999).  Lions, monkeys, hyenas, polecats, moose, rabbits, mice, foxes, zebras, and apes all have homosexual activity among populations.  Homosexuality is particularly high in giraffes…sometimes reaching as much as 90% among male in a population (Bagemihl, 1999; Coe, 1967).  

            Reports of primates displaying homosexual behaviors are numerous, to put it mildly.  Such behaviors occur more often than incidentally, and should not be dismissed as aberrations in sexual norms among these animals (Small, 1993).  Baboons have been known to form monogamous homosexual relationships.  Some of these relationships have been documented as lasting up to 6 years in wild populations.  Homosexual mounting has been reported as being common in various species of monkeys and has been studied in rhesus monkeys, stumptail macaques (Mitchell, 1979), Japanese macaques (Mahlman and Chapais, 1988), and others.  Homosexuality also exists among chimpanzees, mountain gorillas (Yamagiwa, 1987; Yamagiwa 1992; Edwards and Todd, 1987), pygmy chimpanzees (Savage and Bakeman, 1978), siamangs, and gibbons (Edwards and Todd, 1987).

            Going a step further, let’s touch briefly on other forms of sexual diversity in nature.  Some species are completely asexual, for example, sea urchins never engage in sexual acts at all and rely on other methods for reproduction.  Remember that word gynandromorph? I won’t go over it again, but these individuals are ideal examples sexual diversity in nature.  Bisexuality occurs within a number of species naturally, and not just in those that are hermaphroditic.  As you’ve already been told, animals such as elephants and giraffes have fleeting heterosexual relationships that turn into a more monogamous type of relationship outside of the breeding season when homosexual relationships are resumed or begun between two males.  This is a sort of conditional form of bisexuality.  Some species are bisexuals in a much more strict sense of the word.  

            Bonobos are incredibly sexual primates.  The majority of their day is consumed with sexual intercourse or other sexual acts.  The bonobos aren’t having this much sex just to procreate, they use sex for a variety of purposes outside of reproduction.  Females have been observed choosing genital-to-genital rubbing with other females over engaging in sexual activities with a male (Small, 1993).  Sometimes sex is used to end arguments over food.  These animals have been observed fighting over food, then engaging in sexual activities, followed by sharing of the food between the post-coital couple. Age and fitness do not seem to influence the decision to have sex in these animals. These are not monogamous animals, but they do show signs of affection before, during, and after sexual encounters whether they be of a heterosexual or a homosexual nature. These animals typically engage in sex facing one another, something previously only seen in humans.  Sex is a vital tool for these animals that is used to maintain a peaceful, affectionate, corporative, bisexual, society.

            Now that you know that sexual diversity does, in fact, exist in nature, let’s talk about some of the biological mechanisms that impact a human’s sexual orientation.  I honestly tried very hard last week not to laugh when you requested that I present a “gay gene”, but that reaction wasn’t very Christian of me. I shouldn’t have laughed, even inwardly, at your ignorance of this particular subject matter. Please accept my humble apology, and allow me explain first, why this phrase is, in and of itself, asinine.  Afterwards, I will site a few studies published in peer-reviewed, scientific journals in which the internal biological factors of homosexuality are examined.

            The presence of the concept of a “gay gene” reveals just how little the general public understands about genetics and the way that genes function. A genetic characteristic as complex as one’s sexual orientation is not going to be controlled by a single gene.  In humans, our eye color alone is controlled by 16 different genes, with two playing the leading role in iris color determination.  Think about it, if it takes 16 genes to determine the color of your eyes, how many genes would it take to determine sexual attraction? No one has been able to determine exactly how many genes control sexual orientation, but there is significant evidence to suggest that sexual orientation is based, at least in part, on genetic components. (Thornton, et al., 2009; Garcia-Falgueras and Swaab, 2010; Bogaert and Skorska, 2011) 

            Hormones and neurotransmitters have also been shown to play a role in sexual orientation. Studies of mice have shown that 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) is required for male sexual preference (Liu, et al., 2011).  This neurotransmitter is more commonly known as serotonin, and is believed to be involved in our feelings of happiness and well-being.

“Here we report that the neurotransmitter 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT)...Wild-type male mice preferred females over males, but males lacking central serotonergic neurons [such as those releasing 5-HT] lost sexual preference although they were not generally defective in olfaction or in pheromone sensing...These results indicate that 5-HT and serotonergic neurons in the adult brain regulate mammalian sexual preference.”
--Liu, et al., 2011--

            Other studies involving mice have shown that disabling the fucose mutarotase gene (which adjusts the brain’s exposure to estrogen) causes female mice to behave as if they were males when they reach sexual maturity (Park, et. al., 2010).  This is similar to the study looking at induced homosexuality in fruit flies mentioned earlier.  Although these studies focus on single genes or particular neurotransmitters, the researchers acknowledge that other genes and multiple neurotransmitters as well as hormones must play a role in these complex behaviors.  

            Some researchers believe that birth order may influence the likelihood of homosexuality among males.  The association between birth order and male sexual orientation is termed “the fraternal birth order effect” (Valenzuela, 2010). The cause for this effect is unknown, however, researchers have a working theory that involves the maternal immune system.  According to this theory, the first time a woman becomes pregnant with a male, her body’s immune system reacts to it as if it is a foreign body, which is often why pregnancies with males are more difficult that pregnancies with females.  As the pregnant mother-to-be’s body releases antigens and antibodies to protect the mother, the immune system “learns” how to identify males.  With successive pregnancies involving male fetuses, the body knows how to identify these male threats and begins to produce less testosterone in an attempt to subdue the threat.  The more boys a mother gives birth to, the higher the chance that her next son will be homosexual.  (Blanchard and Bogaert, 1996; Blanchard and Klassen, 1997; Blanchard, 2001; Blanchard, 2004).

            Another interesting study conducted in the early 90s showed that the hypothalamus of homosexual males was smaller than that of heterosexual males.  This structure is used to regulate sexual behavior.  The size of this structure was equivalent in homosexual males with the same structure in heterosexual females (LeVay, 1991; Angier, 1992). Other anatomical studies showed that the anterior commissure of homosexual men is larger than the structure in both heterosexual men and women.  This structure is a bundle of nerves that allow for both halves of the brain to communicate with each other (Allen and Gorski, 1992). Studies have further shown hormonal differences between homosexuals and heterosexuals (West, 1977).  A particularly well-written article expands on these and other aspects of homosexuality in nature.  I suggest reading Homosexuality: A Paradox of Evolution by Preston Hunter.  Keep in mind that this was written in 1994 and that many more studies have come out since its publication.

A Psychological Perspective
            On Friday you asserted that being a homosexual was a choice.  Now that we have examined the biological reasons why such a statement is untrue, let us look briefly at homosexuality from a psychological point of view.

            For many years people used to believe that homosexuality was a choice.  The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (a.k.a. “The DSM”) once listed being gay as a disorder known as “androphilia” and being a lesbian as a disorder known as “gynephilia”.  Similar terms were also once used to refer to transgendered people (“auto-gynephilia/auto-androphilia”).  All terms associated with homosexuality were removed from the DSM in 1973, but were replaced by the phrase “ego-dystonic homosexuality” which addressed a “lack of heterosexual arousal” coupled with a “persistent distress from a sustained pattern of unwanted homosexual arousal”.  This new diagnosis only applied to homosexuals who didn’t want to accept their sexual orientation.  This came under harsh criticisms by some psychoanalysts who still believed homosexuality could be treated with conversion therapy.  After years of debate among professionals in the field, the diagnosis was removed completely from the DSM in 1986.

            Since that time, many other professional organizations have stated that sexual orientation is not a choice and that it is not something that can be changed.  These organizations strongly oppose attempts at conversion therapy and instead advocate for families and friends of homosexuals to be supportive of their loved one’s innate sexual identity.  These organizations include: 
  • ·         The American Psychological Association (publish the DSM)
  • ·         The National Association of Social Workers
  • ·         The American Psychiatric Association
  • ·         The American Academy of Pediatrics
  • ·         The American Psychoanalytic Association
  • ·         The American Medical Association

            Mental health professionals have agreed since the 1970s that homosexuality is a normal, natural form of human sexual orientation (APA, 2009).  Homosexuality was declassified as a mental disorder first by The American Psychiatric Association in 1973 and then by The American Psychological Association in 1975 (Bayer, 1987).  Many other organizations did the same in the years that followed.  By 1990, homosexuality was declassified by the World Health Organization.
            Many studies have looked at sexual orientation from a psychological perspective, but few are more famous that the Kinsey studies of the 1940s and 1950s.  The studies showed that sexual orientation was not as black-and-white as people had once believed. In fact, most people fall somewhere between exclusively heterosexual and exclusively homosexual.  These studies culminated in the creation of a scale known as the Kinsey Scale.  This scale is depicted below.

Exclusively heterosexual. Individuals make no physical contact which results in erotic arousal or orgasm and make no psychic responses to individuals of their own sex.
Predominantly heterosexual/incidentally homosexual. Individuals have only incidental homosexual contacts which have involved physical or psychic response or incidental psychic response without physical contact.
Predominantly heterosexual but more than incidentally homosexual. Individuals have more than incidental homosexual experience and/or respond rather definitely to homosexual stimuli.
Equally heterosexual and homosexual. Individuals are about equally homosexual and heterosexual in their experiences and/or psychic reactions.
Predominantly homosexual but more than incidentally heterosexual. Individuals have more overt activity and/or psychic reactions in the homosexual while still maintaining a fair amount of heterosexual activity and/or responding rather definitively to heterosexual contact.
Predominantly homosexual/only incidentally heterosexual. Individuals are almost entirely homosexual in their activities and/or reactions.
Exclusively homosexual. Individuals who are exclusively homosexual, both in regard to their overt experience and in regard to their psychic reactions.

            This scale has been adapted by many other researchers and is the predecessor to more commonly used scales found in modern psychological and psychiatric research. More modern techniques include the Klein Sexual Orientation Grid (KSOG), which is more multidimensional, as well as Sell Assessment of Sexual Orientation (SASO), which measures sexual orientation on a continuum and is meant to provoke discussion rather than to provide a final solution (Klein, et al., 1985; Sell, 1997). Assessing one’s sexual orientation typically involves assessing three components: Sexual Attraction, Sexual Behavior, and Sexual Identity.

            I believe that you also mentioned something about being opposed to same-sex parenting.  While you are entitled to your own opinion, I felt it would be pertinent to point out that many (almost all) social scientists agree that this form of parenting is not psychologically damaging to children.  There is no scientific literature supporting the assertion that heterosexual parents are inherently better than homosexual parents.  In fact, many organizations regularly issue reports in support of the rights for gay and lesbian parents.  These organizations include the following:

            I suppose it is about time that I wrap up this report. After all, every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.  This is the end of my report to you, but I anticipate that it is a new beginning for you and your understanding this subject from a scientific perspective.  I hope that this new-found knowledge inspires you to delve deeper into the science of homosexuality. I’m not looking to change your opinion on homosexuality in terms of whether you see it as “right” or “wrong”, but I hope I have educated you enough on the subject for you to realize that homosexuality is natural in both a biological sense and in a psychological sense.  

            Throughout this report, I have demonstrated, using sound, scientific evidence, that a great variety of animals display homosexual behaviors and also that many of these animals form monogamous homosexual partnerships. Homosexual parenting has also been observed in nature and the offspring from such parenting strategies seem to fair just as well as offspring raised by heterosexual parents.

            I have also presented a number of studies discussing the biological and psychological aspects of human sexual orientation. As discussed previous, many factors come into play with the development of an individual’s sexual orientation. Many of these factors are not completely understood, but as research progresses, new insights regarding the causal effects of hormones, neurotransmitters, and genes begins to emerge. Advances in psychological and psychiatric research continue to show that sexual orientation is not something that one chooses, nor is it an aspect of one’s psyche that can be changed by “reparative” or “conversion” therapies.

            In conclusion, our sexual orientation is a function of our biology and wide variety of sexual diversity is present in the natural world of which we are a part.  Opposition to homosexuality and other non-heterosexual forms of sexual orientation are not valid from biological and psychological perspectives. Discrimination against individuals with these forms of sexual orientation is consequently not justified by these fields of science. Cultural and religious perspective may agree or disagree with homosexuality, but have no bearing on the scientific realities of this subject.

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Appendix I:
A List of Insects Displaying Homosexual Behaviors

·   Alfalfa Weevil
·   Australian Parasitic Wasp sp.
·   Bean Weevil sp.
·   Bedbug and other Bug spp.
·   Blister Beetle spp.
·   Blowfly
·   Broadwinged Damselfly sp.
·   Club-tailed Dragonfly spp.
·   Cockroach spp.
·   Common Skimmer spp.
·   Creeping Water Bug sp.
·   Cutworm
·   Digger Bee
·   Dragonfly spp.
·   Field Cricket sp.
·   Flour Beetle
·   Fruit Fly spp.
·   Grape Borer
·   Hen Flea
·     House Fly
·     Ichneumon wasp sp.
·     Larch Bud Moth
·     Large Milkweed Bug
·     Large White
·     Long-legged Fly spp.
·     Mazarine Blue
·     Mexican White (butterfly)
·     Midge sp.
·     Migratory Locust
·     Monarch Butterfly
·     Parsnip Leaf Miner
·     Pomace fly
·     Queen Butterfly
·     Red Ant sp.
·     Red Flour Beetle
·     Reindeer Warble Fly  
·     Rose Chafer
·     Rove Beetle spp.
·     Scarab Beetle  
·     Screwworm Fly
·     Silkworm Moth
·     Spreadwinged Damselfly spp.
·     Stable Fly sp.
·     Stag Beetle spp.
·     Tsetse Fly
·     Water Boatman
·     Water Strider spp.

Appendix II:
A List of Other Invertebrates
Displaying Homosexual Behaviors
·         Blood-Fluke
·         Box Crab
·         Harvest Spider sp.
·         Hawaiian Orb-Weaver
·         Incirrate Octopus spp.
·         Jumping Spider and Some Select Yeast sp.
·         Mite sp.
·         Spiny-Headed Worm
·         Amoeba and Barneys

Appendix III:
A List of Fish Displaying Homosexual Behaviors
·         Amazon molly
·         Blackstripe topminnow
·         Bluegill Sunfish
·         Char
·         Grayling
·         European Bitterling
·         Green swordtail
·         Guiana leaffish
·         Houting Whitefish
·         Jewel Fish
·         Least Darter
·         Mouthbreeding Fish sp.
·         Salmon spp.
·         Southern platyfish
·         Ten-spined stickleback
·         Three-spined stickleback

Appendix IV:
A List of Amphibians
Displaying Homosexual Behaviors
·         Black-spotted Frog
·         Mountain Dusky Salamander
·         Tengger Desert Toad

Appendix V:
A List of Reptiles Displaying Homosexual Behaviors

Appendix VI:
A List of Birds Displaying Homosexual Behaviors

·      Acorn Woodpecker
·      Adelie Penguin
·      American Flamingo
·      American Herring Gull
·      Anna's Hummingbird
·      Australian Shelduck
·      Aztec Parakeet
·      Bengalese Finch (Domestic)
·      Bank Swallow
·      Barn Owl
·      Bicolored Antbird
·      Black-billed Magpie
·      Black-headed Gull
·      Black Stilt
·      Black Swan
·      Black-winged Stilt
·      Blue-backed Manakin
·      Blue-bellied Roller
·      Blue Tit
·      Blue-winged Teal
·      Brown-headed Cowbird
·      Budgerigar (Domestic)
·      Calfbird
·      California Gull
·      Canada Goose
·      Caspian Tern
·      Cattle Egret
·      Common Chaffinch
·      Chicken
·      Chilean Flamingo
·      Chiloe Wigeon
·      Chinstrap penguin
·      Cliff Swallow
·      Common Gull
·      Common Murre
·      Common Shelduck
·      Crane spp.
·      Dusky Moorhen
·      Eastern Bluebird
·      Egyptian Goose
·      Elegant Parrot
·      Emu
·      European Jay
·      European Shag
·      Galah
·      Gentoo Penguin
·      Golden Bishop Bird
·      Golden Plover
·      Gray-breasted Jay
·      Gray Heron
·      Great Cormorant
·      Greater Flamingo
·      Greater Rhea
·      Green Sandpiper
·      Greenshank
·      Greylag Goose
·      Griffon Vulture
·      Guillemot
·      Hammerhead (also known as Hammerkop)
·      Herring Gull
·      Hoary-headed Grebe
·      Hooded Warbler
·      House Sparrow
·      Humboldt Penguin
·      Ivory Gull
·      Jackdaw
·      Kestrel
·      King Penguin
·      Kittiwake
·      Laughing Gull
·      Laysan Albatross
·      Lesser Flamingo
·      Lesser Scaup Duck
·      Little Blue Heron
·      Little Egret
·      Lory spp.
·      Mallard
·      Masked Lovebird
·      Mealy Amazon Parrot
·      Mew Gull
·      Mexican Jay
·      Musk Duck
·      Mute Swan
·      Ocellated Antbird
·      Orange Bishop Bird
·      Ornate Lorikeet
·      Ostrich
·      Peach-faced Lovebird
·      Pied Flycatcher
·      Pied Kingfisher
·      Pigeon (Domestic)
·      Powerful Owl
·      Purple Swamphen
·      Raven
·      Razorbill
·      Red-backed Shrike
·      Red Bishop Bird
·      Red-faced Lovebird
·      Common Redshank
·      Regent Bowerbird
·      Ring-billed Gull
·      Ring Dove
·      Rock Dove
·      Roseate Tern
·      Rose-ringed Parakeet
·      Ruff
·      Ruffed Grouse
·      Sage Grouse
·      San Blas Jay
·      Sand Martin
·      Satin Bowerbird
·      Scarlet Ibis
·      Scottish Crossbill
·      Senegal Parrot
·      Sharp-tailed Sparrow
·      Silver Gull
·      Silvery Grebe
·      Snow Goose
·      Steller's Sea Eagle
·      Superb Lyrebird
·      Tasmanian Native Hen
·      Tree Swallow
·      Trumpeter Swan
·      Turkey (Domestic)
·      Victoria's Riflebird
·      Wattled Starling
·      Western Gull
·      White Stork
·      Wood Duck
·      Yellow-rumped Cacique
·      Zebra Finch (Domestic)
Appendix VII:
A List of Mammals Displaying Homosexual Behaviors
·   Antelope
·   Asiatic Lion
·   Barasingha
·   Beluga
·   Bharal
·   Black Bear
·   Blackbuck
·   Bonobo
·   Brown Bear
·   Brown Rat
·   Buffalo
·   Caribou
·   Cheetah
·   Dall's Sheep
·   Donkey
·   Dugong
·   Dwarf Cavy
·   Elk
·   Euro
·   Fallow Deer
·   Fin Whale
·   Fox
·   Gazelle
·   Giraffe
·   Gorilla
·   Grey Seal
·   Grey Whale
·   Grey Wolf
·   Grizzly Bear
·   Harbor Seal
·   Hoary Marmot
·   Human
·   Javelina
·   Kangaroo Rat
·   Killer Whale
·   Koala
·   Kob
·   Larga Seal
·   Lechwe
·   Lion
·   Lion Tamarin
·   Macaque
·   Markhor
·   Marten
·   Moco
·   Mohol Galago
·   Moor Macaque
·   Moose
·   Mule Deer
·   Musk-ox
·   Noctule
·   Orangutan
·   Patas Monkey
·   Plains Zebra
·   Polar Bear
·   Pronghorn
·   Puku
·   Quokka
·   Rabbit
·   Raccoon Dog
·   Red Deer
·   Red Fox
·   Red Kangaroo
·   Red Squirrel
·   Reindeer
·   Right Whale
·   Rock Cavy
·   Roe Deer
·   Sea Otter
·   Serotine Bat
·   Siamang
·   Sika Deer
·   Sperm Whale
·   Spotted Hyena
·   Spotted Seal
·   Swamp Deer
·   Takhi
·   Talapoin
·   Tiger
·   Tucuxi
·   Urial
·   Vampire Bat
·   Vervet
·   Vicuna
·   Walrus
·   Wapiti
·   Warthog
·   Waterbuck
·   Wild Cavy
·   Wild Goat
·   Wisent


  1. This is a great piece of research; thank you so much for doing it. I will be sharing this with a number of my homophobic friends--well, family members, actually. I don't tolerate homophobia in friends, but one can't choose one's family.

  2. With a bit of clean up I could easily see this as a published work. If the entire core argument was stripped out as the main paper with the personal rebuttles left out, this would make an excellent text book chapter!! Love your writting style soooooo much!

  3. @obertb: Thank you! I hope that it helps them!

    @Jon: I just read this and giggled. I cleaned it up a bit and made it a work of literary nonfiction. I just published it on Smashwords last night. :)

    @Anyone and Everyone: If you'd like to read the ebook version of this story, here's the link! Happy reading! :D

  4. As a fellow parasitophile and scientist I find some aspects of your lengthy report here rather disingenuous. It is written in a manner whereby you simply find evidence to support your own predetermined outcome as if to bolster your liberal street cred, rather than presenting the science behind the topic in a more rounded and non-partisan manner, and only then reaching conclusions.

    More specifically my criticisms relate to your rather black and white statement stating that homosexuality is not a choice. Mainstream science on this aspect is not actually in agreement here. Twin studies (which I'm sure you are aware of but conveniently do not mention) do not support the notion that homosexual behaviour is some sort of genetically predetermined outcome, and in fact more often than not it seems that if one twin states to be homosexual the other will not. An indication that environmental factors have as much, if not greater role to play.

    Homosexual behaviour may occur in nature, but it is certainly cannot be described as normal behaviour. You also are stretching it a little with your statements on homosexual adoption, as the effects on society by such are very much open to debate, especially given that it will take decades before the non-exact science of psychology will be able to do any real analysis on this issue. It also should go without saying to any naturalist that the arguments for the traditional family and upbringing of offspring by both mother and father as being optimal has much greater support in nature, and I find it rather dishonest for any scientist to simply dismiss this normal arrangement of nature and sexual reproduction when forming sociological arguments.

  5. @paddyd: Thank you for your comment. I apologize for my late response, I'm currently working at a field station and the internet here is hit and miss so I haven't been blogging as much lately.

    I'd like to start by saying that this particular post was intended for friends who asked me to post the story on my blog in response to the incident in the coffee shop (hence the blogpost's title). It was never my intention to "bolster [my] liberal street cred", but it was also not my intention to write a totally objective argument. This piece was written for one person by another person. It was written in a conversational style that also included scientific literature to support the point that homosexuality does, in fact, occur in the natural world.

    While I realize that LGBTQA issues are rarely black and white, the majority of literature supports the idea that human sexuality is largely a factor of our genetics whether we consider ourselves to be homosexual or heterosexual. Sure, environmental factors play a role in shaping where we fall on the scale, but we seem to be genetically predisposed to lean more one way than the other.

    I also must apologize for being unclear. I did not intent to assert that homosexual behavior was normal in nature, the intent was to demonstrate that homosexuality DOES occur in nature. In fact, it occurs more often among more species than what most people believe. While this is a far cry from constituting normal behavior in animals in a broad sense, homosexual behavior is quite "normal" (i.e. commonly observed) among particular populations of organisms, such as the bonobos.

    While we are on the subject of "normal", I'd like to address your comment on what you call traditional families in nature. While many primates and other mammals display bi-parental care, the majority of child rearing in nature is far from this picturesque view on reproductive behavior. If we look at the majority of Earth's fauna, we are looking at the group known as invertebrates, which comprise a whopping 97% of animal diversity. Invertebrates rarely display any type of parental care and the few that do are even more rarely known to have any sort of bi-parental involvement. (With the exception of course of things like schistosomes that live encopula.)

    But let's say you are referring to the 3% of animal biodiveristy that is comprised of vertebrate animals. Within the realm of bird reproductive behavior there have been cases of heterosexual couple care, single parent care, multiple individual non-parent care, and homosexual couple care. Different species have different ways of rearing young, but the majority would not fit your "traditional" model. Turtles, amphibians, and squamates have much of the same story to tell as our bird friends. And fish...well, fish are just promiscuous as all hell. With their external fertilization! The scandal! Which brings us to the only animals you seem to be concerned with...the mammals. I probably don't have to remind you (you being a fellow parasitophile and scientist after all) that some animals, like opossums, display almost no maternal care for their young. Other mammals have, as mentioned in the article I wrote, been observed displaying homosexual behaviors as well as having same-sex couple child rearing practices.

    I'm sorry that you find me to be dishonest, but honestly, I'm not convinced you truly understand what the "normal arrangement of nature" is yourself. If there's anything I've learned as a biologist it's that nature is nature, naturally...and that "normal" is a highly variable term when discussing aspects of the natural world.

    Thank you again for your thought-provoking comment. I will ponder these things further before issuing a second edition of the e-book that came from this post.

  6. Nice post....Will contests generally focus on the assertion that the testator lacked testamentary capacity, was operating under an insane delusion, or was subject to undue influence or fraud.Left Out Of A Will