Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Genetics Primer, Aside #1: read the NY Times on Sunday

There's an outstanding piece in the New York Times Magazine coming this weekend on homosexuality in the animal world. It's a thoughtful discussion on how much we try to anthropomorphize animals, inapprorpriately. What it is to be homosexual or same-sex paired as an animal may vary by species and population and not be at all comparable to what it means to be a GLBT human. But the fact is that many animals do show same sex pairing.

Excellent article!
In the course of her doctoral work, Young and a colleague discovered, almost incidentally, that a third of the pairs at Kaena Point actually consisted of two female birds, not one male and one female. Laysan albatrosses are one of countless species in which the two sexes look basically identical. It turned out that many of the female-female pairs, at Kaena Point and at a colony that Young’s colleague studied on Kauai, had been together for 4, 8 or even 19 years — as far back as the biologists’ data went, in some cases. The female-female pairs had been incubating eggs together, rearing chicks and just generally passing under everybody’s nose for what you might call “straight” couples.....

In recent years though, more biologists have been looking objectively at same-sex sexuality in animals — approaching it as real science. For Young, the existence of so many female-female albatross pairs disproved assumptions that she didn’t even realize she’d been making and, in the process, raised a chain of progressively more complicated questions. One of the prickliest, it seemed, was how a scientist is even supposed to talk about any of this, given how eager the rest of us have been to twist the sex lives of animals into allegories of our own.

Update: here's an updated link if the first one doesn't work


JCF said...

Thanks for posting, IT!

Erika Baker said...

That article is fascinating!