Bruce Bagemihl writes that Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity was a "labor of love." And indeed it must have been, since most scientists have thus far studiously avoided the topic of widespread homosexual behavior in the animal kingdom--sometimes in the face of undeniable evidence. Bagemihl begins with an overview of same-sex activity in animals, carefully defining courtship patterns, affectionate behaviors, sexual techniques, mating and pair-bonding, and same-sex parenting. He firmly dispels the prevailing notion that homosexuality is uniquely human and only occurs in "unnatural" circumstances. As far as the nature-versus-nurture argument--it's obviously both, he concludes. An overview of biologists' discomfort with their own observations of animal homosexuality over 200 years would be truly hilarious if it didn't reflect a tendency of humans (and only humans) to respond with aggression and hostility to same-sex behavior in our own species. In fact, Bagemihl reports, scientists have sometimes been afraid to report their observations for fear of recrimination from a hidebound (and homophobic) academia. Scientists' use of anthropomorphizing vocabulary such as insulting, unfortunate, and inappropriate to describe same-sex matings shows a decided lack of objectivity on the part of naturalists.
Astounding as it sounds, a number of scientists have actually argued that when a female Bonobo wraps her legs around another female ... while emitting screams of enjoyment, this is actually "greeting" behavior, or "appeasement" behavior ... almost anything, it seems, besides pleasurable sexual behavior.
Throw this book into the middle of a crowd of wildlife biologists and watch them scatter. But Bagemihl doesn't let the scientific community's discomfort deny him the opportunity to show "the love that dare not bark its name" in all its feathery, furry, toothy diversity. The second half of this hefty tome is filled with an exhaustive array of species that exhibit homosexuality, complete with photos and detailed scientific illustrations of the behaviors described. Biological Exuberance is a well-researched, thoroughly scientific, and erudite look at a purposefully neglected frontier of zoology. --Therese Littleton
From Publishers Weekly
A brilliant and important exercise in exposing the limitations of received opinion, this book presents to the lay reader and specialist alike an exhaustively argued case that animals have multiple shades of sexual orientation. The book is broken into two sections, the second containing species "portraits" detailing recorded homosexual/transgendered behaviors. The main portion of the book sets out to reveal and, indeed, revel in the documented evidence to date that some 450 species engage in both sustained and occasional "gay," "lesbian" and transgendered pairing, parenting and play. Animals (both heterosexual and homosexual) also rape and divorce, commit "child" abuse and infidelity and can be lifelong celibates. Human claims to uniqueness in this arena are shown to be increasingly difficult to maintain. The overall effect is to detonate the myth that animals are solely driven by heterosexual reproductive urges, as Bagemihl, a biologist, amasses evidence with case study after case study of species ranging from whiptail lizards to bottlenose dolphins, flamingoes, vampire bats and giraffes. But his book offers more than a zoological laundry list. Biologists who have long classified these behaviors as taking place only in "abnormal" conditions or as "pseudo-copulation," "mistakes," "practicing" and domineering sexual bullying are frequently shown to be willfully ignoring behavior that does not reflect their own worldview or accepted scientific thought. What might so easily have turned into a tub-thumping activist tract hitched to the need for acceptance of homosexuality among humans is instead elevated to a hugely inclusive, celebratory biological interpretation of the world. Bagemihl convincingly overturns previous inviolable "truths" that scarcity and functionality are the prime agents of biological change, and advances instead the idea that abundance and extravagance?"biological exuberance"?are just as crucial to the mosaic of life. Numerous illustrations by John Megahan.
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