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Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity (Stonewall Inn Editions (Paperback)) Paperback – April 10, 2000
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“A scholarly, exhaustive, and utterly convincing refutation of the notion that human homosexuality is an aberration in nature . . . Bagemihl does realize that some among us will never be convinced that homosexuality occurs freely and frequently in nature. But his meticulously gathered, cogently delivered evidence will quash any arguments to the contrary.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“A brilliant and important exercise in exposing the limitations of received opinion . . . an exhaustively argued case that animals have multiple shades of sexual orientation.” ―Publishers Weekly
“Bagemihl has done an extraordinary job in compiling a vast bestiary . . . This book should surely become the standard reference work for research on the topics covered.” ―Nature
“A landmark in the literature of science.” ―Chicago Tribune
“By producing a work that is accessible to the general reader while engaging for the specialist, Bagemihl has accomplished a most extraordinary feat. In the tradition of the finest nonfiction, this is a book that will force us to reexamine who we are and what we believe.” ―The Philadelphia Inquirer
“For anyone who has ever doubted the 'naturalness' of homosexual, bisexual, and transgendered behaviors, this remarkable book, which demonstrates and celebrates the sexual diversity of life on earth, will surely lay those doubts to rest. The massive evidence of the wondrous complexity of sexuality in the natural world that Bagemihl has marshaled will inform, entertain, and persuade academic and lay readers alike. Biological Exuberance is a revolutionary work.” ―Lillian Faderman, author of Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America
From the Publisher
"Bagemihl has done an extraordinary job in compiling a vast bestiary....This book should surely become the standard reference work for research on the topics covered." -Nature
"By producing a work that is accessible to the general reader while engaging for the specialist, Bagemihl has accomplished a most extraordinary feat. In the tradition of the finest nonfiction, this is a book that will force us to reexamine who we are and what we believe." -The Philadelphia Inquirer
"A monumental and captivating work...Biological Exuberance affirms life in all its richness, abundance, and complexity." -DEB PRICE, Detroit News syndicated columnist
"Thrillingly dense with new ideas and with scandalous animal anecdotes. In other words, an ideal bedside read." -Salon
"A landmark in the literature of science." -Chicago Tribune
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The information is based on scientific studies, peer-reviewed work. All of the references are included. I thought that was very important, especially for such a potentially red-flag subject.
Well the new science sure has revealed that the separations we used to hold as a rule,...seem to be diminishing as time goes by...!!!!
It is a shame this information was not widely available in my youth...great book...
More interesting to me, though, is the speculation on the sexual origins of language and culture in chapter 2 and the devastating examination in chapter 3 of bigotry in the biological sciences in over two hundred years of observations of animal homosexuality. Bagemihl shows, for example, that in science as in society, there's a presumption of heterosexuality. Field researchers have commonly assumed, with no independent verification, that whenever they see a pair of animals engaging in what appears to be sexual behavior they are observing a male-female pair. Conversely, whenever they observe a known same-sex pair engaging in behavior that would be classified as sexual between a male and female, they classify it in some other way. This protocol largely precludes the gathering of data about animal homosexuality even when it's being observed. In some cases, though, it resulted in published studies being repudiated as much as 20 years later when it was discovered that what was presumed to be heterosexual behavior in a population was really entirely homosexual. (It's an interesting fact that in some species heterosexuality has never been observed by scientists even when they go to great lengths to observe it over periods of many years.) Also, a lot of animal homosexuality that has been recognized as such has simply been excluded from the published reports. As a result, there is still widespread belief among scientists and the public that animal homosexuality is rare or nonexistent. People will believe otherwise after reading this book.
Chapter 4 looks at the attempts to explain away animal homosexuality and chapter 5 considers arguments on the other side that try to attach evolutionary value to homosexuality. Bagemihl rejects all the proposals on both sides, demonstrating the weakness of all the explanations and typically showing that they are plainly inconsistent with the evidence of animal behavior. Finally, he arrives at the question that the reader has been waiting for for almost 200 pages: "Why does same-sex activity persist--reappearing in species after species, generation after generation, individual after individual--when it is not 'useful'?" His answer is not to show that it is useful, but rather to treat the plain existence of homosexuality as a reductio ad absurdum argument against the biologists' assumption that only traits that contribute to reproduction will survive (i.e. are useful). In pursuing this line of thought Begemihl offers interesting descriptions of animals that are nonbreeders, animals that suppress reproduction, animals that segregate the sexes so that reproduction can't happen, animals that engage in birth control, and animals that engage in other nonreproductive behaviors. He also shows that a lot of the sex that actually occurs is not for reproduction, but apparently for pleasure. All of this he believes calls for a new conception of the natural biological world.
The last chapter describes some ideas for a new paradigm, which he calls Biological Exuberance and I must say that it is much less convincing than the rest of the book. It is interesting nonetheless. Much of the last chapter is a description of the myths about animals of native North Americans, the tribes of New Guinea, and indigenous Siberian people. When I started reading this chapter I began to wonder if I had accidentally picked up a different book, but in the end he makes a connection between the myths and biological reality. In fact, he shows that some of these myths contain more facts about animals than you can find in any scientific text. Some of the most bizarre of the myths turn out to be true.
So where does it end? In mystery. "Our final resting spot--the concept of Biological Exuberance--lies somewhere along the trajectory defined by these three points (chaos, biodiversity, evolution), although its exact location remains strangely imprecise." "Nothing, in the end, has really been 'explained'--and rightly so, for it was 'sensible explanations' that ran aground in the first place."
That's not a very satisfactory answer to my mind, but the book is nonetheless a source of many interesting phenomena and ideas. I enjoyed it greatly. I expect most people who read this long book will do as I have done--read part one completely and then selectively read about some particular animals in part two. The second part is an encyclopedia of the queer sexuality of approximately 300 species of mammals and birds. An appendix contains a long list of reptiles, amphibians, fishes, insects, spiders and domesticated animals in which homosexuality has been observed.
Backed by years of reasearch it points to numerous examples including ones as dramatic as Male Swans pairing for life AND adopting chicks to raise. Other interesting subjects are homsexual pair-bonds among species that do NOT usually form pair bonds. However one of the most facinating aspects are how other researcers or scientists will explain away the behavior, misreport it or even leave it out altogether. A Must for anybodys collection.