The Quality of Queerness

Is Not Queer Enough






  • For a long time, animal scientists simply explained away the queerness (homosexual and otherwise) they stumbled into, not thinking to take it seriously. At first, as if it were gay sex in prison, they dismissed it as the corrupting effect of domestication or of confinement in laboratory cages. Later, it became apparent that animals “in nature” often chose same-sex partners even when opposite-sex ones were available. These creatures, the scientists decided, were either deviant or, more commonly, mistaken. They simply didn’t realize they were fooling around with a partner of the same sex.


    By the 1970s, there was increasing acceptance among biologists that despite its apparent transgressing of the fundamental evolutionary imperative to procreation, homosexual and other non-reproductive behavior could make evolutionary sense. Rather than denying its significance, researchers (particularly those influenced by sociobiology and evolutionary psychology) started to develop explanations that brought this superficially anomalous activity within the frame of natural selection. If queer sex existed, they reasoned, it must, like all behavior, have an adaptive function. They identified non-reproductive sexual interactions as “socio-sexual behaviors”—social in function, sexual in form.


    Yet, even before biologists observed the behavior, even before they saw what it was, even before they even recorded its existence, they believed they already knew its purpose. Like all behaviors, they maintained, same-sex sex functioned to make possible “some sort of fitness-enhancing social goal or breeding strategy” for the parties involved. Understood like this, it resembled a crossword puzzle in which the answers were known but the questions were blank—only, unlike a puzzle, there was no guarantee (beyond the faith of the researchers) that the answers and questions were connected by the same rules. In more orthodox analytical procedures, wouldn’t the theory be open to revision by the data?


    Not surprisingly, explanations derived in this way could be tortuous. Male-male sex among adolescent fruit flies is commonly understood as training or practice for future heterosexual adventures. The “feminine” behavior of male rove beetles—who avoid bigger and more aggressive males by doing the things that females do, such as foraging dung and having sex with males—is a strategy of these weak males to gain access to otherwise unavailable food and females. The bisexual “promiscuity” of male creeping water bugs, who forego courtship and jump on any other water bug they encounter, makes sense because “the costs of time and energy expended in copulatory attempts with other males are exceeded by the benefits of never failing to inseminate every potential mate.” The two-hour post-coital embrace of male and female Japanese beetles, Popillia japonica, is a result of the polygamous and homosexually-inclined male beetle’s determination to protect its “genetic investment” from other males who might want to impregnate the female before she deposits her eggs. On the other hand, the same-sex mountings of both male and female P. japonica are the “misdirected behavior” of “sexually aroused individuals.” Bisexual female grape borer weevils mount females three times more often than male grape borers mount other males. Nobody knows why, but researchers are confident that this behavior has a “biological function” that will be discovered soon.


    All function and no fun. So much for the joy of sex. Predictably, I have my own unscientific hunch: I suspect that if good sex hasn’t been found among the insects, it’s because no one has been out there looking for it…



  • Back