Queer Evolution: Non-Binary in Animals and its Implications for Humans
This article will explore one consideration out of many about the way that human beings relate to and inherit their gender identity and sexual orientation. Before we have this discussion, we need to lay one foundation of thought that this article builds on: gender AND sex exist on a spectrum (nobody has a solely male or female brain). When American culture fully assimilates this fact, the misunderstandings and discrimination experienced by queer folk can begin to dissipate.
The Cringe that Launched a Thousand Cringes
During a conversation with my mother, I happened to mention encountering a non-binary individual. She immediately stopped me and asked what that meant, launching us into a long and winding discussion that mirrors the one that is surging in this era. In the process of explaining to her, she reflected something that I have also turned over in my head: what about animals? American culture tends to view animals as more simple beings that copulate specifically for survival via reproduction (one misconception in a topic loaded with them). Why then are human beings “coming out of the woodwork” and identifying as such disadvantageous orientations? Society, as unique as it is in human beings, plays a huge factor in shaping queer and conforming identities alike. Generally speaking, everything human beings have, animals have in some form, as well.
Getting the Facts….Straight?
Is this phenomenon, which is already pushed into the corner by some conforming individuals, solely a “human” thing? For starters, there ARE instances of morphologically transgender animals, as well as all the ambiguities in between. It’s worth mentioning that in the human world alone, 1 in 100 births are not as simple as male/female according to the Intersex Society of North America . Many push that what is “natural” is one man and one woman copulating to produce offspring that will supposedly act in a similar way. This is how you continue your species. To go outside of this seems confusing and results in a lot of misunderstandings when approaching controversial and emotionally-loaded topics.
Trans is Sexy
Many instances of intentionally confusing physiological traits between male and female species aid in survival and reproductive success. According to the Special Broadcasting Service, red-sided garter snakes intentionally mimic female pheromones when they sense a desirable mate near—not to attract her to her own scent, but to attract all the rivals to itself, at which point, it will slip out of the “mating” nest and seek out the female. Also, Cuttlefish and Marsh Harriers will alter their morphology (intentionally and unintentionally, respectively) as a form of protection when passing through areas with many male rivals.
Make Love, Not War
On the sexuality side of things, Bonobos are a great example of bisexuality and polyamory in the animal kingdom. Bonobos are known for copulating in situations ranging from tension/disagreement to saying hello. Not-so-coincidentally, these creatures are known to be extremely socially peaceful. Author, Andy Dunn, comments in “The Age Of Bonobos,” “Bonobos are comfortable being gay or bisexual, which we are learning to do as well.” Is it possible these sudden surges of sexual “deviance” are a facet of an evolving consciousness that aims at more equal - and therefore - peaceful, inclusive relations?
TO BE CLEAR
Just as it is for cis-gender folk, reproductive success isn’t an overtly conscious mechanism for queer people. In a lot of ways, humans are geared to think about sex and possibly having children periodically as a biological urge. But there’s a difference between this natural process and the paranoid image of a trans woman maniacally clasping and unclasping her hands at the opportunity to use her gender identity to get the reproductive upper-hand. Our culture can have the tendency of demonizing those who deviate from the mainstream. On the contrary, there is a body of evidence showing a correlation between brain structure and queer folk: specifically, the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, which helps process signals of anxiety/stress response and sex recognition. According to PubMed, the divide in the posterior part of this structure is greater in males than in females. Similarly, trans men have been shown to already have a more male-corresponding divide here—thought to be due to the presence of androgens in utero.
An Intriguing Possibility
Perhaps these structural changes in developing fetuses are on track to a more egalitarian human creature. Think about it. Non-binary individuals—especially those that undergo hormone therapy—have an amazing opportunity to see both sides of society’s gender coin. To experience firsthand what it is to walk in the shoes, so to speak, of both sexes—physically and socially. This very special perspective invites a sort of understanding that cis folks can never have. In a world that is constantly struggling for recognition, respect, and equality, this perspective is nothing if not valuable. The more queer folk who reproduce, the more their offspring will take on the values and advantages that a queer perspective offers. An increased presence of the non-binary community in society tips the scales, favoring a more equal power dynamic across all genders. Keep in mind, we would still be in the very early stages of this kind of transition, and it is a transition that comes with a lot of struggle.