So-called ‘Gay’ Penguins and the Complex Concept of HomosexualityPosted: November 12, 2012
As I write this, a news article is currently circulating about two male penguins who have been incubating an egg at a zoo in Denmark. One article has the title “Gay Penguins Adopt Egg, Welcome Baby”. It’s prompted some to point out that whether these penguins are an example of homosexuality, is a matter of opinion. IE, for the egg to have been created, it would have followed from heterosexual sex, and if the two males who subsequently incubated the egg do not have sex with each other, the question arises of whether it’s accurate to describe them as gay. I would suggest it isnt accurate, especially since prior investigations have concluded that penguins engage in gay flirting rather than gay relationships.
The penguin news is interesting in part due to how different media outlets treat it, with some simply portraying the relationship as gay, and other articles pointing out that their zookeeper has stated that the penguins are not gay.
The lack of clarity on this topic, is perhaps indicative of the evolving perceptions we have of homosexuality. In decades past, homosexuality was perceived to primarily be about sex. But with all the media attention on political pushes for same-sex marriage, societal perceptions are changing to perceive homosexuality as being primarily about close paired relationships.
The essence of homosexuality has always been complicated. From a Biblical point of view, it was always about the sex. Sex between members of the same gender is consistently condemned (Leviticus 18, Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6 etc) but close tender relationships between members of the same sex is sanctioned (David and Jonathan, Jesus and John). But in our everyday life, on the one hand we have same-gender couples who wish to marry, yet we also have men in successful heterosexual relationships who engage in gay sex on the side. And we have gay men who like to wear women’s clothes, but other gay men who dont. We have gay women who wish to have gender reassignment surgery and we have other gay women who dont. We have some lesbians who say they chose to be lesbian, and other lesbians who feel they never felt they made a choice. We have gay men who say their sexual orientation is fixed and despite their best efforts to change it they couldnt, and we have indications that for men their bisexualty was a mistaken phase. We have some men who have had gay sex, who call themselves heterosexual, and we have some men who have never had gay sex, who call themselves homosexual (because for them it’s the attraction that is the determinant). The penguin news is a reminder that although there can be some cross-over, variation in gender conformity is not the same as homosexual orientation, and the gender of someone you bond with is not necessarily the gender to which you are sexually attracted. And there are all sorts of permutations of those factors. But ultimately, I have serious doubts that it’s balanced to label those two male penguins as ‘gay’.