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Same-sex bears give head, Dag

BODY LANGUAGE

I have two words for the Grace Bible Church’s guest homophobe, Bishop Dag Heward-Mills: dolphin porn.

Last weekend, celeb Somizi Mhlongo walked out of the sermon in which Heward-Mills, a guest pastor from Ghana, proclaimed that homosexual interactions are not found in nature: “You will find that homosexuality is not natural,” he said. “You don’t find two male dogs, two male lions, two male impalas, two male cats, even lizards, two elephants. It is unnatural.

“Yes, there is nothing like that in nature. And in the same way there is nothing like one to one. Nature is one to several.”

Let’s leave aside, for the moment, the preacher’s “one to one” comment, in which he seems to be saying promiscuity and polygamy are the norm in nature — “one to several” sounds like a description of what sexologists call multiple concurrent partnerships (read: shags) and what Mormons and President Jacob Zuma call a happy domestic arrangement.

But, no, pastor, or perhaps yes — there are many “like that” in nature. Surely the pastor has seen a male dog trying to mount another male dog? Surely he knows about male lions grooming each other’s manes, or the giraffes that love a bit of same-sex necking? And surely most people with a TV have now seen or at least heard of the work of National Geographic in this area, or the BBC’s contribution, or the documentary about male dolphins who pair-bond and have lots of exciting sex together.

Maybe the bishop doesn’t have an internet connection in Ghana, or he was trained by those Americans who seem to believe the internet is one vast plot to undermine the truth value of the stories told in the Old Testament. They’re especially keen on defending the creationist narrative, which is that God made the world in six days, rather than seeing creation as a process of evolution that took billions of years (and would explain some of what is seen as species’ more unusual behaviour).

That’s ironic, because then God obviously made all those bisexual birds and polyamorous primates. Their happy screwing around or their dedicated civil unions (see penguins) are part of God’s plan, which is nature, right? Human nature can’t be something separate from that general production of the universe. We’re part of it, and we’re not that different from the other mammals who co-populate it.

Bears have even discovered fellatio, hitherto unknown in the animal kingdom. In the journal Zoo Biology, seven researchers from the Polish Academy of Sciences’ Department of Wildlife Conservation published a paper titled Fellatio in Captive Brown Bears, based on their observations of two bears living in a Croatian wildlife reserve. The two bears, write the Polish zoologists, “engaged in recurrent fellatio multiple times per day … and the behavior itself became highly ritualised”.

They speculate that this sudden passion for blowjobbing arises because the bears were orphaned when young and thus didn’t get enough suckling, but that’s on the basis of the belief that any non-reproductive sexual behaviour in non-human mammals must be some kind of maladaptation. And that assumption is made because it is imagined that all sex is for reproduction — it couldn’t be because the bears simply stumbled on to a pleasurable activity and kept doing it because it was fun. That would be to anthropomorphise them, wouldn’t it?

But, as we see, all this comparison of human and animal sexual behaviour produces feedback loops in which we’re not clear whether we are recommending that humans behave more like other animals or whether the animals are behaving like humans. Heward-Mills, for instance, does not go so far as to say we should be more like the other animals in other ways. After all, they don’t have big congregations in fancy buildings where preachers yell at them about sin, sin, sin. They don’t have TVs. As the Bible puts it, they do not sow, and neither do they reap.

And remember, too, that non-human animals do not, ever, wear clothes. So, in our quest to be more like them, we can hopefully expect pastor Heward-Mills to deliver his next rousing sermon in the nude.

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Shaun de Waal
Shaun De Waal

Shaun de Waal has worked at the Mail & Guardian since 1989. He was literary editor from 1991 to 2006 and chief film critic for 15 years. He is now editor-at-large. Recent publications include Exposure: Queer Fiction, 25 Years of the Mail & Guardian and Not the Movie of the Week.

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