Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Animals [II, 3]

From early times same-sex proclivities have been attributed to certain species of animals. The ancient Greeks held that male partridges are so highly sexed that in the absence of females they readily assault one another. Ganymede, often shown being abducted by Zeus’ eagle, sometimes appears riding a rooster (a traditional symbol of youthful virility) instead.

Early Christian writers associated the hare with pederasty because of the fantastic belief that it grows a new anus every year. More radically the hyena symbolized gender ambiguity because it changed it sex each year, switching back and forth from male to female. Finally the weasel, which was supposed to conceive through the mouth, stood for fellatio. To be on the safe side, the author of the noncanonical “Epistle of Barnabas” forbade eating the flesh of any of these creatures.

In the seventh century Insider of Seville thought that the Latin name of the kite (a bird), mulvus, was derived from mollis, soft. Since mollis was a synonym for passive homosexuality, this activity was attributed to this particular bird. Interestingly, Leonardo da Vinci in a childhood recollection made famous by Sigmund Freud, imagined that a kite flew into his mouth and flapped its wings there: evidently a disguised form of fellatio

In modern languages various animal terms are used metaphorically to designate homosexual persons, without any necessary connotation that the animals themselves are given to such behavior. Contemporary Spanish features several terms derived from the names of animals, commonly small, defenseless creatures, conveying the effeminate gay man’s vulnerability—-mariposa (butterfly), pájaro (bird) and pato (duck). In other instances they are coarse, offensive creatures--cabrón, goat: culebro, snake; and cangrejo, crab. A group of gay men may be referred to as alas de una otra pluma, birds of a different feather. Ironic are león and leopardo: gay men are notable by not being lionlike.

Butterfly Man is the title of a 1934 gay novel by Jay Levenson. The term has a limited circulation in English-speaking North America, but one should note Red Butterfly, a small gay Marxist group active in New York City in the early seventies.

The chicken, an attractive boy, is the object of the attentions of the chickenhawk—a word that has a Latin forerunner in pullarius. From hobo talk comes gunsel, a young acolyte (derived from German or Yiddish for “little goose). Because of the sound it is sometimes used to designate a young hoodlum who carries a gun. Occasionally, one hears the expression “gay as a goose,” but that probably persists because of the alliteration. American Yiddish has produced faygeleh, little bird, as a term for a gay man.

An undesirable sexual partner accepted for the purposes of convenience is called a dog, toad or moose (the latter usage is applied only to women). The term bitch (a female dog) is used in slang as a disparaging term for a woman. As such it sometimes adopted by gay men, as in the expression “I’ll be your bitch” (probably originally prison slang). Also common is the word troll, generally an older man considered unattractive, is derived from a mythical Scandinavian semihuman group. Some bathhouses have a troll patrol, to exclude such individuals. In the gay slang of contemporary Spain a víbora or viperina, viper, is a queen with a vicious tongue who has a reputation for “putting down” others. Misogynous gays may refer to women as fish, a reference to vaginal odors; in Spain bacalao, cod. In US prison lingo a fishis a new inmate, young, attractive, and naive, who is viewed as ready prey by the more experienced sexual predators.

The bear subculture is a community of men who are husky and/or hairy and who appreciate such qualities. This subculture has generated a number of terms. The bear proper is a man with a beard or van Dyke, typically with a hairy chest and body and a stocky or heavyset build. The bear is often older (or older looking) and displaying a masculine appearance and mannerisms. The word chaser refers to someone who is not a bear, cub, or otter, but is sexually or romantically attracted to them (this term is often used to describe an outsider who has sexual attraction to people within that community). Ursophile and arctophile are somewhat arch terms to designate someone who seeks out bears.

A cub is a younger (or younger looking) version of a bear, typically but not always with a smaller frame. The term is sometimes used to imply the passive partner in a relationship. A daddy bear or papa bear is an older husky guy sometimes looking for a daddy-son relationship. A panda bear is an Asian guy. The terms muscle bear and muscle cub are obvious. An otter is a man who is hairy, but is not large or stocky; he is typically thinner, or with lean muscle. A polar bear is an older man with white or gray fur or beard. A pocket bear is a shorter bear, while a pocket protector is taller. A manatee is a heavy-set, hairless bear (usually derogatory). A sugar bear is a "sugar daddy" bear; a bear who seeks the company of a younger or more traditionally attractive male or "chaser" in exchange for favors and gifts. A fluffy is a camp or effeminate bear. Woof! is a greeting sometimes used when a bear spots another bear in public and wants to express physical attraction. He will make a growling noise ("Grrrr!") or say "Woof!"

An Edwardian admonition to gay discretion is “don’t frighten the horses.”

The hare is involved in disco bunny and gym bunny (evidently gym bunnies do not take the trouble to adopt a façade of masculinity).

Toe sucking is termed shrimping.

Except for the bear family, animals referenced for male homosexuality tend to be small, defenseless creatures. Not so with lesbians. The aggressive lesbian may be termed a bull or bulldyke.

Italian offers several animal terms, including beccafico (garden warbler), and capretto (a little goat).

Bambi sexuality (UK) is gentle “vanilla” sex, stemming from the Felix Salten character made well known through the Disney film.

Sea pussy plays on the identification of the female genitals with the cat. Traditionally the crews of seagoing vessels included no females, hence the substitute outlet offered by gay sailors, also known as seafood.

Animals are of course consumed for food. One may encounter the term meat for the male genitals; a well-endowed person may be called “meat for days.” Perhaps hunky belongs in this area. Note also butch (from butcher).

If microbes are considered animals, then bug-chasers, those who seek to contract HIV, belong in this section.

In a number of modern European languages, the word “bird” also means penis (polla, uccello, Vogel), though without a specific homosexual sense.

Such terms do not seem to bear much relationship to empirical reality in the animal kingdom. Indeed it has long been a commonplace that animals, living in a state of nature, do not engage in “unnatural” sexual behavior. Darwinian theory would seem to deny this possibility.

Yet observation has now disposed of this claim. Over the last few decades scientists have been accumulating data for same-sex courtship among animals, including genital contact. These carefully controlled studies report animal behavior in the wild, not in captivity where adverse conditions might affect conduct. A recent tome of 751 pages, Bruce Bagemihl’s Sexual Exhuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity (1999) sums up this body of evidence, citing some three-hundred species of vertebrates. Among the animals in which same-sex behavior has been observed are sheep, squirrels, lizards, whales, dolphins, swans, gulls, and swallows. Birds, with ninety-four different species, represent the strongest cohort. Some have raised quibbles regarding this research, claiming, for example, that in some species males turn to other males only in the absence of females. However, animal behavior, like that of human beings, is governed by various factors, including scarcity. The point is that such behavior exists.

The upshot of this research is that the folk intuition that animals can be gay has a certain truth. However, science has determined more accurately which species are susceptible to same-sex behavior and which (in the present state of research) are not. Given the tenacity of linguistic habits and folklore, one should not expect that this research would have much effect on slang that pertains to human homosexuality.

As we have seen, the labeling of human sexual behavior in terms of animals is long-standing. Why did this practice start and why did it continue? The notion that such comparisons relegate homosexuals to the inferior realm of animality is inescapable. To be sure, to call someone the endearment “dovey” and the epithet “lion” (without irony) are complementary. However, such complements are rarely, if ever, implied in the beastly sobriquets that have evolved for gay people.


Post a Comment

<< Home