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‘Gay’ birds and media spin – again

Several years back, I posted about newspaper articles on ‘gay’ albatrosses in which I pointed out the rather dubious rhetoric and logic used.  Well, ‘gay’ birds are back on the radar again, but this time it is the term of zebra finches to be ‘gayified’.  Once again Metro’s ‘Minicosm’ has chosen to make this an issue, under the title ‘Tweet Nothings’, along with the Daily Mail under the headline ‘The secret life of gay birds who are ‘attached and faithful for life’.  They display precisely the same kind of false equivalences, garbled thinking and lack of logic.  Both articles are clearly trying to use the ‘findings’ as justification for ‘progressive’ sexuality value systems.  Just look at the headline of the Mail article.

‘The secret life of gay birds…’ sets the tone.  But let’s look at the hidden rhetoric and how it functions on the subconscious.  ‘The secret life…’  with implications of suppression, a frisson of excitement at mystery.  In terms of sexuality, when we think of ‘secret life’ it brings with it echoes of the hidden, the forbidden and the private, maybe oppressed people being deliberately secretive because of outside pressures and dangers.  ‘Gay birds’  prejudges the issue and tilts the readers mind in one direction right from the start – there are connotations of free preference for sex with the same gender – eg a teenager with plenty of access to the opposite gender but who wants sex with their own gender.  The avian interactions described are to be seen as the equivalent of human sexual choices.  And similarly the ‘attached and faithful for life’ brings a bouquet of homey familiarity and stability and monogamy, doubtless to counter the (statistically speaking broadly accurate) perception of the promiscuous gay lifestyle.

The Metro Minicosm article uses the same rhetorical tactics : ‘Zebra finches have been found to form gay “couples”, singing to and preening each other as much as their heterosexual friends – meaning the birds are not purely interested in reproducing’.  (Implied here is a disparagement of say, Christian doctrines about the reproductive function of sex, perhaps?).  Again, it uses the language of gay vs heterosexual, which is inappropriate, since, funnily enough, there is no actual mention of sexual activity.  Preening, bonding, social activity, yes, but in these birds, as the Mail article does acknowledge, there are likely survival enhancement and other benefits in pairing off and bonding.  The team of scientists, says the Mail article ‘believes the same-sex pairings could be a strategy for survival, the birds teaming up to defend resources and fight predators.  “A pair-bond in socially monogamous species represents a cooperative partnership that may give advantages for survival,” Dr Elie continued.  “Finding a social partner, whatever its sex, could be a priority”.’

But lets examine the issue further.  The unstated assumption in these articles is nearly always that ‘because birds do it, it’s natural, and should be seen that way in humans too’.  Just to google ‘Dr Julie Elie zebra finches’ shows this.  Virtually every headline / page title on the first page of findings carries overtones of sexual values and/or moral implications – eg :

‘Homosexual bonds just as strong in Heterosexual in Zebra Finches’ –  International Business Times

‘Homosexual zebra finches form long-term bond’  – BBC Nature

‘Gay-birds have life-long relationships’ – The Student Room

‘Gay Zebra finches are as faithful to each other as straight….’  The Mirror

‘Gay Zebra finches bond as strongly as heterosexual counterparts’  by BioScholar

And the Mails article is posted twice with two titles (two versions?)  that really drive the moral / ideological point home :

‘Monogamous birds just as attached to members of same sex as….’    and

‘Gay zebra finches are as ‘attached and faithful’ to each other as…’.

But when we look at the bioscholar article what is implied in the other articles is made explicit.  This was anything but a natural state.  The researchers took these birds, which, as the Mail article states, are noted for their life-long bonding, and at the formative bond-forming age, put them in an environment where they only had other males to bond with.  The Microcosm article also asserts that this was ‘not simply a fad…as when young male finches were raised in same-sex groups, more than half paired up with another male.  When females were introduced, the males stayed faithful to their current partner’ (although that in itself is a rather deceptive statement – the Mail article clarifies that this was only in some pairs – 5 out of 8).  So, we have birds whose inbuilt instinct is to bond for life, and they bond with what is available, and once established a high proportion of those bonds remained once more natural conditions were re-allowed.  So what does that prove?

Look at things another way.   This studies findings are not the equivalent to the actions and choices of a teenager – or indeed an adult – in normal multi-gendered society, it’s more close to the hot-house environment of prison, or better, since we are talking about formative periods, of all-male boarding schools and the like.  (I once met a chaver who had gone into ‘juvie’ straight, was raped there, and at that point his sexuality totally switched, and after the violation was only attracted to men – that kind of switch is not at all uncommon).  For it to even start to be close to human society reality, we would need to see what happens in the wild, or at the least what proportion of ‘homosexual’ pairing there is in a large population with about equal numbers of male and female.

Just because a bird that bonds naturally for life, does so with same sex birds when they are all that is available just says something about the God-created bonding instinct necessary for survival.  What meaning does that have for us?  After all, geese will imprint on pretty much the first thing they say when they hatch, whether humans, or a wellington boot.  Does that mean that we go around claiming that validates wellie fetishes or ‘cross-species’ parenting or bonding in humans?  Hardly!  So why do the rules suddenly change when it comes to alleged ‘orientation’ issues in the animal / bird world?  And that’s beside the point anyway.  If I am in a survival situation or have an enforced roommate of the same sex, I am likely to bond with them, engage in domestic activities with them in a similar way to the shared nests and preening of these birds, but it hardly means I am gay.

Once again, predictably, the media approaches this issue in an extremely one-sided, unrepresentative, irresponsible and defective way, blurring boundaries of logic on multiple levels and introducing an inordinate amount of PC and psuedo-moral rhetoric into scientific stories.  So much for public education – public indoctrination more like!

believes the same-sex pairings could be a strategy for survival, the birds teaming up to defend resources and fight predators.
‘A pair-bond in socially monogamous species represents a cooperative partnership that may give advantages for survival,’ Dr Elie continued.
‘Finding a social partner, whatever its sex, could be a priority