chapter  10
22 Pages

Animal Trans

ByMyra J. Hird

Punky and Elvira, two female red-faced Japanese macaques, have lived together for fifteen years and raised three adopted juvenile monkeys together. Whether or not they want to marry (or have any recognition of this distinctly human concept) remains beside the point for the moment, as the state of Ohio, and indeed the whole of America it seems, is embroiled in a heated debate about gay marriage. On one side of the debate, Angela Murray, executive director of the Human Rights for Animals organisation argues that it is Punky and Elvira’s right to have a full wedding that carries the same legal entitlements as human marriages. At the opposite end, Roberta Crombs, president of the Christian United Movement disagrees: ‘Animals marrying? That’s beyond being “under attack”. These zealots have scaled the walls and society has begun to crumble!’ (Busse 2004, 2)

Nonhuman animals have for some time been overburdened with the task of making sense of human social relations. In most cultures, and for most people, nonhuman animals are symbolic. It matters less how nonhuman animals behave, and more how we think they behave. Nonhuman animals supposedly exemplify human animal qualities like the family, fidelity, selfless care for young and, perhaps above all, sex complementarity (that femininity and masculinity are categorically different and complementary). As the quotes at the beginning

of this chapter allude, nonhuman animal morphology and behaviour are most often cited to confirm our assumptions about the nature of things and human beings’ relationship to this nature, even though these meanings may indeed have very little to do with the biological and social realities of nonhuman animals (Bagemihl 1999). Moreover, and as in the case of Punky and Elvira, discussions of animal behaviour often move quickly to moral debates about topics such as gay marriage, the nuclear family and gender relations. As I will argue, morality and nature enjoy an interesting relationship: nature is often invoked in discussions of morality in so far as natural behaviours are considered to be morally superior. Punky and Elvira incite debate because they are nonhuman animals (natural) who are engaged in homosexual behaviour (unnatural and therefore morally inferior), thus disrupting the historic Judaeo-Christian association between nature and moral superiority.2