Smacks and slaps to every cretin in Shiloh, IL, who’s crap­ping whole yel­low apples over the eh-​​maybe children’s book And Tango Makes Three, a book con­tro­ver­sial enough that it even has an online teach­ing guide to cover its del­i­cate dis­cus­sion about…

Oh … yeah, and smacks and slaps to the book’s authors, Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, for writ­ing a book about…

A book about gay pen­guins.

No, really. All of you. Knock it off and pay atten­tion for a minute. I’ll get to you in order.

Good cit­i­zens of Shiloh, who are in a tizzy because there’s a book out there — based on the true story of a pair of male pen­guins at the New York zoo who had the temer­ity to shack up and then adopt — y’all need to set­tle down just a lit­tle bit.

I know your god­dish ways don’t work well with real­ity. I know you’re uncom­fort­able deal­ing with facts. I know that when you see homosexual-​​style behav­ior occur­ring in nature, it guts your argu­ment that homo­sex­u­al­ity is unnatural.

But you can untwist your undies, and here’s why. The pen­guins are not gay.

And they damned sure aren’t the cou­ple being por­trayed in Richardson and Parnell’s cute lit­tle book.

For one thing, the sug­ges­tion that these ani­mals are in love is a bit over the top. These are birds. They do not bring choco­lates on the first date (though, to a pen­guin, regur­gi­tated fish might be more appeal­ing), and they do not lis­ten to the blues when their pengie SO dumps them after catch­ing them in bed with a puf­fin from up Baffin Bay way.

I know there are intel­li­gent birds out there; pen­guins are not among them. I know there are birds which mate for life; again, pen­guins are not among them.

And as to their adop­tion — they didn’t go and pick up an egg from the New York Department of Antarctic Waterfowl Social Services; there was an extra that needed nur­tur­ing, so it was given to the male cou­ple to nur­ture and hatch. (They — the pen­guins — had ini­tially been try­ing to incu­bate a rock that sort of looked like an egg. I’ll come back to why this is sig­nif­i­cant in a minute.)

How can I be so cer­tain the pen­guins aren’t gay, when they’ve cou­pled up, live together as a breed­ing pair, have made at least one attempt at pen­guin gay sex, and raised an adopted chick?

Simple. Being gay, like being in love, is a human con­cept. It doesn’t apply any­where else in the ani­mal kingdom.

As far as we can tell, we’re the only ani­mals that intro­spect, that ques­tion moti­va­tions, that assign mean­ing to our behav­iors. So if Adam moves in with Steve, he’s going to have to explain why to Eve — which means he’ll have to think about it, and he’ll even­tu­ally reach the con­clu­sion that he’s gay. (Or the Edenic equiv­a­lent thereof — a flam­ing swords­man, perhaps?)

Of course if he’s liv­ing in ancient Greek soci­ety, what he’ll do instead is keep Eve around and boff Steve at the sym­po­sium, and not have to explain a damned thing to any­one, because the Greeks didn’t have a word for homo­sex­ual. Which means they didn’t have a con­cept for it either.*

Or maybe it’s the ’60s and they all just decide to have a love-​​in.

Do you see? In deny­ing the “gay­hood” of these pen­guins, I’m not fuel­ing the claims of Einsatzgruppen-​​ÜberKristians; I’m under­min­ing the entire idea of the real­ity of homo­sex­u­al­ity. The pen­guins can’t be some­thing that even humans aren’t; and even if we could be gay, there would be a sug­ges­tion of self-​​awareness in the mix that pen­guins sim­ply lack.

Oh, but wait! We can look at this another way. Humans are as gay as any other ani­mal can be; the pen­guins prove it — which effec­tively destroys the “choice” argu­ment the fanat­ics are so fond of.

The pen­guins in the book were try­ing to hatch an egg-​​like rock; they were doing what their instincts required of them, and maybe part of their prob­lem lies in the fact that pen­guins look pretty much alike; maybe nei­ther one even knows the other is male. Consider the rel­a­tively low sex­ual dimor­phism in our species and see where your thoughts lead you.

They went through the motions of pen­guin sex, includ­ing, pre­sum­ably, the begged-​​for and refused fel­la­tio, the too-​​short-​​for-​​lubrication-​​to-​​flow fore­play, the thirty sec­onds of urgent thrust­ing and two hours of whiny apol­o­giz­ing and denials that it ever hap­pened that way before, fol­lowed by the guilty slink­ing off in the morn­ing with­out mak­ing eye con­tact. They then found a rock that looked like an egg (again, pre­sum­ably with each bird assum­ing the other had laid it), and pre­tended to keep house.

Until the activist judges — oops, I mean the zookeep­ers — decided to help the cou­ple adopt by switch­ing the rock for a real egg.

So the birds, trapped in their instinc­tive need to mate, nest and breed, are basi­cally the vic­tims of some kind of bizarre mis­wiring, which idea is surely ter­ri­fy­ing to the right-​​wing god brigade, who keep bleat­ing about choice and lifestyle and sin and no way are you born like that and … huh? A cou­ple of pen­guins? … oh shit.

But then you can’t impute things to them that they don’t feel, such as love or sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, now can you? If all they are is behav­ing purely reflex­ively, then there’s no room for choice, love, desire or pas­sion, is there?

Well … is there with us?

On the one hand, we can’t infer any­thing about human behav­ior from the actions of a cou­ple of birds. On the other hand, we wouldn’t want those birds’ traits imposed on us as humans.

The answer? Not to ban the book; but also not to take it as some sort of lit­eral roadmap to show us all how to be more accpet­ing of those who are dif­fer­ent. It’s cute, but we really shouldn’t read too much into it. This goes for both the gay com­mu­nity and the fanatics.

As for the book itself — some want it moved from the children’s sec­tion in the school library to the mature read­ers’ sec­tion. The town of Savannah, MO had a bet­ter solu­tion; they put it into the non­fic­tion sec­tion, where it wouldn’t be expected to be a bed­time story for lit­tle kids.

I say call­ing the book “non­fic­tion” is still a stretch, but if it’ll quell this teapot tem­pest and let us all get the hell on with our lives, at least it’s an improvement.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go swim, get din­ner and sit on a rock for a while.


* Yeah, I’m sure about that. The ancient Greeks were the first to pro­pose that mat­ter was made of atoms. If they’d believed in homo­sex­u­al­ity, you can be cer­tain they would have invented a term for it. That (by our stan­dards) they were among the most gay peo­ple of all time is com­pletely irrelevant.


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