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What Do Gay Frogs Tell Us About Our Water…and Ourselves?

What Do Gay Frogs Tell Us About Our Water…and Ourselves?

The documentary film March of the Penguins, when released a few years back, was met, almost universally, with acclaim and collective praise. The film, which went on to make oodles of cash, documented the immense sacrifices, in a supremely inhospitable climate; Emperor penguins make to start a family. Virtually everyone who saw it loved the film, and came away with some sort of general or specific affirmation about life. However, soon after the release of the film, certain religious groups and socially conservative organizations cited the films message of fidelity and family values. These groups made note of how two heterosexual partners, who mated for life, endured great hardship to procreate. This created a firestorm that was met by the news that many penguins (Emperor and otherwise) are often involved in long-term homosexual relationships. This news seemed to be in direct conflict with what the pro-family lobby had to say, and conservative groups shot back with their own brand of cognitive dissonance, and the poor Emperor penguin was caught in the middle.

It is hard to know what was actually gained from that controversy, but if there is one thing, we now know that there are many animals in the wild that display significant homosexual behavior (considering their minimal communicative abilities, it is difficult to get these animals to go on record concerning their sexual orientation). Homosexual behavior has been recorded in over 450 different species of animals – from bison to beetles. And like homosexuality in humans, this behavior in animals (again, we can’t call it an identity with animals because they are unable to claim as much) seems to be definitively influenced by nature, not nurture. This concept that homosexuality is innate and genetic and has been proven time and time again – most entertainingly in the following video:

I hardly refute the fact this fact, but have found myself puzzled by recent scientific findings about the influence of endocrine disruptors on sexual behavior in male South African Claw frogs. After being exposed in a laboratory environment to EPA approved levels of atrazine – the second most commonly used herbicide in the U.S., as well as a fairly common endocrine disruptor found in water supplies – these male frogs underwent a significant change in behavior. The frogs exposed to the atrazine, as opposed to the control group who weren’t, started exhibiting distinct homosexual behavior. Not only did they engage in homosexual sex with one another, as the attending scientist, Tyrone Hayes PHD, said of the frogs, their behavior became “feminized.” To be clear, they didn’t just behave like females, but they actually started producing eggs, which when fertilized by “normal” male frogs produced male offspring. In general, if you go to an environment that’s contaminated with atrazine you find more hermaphroditic or abnormally developed males, and this hormone, or endocrine, disruptor, like others, poses significant risks to all populations – animal, human, homosexual, and otherwise.

It would be folly and reckless to assume that homosexuality in total, among humans or otherwise, is caused by endocrine disruptors. However, these endocrine disruptors are widespread in everything from plastics to children’s toys. Endocrine disrupting chemicals, like atrazine, show up in almost 100 percent of the population, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and many of these chemicals are known to disrupt normal reproductive system development in animals. Many researchers believe that hypospadias, or genital abnormalities, are caused by these disruptors. About one in 125 to one in 250 newborn males has an abnormality in their genitalia that could be described as hypospadias. So, as much as we don’t know, it does beg the question – if frogs are so severely impacted in behavior and identity by something like atrazine, how are we as a population impacted as well? Is it dangerous to view this behavior among the test set of frogs as aberrant because it is so obviously a result of hormone disruptors? What does this say about the predominant belief in the genetic origins of homosexuality? Confusing stuff no doubt.

Read more: Babies, Children, Family, Love, Nature, Nature & Wildlife, Parenting at the Crossroads, Sex, , , , , , , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

66 comments

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5:52AM PST on Mar 10, 2011

I agree with what Emily W said. (I also did Psychology as one of my majors in university by the way.)

Sexuality is a social construct - people make choices (as did I when the time came for me to choose which sex I liked being with better) in life based on what they feel most comfortable with.

Every single one of my male gay friends tells me they "chose" to be gay when they "discovered" they like males better than females.

4:11PM PST on Feb 27, 2011

It means it is natural and it exists, end of discussion!

3:13PM PST on Feb 13, 2011

Hmmm, well putting aside the issue of whether or not being 'born gay' is biologically possible, I wonder whether the fact that these toxins are affecting frogs in such a fashion will make the politicians realise they need to focus on looking after this planet, rather than being too lazy and greedy to stop this sort of stuff getting into us. It'd be nice to think so.

My cynical side says however that the people who care aren't the ones in authority, the ones who have political power are mostly in the pockets of the people who prefer profit to responsibility or concern for the planet. Will seeing the same effects manifesting in humans be enough? Is proof that these toxins mess with our brains sufficient reason to do something about them? I hope so; I'd really love for my cynicism to be proven misplaced.

6:43PM PST on Feb 2, 2011

Now I am in no way anti-gay, but I have psychological training. Being gay is not a choice, how-ever twin studies show it is not something you are born with. Its like being left-handed. Naturally people are not left handed, but certain factors make some people left handed (Like being in the wrong position in the womb). Its not biological, its environmental.

The same thing is with being homosexual. Something in their environment causes it. Biologically, without a genetic defect, it is impossible for a person to be biologically born gay. It is 'abnormal' to be homosexual. Not that it is bad(just like being left-handed isn't bad) but it still is 'abnormal'. Meaning that there is two possibilities: Genetic defect, or something environmental.

Genetically it is not possible to be healthily born gay. The only reported cases are of those who have chromosonal abnormalities.

8:23AM PST on Feb 2, 2011

thanks!

5:48PM PST on Jan 29, 2011

Thanks for the article and for the video. People do not choose to be gay. They are born gay. Their only choice is how they deal with it.

8:42AM PST on Jan 27, 2011

our planet is in real danger when frogs and toads act strange or show signs of being deformed.....

10:34PM PST on Jan 23, 2011

noted

3:55PM PST on Jan 23, 2011

Homosexuality in nature is as old as mother nature.

1:40PM PST on Jan 23, 2011

Frogs are one of the first species to tell us that the world is too toxic....

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