In 2008, animal and LGBTQ advocates united in denouncing experiments conducted on ‘Gay Sheep’ in Oregon Health & Science University and Oregon State University. The experiments examined whether altering the hormone levels could change the homosexual preferences in sheep to heterosexual.
But Are You A ‘Real’ Man?
The masculinity of queer and vegetarian men is often called into question in the form of jokes, harassment, and discrimination. In the dominant culture, masculinity is strongly associated with heterosexuality and, in turn, heterosexual virility is associated with meat eating and the exploitation of animals.
In the media, 'real men' are portrayed as powerful, aggressive, violent, rational, and importantly, heterosexual. Heterosexuality is a key factor, as the notion of masculinity is tied to the sexual domination of women. Homophobic words such as 'queer', 'fag', or 'sissy' are used to discipline those who do not fall in-line with stereotypic gender behaviour.1 In an attempt to prove their own dominance, men often attack those they perceive to be less masculine with homophobic language, forcing men to continually prove that they are not 'gay'. As Michael Flood states, "On the one hand, homosexuality is perceived as gender betrayal. On the other, deviation from dominant masculinity is perceived to be homosexual."2 Such gender disciplining evolves from binary views of one's gender and sexuality. Those who defy such rigid norms of sexuality and masculinity, such as gay, bisexual, queer, or trans men, often face intense harassment and discrimination.
The exploitation of animals is also tied to modern notions of masculinity. Cultural slogans such as 'Real Men Eat Meat' and 'Steak and BJ Day' (invented by Tom Birdsey as a response to Valentine's Day) identify meat-eating as masculine behaviour. Steakhouses use images of muscular bulls to imply sexual virility through the consumption of meat, and in times of food shortage, meat is reserved for the men of the household, connecting meat eating to male physical and sexual power.3 Hunting and vivisection are also associated with men’s power and predatory sexuality.4
Both the animal rights and environmental movements have been considered 'threats to masculinity', as they challenge 'manly' activities, such as meat eating or driving SUVs. Vegetarian foods, such as tofu, are considered anti-meat and femanized, emasculating men that choose to eat a vegetarian diet. An influx of advertisements have begun to link meat-eating and environmnetally destructive behaviour to manliness in an attempt to restore dominant notions of masculinity (check out the following ad for an example).5
Men who challenge gender norms by exhibiting care for animals often have their masculinity questioned . Vegan men are often told they are ‘gay’, ‘a sissy’, or ‘a fag’. Such comments explicitly demonstrate how queer and vegan men together challenge current destructive conceptions of masculinity.
Finding a ‘Cure’
The belief that 'homosexuality' is an illness leads to the notion that 'homosexuality' (or any form of ‘sexual deviance’) can be cured. This framework has allowed bigoted researchers to test various 'biological' theories of 'homosexuality' by performing multiple experiments on both human and nonhuman animals.
Various 'treatments' have been developed and forced upon individuals in the LGBTQ community. Reparative therapies offer to change a person’s sexual orientation, while biomedical doctors have attempted to alter sexual preferences through forced hormone treatments. LGBTQ persons have been subjected to lobotomies, castration, electroconvulsive shock treatment, and aversion therapy in the attempt to ‘cure’ them.6
The Aversion Project, one of the wost experimental programs ever performed on humans, documents behaviour therapy for 'homosexuals', including electric shock therapy and chemical castration. When behaviour therapy failed, approximately 900 individuals were given sexual reassignment therapy without their informed consent, nor pre- or post-operative assessments, with many individuals dying in surgery.7 Like the nonhuman animals humans experiment upon today, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer individuals were considered inferior to the straight population, and consequently, the pain, suffering, and distress experienced during such trials were ignored.
Today, many animal experiments (particularly with rodents) are performed to determine the 'biological' cause of homosexuality.8 These experiments, which focus on penis-into-vagina sexual behaviour, ignore broader understandings of human sexuality and fail to incorporate how past social interactions affect the animal’s sexual behaviour.9 The experiments harm LGBTQ peoples by reducing human sexuality to pure biology (genes, hormones, etc.), leading others to believe ‘abnormal sexual behaviour’ can be altered. They similarly harm nonhuman animals by manipulating and imprisoning the animals and equating animal behaviour to biology, ignoring the complex social lives of different animal species.9
1Lehne, G. K. (1976). Homophobia among men. In S. D. S. David & R. Brannon, The Fourty-Nine Percent Majority, pp. 66-88. New York: Random House.
2Flood, M. (2009). Homophobia and masculinities among young men (Lessons in becoming a straight man). Retrieved July 5, 2009, from http://www.xyonline.net/misc/homophobia.html.
3Adams, C. J. (1990). The sexual politics of meat: A feminist-vegetarian critical theory. Continuum: New York.
4Luke, B. (2007). Brutal: Manhood and the exploitation of animals. University of Illinois Press: Urbana.
5Rogers, R. A. (2008). Beasts, burgers, and hummers: Meat and the crisis of masculinity in contemporary television advertisements. Environmental Communication: A Journal of Nature and Culture, 2, 281-301.
6Meem, D. T., Alexander, J. F., & Gibson, M. (2009). Finding Out: Introduction to LGBT Studies. Sage: Thousand Oaks.
7Kaplan, R. M. (2004). Treatment of homosexuality during apartheid. British Medical Journal, 329, 1415-1416.
8Faustosterling, A. (1995). Animal models for the development of human sexuality: A critical evaluation. Journal of Homosexuality, 28, 217-236.
9Birke, L. (1994). Feminism, animals and science: The naming of the shrew. Ballmoor: Open University Press.
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