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Animals that debunk the gender binary

Animals that debunk the gender binary

In a world where society often simplifies gender into a binary concept (two distinct categories of masculine and feminine), it's easy to forget that nature has a way of challenging these simplistic notions. The animal kingdom, a realm of boundless diversity and complexity, offers a fascinating glimpse into the fluidity of gender and the myriad ways it can manifest. While humans grapple with rigid societal norms and expectations, animals roam freely through a spectrum of genders, challenging our preconceived notions and reminding us that the gender binary is far from the whole truth. From the rainforest canopy to the ocean floor, here’s a selection of fantastic fauna to prove it. 

Clownfish can MTF transition 

Every Nemo is born male but may find itself female later in life. These charming reef-dwellers have a laudable social structure in which the dominant fish is female, and the second-ranking fish is male. When the dominant female dies, the top male undergoes a transformation, becoming a female in a process called sequential hermaphroditism”. 

Female spotted hyenas have penises 

All female spotted hyenas have a functional penis (also referred to as a pseudopenis or penile clitoris). It’s fully erectile and basically indistinguishable from that of the male hyenas; 90% as long and the same diameter. Female spotted hyenas use it to urinate, signal, and give birth. 

Female spotted hyenas are larger and more aggressive than the males of the species, and lead the social hierarchy. Erect penises are a sign of submission, so in a struggle for dominance, the female hyena without the erect penis ends up leader of the pack. When mating, the female hyena turns her penis inside like a shirt sleeve to accommodate the male hyena’s penis. Baby hyenas emerge into the world back the way they came, through the long, narrow inverted penile canal. 

Banana slugs can simultaneously impregnate each other 

These eight-inch faux-fruit creatures are born with both male and female genitalia. To reproduce, they simply find a mate of the same size, slide into a 69 formation, and slip their male organs into each other's female organs. Is this what true equality looks like? Maybe. Nevertheless, humans interested in emulating the sexual practice of the banana slug are well-advised to steer clear of their other habit, apophallation, which involves biting off the penis after mating. 

Collubus monkeys fake having a vulva

Slugs and sea creatures are one thing, but are there any mammals that can change gender? One such example is the Collubus monkey. When male Collubus Monkeys come of age, they are shooed away from their pod. They then have to find other single males, with whom they form a coalition and, presumably, move into a grotty sharehouse. To delay the inevitable, the red and olive Collubus monkeys have developed a fascinating evolutionary coping mechanism. During puberty, the area around their anus swells up like the vulva of a female Collubus in heat. This buys them a little more time before they are kicked out of home. 

Child-bearing male seahorses, gender-morphing cuttlefish, intersex bearded dragons and beluga whales are just a few more friendly critters that defy the gender binary. While we humans bumble our way through the complexities of gender identity and expression, the animal kingdom has been showcasing and evolving its own brand of gender fluidity for millenia. There is a home in nature for all creatures beautiful, complex, and changeable— including us.

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