I've recently become interested in queer animals, specifically after reading that Canadian Geese in monogamous pairs were assumed to be heterosexual when many were in fact lesbians. This occurred because researchers assumed the two geese were male and female, instead of actually checking. I've started to pay a lot of attention to Mallard Ducks, whose sex is easy to tell unlike Geese, but completely forgot about the queer animals in my own home, until they started "making out" loudly to remind me. Before I begin explaining why they're queer and why this matters, I hope to bring a vegan ethic into my description of the birds I live with and introduce them as subjects of lives instead of subjects (really objects) of observation and scrutiny.
I currently live with three parakeets, or budgies as they are more commonly referred to. To preface my conversation, I will admit that they are all pets of some sort. As much as I might want them to be free agents, I have complete control over their lives. I could kill them, sell them, or breed them. I try to find ways around this problematic relationship, but to pretend it's gone would be silly of me. I am the owner, they the pets. Still, I do my best to disrupt this relationship. My budgies all live in a cage that is always open. They have free access to a room, toys, and food at all times. I often put on music for them, which they enjoy. One of them is adopted, and the other two come from before I was vegan and not critical enough to realize that selling any animal as property is wrong. I am very careful with their diet; I buy a two seed mix (as more complex mixes have D3), give them a lava rock (rather than mineral which contains bone), and give them lots of fresh veggies to supplement those nutrients. That might seem like a lot of useless information to preface queer animals, but how I interact with these animals is very important. I believe they are as sentient as I am, so treating them well is important.
To introduce my bisexual and lesbian budgies, I feel it's best to tell a story about their lives. Most of the story is about one of my budgie's many partners. Snowy was the second budgie I'd ever owned and I felt sad that she didn't like humans much, so I bought Isis to hopefully bond with her. Unfortunately, you can't tell what sex budgies are when they're young (or at least the people at a pet store can't) so female Snowy was put in a cage with, what turned out to be, female Isis. Snowy picked on Isis a little, but they generally ignored each other. In budgies, it's recommended that a pair be male and female to avoid fighting. Snowy eventually died and since Isis had always lived with other budgies, I felt bad for her. As a bit of an aside, I've always felt most drawn to Isis because she is so awkward. She is an eight year old albino budgie who has never been able to fly.
I got Skylar (who luckily turned out to be male) to live with Isis. Isis and Skylar constantly preened each other and clicked their beaks together as if making out, so I considered them to be a couple. As far as I know, they never had sex, which is interesting because that became a pattern with Isis. Skylar died of intense seizures so I got two new budgies to live with Isis.
Jack luckily turned out to be male and Colonel Mustard turned out to be female. At the beginning Jack and Isis would make out and preen each other, just as Isis had done before with Skylar. Isis still never had sex. Colonel Mustard and Jack hung out outside the cage together for most of the day like friends (and never preening one another) and then Jack would come inside to preen Isis (since she refuses to leave the cage) occasionally.
I was later given Junebug, a female budgie, so that she wouldn't go to a humane society. I raised Junebug on her own for a little, but when she heard the other budgies in another room, I introduced her to them. Over time Jack began to groom Junebug and ignore Isis. I caught Jack and Junebug trying (and thankfully failing) to have sex a few times. I then noticed that Isis and Colonel Mustard began to preen one another. Eventually Jack died and Isis and Colonel Mustard have remained a couple. They preen each other and make out just like Isis used to with Jack and Skylar. I think the absence of sex with Colonel Mustard isn't important because Isis never had sex with any of her male partners.
So after all of this it appears that I have a potentially heterosexual female budgie (Junebug), a bisexual or pansexual budgie (Isis), and a potentially lesbian budgie (Colonel Mustard). I feel privileged to have been able to watch Isis' relationships flourish, and I wonder if the Canadian Geese have just as many interesting partners. These anecdotal observations, to me, signify the importance of taking animals and their lives seriously. Just like humans have a variety of sexualities, non-humans seem to as well. Perhaps their relationships are more liberated and honest than ours because they are not burdened by heteronormativity. Maybe we could even learn from them.
The idea of queer non-human animals excites me, because we don't really know exactly how queer or not queer our pets are. Domestic pets are not free to pursue relationships. We neuter or spay them, we force them to interact with humans, or we breed them selectively. My birds are more liberated because they don't have human contact, but I still decide which birds they can have contact with. Would Colonel Mustard choose all female partners if given the option, or would she go back and forth like Isis seems to? There is no ethical way to answer that question though, as their sexualities are their own. The last animal sexuality study I read about was horrific (think human encouraged rape) and any intervention on our part (even if well meaning) is immoral. I am happy just to observe them and make notes.