I’m not sure what Thomas Aquinas – peace be upon him – would make of this latest revelation about “natural law”:
Researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on April 17 have discovered little-known cave insects with rather novel sex lives. The Brazilian insects, which represent four distinct but related species in the genus Neotrogla, are the first example of an animal with sex-reversed genitalia. “Although sex-role reversal has been identified in several different animals, Neotrogla is the only example in which the intromittent organ is also reversed,” says Kazunori Yoshizawa from Hokkaido University in Japan.
During copulation, which lasts an impressive 40 to 70 hours, female insects insert an elaborate, penis-like organ into males’ much-reduced, vagina-like opening. The researchers speculate that the insects’ sex organs and sex-role reversal may have been driven over evolutionary time by the resource-poor cave environment in which the bugs live. Males of the genus provide females with nutritious seminal gifts in addition to sperm, making it advantageous for females to mate at a higher rate.
The more we learn about nature, the more the notion that the universe reflects a cosmic version of human heterosexuality gets discredited. Gender can be fluid in some species; in others, females have the testosterone; in this case, females have dicks. And rather elegant ones at that. We now know what Victorian scientists discovered but hid: that same-sex behavior is also endemic in the animal kingdom, unusual, but widespread. We know that some humans are born with indeterminate gender, that others have a gender that belies their external sex organs, that others still have no problem with their gender but are emotionally and sexually attracted to their own.
The reason why this matters is that the vast apparatus of “natural law” still permeates a huge amount of our thinking about human sexuality and emotion.
In the case of the Catholic Church, a crude and outdated version of natural law is integral to arguments about the “objective disorder” of homosexuals; among many evangelicals, gender diversity is regarded as something that needs to be beaten (sometimes literally) out of a child; reparative therapy is still lamentably used to terrorize the psyches of those born with a different nature. But almost all of this is based on something that has been exposed definitively as untrue. Natural law – far from insisting on a crude gender division in humanity and the universe – should actually help us to appreciate the moral neutrality of differing sexual and emotional identities. And at some point, if natural law endures as part of the Catholic imagination, it will have to be invoked in defense of the naturalness of the homosexual, the transgender, the intersex and all the other bewildering outcomes of our evolution.
Yes, I can see a future where Christianity is a prime defender of sexual minorities – because we simply represent the pied beauty of God’s actual creation. Will I live to see it? Almost certainly not.
(Photo: Current Biology, Yoshizawa et al.)