Monday, October 10, 2011

A Spurt in the Dark

I don't know about you, but I think it's high time we stopped beating around the bush and finally discussed the sensitive topic of:


Why not? The New York Times already has (evidently because it was a slow news day in New York, in which no major city legislators got booked for trying to mate with a gyro or anything).

I refer to an article which appeared in the September 20 edition of the Times, entitled "Amorous Squid Seeks Partner: Any Sex Will Do."  In this article, writer James Gorman alerts us to the fact that a science person named Dr. Hendrik J. T. Hoving is deeply into the study of squid nooky.  A recent study by Dr. Hoving concerned the fact that (I am quoting here) "A five-and-a-half-inch deep-sea squid that lives a solitary life up to half a mile down in the dark waters of the Pacific Ocean is the latest addition to the hundreds of species that are known to engage in same-sex sex."

Now let's don't be too condemning here.  I'm certain that you and I both, if we were five-and-a-half-inch squids* down in the dark waters of the Pacific Ocean, with nothing to fulfill our biological needs save manual tentacle stimulation** and deep-sea porno,*** would be pleased to deep-sea bonk the first being that floated within range, be it male, female, seaweed, university trustee, etc.  So I see no major revelations in this study.  But to the scientific community, this is apparently SUPER exciting scientific news.  Like, if you were the scientific community, this sort of scientific news would propel you to instant multiple scientific climax.  You would need a change of scientific underpants.

YOU would never understand; you're not the scientific community.

So let's read on: aha.  It turns out we are talking in particular about the male squid.  This squid**** in particular will take any old chance it can get.  Fair enough.  Says Gorman: "Male squid .... pay no attention to the sex of other squid. They live alone in the dark, males and females are hard to tell apart, and only occasionally do squids pass in the night. Far better to risk wasting a few million sperm than to miss out on a chance to reproduce."  This is accompanied by a photo of a shamed-looking squid covered with white dots, which the caption explains are due to an attack of - and I want to stress that this is the finest journalism quote in the history of the world - "rocket sperm."

They don't happen to interview the pictured squid, but you just know there is no way anyone could ever claim this was consensual.

Of course, this is not the first known instance of same-sex sexual behavior in animals.  Allow me to advance two examples by way of illustration.  Example A is a quote from the article: "Among mammals, bottlenose dolphins and bonobos engage in lots of different kinds of sex."  No offense to any dolphins reading this column, but you just know a dolphin is not "getting any" when it will go off and make it with bonobos.

Example B is a real-life experience I had (in real life) at Riverside Park, where I went to jog when I lived in New York.  I would always stop for a brief pause at the dog park, where I would have meaningful conversations with German shepherds over the fence ("Did you read the Times today?"  "Oh, I know! About the squid?").

However, on this occasion, my attention was drawn to two miniature, hairy-rodent-style dogs, both of whom were exceedingly male, and one of whom was - I am dead serious about this - giving the other the world's first dog blowjob.  Here is the thing: I had no camera, and there were no other witnesses, even though the dogs' owners were both there.  They were standing a few yards away, backs turned, shooting the breeze - probably griping about the subway - and meanwhile there were their two little furry friends, perched daintily on their hind legs, Dog 1 nipping contentedly away at Dog 2's personal organ, which Dog 2 did not seem to mind in the least.  Meanwhile the owners went on chatting and, tragically, science could not be recorded.  I do not mind telling you that, in stark contrast to the squid exposé, this was an issue of extreme scientific importance.  I myself was in a state of scientific conniption.  This was far more edifying than anything I ever learned at Columbia, unless of course you are a former professor of mine, in which case, ha ha, just kidding, you enriched me.

But back to the squid article, and those little white dots: "It seems that the male ejaculates a packet of sperm at the mating partner ... essentially shooting the sperm ... into the flesh of the partner, where they stay embedded until the female (if the shooter has been lucky) is ready to fertilize its eggs. If males are the recipient of these rocket sperm, they are just stuck with them. It is the kind of mating that would make a good video game."  This is an excellent idea, if you ask me now.  I'm thinking of a sort of Pac-Man motif (I can see it now: introducing Sperm Man and his feminist equivalent, Ms. Sperm Man).*****

It goes without saying that our fearless squid-love researcher, Dr. Hoving - who, at publication time, "was leaving for research at sea himself"****** - goes on the record as asserting that there are not gay squid (a statement which, needless to say, raised the ire of gay-rights activists everywhere, especially those as happen to be squid).  Says the Times : "He fended off that notion, reiterating that the squid has no discernibly sexual orientation, and that a tentacled invertebrate that shoots sperm into its mate's flesh really has nothing to do with human behavior," at least not outside of reality television.

And so the burning biological question remains: are the squid just plain being stupid? Another scientist, Marlene Zuk, debunks this notion.  The squid is not being stupid, at least not for a squid, or a member of Congress.  "The animal is not making a mistake," she is quoted as saying.  "It's not mistaken to deposit sperm with another male."  Otherwise, according to Ms. Zuk, natural selection would have eradicated the behavior of the squid.  And, as she adds, "We still have squid."  We still have Congress, too, so I am not convinced of anything.

Needless to say, this all raises a number of troubling questions:

* Just what kind of "research" was Dr. Hoving going to do "at sea"?
* Do you think gay squid have squid community theatre?
* Is there a squid puppet out there?

This last question is of course the most scientifically important.  And it turns out that the answer is yes.  Not only is there a squid puppet out there, it's a honking squid puppet, traversing the streets of Portland, Oregon with multiple handlers.  They call it the Singing Squid Procession.  Here's a link to pictures of the thing, which does not look in the slightest like any other thing, especially in the final photo on this page, so let's just dispense with that idea right now:

But let's be very clear about one thing.  I know that Dr. Hoving, who is a respectable and experienced scientist out there gallivanting about with squid at sea, says that squid do not have a sexual orientation.  But just in case he is wrong, and he is silencing the voices of gay squid who should otherwise be heard, I wish you gay squid out there to know that it is okay to be who you are.  Be out and loud and proud of your squiddy gay self.  Know that there is always a listening ear over here and come over anyt.... hey, what are all these little white spots on my ear?

* Of course this does not apply to most of us, with the exception of Richard Simmons.
** DISCUSSION QUESTIONS FOR ACADEMICS: How would this even work? Do you think you would like having tentacles? Explain.
**** Which, understandably enough, does not give its name, although I imagine it's "Milton."
***** I foresee a Christmas rush.
****** Let's just meditate on this for a moment.