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  • Writer's pictureStar Williams

When Peacocks Transition, Queerly Dear

Updated: Jun 28, 2019

Content note: This letter includes a short story about a homophobic parent and also delights in how birds and fishes can organically transition.

Queerly dearest,

This person in Iowa owns peahens and peacocks, but guess what? Four times, during his years as a bird owner, one of his birds who was assigned female (as peahens) transitioned. (Please note that there's offensive language from the start of the following video where I heard this story, but here it is.)

The brown peahen feathers in this shot from the video are beginning to turn blue-green.
The feathers in this shot from the video are beginning to turn blue-green.

Said bird-owner shows how the feathers of one of these amazing birds began to change into blue-green "eye" feathers. Beautiful! Soon, this bird had completely transformed. According to the owner, the peacocks no longer lay eggs, post-transition. They transform from head to toe. I didn't know that peacocks could transition and it's really made my day.

This reminds of when I was a teenager and quietly asked my father, "Is it wrong for two boys to have sex?" He said it was, and I asked why. "It's unnatural," said my father. "You can tell because animals don't do it."

This, of course, was completely erroneous! Or to use my father's words, "A lot of tosh." From bonobos to Japanese macaques, queer animals are all over the place. I'm sure that if I'd asked Dad a similar question about being trans, I'd have received the same answer. Yet here we are with proof that peacocks transition. The natural world has lessons for us: "be yourself" and "transition is natural" are surely among them.

I love that animals can be marvelous at honoring our own transness, too. I have a dear friend who, when he decided to transition, worried about his dog. "Dogs navigate this world through smell," he said. "What if, when I'm on hormones, Max doesn't recognize me?" It was one of many terrifying moments that came with my friend's transition, but ultimately, Max's big brown eyes continued to gaze at his pops every day with pure recognition of who his pops was and how deeply he was loved.

As for trans animals, I've been loving my google searches! Have you heard about clown fish? They begin their lives as male, writes Tijen Butler, but the school is led by a single, dominant female. When that female leader dies, her mate transitions biologically and becomes the female leader. (Finding Nemo needs a re-write, folks!) Another surprise, while I was doing this research, came from the BBC. In an article there, David Robson tells of Dr H. E. Schaef's cockerel, who, with their "bright red comb and a wattle" looked like many other cockerels, but, when viewed in profile, presented as a hen on the left-hand side, since their "body was slighter and had plainer markings." As the doctor found out after the bird died, they also had a blend of sex organs.

There are many more marvelous examples of queer/trans creatures. I could go on. But for now, I'm just going to bask in the fact that when my partner started calling me "peacock" as a way to honor my non-binary femme expression, we had no idea of how spot on he was.

Love your feathers, queerly dear,


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