When I first began my journey as a public zoo, I knew I was going to get lots of questions. Some of those would be from honest and confused zoos who were just looking for advice. Some would be from bad faith people just trying to cause trouble. And a fair number would be from people who were just curious and wanted to understand what this whole zoo thing is all about. I also had a decent idea of the kinds of questions that I was going to get. Things like consent, morality, animal behavior, etc. All the stuff that you, dear reader, also have probably seen asked. Maybe they’re questions you’ve even asked yourself!
One question that I never thought I was going to get, however, is thus:
“How do I know if I’m a zoo?”
The first time someone asked me that, I was confused. I honestly thought for a minute that they were trying to troll me, or waste my time. I answered, probably much like you answered in your head when you read the question:
“Well, you’re a zoo if you’re attracted to animals.”
They said okay, and that was the end of the conversation. I thought nothing of it for a few weeks, until someone else asked me the same thing. Once again, I was taken aback. I answered similarly, but it made me start to think about it. Why was it that I was getting this question? And more importantly, was my definition good enough?
By now, I have gotten that question more times than I can remember. It happens so often that I felt like it might be worth talking about it, as well as asking why so many people might have issues with self-labeling. So let’s start off with labels.
Labels are something that we use to try and sort things into neat convenient clumps. There are a million examples of this in society, but they feel particularly egregious when it comes to sex and gender spectrums. Are you Gay or Straight? Are you Male or Female? There may be people who fit perfectly easily into one of those commonly talked about clumps, but it’s much more likely that you’re flexible. You might be gay, but still feel a flutter of attraction at seeing how well the opposite sex can rock some fashionable clothing. You might be female, but really enjoy he/him pronouns sometimes, or even just enjoy more normatively masculine things. In those kinds of cases, while a label like “gay” or “female” can be helpful to quickly explain the broad important picture of what defines you, it also doesn’t perfectly express the entirety of the real subject.
Labels can be something that people try to avoid as well. If you’re 6’3” and muscular but you love reading and learning, it might be frustrating to always be labeled as a jock. There’s negative associations that exist with labels. Jocks are thought of as dumb, arrogant, womanizers, etc. If you believe all those things about jocks, it can be very hard on your self image when people think that’s the category you fit in to. Not only that, labels might even limit the ability for you to make friends outside of your assigned role. If a nerd gets bullied by jocks, it may be harder for them to make friends with you even if all you wanna do is talk about the newest anime release.
All of these reasons could easily be why some zoosexuality-curious people have issues with fully stepping into the role of “being a zoo.” There are unfortunately a lot of negative traits that people associate with us. I doubt I need to tell them to you. If someone comes to realize that they’re attracted to non-humans, it may be hard for them to swallow that that’s a label they fit into now. In fact, a lot of the time they may be asking me How do I know if I’m a zoo? in the hopes that the answer will turn out to be, “Don’t worry, you aren’t one ^^” However, in my experience, if they’re at the point where they’re asking a zoo about it, chances are the answer isn’t entirely, “You aren’t one,” because the question didn’t entirely come out of nothing. People know what sexualities are, they aren’t looking for me to explain what Webster’s dictionary defines attraction as. I think really they kind of want to know if they’re someone bad. Or, to use less moralizing terms, maybe they’re on the edge of one of these labels — these clumps — that has a lot of societal baggage on one side, and it would be easier for them to at least know definitively if they’re in or out.
Frequently, if you dig a little deeper into the question, you’ll start getting half-answers. Am I a zoo if all I do is fantasize? Am I a zoo if I just watch porn? What about if it’s just animated? Am I a zoo if I did something once but I swore a vow to never do it again? All of those are things I get asked more than you probably expect. I’ve even had someone go as far as to say to me, “I hate zoophiles, I think they’re monsters, I think contact is assault. But also, I think about it sometimes. I can’t help myself. Am I a zoophile?”
And for all of those questions, the answer might be yes or no. It’s part of the magic — and pitfalls — of our labels. Even though most furries are zooey, attracted as they are to animal traits, most aren’t zoos. Think about this situation: If you’re straight, in a straight relationship, and have no intention to ever have a homosexual encounter, but you watch gay porn once a month, are you gay?
This is where our reliance on simple labels starts to break down. On a purely technical level, if you’re attracted to animals you are zoosexual. But upon reflection, that’s a bad way to think about it. Human lives intersect those of other animals in so many ways. We’re often called to get deeply involved with some non-human or another. This involvement, whether by care or attraction, tends to be very zooey. This is where things get hard. People are asking a simple yes-or-no question. But, it’s a question that I can’t answer for them. I can give definitions, I can try and explain a little bit about what zoos really are, but at the end of the day, just like any other sexuality, it’s a spectrum. Maybe you’re 10% zooey, maybe you’re 90% zooey. Whatever you are, it’s something that everyone needs to decide for themselves.
My advice though? Give up on the labels. Explore the meaning you find in your interactions with non-humans, and introduce that to us, especially if it’s something we haven’t heard before. You don’t have to be a zoo to be a little zooey in your own way, or to be welcomed the same as anyone else. If you decide that you don’t want to give yourself that label, that’s okay too. Don’t stress about it. Enjoy what you enjoy, knowing that the simple binaries that try and define the world just don’t have a word for what you are. As long as you’re happy, that’s the most important thing.
And, if you’re someone who’s afraid to call yourself a zoosexual; if you’re scared of the negative traits with the label, and what they might say about you as a person, don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to someone. Because you might just find that the label was covering up the real truth, and that you can be happy with who you are.
Article written by Tarro (June 2023)
Find them at https://twitter.com/hereforthezoo
Questions, comments or concerns? Check out the discussion thread on ZooCommunity, or join our Discord!