We aren't your debate

The dog who my family had growing up loved taking me on adventurous long walks all over the city. She loved to play fetch, she loved to go swimming, she loved to go to the dog park and socialize with the other canines. She was also nervous about a lot of things, some of which we have no explanation for, because she was adopted from a shelter. She was afraid of obvious things like fireworks, but she was also afraid of more particular things, like holding up TV remotes or someone stomping their foot.

I don’t think anyone reading this is honestly wondering, “How did you know this about your dog?” I knew it because she told me. If you said the words ‘walk’ or ‘dog park’ anywhere within earshot of her she would go ballistic, running up to you and wagging and looking up at you with excitement in her eyes, running between you and the front door, even grabbing her leash and bringing it to you if you were taking too long so that we could get going already.

Conversely, if you were using a remote and held it up towards the TV to try to get it to work better, she would lick her lips nervously and lean herself away from you; if you stomped your foot on the ground she would stop anything she was doing, get up, and run out of the room to go hide.

As time went on the family knew to be sneaky about remote usage, only using it while it was flat on the couch, and to not walk around the house with shoes on in case we were accidentally too loud about it and scared her. She was my bud, and I would get upset when guests would break these rules, even if they couldn’t have known better, because it scared her and I felt bad for her. I always wanted the best for her. She always wanted the best for me too, often pinning down one of my hands with her paw and licking the hand for minute after minute. She would always stay beside me and be there for me if I was acting upset.

As I got to a certain age, I started realizing that when it came to having romantic and sexual interests, humans were complicated for me. There was at least a little bit of interest in humans, but the idea of being romantic or sexual with a human in real life really weirded me out. Mainly though, whatever attraction I felt towards humans paled in comparison to how I felt about dogs. I wanted a dog to be the partner who I went through life with, fiercely protecting each other, devoted to making sure the other knows they’re loved and cared for. Because of the devoted loyalty and care that the family dog and I already had for each other, it wasn’t even that I “chose” her to be with, but more that what we already were had begun to blossom even further. I started to become interested in a deeper relationship. (in some ways I think I was playing ‘catch up’ to her on the romantic front, as she had probably gotten there sooner than I had). I came to consider us mates. Even if a lesbian interspecies pairing may not be able to produce viable offspring, “mates” felt like the right word at the time, because I was engaging with her through canine eyes, wanting to do everything with her on her level with no care about what a human “should” feel in a human/dog dynamic.

There came a time when I finally decided that she and I were ready to try kissing like partners, all mouth-to-mouth, the whole shebang. I won’t sugar coat it: she loved it. Wagging her tail, crawling on top of me to kiss deeper, leaning in wanting to keep kissing even as I was trying to get my breath back. It became the staple thing that she and I did together in any kind of a sexual capacity.

And part of the reason is, she wasn’t really interested in much else beyond that. If I got in her face about any of my parts, she looked at me like I was a weirdo. If I tried touching her in the equivalent regions, she’d growl. So there wasn’t a lot of mystery about learning what her limits were. Would I have liked if she was interested in more, sure, of course I would have, but since she wasn’t we stuck with the kissing (which was still a ton of fun, and very fulfilling and meaningful in its own right).

And I will say, there were other dogs around the neighborhood who were much more enthusiastic about an awkward shy zoo’s advances. My partner was my mate til death do us part, but tangled up in the feelings of matehood and fully engaging with things on a canine level, I also truly felt, in that headspace, that monogamy is more of a human concept than a canine one. Getting chances to be around these other dogs, I got to experience things with them that I knew I never would with my mate, because they were interested and she wasn’t. There was no ambiguity about any of their interests or disinterests: they’ll just tell you, especially if they know that you know how to listen.

Through all of that though, my mate remained my first priority in life, my only true, full, romantic partner. I always continued to go with her on adventures through the neighborhood and to the dog park, to kiss and pet and cuddle and be around each other, to live wholeheartedly in our shared love. Whether I was “getting any” with the other dogs or not, I remained respectful of her interests and boundaries, because how would I do anything else? I loved her so deeply and fully that any violence against her would have been a hundred times worse than violence against myself. When she died, I really did feel like half of myself was gone from the world, and the next several years were very, very cold without her.

Growing up as a zoophile, I got a lot of firsthand knowledge about the respect and deference that someone can give to a dog. I think a lot of zoos do. And that’s part of why it can be frustrating to us when someone comes along and wants to debate us about bestiality. But strangely, a lot of zoos want to engage with the debate - maybe because we think that with our experience, we can win the debate and prove our side “more correct.”

Because I think that a lot of people, whether we realize it or not, believe that debate is a good way of determining who’s right. And I’m not just pointing fingers, I am here fully acknowledging that I fell into the same camp. Even as someone who knew for herself from an early age that bestiality can be done ethically, I still wanted someone to “prove” it. Whether someone was arguing the points as a stand up comedy routine, whether they were giggling while only half seriously discussing it on an otherwise-non-zoo-related podcast, or whether they were literally sitting down behind tables and having a formal debate about the ethics of interspecies sex, I still wanted some place I could point to and be like “SEE? This PROVES that it’s okay!”

But the problem is, being good at debate is not the same thing as being right. Maybe you’re a better person than me and have never lied to get out of trouble and done a good enough job that you got away with it. But for those who don’t know what I mean when I say that argument is not the same thing as accuracy, here are some common ways to “own” someone in a debate:

Righteousness - Appear strong to the audience, like you already know without a shadow of a doubt that your side is correct, and you’re just deigning to be here to try to explain it to your opponent who doesn’t get it.

Interruption - The fewer arguments your opponent gets to finish, the better, as it makes it seem like they hardly have any ground to stand on. Interrupt as soon as they say anything that you can jump on, and then use that chance to go on to your own next points.

Delegitimization - Accuse your opponent of having insufficient data. All anecdotal evidence can be dismissed out of hand, and your opponent does not have time to retrieve and go through hundreds of pages of scientific studies to prove their validity and method, and even if they could why should they bother, as each sentence of each paper invites an opportunity for you to interrupt them again and splinter off a new subdebate, which will inevitably amount to them giving up on the papers and you being able to claim a win on the insufficient data front because they were unable to prove it.

Straw Man - Your goal is not to empathize with your opponent’s position and try to dissuade them of it by acknowledging their point of view and relating your points to what they believe. Your goal is to prove your idea is better than theirs to an audience. Take advantage of this by making bad faith assumptions about everything they say and then go off on a rant about those, even if they tell you that you’re misunderstanding what they were trying to articulate to you - they said it after all, so you can use it. If they try to get you to engage with a question in a way that empathizes with them, don’t fall for it: stay above that and only argue things that fit within your own argument’s rules.

If you’ve seen many highly viewed political debates in the last ten or so years, you’ve probably seen some of these tactics used. And the important thing to remember is, all of these tactics can be used regardless of whether the point that’s being made is correct.

But, circling back… why zoo? Why did I feel like zoophilia was something that had to be “proved” to begin with? I’m sure I didn’t feel like there was anything that required debate about whether monogamous heterosexual human/human relationships were ethical. Why was zoo different?

For one thing, I grew up in a time when debate about homosexuality was mainstream. It wasn’t just “there are normal people and then there are homophobic pieces of shit over there.” Everyday people were legitimately on the fence. Gay marriage was being given a firm “hold your horses, let’s make sure we’re not destroying America and the church by legalizing this.”

So the idea of “non normal” relationships did feel like they had to be backed up with supporting evidence no matter what that relationship was, whether that was two cis men, two cis women, god forbid someone was trans, and I don’t even think my own brain could have maturely accepted the wealth of other queer identities like nonbinary, asexual, or even bisexual. Y’know, bisexual: The one that I already was, fooling around with male and female dogs. There was a defensiveness in the air about all things gay at the time.

And even in the classroom, modern sex education still taught shame about sex. Don’t get me wrong, it was far better than some of the horror stories I’ve heard about from those who had to be taught sex ed by a nun in a Catholic school a generation or two earlier. In my schools, sex ed was usually just one unit to be done alongside a drug topic within the gen ed science classes - once in middle school, once in high school. Besides the anatomy, we mostly learned about unwanted pregnancy, STD’s, and consent.

These are good lessons to make sure everybody knows about. The strange part is just that sitting through these classes, you wouldn’t even think that sex or drugs were fun. For my schools it didn’t go so far as saying “abstinence only,” but that was the tone of it. It painted sex as a probably immoral thing that you would only do if you wanted to probably ruin someone else’s life as well as yours and maybe the kid’s. Fun. Not that I would have wanted the opposite, for the teacher to come in and say “guys you have no idea how good fuckin feels,” but maybe some kind of middle ground about also making sure to cover methods of self discovery about gender and sexuality. Maybe we could have learned that it’s okay to find out what you like. If we had, I believe it would have saved queer lives.

I don’t know what the classrooms are like now. But I suspect they can’t be wildly different, because I see this shame and assumed harm about sexuality all over the young queer discourse. Youths right now have been given a better starting point - the generations before them have already won public perception of gays, and have made extremely substantial ground with trans people. Someone coming into the debate now probably feels about gay marriage how I did about straight marriage: there’s nothing that needs to be proved, it isn’t even a question. But for everything else, we need to “figure it out” and decide which queer identities are good and which ones are ruining America. Again.

So the new generation can appear very woke, by already assuming homosexuality is okay, and probably even having a friend who goes by they/them pronouns. But it may be less that they’re inherently more mature, and more just that they had a better starting place. When it comes to more fringe queer identities - zoo - they could go right back to wanting it to be proven because it seems like it might be strange and wrong.

Ultimately, a lot of social issues don’t need to be debated: they need to be understood.

The other day I was visiting the veterinarian’s office, and in the open doorway of the barn outside, in front of a crowded parking lot and a busy street, there was a vet putting his fingers all up in a mare’s butt while three or four people stood around and watched. Probably two hundred people saw this, in person, with their own eyes. Nobody marched up and asked the vet what the fuck he was doing. It’s obvious that this was an acceptable practice, the mare was chill, the humans were chill, there was no trouble in any facet of this.

But if the same vet and the same mare were to do this in the mouth of an alleyway on Main Street while he was lovingly nuzzling her flank, something tells me he would have gotten a lot more negative inquiry as to what the fuck he was doing than he got in the previous example. But it’s the same vet - I bet this guy knows exactly what he’s doing inside of horse butt, and doesn’t mysteriously forget it if he’s doing it for funsies. And don’t think that zoos are somehow unable to become veterinarians so this would never happen; as people who like animals, a lot of us are in the vet sphere.

I don’t know the guy, but let’s say for the sake of example that this vet I saw actually was a zoophile, and all of these people unwittingly watched a zoo finger a horse. What these people need in order to accept zoophilia isn’t for that vet to start lecturing them about body language and compatibility. They don’t care about that. They’ve already seen the act: that wasn’t the problem. They’re scared of the motive, of the reason why someone would finger a horse for fun, and what nefarious other things such a person might do. What those people need in order to bridge the gap is for that vet to weave a narrative of love and compassion and respect so strong that to have a little finger-in-a-horse-butt action seems like a trivial and even natural piece of it.

What zoos don’t need is hours and hours of debate trying to convince people that bestiality is okay. What zoos need is our own voices to be heard, for our experiences to be shared, and that’s what’s going to gain us a lot more ground for understanding and acceptance.

Article written by an anonymous author (November 2022)

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