A Conversation About Zoophilia

The feature story I wrote this week about zoophiles has attracted some controversy, here and in our sister paper, the Miami New Times. That's not surprising -- it's a touchy subject. I didn't have time to respond to all the comments and emails, but I did want to share a correspondence I had with one reader, Natalie Altman, who gave me permission to post her emails. Here's a portion of her first note:

I recently watched the "Zoo" documentary about the Washington man/horse incident. In the film, men gathered together at a farm, feasted and drank and then made sojourns out to a barn to have sex with animals. If you haven't seen it, I suggest you do. You'll be proud that in a few short interviews you fleshed out people of this kind of persuasion more than a full-length documentary did.

The men in the documentary didn't say much about themselves or what they were after other than that they liked being with animals. Your interviewees, on the other hand, were completely forthcoming about how they view themselves and how they would like to be viewed by others. In a nutshell, they want their relationships with "adult" animals viewed the same as relationships between consenting adult humans. On their wave length (and I'm not demeaning them, they're absolutely sincere) the object of their affection has communicated love and desire to them the way a human does and they want to be able to freely respond in kind with no legal hassles or moralizing.
The rest of her letter, and my response, after the jump.

Many things are "off-putting" to me, a number of them perfectly legal. So it's not the "ickiness" that makes me want to dash their dreams of social acceptance and make illegal everywhere what makes their heart happiest.

A recent study said that "dogs are as smart as two-year-olds." So the idea of an "adult" consenting animal is a little far-fetched. In any case, even if the animal is a genius, it wouldn't matter because our society has arbitrarily elevated us humans to protector status of animals and children and placed great moral and legal obligation upon us not to betray this trust. We have created dignity for ourselves in how we treat these two classes and going against this grain would have to be considered "anti-social" since it's such a strong part of our culture. Again, my compliments on your piece.
Here's the note I wrote in response:
I wish I had had the space in my article to anticipate points like the ones you made in your note and to allow zoophiles to respond to them. I would be glad to forward it to an actual zoophile, if you like. But from reading about this subject and talking to zoophiles, I think I can make a good guess what one would say. Let me try:

I believe Zoos would argue that society's basis for protecting a human 2-year-old from sex acts by mature humans is the inevitability of that 2-year-old becoming a much more self-aware being. At which time that former 2-year-old will have learned the social stigma attached to sex abuse and feel a profound sense of shame as a result. So while zoos believe animals can consent, they believe thought processes like shame are too complex for non-human animals, for whom life is a much more purely hedonistic venture.

In addition, zoos would argue that the comparison can't be made, because human 2-year-olds have no capacity for demonstrating their sexual desire or acting aggressively to realize it, whereas dogs of that age, for instance, do. Miletski found that such considerations led zoos to avoid "adult contact" with their animals until those animals were actually adults.

As to your next point, I suspect most zoos would tell you that they believe fiercely in protecting their animals -- as I understand it, many are closeted members of the same animal rights groups that condemn their behavior. The difference is in the question of exactly what to protect those animals from, and zoophiles have such abiding faith that theirs is truly orientation they simply can't accept that the act is immoral, as society tells them, or that detracts from the animal's dignity. In this respect, they compare their social experience to gays, who for centuries have committed acts similarly deemed "anti-social," until society changed (or is changing, slowly) to accommodate them.
Or, I may have done a rotten job representing zoophiles' point of view. If there are any zoos out there who find this blog, feel free to correct me in the comments thread. In any case, here is part of what Natalie wrote in response to my note:

As to the points you make (on behalf of the interviewees), I would tell them that their response misses my point entirely. It's not just about the "victim", i.e. the child, for example, that might grow up and feel shamed or psychologically hurt in some way. It's about the perpetrators and their trip in this life as part of this particular culture.

Remember, I used the term "arbitrary." I imagine there are places on this planet where certain practices go on that would be unacceptable here and even illegal. But to those cultures, they see no problem so individuals who engage in "whatever" are not having their sense of "being" adversely affected. On the other hand, something we do freely might be forbidden in their culture and cause great discomfort. So it's really about how our particular society has set the rules for us to live by which are for "the greater good." The greater good is what fundamentally motivates all cultures only some have differing views as to what that greater good might be.

Though our society is a mish-mash of humanity, we equally accept adult responsibility to protect kids and animals and have working, specific definitions for what that means. The benefit is not just to protect the weak. The "greater good" is to grow a more selfless, enlightened, spritual (not religious) society and the effect on individuals who participate in honoring what we consider sacred, is to feel comfortable and good about themselves.

As far as not being problematic for the animal, the same concept applies: it's not just about the animal. It's about the human and his or her spiritual condition. To rationalize the behavior by the types of claims that Zoos make is denying the effect of their actions on themselves.

They call themselves "oriented" that way and want equal recognition with Gays. They don't see the difference. They might point out that it wasn't long ago that Gay behaviors were not only unacceptable, but illegal. Well so were straight behaviors once upon a time and mixing of the races.

Yes, we've evolved, but as long as kids and animals are a "protected" class rather than one that is "discriminated" against, this is how our society will remain. This is what I suggest they think about as being the difference.

Again, like you Thomas, I am not trying to judge these people. I'm busy enough with my own "trip." I simply disagree with their rationale (if you've pegged it correctly) and have a different viewpoint.
And before I could respond, Natalie e-mailed again. In this note I think she's hoping to hear from actual zoos, so again if y'all are in the audience, tackle these questions in the comments field.

First, the line that zoos want to draw between what animals need to be protected from and what they don't (with respect to humans) creates an unequal and unfair playing field. The fact that an animal is mature and consenting to (or even instigating) sex is not the relevant issue. What IS the issue is that an animal cannot choose NOT to do something it wants to do. If allowed, animals will do what they want to do and not do what they don't want to do.

So a relationship in human terms is impossible because only one member, the human, is capable of choice. As much as the zoos want to elevate the experience to a human level, it's just man and animal getting off. Man "wants" and chooses to act; animal just "wants."

 Second, to the guy who is turned off by human bodies and only attracted to animals, my question is, if sex with animals became illegal in the country, would you attempt to change yourself in any way?
In most states zoos can have animals as sex partners without fear of the law and have only society's mores to contend with. The fact that zoos seek acceptance seems to be evidence of the isolation they feel and why they bother to rationalize their behavior. Otherwise, why would they care about being validated as an "orientation" like Gays.

Animals need to be protected in the same ways as children. This means sexually, too, and for the reason I raised above; that animals are not capable of choice the way that humans are. And as a protected class, animals can't be compared to a class that has simply been discriminated against, like homosexuals. "Discrimination" can and ought to be eliminated. But not "protection."