During his sophomore year in high school, Cody Beck finally got fed up with hearing homophobic cracks. If his classmates thought being gay was weird (Beck was openly bisexual), he had a confession that would blow their minds. He told them he is sexually attracted to dogs and horses.
"I just couldn't keep it in anymore," Beck says. "Just for the hell of it, I figured I'd throw it out there and have them make fun of me even more." Which they did. An 18-year-old from Arizona who graduated from high school this past year, Beck says classmates taunted him by calling him "Bestiality Dude."
Being a "zoophile" in modern American society, Beck says, is "like being gay in the 1950s. You feel like you have to hide, that if you say it out loud, people will look at you like a freak."
Now Beck believes he and other members of this minority sexual orientation, who often call themselves "zoos," can follow the same path as the gay rights movement. Most researchers believe 2 to 8 percent of the population harbors forbidden desires toward animals, and Beck hopes this minority group can begin appealing to the open-minded for acceptance.
But if those like Beck are to make the same gains as gays, it's apparent they will have to do so without the help of gay rights groups, which so far want nothing to do with a zoophile movement. What's more, they will have to wage battle with well-funded and politically connected animal-protection activists.
And the most difficult task will be to take possession of their public image. In an internet age, zoophiles are more exposed than ever. Bestiality-themed websites are a Google search away. Hometown newspapers have learned that police reports of sex with animals become the best-read stories on their websites.
State lawmakers across the country have taken their cues by proposing anti-bestiality laws. In Florida, state Sen. Nan Rich of Sunrise proposed legislation earlier this year that would make bestiality a felony. Her bill was in response to news reports from January 2007, when a man from Mossy Point was suspected of sexually assaulting and strangling a female goat; he was arrested months later in the abduction of another goat. Rich's bill unanimously passed in the Florida Senate but died in the House, where conservative legislators might have been bashful about devoting time to a bill about sex with animals.
A similar bill was proposed this year in the Alaska Legislature, where it was known derisively as "The Ididadog." That bill failed for similar reasons — certainly not because of organized opposition. In Arizona, police arrested a Mesa deputy fire chief in 2006 for sex acts with his neighbor's lamb, which spurred state legislators to make such acts a felony. That same year, Washington state finally made bestiality illegal, inspired by a man in Enumclaw who was killed while having sex with a horse — a case that also prompted a bill last year by a Tennessee legislator. The past few weeks have brought perhaps the most famous animal sex case — a South Carolina man charged for the second time with committing buggery against the same horse.
Of course, the internet has a way of turning exposure to strength. It has allowed zoophiles from around the world to interact — not only to swap erotica but also to form a community and rehearse their arguments for the political stage. The internet also makes zoophiles accessible for the first time. They can be found in chatrooms, through websites that advocate their cause, and virtual-reality meetups.
As this group gains confidence, zoophiles figure to be more open and then more outspoken in their demands for personal liberty and against discrimination. Improbable as it may seem, zoophiles might yet prove the new frontier in the battle for sexual civil rights.
As cave drawings will attest, there's a carnal desire in some humans to lie with beasts. And though many civilizations have tried, none has been able to eradicate it, much to the frustration of organizations such as the Humane Society of the United States.
"A bazillion cultures worldwide have prohibited this behavior," sighs Bernard Unti, a spokesperson. Indeed, for committing this ultimate taboo, people have been jailed, tortured, and executed, but until the recent wave of legislation, Western culture has let humiliation and social ostracism act as the primary deterrents.
By introducing bills that bring more formal punishment, policymakers have triggered a debate they might not have anticipated: the question of whether bestiality belongs with pedophilia as they assume or whether some acts of humans having sex with animals are victimless.
The Humane Society is preparing for that battle. "We have tried to reclassify 'bestiality' with 'animal sex abuse,' " Unti says. He's heard zoophiles compare themselves to gays who lived in a close-minded culture not long ago, but Unti says that argument ignores the role of human over animal. "The example of homosexuality may offer some comfort to such persons, but [human-animal relationships] are fundamentally unequal relationships... more akin to taking advantage of minor boys or girls." In Unti's estimation, animals — like children — are not equipped with a brain that can withstand the coercion of a human adult. He claims there's a "complex correlation" linking people who have sex with animals and those who commit violent acts against people. Asked for the scientific literature that supports such a link, Unti cites research that treats all sex with animals as a violent act, which will necessarily come out hostile toward zoophiles.
Piers Beirne, a criminologist with the University of South Maine and author of the recently published book Confronting Animal Abuse, deals with the moral questions. He says that because bestiality always occurs with domesticated animals, there's an imbalance of power. Those animals are "completely dependent on us for food, for water, for shelter, and affection," Beirne says from his office in Portland, Maine. "I think it's morally wrong for a human to have sex with nonhuman animals for exactly the same reasons it's wrong for him to have sex with human babies or adolescents."
Senator Rich's press secretary, when asked to supply the scientific evidence backing her claims in the media about the connections between sex with animals and pedophilia, furnished a list of researchers, including Christopher Hensley, a professor at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga.
But like those cited by Unti, Hensley's studies treat all human sex with animals as rape, based on the assumption that an animal cannot consent. Bestiality was the "strongest variable," he says, when it came to predicting violent criminal behavior.
However, his study was confined to prison inmates — an unusually violent demographic.
Hensley says his studies and analysis of past research leads him to believe the "graduation hypothesis." He believes "children who engage in animal cruelty graduate to humans as they get older." Hensley adds, "You see that in serial killers."
He agrees with Rich that there ought to be tougher laws against people who commit bestiality. But he suggests that waiting for the culprit to turn 18 is unwise. A budding sociopath, says Hensley, might be identified earlier. "When a child engages in animal cruelty, that serves as a red flag to the law enforcement community that there's a problem with that child and he needs some psychological help."
Of course, Hensley's ideas begin with the belief that bestiality equals animal cruelty — a premise no zoophile would accept. They describe sex that does not resemble descriptions of how serial killers raped and tortured animals. Their assertion makes it not an issue of cruelty but of morality.
Asked in March if this was a moral issue, Rich said her motivation was the desire "to protect anybody who would be victimized by sexually deviant crimes."
Having written her bill without consulting zoophiles, Rich might have been surprised to learn they too would have condemned the rape and strangulation death of the Panhandle goat that was the source of her bill. Zoophiles would have asked her to draft the bill to differentiate between those who rape animals and those who consider sex with them consensual.
But when asked whether the bill had opponents, it became clear that, to Rich, this was a question with a morally obvious answer. "How would anybody voice objection?" she asked incredulously. "Who thinks it's OK to have sex with animals?"
In fairness to Rich and to researchers who back her bill, it can be difficult to find zoophiles — it seems they prefer to find you. In March, after publishing a blog post that questioned whether bestiality was really linked with rape and child molestation, as Rich claimed in public remarks, I began an email correspondence with a zoophile who had found the article online. He soon decided I was open-minded enough to discuss the subject, but he insisted on some unusual conditions to protect his anonymity.
James (not his real name) was wary of a prosecutor's subpoena for New Times phone records. So he insisted we talk only through secondlife.com, an online role-playing game. Having created an avatar, I was asked to go to an uninhabited island where we could talk without bumping into others. James had a wolf's head and a big bushy tail, but he walked upright and wore a man's clothing. Speaking through microphones on our computers, he told me he was a middle-aged white man from the "upper Midwest."
I asked him when he had his first inkling of being a zoophile. "When you're a kid, you're not really aware of too much sexually," he says. "But I was always interested in animals, starting around age 10. It was an extension of my affection for the dog and of my discovery of sex. He's a male. I'm a male. I wanted to make him feel good."
His attraction to dogs in general — and Siberian huskies in particular — became stronger in his teens and stronger yet in his 20s. "For years, I thought I was the only one who did this," James says. "I felt like there was no one I could talk to about this. I definitely knew I wasn't going to be talking to my parents or my friends about this."
Not until he came across pornography from Denmark that showed a dog and a horse with three women did he realize he wasn't alone in his desires. Still, as he explored the pornographic world of bestiality, he recognized a difference between himself and a group that seemed bored with human sex and for whom animals were a thrilling way to spice things up. "This is not a fetish," James says of his attractions. "It's an orientation, a lifestyle."
Even if he had wanted to adopt more conventional tastes, James couldn't have. "The human body turns me off — women wear perfumes; guys sweat. It irks me. You can show me pictures of nude models and it doesn't turn me on. I think the human body is kind of stupid. A big-horned sheep, certain breeds of dogs, are much more physically attractive to me than a woman with big breasts or a man with a big penis."
James suggested I speak with his friend, a 44-year-old man from the western United States who also asked to speak under a pseudonym. Ron, as we'll call him, uses an internet connection and email that make it nearly impossible to track his IP address. Our interview occurred through Yahoo Messenger. Ron tells of a fantasy about horses when he was teenager, but acting it out seemed impossible to him. It remained that way through his teens and almost his 20s, "until the day I found by accident a porn site with pictures of men and women having intimacy with horses," Ron says. "I realized that it was possible, and I have not looked back since."
In fact, he has an attraction to several animals — among them: dogs, horses, and goats. Raised a Southern Baptist, Ron says his first struggle was with bisexuality and that after some soul-searching, he ultimately decided that "God is more concerned with how we treat others than what sex we have."
Both Ron and James interact with fellow zoophiles through websites, and neither has found patterns that typify the discovery of one's attractions nor commonalities in background or life experiences. James rattles off a long list of zoophiles he's known who occupy different demographic categories: "white, black, Asian, Mormon, Amish, Catholic, atheist, pagan, Jewish, male and female, and two who are legally blind."
Among the seven zoophiles I consulted for this article, all say that theirs is an orientation and that to meet the definition, one must not harm an animal. For this reason, a man who has sex with chickens, for instance, is not a zoophile because the act is sure to hurt if not kill the chicken. Zoophiles I spoke with say they are as opposed to forcing sex upon animals as the rest of society is opposed to the rape of humans.
In fact, a zoophile from Southwest Florida named Malcolm Brenner wrote Senator Rich a letter voicing support for the principles of her bill — if not for the assumptions that underlie it. "I said I agreed with her trying to prevent animal abuse, but I tried to point out that what gets reported in the news is not zoophilia," Brenner says. "These are instances of bestiality that have injured the animal."
Brenner, a 58-year-old freelance writer, says he hopes to publish a novel he's chipped away at for 30 years titled Wet Goddess: Recollections of a Dolphin Lover. It's the fictionalized account of a love affair he had with a dolphin, named Ruby in the novel.
Around age 11, Brenner began to experience urges he knows now as "mixoscopic zoophilia" — the term for watching two animals have sex. Except in Brenner's fantasy, he says, "I was one of animals who were mating."
Though Brenner wasn't raised in a religious family, he knew he was exploring attractions forbidden by society. "I had a relationship with my family's dog, and I felt very ashamed about that. I hadn't developed an attraction toward women."
He tried, though. And Brenner says he almost convinced himself, except for the persistence of the dolphin. He met her in the '70s, as a teenager, while photographing dolphins in an amusement park called Floridaland, in Osprey. The photos were to be illustrated in a book by a family friend.
"The dolphin developed an attraction toward me," Brenner says. "And she had to work very hard to get me to respond to what she wanted."
It was a rough courtship. "When you're in the water with a dolphin, you do whatever they want you to," Brenner says. In this dolphin's case, he adds, "If you don't do what they want, they'll push you to the bottom of a 12-foot pool."
When that didn't work, Brenner says, the dolphin tried a gentler, subtler seduction. "She would take my leg very lightly in her jaws and run her teeth up and down my leg," he says. "It's an incredible sensation. I don't know if other people would find it erotic, but I certainly did."
That method overcame Brenner's resistance. He consummated his flirtations with the dolphin. "It was the most intense experience I've ever had," he says. "A transcendental experience. I felt I was completely wrapped up."
The power of it scared him, though. He didn't want to develop an attachment to her, not just because of their difference in species but because they were going in different directions: The dolphin's amusement park had closed, and she'd been sold to one in Gulfport, Mississippi; Brenner was attending school that fall in Olympia, Washington. "I felt bad about leaving her," he says of Ruby. "But quite frankly, I was weirded out. I felt I needed to get in a relationship with a woman."
When he returned a year later, he asked a friend how Ruby was doing. The friend casually mentioned the dolphin had died, probably from the stress of moving from her former park to the new one in Mississippi. The news threw Brenner into a depression that lasted five years. Ruby, he's certain, was the love of his life.
In the years since, it has been a battle between Brenner's attraction for animals and his desire to be normal. He was married to his first wife for 12 years, to his second for six. Through it all, he says, "Zoophilia was my fantasy life. Some would make love to their wife and imagine Angelina Jolie. I fantasized I was a wolf having sex with another wolf."
In the mid-'90s, Hani Miletski decided to devote her doctoral dissertation to zoophilia and bestiality. She was a student at the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco, and Miletski was drawn to the subject not only because it seemed bizarre and fascinating but also because it had received scant attention from researchers. In particular, she noticed researchers had not accounted for the motives behind having sex with animals. Surely there's some common experience, something more reliable than the genetic lottery to explain how some people such as the ones above become attracted to animals. So she set out to find these motives.
Miletski tried several strategies, but the one that worked best was an ad for volunteers she placed in her local alternative weekly newspaper, the Baltimore City Paper. The first zoophile who contacted her told a zoophile friend. Soon they arranged for Miletski to meet the international "zoo" community that had already formed within a still-blossoming technology, the internet. Miletski had hoped to find a few zoophiles to speak openly about their attractions and conduct a case study. She was astonished to learn how many zoophiles there were and that they were so eager to have their mysterious, forbidden sexual proclivities given a scientific study. In all, she had 160 volunteers and accepted 93 — of whom 82 were men — into her study.
The study was more notable for what it did not find. The zoophiles had no similar childhood experience. Those who grew up in the country around animals were no more likely to become zoophiles than those who grew up in the city without them. They cut across race, geography, religion, and profession. "I could not find anything that says, 'All zoos are this way or that way,' " Miletski says. Having been unable to locate clues suggesting some other motive, Miletski concluded the single explanation for the behavior was the conscious one that zoophiles offered: It was an orientation they were born with.
"They really loved their animals," she said of the research subjects. "To the point that some want to marry them and treat them as spouses."
Miletski's findings not only formed her dissertation but also turned into a book, Understanding Bestiality and Zoophilia, which remains the most authoritative modern text on zoophilia.
When told of Senator Rich's remarks about people who commit bestiality being a threat to children, Miletski says, "I think it's real bullshit for people to say that. There's no connection that we know of. If you said that to zoos, they would be so offended." That's because Miletski says nearly all the zoophiles she interviewed expressed moral revulsion for sex with animals that had not fully matured. In this respect, she says, they recognize the same values that underlie laws against statutory rape.
Miletski and a researcher based in Germany, Andrea Beetz, who conducted a similarly large study, argue that zoophiles are distinguished by their emotional relationship to the animals they love. Because they care for them, they would never consciously inflict pain upon them, even for their own pleasure. A minority of them, Miletski allowed, treat their animals as a "masturbation machine" — but she says that for these zoos, it's the same as casual sex between humans.
Based on her interviews with zoos, Miletski suspects that animals consent to sex with human partners. But she concedes there is no sure way to know.
Ron, the zoophile from the western United States, points out that critics of his sexual practices "can't agree if animals are sentient or are dumb. They can't be both. If [animals] are sentient, [critics] would have to admit that animals can decide for themselves if they want intimacy when and where they choose." Ron believes this to be the case, as do the other zoos interviewed for this article. If animals are not sentient, he continues, "they don't know the difference, and what is it hurting?"
Zoophiles say they act upon the same nonverbal cues for sex as humans do. Brenner, the zoophile from Southwest Florida, asserts that humans having sex are acting on their own animal instincts. And if so, it's silly to deprive another animal of those instincts on the grounds that the animal has a less developed brain.
James, the zoophile I met on Second Life, puts it in even more vivid terms, asking whether he deserves to be imprisoned for raping an animal when he's merely allowing his Rottweiler to mount him.
As upsetting as the comparison of zoophilia to pedophilia is to James, it's evident he's tried to understand those who make it. "When you look at people's relationships to pets in society, they consider pets to be their child," he says. "They'll baby their dog or cat, dote on it, but I think it's blinding them to reality because an animal is not a child with fur. People turn a blind eye to the fact that a dog is a sexual being."
It was one of the most politically explosive quotes of 2003. Then-Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum told a reporter for the Associated Press: "In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality. That's not to pick on homosexuality. It's not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be."
Instantly, gay rights activists recognized an attempt by one of the Senate's most conservative Republicans to define their partnerships as a perversion. They mobilized, denouncing Santorum with such force that it brought national attention to a U.S. Senate race in which Santorum was a heavy favorite but lost.
Cody Beck, the Arizona zoophile who came out to his friends, was 12 then and had only just come to realize he was a zoophile. In the years since, he's been thrilled by how activists' efforts have broadened minds about what qualifies as moral, socially acceptable sex. He recognizes the exciting implications it might have for zoophiles like him. But he's crushed by the gay rights movement's rejection of zoophilia as a similarly legitimate orientation.
"I really want to help that movement," Beck says. "But it really makes me feel like if gay people can't accept this, then I'll have to live my whole life having these feelings of alienation."
Rich Ferraro, a national spokesman for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation in New York City, told me that he had never heard of zoophilia. When I explained it to him and explained how zoophiles hope to find an open-minded ally in the gay rights movement, Ferraro said, "That's very far from our mission." He refused to elaborate.
Brian Winfield, a spokesman for Equality Florida, a statewide leader for GLBT rights, was also unfamiliar with zoophilia. He asked for time to huddle with agency leaders before commenting on zoophiles' interest in political alliance. Last week, he told me: "We believe that most people are capable of distinguishing between committed relationships between consenting adults and forcibly having sex with animals. It's just not at all an appropriate analogy."
It's hard to blame leaders of the gay rights movement for wanting to distance themselves from zoophiles. After all, the movement's mission is incomplete, as evidenced by the passage of gay-marriage bans in Florida and California last November. And the addition of bestiality into the argument for equality might create a backlash similar to what Santorum predicted — that government shouldn't expand gay rights because then it would have to do the same for zoophiles.
"It's true in a warped sort of way," Beck admits. "But that's a good thing, not a bad thing."
The first zoophile rights group, called Equality for All, has roots in Europe and formed in the '90s. It was the subject of a 2006 documentary film called Coming Soon, but in recent years, it has gone underground, apparently based on EFA founders' fears they would be arrested. Today the group exists primarily as a website, equalityforall.net. Its webmaster spoke with me on the condition of anonymity.
The EFA webmaster, who wouldn't give his name, says he lives in the Czech Republic and he's in his 20s. In its current condition, with members wary of prosecution, the group can perform little political activism aside from sending email blasts to inform its international membership about legislation that lumps together zoophiles with sadistic forms of bestiality. EFA sent out a notice about Rich's proposed legislation in Florida, for instance. But as that bill's fate was being discussed, the group's online petition had only about 30 signatures.
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For those same reasons, there isn't an EFA "platform" other than a requirement that members vow not to cause their animals pain. Asked about the group's reception in the gay community, the EFA webmaster says opinions are split. On the subject of zoophile rights alone, he says, "Some gays resent it because they feel it contributes to the insane 'slippery slope' argument and may interfere with their own efforts." But he notes that those who saw the documentary "see us all in the same boat" and acknowledge a slippery slope that goes in the other direction: "If you allow zoos to be persecuted, who next? Gays?"
Before zoophiles can gain momentum, however, they'll need to close ranks among their own kind. Ron, for instance, says zoos will never gain social acceptance. By asking for it, they're tempting an even more powerful backlash. James isn't quite that pessimistic, but he resents young zoos who clamor for rights. They lack the patience and temperament, he says, to effect social progress.
Beck believes these are expressions of fear that are natural in the early moments of revolution. "That's the story throughout history," he says. "People don't want to stand up for anything, because they don't want to get hurt." He draws some of his own strength from the recent movie Milk, in which Sean Penn plays the nation's first openly gay elected official, San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk. "If we all stand up at once, we'll share the load. What's the point of living if we have to hide who we are?"
Beck will start college in the fall and hopes to become a history teacher. I asked him whether he was sure he was comfortable with my using his real name in this article. "I have the privilege of being one of the only persons to stand up," he says. "That gives me pride."