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.