Human Puppy Play

Puppy play, or dog play, is a form of animal roleplay that first appeared in the United States in the leather community around the 1960s. Today there is a growing community of human pups and handlers who gather to socialize and play at events all over the United States and Europe. While the majority of the puppy play community is gay men,  people of any gender and sexual orientation can be involved in the subculture. Puppy play is a variation of dominant/submissive relationship that emphasizes the fun dynamic between an owner and their pet. Papa Woof, a long-time member of the puppy play community, described his interest in the roleplay in an interview with Vice.

” ‘Have you ever owned a pet?’ Papa Woof asks. ‘How many times have you come home from a stressed day and thought, what a wonderful life they have? Someone to pet, feed, play with them. They are happy, mostly carefree… That’s what the headspace of puppy play is all about.’ “

Pups have the opportunity to be free of their human personality and embrace a new, carefree headspace. Puppies take on the persona of a biological canine and embrace animal instinct. Most of all, puppies love getting pet and getting love and praise from their handler. Puppies may like to play with chew toys, play fetch, bark, walk on all fours, explore and get in to trouble. Many pups wear gear to enhance the play. Most commonly collars and masks are worn,but all sorts of rubber, leather, and neoprene gear is used in puppy play.

The relationship between a puppy and its handler is a spin off of the master/servant dynamic present in BDSM culture. There is a lot of variety in the relationships between handlers and pups. Some handlers may be more strict and controlling, focused on having a well-trained, obedient pup. Others can be more playful and nurturing, caring for pups in a less strict way. While the dominance of the handler is maintained in all puppy play relationships, there is a lot of flexibility in the way that the handler plays their role.

For many people, puppy play is not necessarily sexual. Many events, such as the popular Pup
Social
 are purely fun, social events that do not allow any kind of sexual play. At such gatherings, puppies play with each other in a puppy mosh pit while handlers observe and socialize. Some events may have vendors, dances, contests, gear demos, classes and more. These events allow people involved in puppy play to meet up in a safe social environment

In this course we have discussed a lot about sex and sexuality and self-identification. Puppy play is definitely to be erotic and sexual, usually restricted to private households and clubs, though it does not necessarily involve sexual acts. The genders of a pup and its handler can conflict with their individual sexual orientations. For example, a gay male pup may have a lesbian handler. Each participant can get pleasure and satisfaction from their role in the role-play, though they may not be sexually attracted to one another. The dominant/submissive relationship and emphasis on gear in puppy play is definitely erotic, but it may not make sense to identify yourself in the puppy play community exclusively by your sexual orientation. For some people interested in non-sexual puppy play, it may make more sense to identify only as a handler or pup than as a gay man or lesbian woman.

 

Brother to Brother

Brother to Brother is an independent movie written and directed by Rodney Evans. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2004 where it won the Special Jury Prize for a dramatic film and later received 8 other nominations and 7 awards in the gay and lesbian film circuit. Rodney Evans, born in 1971, spent six years working on Brother to Brother, starting with the idea of relating his own present-day experiences with to a larger historical perspective. This film is just one of many LGBTQ themed works that Rodney Evans has directed, written and produced.

Perry

The movie Brother to Brother tells the story of Perry, a college-age gay black man living in New York City. Perry had been kicked out of his home for being gay and feels lost in the world, struggling to find his place in the gay community and black community. He feels alienated from the gay community because he feels that too many white gay men only want him because he is black. He feels outcast from the black community that won’t accept his sexuality.

One day while on the sidewalk, Perry’s friend is reciting some poetry when a man approaches them. This stranger finishes the verse and disappears, leaving Perry and his friend confused. The next day Perry is reading a book of poetry by Bruce Nugent and he recognizes the poem the stranger finished. “Smoke, Lilies and Jade”:

…he blew a cloud of smoke…it was growing dark now…and the smoke no longer had a ladder to climb…but soon the moon would rise and then he would clothe the silver moon in blue smoke garments…truly smoke was like imagination…. 

It turns out this stranger is a regular at the homeless shelter that Perry works at. After

Bruce Nugent

confronting him, Perry learns that this man is in fact Bruce Nugent, one of the few openly gay writers and painters of the Harlem Renaissance. They quickly become friends, as Bruce sees a lot of himself in Perry. The two frequently visit the house where Bruce lived and wrote during the Harlem Renaissance. The film draws parallels between the struggles Bruce faced in 1920s New York.

Bruce tells Perry all kinds of stories about his younger years as a writer while they explore this house.  Bruce tells Perry about his relationship with Langston Hughes and Wallace Thurman, both very prominent writers in the Harlem Renaissance. With these authors and others, they write a magazine with articles from black writers talking about gays, lesbians, black culture and sex workers. The group got lot of negative criticism from important critics and was attacked by the black community including the NAACP. Bruce also metaphorically walks Perry through a party they threw at the now decrepit house, where they have alcohol in the prohibition era and there are many gay men and women hooking up. Though there are many decades separating Bruce and Perry, they shared similar experiences and Perry learns a lot from Bruce.

Many of the memories that Bruce shares relate to George Chauncey’s Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World 1890-1940. We see in Bruce’s younger years the more visible, fairy-type gay man. We also see the way that gays were persecuted in the mid twentieth century. In one scene, Bruce is seduced by a sailor, colloquially known as a ‘trade,’ but it is a trap. Bruce is arrested and brought to court for being gay and is even accused of attempting to rape the sailor.

Through his friendship with Bruce Nugent, Perry learns from Bruce’s experiences of many decades prior, and starts to be more comfortable with himself. Perry moves on from a relationship that wasn’t very good and gets more confident about his place in the gay and black communities. In the end, tragically, Bruce dies of a heart attack. Through telling the stories of Bruce Nugent and Perry, Brother to Brother relates the struggles of modern day gay black men to 1920s Harlem Renaissance era gay black men, showing that the world today can be just as complicated and hostile as it was back then.

Steven Universe

Steven Universe is an animated television show currently running on Cartoon Network. The show features Steven Universe, a young boy growing up with the “Crystal Gems”; three alien rebels who protect the earth from the other extraterrestrial Gems. Through missions, battles, and interactions with the Gems and his human friends, this coming-of-age story follows Steven while he discovers his abilities and learns about who he is. This show is groundbreaking in its representation of gender roles and its queer-positive message.

The show was created by Rebecca Sugar and is Cartoon Network’s first show solely created by a woman.

“My goal with the show was to really tear down and play with the semiotics of gender in cartoons for children” -Rebecca Sugar

Steven, being half-gem and half-human, is the first and only male Gem. The Crystal Gems whom he lives with are all female and assume a motherly role for Steven. He looks up to and learns from these heroines, a big twist on the normally male-dominated hero role in young boy’s cartoons. It’s through this sort of gender-role shifting that Steven Universe shows boys that it’s okay to look up to women as role models.

Amethyst

Even though all of the characters that Steven learns from are female, they all embody different elements of femininity and masculinity. In her book “Female Masculinity,” Judith Halberstam sought to identify what constitutes masculinity. In one example in her book, she talks about the James bond classic Goldeneye. Halberstam claims that though she is female, M is the most masculine character in the movie. In Steven Universe, Garnet is perhaps the most masculine of the Gems. She is strong, intelligent and is the new leader of the Crystal Gems. Many of the Gems also appear tomboy-ish, exhibiting more masculine qualities. Amethyst is one such tomboy. She is bad-mannered, loud, messy, and impulsive, lacking most traditionally feminine qualities.

In addition to its strong and diverse female cast, there are not-so-subtle queer overtones in Steven Universe. Their former leader and Steven’s mother Rose Quartz, gave up her physical form to create Steven. The Crystal Gems all looked up to Rose Quartz, and Pearl had a particularly close relationship with her. When reminiscing about Rose Quartz, Pearl is very loving and even calls Rose Quartz “beautiful.”  Emotional connections and relationships of all kinds are major themes in the cartoon.

Stevonnie

One major power of the Gems is “fusion.” By joining together, two gems are able to create one entirely different entity, sharing features of each individual gem and growing in power. The writers of the show use this ability to explore emotional connections. In one episode Steven accidentally fuses with his female friend and romantic interest Connie. Together, they become the androgynous ‘Stevonnie‘ who is never referred to using gendered pronouns. In this body, Steven has a gender-bending experience where everyone in the city sees Stevonnie as a very beautiful person. This exploration of gender for Steven shows the viewer his more feminine side in a fun way.

While Stevonnie was present only once in a light-hearted episode, the season one finale was perhaps the most serious demonstration of a romantic fusion. It is revealed at the end of season one that Garnet, the current leader of the Crystal Gems, actually exists as a near-permanent fusion of the gems Ruby and Sapphire. These two Gems are deeply in love and decided to stay fused forever a a sign of their strong bond. This perceived homosexual relationship between Ruby and Sapphire is portrayed beautifully in the show. Parallels can be drawn between their fusion and marriage, where two people join to create something that is greater than the sum of its parts. This clip shows the reunion of Ruby and Sapphire after they were captured and forcibly separated. It’s clear that there is a deep emotional connection between these female gems and Steven takes it completely in stride.

Representation in television shows has a great effect on children. Studies show that when kids see people like them portrayed positively in media they are positively impacted. Steven Universe’s queer-positive and heroic female message reaches kids at a critical time in development, when children are still discovering and exploring gender and identity. Because of the cartoon’s unique perspective on feminine role models and queer-positivity I feel that Steven Universe deserves a spot in this digital archive.