Human Pup Play – Where do we go from here?
Human pup play is novel and provocative within the BDSM and queer community. This is a good thing.
What I am about to read to you may be hard to hear. I will use a word like “disconcerting” rather than say “something that makes me uncomfortable”. This is because I am striving to be precise in what I am saying, in the manner I say it. You can read and say aloud dozens of bumper sticker like memes, but in the end, they amount to little more than slogans and keywords and you find yourself nodding in agreement and feeling “something”. The simple words satisfy you emotionally on some level. This speech will not do that.
Yet, if you take the time to endure and embrace some ideas presented, you may leave agreeing or disagreeing, but certainly aware that there is more to human pup play than a pic of a guy in a hood with “woof” written underneath it.
Human pup play can and will be challenging for many people to understand and embrace. This is a good thing. What the emerging human pup play community needs to avoid is going the way of the “punk” movement: - Where political dissent dead ended itself in fetishistic consumption, selling out its value for product. Punk shocked many people. Its anarchic message challenged a world that at times sat comfortably in its freedoms.
The performance of human pup play is weird, it is different and it is fantastic. It challenges people on a fundamental level when we see human pups. And it challenges the queer community. Twice now, my pack has marched with other pups in the largest gay and lesbian pride march in the world. Amongst the ten thousand and more queer and different people, the human pups were an uncomfortable presence in a subtle way. They were disconcerting. Many resort to the facile “aww how cute is that puppy” when seeing human pups, turning the human pup into a walking meme.
This lazy engagement with what is going on can be explained. People have a referential scope when they view sexuality and play activities. They rely on their cultural background to interpret what they see. A person’s eyes are constrained and limited by markers of class, gender, race, age and nationality just to start with. The lens of our sight is coloured by what we have been taught and experienced. Human pup play can lead us to a greater understanding of how we actually look at things.
When a human being enters into behaving like a canine, they engage with a realm of interpretive conventions that can bypass human stereotypes. We see a person “differently”. We are taken to a place where it is hard to rely on our prejudices and social conventions. Our view of human pups has to communicate by means of a second class of visual references, most particularly, gestural cues. Our eyes have to look for things we expect to see and understand and human pup play relies on a code of communication conveyed through posture, by body language and implied movement. Human pup play can and should challenge us to look harder, to question our assumptions of what we see. It can challenge us to address the really vague and uncertain boundary between animal and human.
Yet we need to be aware that “punk” can die. As we see the stock footage of a person in a hood at a dance party, paws up in front to look cute for the camera, we see human pup play transformed into safe friendly “play”. Many of the people with paws up and heads tilted have no doubt entered human pup play to explore and have fun. Yet they are unwittingly diminishing the very thing they are engaging with.
The statement that “human pups behave like idiots at times and damage their own cause” is a point that many in the BDSM community agree with. It seems obvious that there are a lot of dickheads who engage in human pup play. It seems obvious that their behaviour is moronic, showing they lack respect and have little idea of how to behave properly. Yet we have to ask if that view has missed the point of human pup play.
Holding that viewpoint may in fact be part of the problem of anti-social behaviour. Too often in our societies, when pets don’t behave as we want, we usually get rid of them. A canine is a commodity. Take that image of a rowdy, unruly, rude and fucking annoying human pup. That image we have, that we create in our mind, forms because society seeks to commodify a frame of mind, to sell a way of seeing the world, to forge an aesthetic consensus in the target audience. From Tom of Finland to pageants to gear in stores, the BDSM community is already commercial and its roles commodified. And variety in how we look at fetish is always dwindling.
There is a palpable social force, whether in media or in stores, to create a stock image of each BDSM fetish activity. Human pup play meets this force head on. I am not talking about the already assimilated human pup play, where we see some human pups trying to fit in, to find their place in the BDSM establishment. Anyone who wins a sash or title can tell you that fame is a magnifying glass; it is always difficult to endure. Good fame brings envy, bad fame brings shame. And the unstoppably inflating awards business exists not just to give charity, but to reward sponsors to pacify egos, to generate sales and to puff reputations.
The image of a human pup that challenges us, engages us most meaningfully on human pup play is ordinary, not famous. It is common and easily found, as a person behaving and seeming to be a dog, more pup than person. Seeing a human pup, genuinely, can threaten the notion of human superiority over the natural world. But it is a two way street when we look at a human pup.
Human pup play itself is like a model before a camera at a photo shoot – well aware that the image will become a product, a truth. That photo of our human pup shows that the interior world of pup will be glimpsed but also commodified. And we will be judged, for we are never neutral in what we see – we must always select, interpret and classify.
Many people assume that human pup play has a path ahead in helping us challenge conventional modes of power exchange, most which are patriarchal and ultimately originating from a bunch of guys in priest robes, lecturing people on what to do.
There can be no doubt that human pup play emerging from sexual taboo to something in popular BDSM expression does have a lot to say on how we control one another. The master or mistress to pup, the pack, and the transactions in play are all an affront to a comfortable “safe” world of “play” and sexual relating. Part of the path forward for human pup play has been to bring to the forefront, how important it is to get your own shit sorted, to deal with your own problems.
Human pup play has many brave people who face their insecurities and fears, who are striving for self-determination to face their own issues. That interior world is being shook up and the social attitude towards canines can help give a human pup a sense of inclusion.
Networks of PAH’s, Kennel Clubs and Packs strive to give social support. Troubled people can be cared for, loved, esteemed and be better functioning socially as they become a member of groups with mutual obligations. That grouping seems an obvious path forward for many. Pups playing in groups are also helping to bring to light that sexual promiscuity and polyamory are not the same thing. Too many people have already experienced the slut shaming, that ugly heteronormative and patriarchal behaviour that is a scourge in the BDSM community.
Many in the BDSM community have and continue to progress forward for us all on these issues. Polyamory, slut shaming, mutual support, confronting emotional anxiety, challenging forms of power exchange – none of that is unique to human pup play. Thankfully, many fetishes are already paving a road forward to a better world.
It is the image of the human pup that defines our particular unique contribution. Definitions, like simplifications, are dangerous but necessary. Finding what we think a human pup is, what that pup looks like, is challenging. A human resemblance to a dog is elusive – it doesn’t attach to any particular features. Rather it is a function of the distribution of the human parts, being pup, as a whole. Human pup poses are organised around a clear centre of gravity. Contour is suggestive of a canine frame. And the postures adopted state emotional states to the spectators.
Another way human beings are rendered canine is by treatment. Viewers identify a person as a canine by the human pups placement in a familiar symbolic context. A collar, a tail, being on all fours, gives the clues to reinterpret that human being as something else.
Too often we try to write it all off as fun. The notion that human pup play is all about fun is an error. No one has “fun” all the time, every time at any fetish. Unfortunately, error can be believed in sincerely enough that the believers take it as a gospel truth.
There are some in human pup play who have embraced it as a lifestyle – “fun” pup play is their way of looking at the world. There is also the notion that being a human pup is being a “pup”, that it is a tribe you can belong to. Human pup play is not a road to, nor a practice of mindless bliss, a new nirvana where someone can leave a troubled human self behind. Much like acting a role does not remedy an actor from their internal pain. So why does that idea exist strongly?
As a community of people who engage in human pup play, we have to ask how much of the welding of pup play to blissful happiness is the hallmark of propaganda material? Are some people trying to sell a dream here?
Construct the situation – a dance party. Manipulate the image – sweaty sheened torso with leather harness and neoprene hood. Compose the visual trigger mechanism for producing a predictable emotional response – paws up in a please, head tilted quizzically. Voila! We have crafted a marketable thing. Change the details slightly and you have bondage sub pup rather than party pup.
Both presentations of a human pup fit in with those who seek to be wealthier than others. Excellent photos for the established order. There are those who strive to fit human pup play into a history of BDSM. That is needs a place in a narrative, a story to explain why it exists. This is the essence of the battle of punk versus everything. History is a narrative that inevitably gives someone a feeling of legitimate authority. Then the innovator is the outsider, the punk rebel to the status quo.
Viewing human pups as not behaving properly reveals a lot about the conservatism of the viewer. Seeing human pup play as needing to fit in and find its place in the BDSM community, whether well intentioned or not, is wrong.
Human pup play doesn’t belong to you. It is not a creation, a child of your community that needs parenting. It is not a product of your history. It doesn’t need your story. And the desire to see it as just another fad reveals unsettling truths about us. Human nature is in fact highly variable and inconstant. Individual people can and do change over their lifetimes, as do the societies they live in. the orchestrated transience of our attractions – the ever-changing fashion in clothes, lifestyles and causes to which we feel drawn belie the private character of our emotional experience. That photo of our model human pup doesn’t give us access to the human pup play world inside.
What we think it means to be a human pup is a projected meaning. This particularly happens to animals, and we call it anthropomorphism. We describe and evaluate our dogs using the same relational parameters as those developed and used to describe relationships with humans.
Most people believe that their dogs “love” them, “miss” them when they are away, feel “joy” when they return and are “jealous” when they show affection for a third party. So this is the threshold that human pup play dares to cross. You are an animal. It can be easy to fall into the fallacy that there exists a separate canine or pup self inside human pups. That their pup self is an entity, expressing some inner truth. Or it is a spirit inhabiting the human body.
For the mystical magical nature of human pup play, we need to remember what can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof. Magical thinking is harmless and obvious fallacy, most of the time. Humans are not canine, and won’t ever be, even with genetic engineering. The mistake of the “natural inner self” pup, that the human is expressing their innate dog nature, is that this naturalising rhetoric posits a fixed and universal understanding of human/animal expression.
Humans and all animals have motives, but our understanding of humans is in fact culturally determined. As is what we think of all animals. I have mentioned rowdy, idiotic, “punkish” behaviour of human pups. This magical thinking of “I am a wolf by nature” too often is at the heart of anti-social behaviour. Mysticism, even the pursuit of “fun” becomes justification for inappropriate and childish behaviour. Such as “I’m a pup, I bite people who annoy me” said by a new pup on the scene with a chirpy smile.
Clearly a person who thinks violence is okay because they want to behave like a dog is being stupid, sometimes dangerously so. And that person would not be the first in any BDSM fetish to try and justify or rationalise away stupid or clearly wrong behaviour. Human pup play won’t go forward anywhere validating stupid reasoning.
There is no primal canine self lurking within. There is no inner animal waiting to get out. There is just us. Human us. And we are an animal every minute of the day. It may be that a person sees their performance of human pup play as being sterilised of contaminating cultural influences. Their pup self is pure animal. They are wrong.
The human brain and human culture are coeval evolutionary adaptations. They go hand in hand. A human being without culture is a contradiction in terms. Our humanity is an overwhelming force, and our treatment of our fellow animals in the world is uncomfortable viewing as a whole. Human pup play leads us to acknowledge our continuity with nature.
We are not escaping our animal impulses and fleeing from a degrading past by being humans. We are all animals, and part of our natural world. And the central question of human pup play leads us from here to somewhere else. Is it natural for a human being to behave like a dog?
Calling something natural sometimes is just reporting that it happens. We can say it’s natural for a person to behave like another animal for fun play or sexually taboo perverse pleasure. Calling this choice of behaviour natural makes a suggestion on how to treat it. We can give some sort of acceptance. Clearly those involved in human pup play give strong approval.
By looking at human pup play, we are challenged to see a human being as an animal. And we have to ask ourselves truly how comfortable are we about that?
Human beings prize their intelligence and communication. The human pup reveals that communication and reason serve us as people to search for love, friendship, inquiry, play as well as survival.
The world of animals is disconcertingly closer than we think. The human pup is not a BDSM party animal; they are punks, challenging a conventional world view.