When the idea that a woman could have a penis was no longer a privileged insight of the academic elite but had gone mainstream, I remarked to my friend, “How long before we have to affirm the furries?” At the time I was joking, but after reading Kathy Rudy’s article “LGBTQ…Z?” in Hypatia in which she claims to “draw the discourses around bestiality/zoophilia into the realm of queer theory” I’m starting to wonder if my joke isn’t that far off. After all, there was a time when the idea of a man becoming a woman was a joke—as in this clip from Monty Python’s comedy The Life of Brian.
What Duke University professor Kathy Rudy seems to realize by arguing we should add “Z” (zoophilia) to the queer alphabet soup is that a great way to have a successful career in academia is to bring postmodern gobbledygook into absurd combinations with anything and everything.
In the best case scenario a scholar can produce an entirely new “discipline” like Queer Ecology and start graduate students churning out dissertations. Sure, you’ll get published for saying that the novel Frankenstein’s “transgender metaphors of the monster use his rage-fueled agency to carve out a transgender speaking position in the face of the silencing gestures of transphobia” and that the “affective textures of trans experience in the language of the monster” show “the violence of ideas of sexed authenticity.”
But you’ll get tenure at Harvard if you can show that transgender affect in Frankenstein provides an anti-racist, anarcho-syndicalist re-rendering of embodiment by destabilizing the colonialist sexed and raced signifiers that constitute the ideological state apparatus of white bourgeoise heteronormative biopower.
Kathy Rudy is just one inmate at the insane asylum that is academia. Here is an example of the sort of email I regularly received in my inbox while I was completing my Ph.D. at Duke:
I’m not the only academic who’s gotten wise to the decline of the humanities. From 1995 to 1998 the journal Philosophy and Literature sponsored an ongoing Bad Writing Contest where they featured gems of professorial impenetrability (shockingly, Judith Butler took first prize). This website, created to parody academic essays, generates fake articles from a repository of postmodern soundbites its developers trained it in (hit refresh and you’ll get a new essay).
In what is now known as the Sokal Hoax, physics professor Alan Sokal trolled the postmodern academic journal Social Text with a paper titled “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity,” in which he argued that quantum gravity was a social and linguistic construct to see if “a leading North American journal of cultural studies—whose editorial collective includes such luminaries as Frederic Jameson and Andrew Ross—[would] publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors’ ideological preconceptions.” Frederic Jameson is a famous Duke professor.
Don’t think for a minute that it’s only the far left that produces nonsense. While the postmodern queer theorists are busy theorizing about the ways that intersex frogs undermine the transcendental signified, conservative Christians are publishing papers in academic journals arguing whether the soul of Admiral Akbar from Star Wars is saved by Jesus, or if God would need to create an alien Jesus to save the Mon Calamari from damnation.
“Rudy’s reasoning seems to be that if we already force terrible things on animals, then why not also screw them?”
I will hand it to Rudy, her article is at least comprehensible, even if it’s just as insane. Rudy begins by noting that humans who “kill animals, force them to breed with each other, eat them, surround them, train them, hunt them, nail them down and cut them open for science” are considered “normal, functioning members of society. Yet having sex with animals remains an almost unspeakable anathema.”
To a certain extent the question is legitimate. Vegetarians and vegans have often asked, why is it permissible to torture certain animals to death in factory farms while naming and coddling dogs and cats?
It’s true that our society has inconsistent attitudes towards animals. We partially acknowledge animal cruelty in law, especially when it concerns species we’ve selected as companions, while designating others, like pigs, as disposable food objects and subjecting them to great emotional and physical pain.
Rudy also refers to an essay by Peter Singer in which Singer, in Rudy’s words, “brought up the interesting point that in many cases, animals appear to initiate sex, to have erections, to seek out genital intimacy, and so on.” Furthermore, “from the animals' point of view, having sex with them wasn't nearly as harmful as killing or torturing them.”
“It’s as if I said I’m not advocating for pedophilia but then proceed to undermine all the reasons for being against pedophilia.”
While some might conclude that, since we wouldn’t shag a pig, we also shouldn’t confine one to a gestation crate, Rudy’s reasoning seems to be that if we already force terrible things on animals, then why not also screw them? If you’re a cow, having a human copulate with you can’t be as bad as going to the slaughterhouse, right? Besides, Fido already humps my leg so why don’t I hump him?
Technically, Rudy claims “my argument is not for or against humans having sex with animals, but is a meditation on both the elusive nature of sex itself and the subjectivities of human versus nonhuman animals.” She never explicitly promotes sex with animals, but considering that the entire point of the article is to call into question the taboo against having sex with animals, well…
It’s as if I said I’m not advocating for pedophilia but then proceed to undermine all the reasons for being against pedophilia. “Why not?” might not be as strong as “you must” but it leads to the same outcome, namely, radical permission.
As is often the case with academic postmodernism, the claims being made become less clear the more the author writes:
“Put differently, queer theory teaches us that it's not really a question of whether we have ‘sex’ with animals; rather it's about recognizing and honoring the affective bonds many of us share with other creatures. Those intense connections between humans and animals could be seen as revolutionary, in a queer frame. But instead, pet love is sanitized and rendered harmless by the presence of the interdict against bestiality. The discourses of bestiality and zoophilia form the identity boundary that we cannot pass through if we want our love of animals to be seen as acceptable.”
Rudy’s elusive, wishy-washy prose is a common rhetorical tactic. The goal is to avoid clearly committing to an argument so that one can simultaneously promote radical nuttiness while removing oneself from the burden of defending it. After all, if the claim really were as basic as “we love our pets but not in a sexual way” then the article wouldn’t be, as Rudy puts it, “revolutionary.”
The only way the article can be truly “transgressive” is for her to argue that our love for animals is already sexual or should become sexual. After all, Rudy seems uncertain as to whether she is sexually attracted to her own dogs:
“I know I love my dogs with all my heart, but I can’t figure out if that love is sexually motivated.”
For some reason, I’ve never grappled with this problem, but then again, I’m not versed in Queer theory. As Rudy explains:
“Queer theory has schooled me in ways that make the question of what counts as sex seem rather unintelligible. How do we cordon off sexual desire from all the other desires that move our lives? What does sex mean? Do I think I'm having sex with my dogs when they kiss my face? How do we know beforehand what sex is?”
Indeed, what is the difference between inserting a piece of bread into a toaster and penetrative sex? According to postmodernism, nothing at all! As Rudy explains:
“The widespread social ban on bestiality rests on a solid notion of what sex is, and queer theory persuasively argues we simply don't have such a thing. The interdict against bestiality can only be maintained if we think we always/already know what sex is. And, according to queer theory, we don’t.”
Despite earlier claiming that she is not advocating for sex with animals, Rudy has just provided us with an indirect argument for it. She states that we can only maintain a ban on sex with animals if we know what sex is. She next states that queer theory has proven that we don’t know what sex is. Therefore, we cannot ban sex with animals. She suggests her indirect argument again at the end of the article by masking it in the form of a question:
“But without a coherent and agreed upon definition of sex (which queer theory persuasively argues is impossible), the line between ‘animal lover’ and zoophile is not only thin, it is nonexistent. How do we know beforehand whether loving them constitutes ‘sex,’ and how can such sex be so dangerous if it so nebulous and undefined?”
Not only is it false that we have no idea what sex is, but it is also false to say that we require a taxonomy of every kind of sexual feeling before we can forbid certain acts (such as coitus) with animals (or children and the cognitively disabled, such as Chris Chan’s mother with dementia).
I may not be able to verbally capture the feeling of sexual desire or pleasure any more than I can define pain or joy or sadness. It’s something I know from experience. What I can say for sure is that what I felt kissing my grandma’s cheek is definitely not in the same category as what I felt kissing my boyfriend. Rudy may be unclear as to whether she is turned on by a slurp from her dog, but I personally have never felt confusion on the matter.
What Rudy seems to miss is that the reason Fido humps your leg is that sex is, for him, mechanical and instinctual, whereas for a human being it is intensely psychological and interpersonal—something many wokesters want to downplay (I discuss this in another article).
Human sexuality is about more than reproduction. One of the most telling markers of the psychological nature of sex in human beings is the separation of female fertility from female sexual desire. Women don’t have a heat period like a dog or a cat. We don’t mate; we have intercourse with a partner whether we’re ovulating or not. It’s because sex is socially meaningful that it can be a means to channel not only love, but also sadistic and hateful fantasies, as is in violent kink.
“Fido doesn’t hump your leg out of a deeply felt cross-species forbidden romance.”
For that reason, we don’t say Fido has a leg fetish, but we do call furry people fetishists. The very notion of “fetish” suggests that human attraction is embedded with complex social symbolism. Not just physical features, but clothes, gesture, voice, personality, intelligence, talents, political opinions, and the roles we play in society factor into who we desire. Even the context in which we meet someone matters. The same person you may develop feelings for because you played in an orchestra together might just be an awkward first date if you met the same person on Tinder. Some people go for certain types like “the girl next door” or “the rebel with a heart of gold”—these cliches are abundant in our entertainment.
Fido doesn’t hump your leg out of a deeply felt cross-species forbidden romance. He’s obeying instincts set off by basic sensory stimuli. A human being who lusts after a goat creeps us out, while Fido’s rhythmic abdominal movements do not, since the dog’s action is the product of dumb impulse, while the human’s is an intensely conscious attraction to the perverse.
Yet, the true perversion, according to Rudy, is not to lust after camels, dogs, parakeets or naked mole rats but to set up the sexual boundary between humans and animals in the first place:
“Put differently, both animal rights (3) and psychosocial perspectives [which view desire for animals as mental illness] (4) do not believe that borders can be crossed. Queer theory, on the other hand, tells us that few of us have stable identities anymore, that borders are always crossed. We're all changing, shifting, splitting ourselves up this way and that. It labels these processes ‘hailing,’ ‘suturing,’ and ‘interpolation’; where once we saw ourselves affiliated in one way, a new interpretive community emerges to capture our passions and move us differently. I am asking the reader to entertain the possibility that the same kinds of shifts and disruptions happen with categories like ‘human,’ ‘rabbit,’ ‘ape,’ or ‘dog.’”
And no woke paper would be complete without the accusation of violence:
“Both positions [animal rights activists and bestialists] oppose sex with animals, and in doing so they perform a kind of violence on animals by lumping them all together into one seamless identity.”
That’s right. Physically violating an animal does not constitute violence. Words do. Especially when those words reject postmodern queer theory. She continues:
“The problem with both the animal rights and the psychotherapeutic positions is that they want to make universal rules for all animals, and in so doing sacrifice the richness of particularity.”
In a move reminiscent of trans ideology, Rudy expects us to side with bestiality on the basis that opposition to it affirms biological reality:
“Like the ways we used to think of race or gender ‘identity,’ these positions contend that one's species rests on physical markers that are immutable, that belonging to the categories of ‘animal’ or ‘human’ is grounded in a biological essence untouched by culture.”
Unlike the many women who have been cancelled for claiming that males aren’t women, Rudy’s August 2012 article (republished March 2020) for Hypatia did not result in her being fired, censored, or otherwise deplatformed.
It’s not as if no one came across her article either. According to Altmetric, Rudy’s article is in the “top 5% of all research outputs scored by Altmetric” and is “One of the highest-scoring outputs from this source (#1 of 704)” and has an Altmetrics attention score in the 99th percentile.
When Rebecca Tuvel wrote a paper for Hypatia suggesting that the same assumptions that ground transgenderism could be used to support transracialism, scholars demanded Hypatia retract the article and the journal's Facebook page posted an apology on behalf of the associate editors. Rudy, on the other hand, was invited to deliver the commencement speech for North Carolina Service Dogs in December 2012.
We must remember that the word “transgressive” has relative, not absolute, meaning. What is considered “normal” defines what is considered “transgressive.” If queer theory articles on bestiality result in publication and validation, then is Rudy truly, in her words, “transgressive”? Or is Hypatia, rather, representative of a new establishment norm that is just as desirous of punishing transgressors—now in the form of TERFs and other enemies of the postmodern left—as the old establishment was eager to fire and ostracize homosexuals? As The Who sang, “Meet the new boss / Same as the old boss.”
Featured image - Kathy Rudy holding a small goat. Source: https://scholars.duke.edu/person/krudy