A mech fan wakes from a terrible nightmare. In her dream, she finds herself in a society where anthropomorphic robot and cyborg art is widely considered cringe by popular society, and romantic or sexual depictions thereof are often considered problematic.
Ever since the advent of an artificial general intelligence (AGI), society has drawn a sometimes-unclear line that, while intelligent robots are considered the property of their owners, sexual abuse of an intelligent robot is immoral and punishable by law. This is because the nascent technology is still too new to create an AGI totally comparable to a human adult capable of enthusiastic, informed consent.
“I don’t have a problem with fan art depicting Gundam Mobile Suits and Pacific Rim Jaegars, which are just machines, but the machines from the Horizon franchise are intelligent and it’s therefore wrong to romanticize or sexualize such characters. Cortana from Halo is outright off limits!” Callouts are posted, hate mobs are formed, livelihoods are ruined–all without the advice or participation of a single intelligent machine or pioneer of the genre.
In anticipation of the availability of an AGI, the mech fandom has long since focused more on cyborg personas and human-piloted mechs in most of their creative expressions. Occasionally, mech fans will create artistic depictions of intelligent machines, but they are overwhelmingly not romantic or sexual in nature.
Robophiles (people that trade and use intelligent robots as sex dolls) are sometimes known to comingle with casual fans of the mech community, which some argue provides deniability and cover for their activities.
While the larger mech fandom almost unilaterally opposes robophiles and takes steps to distance themselves from illicit conduct, the younger fans have recently taken a more conservative approach: Any machine that looks like it could be sentient is problematic, and anyone who creates a cyborg persona with the sexual characteristics common to robot sex dolls is decried publicly as a robophile; no matter how benign the overlap.
In their wisdom, younger mech fans have created confusing and arbitrary litmus tests for what’s considered wholesome cyborg and kitchen appliance fun, and what’s equivalent sexual abuse of a powerless intelligent robot. “Detachable genitals are 100% robo. Electrical stimulation is very questionable and should be avoided,” writes a moderate young mech fan, shortly before their contemporaries issue a Twitter callout.
“E-stim is 100% robophilia! The only reason to have a cyborg with electrical stimulating genitals is if you’re a closet robophile or trying to give cover for robophiles!” a minor in their inner circle writes in a Google Doc with 20+ unrelated anecdotes from the moderate’s former friends, ex-lovers, and one person who who accompanied them while they purchased a vibrating sex toy at a mech convention four years ago.
Waking up in a cold sweat, the mech fan realizes, gratefully, that it was all just a crazy dream. “Of course!” she reassures herself, “No community would ever reduce such a beautiful and wholesome hobby to something so puritanical and authoritarian; no subculture could be so cruel to its own members as to deprive them of awareness of consent and all its nuances in favor of senseless purity tests. How absurd!”
Meanwhile, on the other side of town, an extraterrestrial science fiction fan awakens from a similar nightmare…
(With Apologies to A Mathematician’s Lament by Paul Lockhart.)
Of Puriteens and Tenderqueers
I’m not the first to observe the phenomenon wherein younger LGBTQIA+ people tend to have reactionary conservative opinions about sex, pornography, and relationships. Unfortunately, the furry fandom is not immune to this influence.
When they’re young, the sex-negative young queers are referred to by older queers as “puriteens”, due to their puritanical attitudes about sex and consent. When they reach their 20’s, they often get called “tenderqueer”.
I don’t particularly care for “tenderqueer”, as its name is too similar to a real gender identity for my liking. (It will become apparent later why I opted to not simply remove all mention of “tenderqueer” from this blog post, if you’re taking notes at home.)
Historically, most (if not all) attempts at communication between their camp and the larger LGBTQIA+ community have been unsuccessful. Younger queers feel like queer elders aren’t listening their viewpoints; older queers feel like puriteens aren’t comprehending their responses.
Unlike many authors who have opined on this topic, I’m not particularly interested in assigning blame for the current predicament. Regardless of whodunnit, the LGBTQIA+ and furry communities have a shared responsibility to fix the damn problem once and for all.
So let’s analyze the arguments Puriteens present, why they purport to believe what they believe, and the sort of worldview that you can infer from those data points. In balance, let’s also compare and contrast the Puriteen philosophy with the one largely shared by the LGBTQIA+, furry, and BDSM communities.
Listening to Puriteens
It’s difficult to coerce a coherent argument out of angry Twitter users, especially when they’re high on their own moral vindication. It’s also difficult to discern bona fide Puriteens from Internet trolls who appropriate Puriteen arguments for the sake of making their victims look guilty of something they’re not. To wit:
The above tweet is an anime fan using a contortion of a Puriteen argument to disparage furries for daring to offer STI testing at a convention. While it’s not a true representation of Puriteen philosophy, it does preserve a lot of the underlying structure.
This tweet is an actual Puriteen’s argument against furry characters with genitals that aren’t 100% human.
There is another, more famous Puriteen argument about anthro versus feral characters in furry porn:
The yellow text reads “Harkness Test needed” but not all Puriteens agree on the validity of such a mental model.
Naturally, this discourse isn’t limited to feral art. Any kink or interest, no matter how fantastical and divorced from any real-world analogue, is also in scope for Puriteen scorn.
However, any kinks that the Puriteen in question enjoys are off-limits for that particular Puriteen.
This might seem somewhat contradictory, but I must implore everyone to resist the urge to play “Gotcha!”
From these examples, we can discern that there is no singular unified perspective on what’s acceptable or not from the reactionary conservative attitudes we collectively refer to as “Puriteen”.
This also makes it difficult to pin down a specific set of religious or moral beliefs that is universal to the Puriteens online.
However, I will make an attempt to charitably describe the worldview espoused by the Puriteen narratives I’ve encountered online. Just keep in mind that I haven’t interviewed literally every young queer to assess whether or not they agree with what I’m about to say, so there’s likely to be some dissent.
What Do Puriteens Seem to Believe?
I think there are two primary components to the Puriteen belief system.
- Superficial similarities with problematic behavior are inherently problematic.
- Older people are unable, or unwilling, to implement simple changes that elegantly solve all moral ambiguity.
The first component is what we see in the tweets sourced above. In the case of NSFW art depicting feral characters: Anything that, on first glance, a zoophile might enjoy, is therefore zoophilic. “Art depicting an anthropomorphic wolf character, but his penis has knot? Zoophilia!”
I’m not being flippant here; that’s the actual argument being presented by many Puriteens.
The common denominator of every Puriteen argument has been a sort of argument from aesthetics: If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.
The second component emerges when an older queer tries to “help” the Puriteen understand their perspective (which is most often informed by years, or even decades, of experience and debate about queerness).
And, honestly, can you blame them for feeling this way?
From their perspective, on an unrelated issue, adults have been blithely complicit in mass shootings that plague this country. “Gun control would solve all of the problems! But adults don’t want to do that, so we continue to die and lose our friends and peers. They won’t listen to us. We need gun control now!”
So why would they expect us to listen to them on matters related to sex if adults have overwhelmingly seemed to ignored their plights?
Reality Isn’t So Simple
The answer to the previous question is, of course: We’re taking way more nuance into consideration, which usually demonstrates that the “simple and obvious” fix to a problem won’t actually help.
Taking guns away may solve mass shootings, but it won’t stop other types of violence from occurring. And if your goal is to prevent all forms of violence, not just gun violence in particular, you’ll find these simplistic arguments far less convincing than someone who doesn’t consider stabbings or chemical attacks.
The reality we live in is so much more messy and complicated than the mental model espoused by propaganda on either side of this issue wants to acknowledge.
Note: This isn’t a blog post about gun control. There are other analogies that work, but I chose this one because it has a congruent emotional reaction to the furry discourse.
A Bridge, Not Far Enough
It’s totally understandable that Puriteens don’t want to be associated with zoophilia because they like furry art or fursuiting. I don’t want to be associated with it either.
But what is the actual problem to be solved here?
The Elder Queer Perspective
While the Puriteen perspective is a sort-of argument from aesthetics, the elder queer perspective is simply: Consent is what matters.
I think we can all agree that acts of zoophilia is wrong because animals cannot meaningfully consent to sex with humans.
Many zoophiles will argue vehemently against this observation, but to date, nobody has proposed a scientific framework for evaluating such claims without being tainted with confirmation bias from people incentivized to perform sexual acts with animals. Until such a proposal is satisfied, you can safely discard their objections as self-interested wishful thinking without missing anything of value.
Pedophilia is wrong because, while most children and teenagers are certainly equipped to communicate with adults, they’re not fully developed and aren’t in an equal power dynamic with adults. Therefore, we say that a child also cannot consent.
In the fiction at the start of this blog post, the AGI’s were stated to also be incapable of consent to such conduct.
Are you noticing a pattern?
EDIT: To clarify, I’m using “zoophilia”, “pedophilia”, etc. as a shorthand to describe actions and art depictions of said actions. Since there’s little evidence that people can choose their sexual attractions on any level (see also: the failure of “conversion therapy” to prevent people from identifying as LGBTQIA+), I don’t think “anyone with [an inherent attraction they did not choose] is immoral” is a good hill to die on.
The acts are both immoral and illegal. Pornographic depictions of the acts are useful to groomers trying to normalize the acts to their victims, and are therefore immoral (even if they’re also works of art, which would make them fail to satisfy the third tenet of the Miller Test, and therefore legal).
If someone discovers they’re also attracted to minors or animals, but refuse to cause harm, it’s really none of my business what’s happening inside their head. They’re not nearly as much of a threat as most people have been conditioned to believe (source).
Sex isn’t evil, because without sex, none of us would be alive. However, rape is something every civilized person can agree is evil.
What’s the difference between sex and rape? Consent.
Consent Rules Everything Around Me
The golden standard for any sexual activity is that it must be between informed, enthusiastically consenting adults.
- You must agree to what’s happening, throughout the entire activity. If you’re roleplaying any sort of lack of consent (i.e. a BDSM scene), you’re encouraged to negotiate a “safe word” to signal actual revocation of consent or discomfort. When that “safe word” is uttered, the scene stops immediately.
- You cannot consent without knowing what’s happening. i.e. If you were drugged, you cannot consent to activity done to your unconscious body.
- You must be enthusiastic about the activity, or else coercion is at play. This implies no power imbalance between parties.
- You must be an adult.
It’s very easy to see how this framework obviates sex with minors or animals.
A moral framework predicated on consent is self-consistent. As long as this gold standard applies, have at it.
There is some debate about “bystander consent” (i.e. if someone is wearing kink gear, and you observe that they are wearing kink gear at a kink event, does your act of observation violate your own consent?), but that’s mostly silly: Bystander consent is only violated by acts of sexual exhibitionism, not by someone incidentally wearing pup hoods or collars at a convention. The same argument applies to most (if not all) drag queen shows.
People who disagree with me about bystander consent are overwhelmingly the same people who caption photos/videos from the Folsom Street Fair as “Pride parades” so I see no motivation to entertain this idea further.
Against Aesthetic Arguments
The reason why elder queers opt for a consent-driven framework instead of overcorrecting for avoiding superficial similarities to problematic interests is because of the lack of clear boundaries with aesthetic approaches.
Let’s return to the above tweet about anthro characters and their genital shapes.
If we accept that, “Yes, your anthro character must have a human penis/vagina/etc. in order to avoid being zoophilic,” what about their paws? Lots of furries have a sort of foot fetish for anthro footpaws. Are paws zoophilic too?
If you say “Yes”, now you cannot have anything except human feet on your fursonas or else it’s zoophilia, apparently.
What about their muzzles? If an anthro character is engaged in an oral sex act, isn’t that also zoophilic from the aesthetic-based moral framework? So the argument above goes, you’d be sexualizing animal snouts.
Not hard to just, be sexually attracted to HUMAN noses and mouths and a character that’s primarily 90% human anyways.Reframing this tweet.
You literally don’t have to slap a animals snout on there.
Animal bodies and muzzles aren’t sexual objects and shouldn’t be sexualized.
So now your fursona has to have a human nose and mouth too, if you want to avoid accusations of zoophilia.
I can keep going. The line of what is and isn’t sexual is very blurry.
You end up in a world where you’re not allowed to be more furry than an anime character with cat ears–and even that’s questionable–because anything further might be incidentally enjoyed by zoophiles, and the puritanical perspective of furry aesthetics prohibits going any further.
And when you reach this point, your moral framework has led you to argue against the furry fandom’s entire existence.
And I know what you’re probably thinking. “Soatok, this is a slippery slope fallacy.”
Here’s the thing: I actually agree, but I argue that the ones committing the fallacy are the ones proposing the Puriteen moral framework.
Puriteens as Propaganda Puppets
There is a term in political science: Useful idiot. It refers to someone who is propagandizing for another side’s cause without fully comprehending the side’s goals.
Not all Puriteens, but a great deal of them, are being recruited as useful idiots for fascist, right-wing populist movements like “alt-furry”.
And a lot of the recruitment pressure perfectly mirrors the kind of internal pressure an aesthetic-based moral framework implies: Peer pressure; conformity at the risk of cancelation (and the anxiety that follows); moral purity or bust.
This happens to align well with the right-wing agenda, which is (and always has been) decidedly anti-LGBTQIA+.
Why Else Might Furries Enjoy Feral Art, If Not Because They’re Into The Bad Thing?
A lot of early furry art was inspired by The Lion King, Balto, The Jungle Book, etc. The characters were unambiguously anthropomorphic (after all, Baloo from The Jungle Book later becomes a biplane pilot in Tail Spin), but often depicted as quadrupeds. That doesn’t make them less furry.
Additionally, many neurodivergent people report that having a feral fursona better represents their feelings about their lived experiences.
Conversely, younger furries are more likely to be familiar with bipedal anthropomorphic characters while growing up. The reason for this is simple: The movies, TV shows, and video games didn’t exist until recently.
It’s tempting to conflate feral with zoophilia, just like it’s tempting to conflate ABDL with pedophilia. But both cases are false equivalence.
With this context in mind, at the end of the day, as long as the gold standard of consent is being upheld, elder queers largely don’t give a shit about moralizing art styles or character designs. What we do care about is preventing sexual abuse.
Why Aren’t Older Queers Doing More About Sexual Abuse?
We are. You just won’t hear about it on a Twitter call-out thread before the authorities can take action.
In the furry fandom, it’s only been three years since we learned what Joshua “Kero the Wolf” Hoffman and his zoosadist buddies were really up to outside of his YouTube videos.
But consider this: Even before the horrible deeds were revealed to the rest of the furry fandom, the perpetrators already had enough sense to try to keep their activities secret. This tacitly admits that they know it’s not acceptable to the furry fandom at large.
If I had to distill my message to Puriteens in one sentence, it would be:
On the topic of sexual abusers, we’re on the same side and always have been; we just believe consent is far more important than aesthetics or peer pressure.
If you think we aren’t, instead of tweeting at us angrily about it, stop and introspect for a bit and see if you still disagree later.
But also, maybe stop sending death threats to furries with Pokémon fursonas? There’s no need for that.
While most people responded positively with this blog post (even if they disagree), a few people tried to dismiss it entirely because they assumed I had one of the sexual attractions discussed above, and was therefore “just being defensive”.
This is false. I don’t have such attractions, at all, and that’s about as much as I feel comfortable writing on this blog.
My only interest in this discussion is to see both camps understand the other’s viewpoints a little better.
It’d be great if we all agreed that consent is more important than aesthetics, but some people have shown they actually don’t care about consent, and that’s frightening to me. See also:
In response to this blog post, one person went so far as to outright lie about the contents of my FurAffinity gallery on Reddit in order to encourage unwitting bystanders to harass me for allegedly showcasing content that doesn’t actually exist (and never has existed). (Archive; Backup)
You don’t have to agree with my article, but please don’t act like this. It’s unethical and unwarranted.
With that said, any further discussion of my personal interests or speculation about my attractions in completely unwelcome and off-limits. If you can’t make your point without resorting to personal attacks or lying about your opponent, maybe you’re wrong.
Analyzing the Responses of My Critics
Note: Not all of the responses I’ve received are worth remarking on.
Consent As a Slippery Slope to Conservatism
imo I kinda wish consent wasn’t as spotlit as it was; The issue with pedo/zoo stuff morally is that the subject can’t safely say no, so consent becomes suspect to grooming. The ‘can they run away on a bus and sign an apartment lease’ test kills all the weird consent epistemology.(Archive, Backup)
The issue isn’t that they can’t safely say no. The issue is that they cannot safely say “yes”, and “no” MUST BE the null hypothesis.
To which they said:
I mean regardless I just find the consent-only convos kinda annoying bc it leads to ‘can ppl under 23 reallllly consent’ and that one weird paper zoos like. Zoos don’t really have a counter for ‘the pet can’t leave and live on its own’ atm
I’m not sure what weird paper they’re referring to (probably because I block zoophiles on sight), but the “can people under 23 really consent?” argument is easily cut off at the pass on two levels.
- Legally, the age of consent is most often 18. It can vary by locale, but generally, 18 is the minimum. Whether or not the law is sufficient is a topic for experts to discuss; I have no strong opinion on that.
- Right-wing puritanical beliefs about sex, sexuality, and gender are invalid and not worth considering. They aren’t equal ideas that deserve a seat at the table. Into the wastebin with such notions!
So, yeah, don’t debate fascists.
Consent Doesn’t Matter to Anti-Furries
I think what the Harness test fails to address is initial attraction. Like, yeah, a fictional creature can consent, but why would someone want to fuck an anthro dog that understands consent?From the person who lied about my FA gallery (Archive, Backup)
Better question: Who gives a shit?
Sex between consenting adults is nobody’s business unless they’re invited to participate in the activity.
Did you notice that this person said “an anthro dog” in this quip?
This is when anti-furries tell on themselves: The discourse around feral art will always end with “all furry art is wrong”.
Header art also originally by LynxVsJackalope, but poorly edited by Soatok for the sake of visual humor.
Also, I’m not really quite a greymuzzle yet. I’m only 32 years old, and the average age of a greymuzzle is 42.2 according to FurScience.