Contestants in the 2018 Pup Contest

The leather community is angry at me. Well, not the leather community at large. It’s mainly a distinct subgroup of the leather community: men and (some) women who get a sexual thrill out of play-acting like puppies. They wear puppy masks and puppy tails and often some or other leather accoutrement, and they get off on acting like dogs. When in casual mode, they fetch and pant and probably lick your face; I imagine during sex they throw in some begging and snarling.

And now, packs of them are growling and howling at me.

You see, last weekend was L.A. Puppy Pride, a public four-day affair at which pups and other queer leather enthusiasts gathered for various social events, the capstone of which was the Saturday-night L.A. Pup Contest. This was a pageant of sorts, at which seven men competed to be, well, the best dog.

Now, I’ve started producing video segments for this website, as well as its sister site, Wehoville.com. I do a cheeky, man-on-the-street–type routine through which I cover various local events of little general importance: a drag contest, a gay Crossfit competition—you get the idea. Anyway, I thought the L.A. Pup Contest might make for a cute, and definitely funny, video segment. Grown men squaring off for the title of best puppy? Who the hell wouldn’t want to watch that?

Comedian Ben Kawaller and a pup at L.A.’s annual Puppy Contest

I thought my video came out great. The material practically wrote itself, and I feel like I captured something most people hadn’t seen, and would probably at least find interesting. I also felt like many of the interactions I had that night were genuinely warm, even as I was playing the role of snarky sociologist. Enough people seemed to play along, and I felt generally like not an asshole for teasing people with my questions. True, there were some missteps, like when I asked a girl what she was doing among all these homosexuals, and she said, “I am a homosexual,” and I felt like an idiot. In the most comfortable of my interviews, we made each other laugh. I don’t think I ever came across in the moment as mean. Bumbling, perhaps, but not malicious or cruel.

Of course, it’s a wonder what some edits and a voiceover will do. The video I produced had the intended effect of highlighting what was funny about the night—mostly, the men in dog costumes—while also making fun of the seriousness with which many of the attendees seemed to take their roles. I also offered a “review” of the pageant performances in which I highlighted the impressive performance of one particular pup—the only contestant, in fact, who fully embraced the challenge, which was, of course, to act like a dog.

As a result of this video I have experienced my first Twitter backlash. The most-liked Tweet in response to my video called it “hard to watch” and “tone deaf and disrespectful.” Someone else wondered if GayLifeLA was “only for heteronormative, vanilla folks who can’t think outside the clos… er, box.” I think I get the point of this one, though one thing I don’t think you can charge my insanely gay videos with is heteronormativity. And what closet are we talking about? Did this guy think I was some straight dude who came in and made fun of all the crazy queers?

Effectively, it seems, many of them did. I may be as gay as they come, but the mocking bemusement of my video, to my detractors anyway, registered as the judgment of a sexually repressed bigot. The level of anger I generated surprised even the co-leader of Puppy Pride, who, despite his not seeing any problem with my video, asked my editor to take it down, noting on Twitter, “If many pups are hurt by it, I believe this is best to protect the pack.” Thankfully, my editor didn’t cave, but the comments on the story are merciless. This one’s pretty emblematic:

“There is a reason that people came from across the country for this pride event. It is because close-minded individuals, like you, are too frightened to understand our community and we can only express this part of ourselves in a protected environment. You violated our safe space. Rather than kink-shame us, you should have attempted to understand us. I would invite you to come to another pup event without an agenda of making a story because you really missed the point of the entire community.”

It turns out that for a lot of these guys, I wasn’t just poking fun at some dumb little fetish. I was mocking their very identities. To them, I was committing the truly horrific comic sin of punching down: I was making fun of a group with less social power than I have. Good comedy punches up—it deflates self-aggrandizers, cuts tyrants down to size, mocks pretenses. Comedy that punches down is, well, disgusting.

The idea that I might be guilty of punching down has spurred a good deal of soul-searching, even if my initial reaction to all this outrage was disbelief and irritation. After all, is this what we’ve come to? We can’t laugh at men dressing up as dogs? More shockingly, men dressing up as dogs can’t laugh at themselves? Their offense offended me; humorlessness is, after all, unforgivable. As my sole puppy defender put it on Twitter, “If you can’t laugh at yourself [you’re definitely] taking life too seriously [paw-print emoji] It’s not a documentary detailing wrongdoings.” In other words, I wasn’t revealing these people to be bad, just…funny!

It is difficult for me to wrap my mind around the point of view that poking fun at men who like to dress up as dogs is at all comparable to making fun of an oppressed or powerless community. I understand that many of these people have been marginalized—it was plainly evident that pup play had given many of these men a sense of belonging, and for some of them, a sense of being fundamentally okay. But, hadn’t they been marginalized for being queer, rather than for liking to dress as dogs? I am not aware of any anti-pup-play legislation, nor of any enlightened person who would have a problem with a harmless sexual fetish. Has anyone ever been disowned for being a puppy?

Besides, we’re all into something that would look totally bizarre to anyone who, well, didn’t happen to be into that particular weird thing. When I referred to the crowd as “homosexual degenerates,” an ancient-sounding phrase, I took for granted that my audience realized I was using some degree of irony—obviously I didn’t mean it literally. Besides, I count myself among that very population! No, I am not a pup-play person, but—well, here, I’ll give you my weirdest thing: I belong to a website for self-professed jack-off enthusiasts who like to beat it together while talking to each other like idiotic straight guys (“Nice dick, bro”—that kind of thing). It’s utterly ridiculous. Much like dressing up as a dog. Who in their right mind cares about any of this on a moral level? It’s all funny if you can see it in a certain light.

Of course, there is the argument that these are people who have been marginalized by the queer community. Perhaps to them, my seeming “vanilla”-ness represented the unforgiving judgment of the “mainstream” gays. But to that I say, who among us hasn’t felt marginalized by the queer community? We all have to deal with the pressures to look a certain way, act a certain way, be a certain way. Much like straight people do. That’s part of living among humanity. But dressing up as a dog, no matter how you cut it, is fucking funny. You can either realize that the profound meaning you find through a sexual fetish is more about the people you connect with through that fetish than it is about the fetish itself, or you can live in a world where we aren’t allowed to laugh at grown men in puppy costumes.

A part of me thinks that the rage I’ve inspired is a symptom of life under our current president. As a pup-play supporter who messaged me over Facebook put it, because of Trump, “Minorities in society are in danger and being treated worse than they have been in decades and because of that I think when we all see something that gets to us we tend to defend our friends and loved ones harder these days… [L]ife is much more scary.” He is right. Trump has made us all angrier, more frightened, and quick to suspect anyone from outside our own groups. It would seem that in this case, that meant me. These people didn’t know that, though I’m not of them, I am with them.

If I am sorry about anything, I am sorry in a sort of cosmic way that many of the people who were offended by me seem to have been treated very badly by the world. It might be no coincidence that the most puppy-like contestant had evidently suffered some pretty horrible crap at the hands of people who should have been better to him. What you don’t see in my video is that after his sketch, which was truly clever and surprisingly moving, he told the audience that his scene was meant to be a message. “Don’t feel sorry [about] the people who leave you behind,” he said, through his tears. “Feel sad for them because they gave up on somebody who would never give up on them.”

I didn’t think to include that part. It wasn’t funny.

 

 

Ben Kawaller

About The Author:

Ben Kawaller has written for the Advocate, Salon, New York and FourTwoNine, and creates video content for WEHOville and GayLifeLA. Follow him on Twitter, where he is badly in need of affirmation: @benkawaller.

41 thoughts on “Opinion: The Pup Community is Growling at Me”

  1. The fact that you think kink shaming is ok and laughing at someone else’s passion is ok really demonstrates your dysfunction. I find it disappointing that you don’t see the lack of humour in this disrespect. I also find it disappointing that anyone supports you in any way making money from this immature behaviour. Let’s not forget that much of your audience had no idea you would be there filming them and the whole thing was an unpleasant surprise to be mocked in a video.

  2. You still don’t quite get it.

    Its not about “dressing up like a dog.”

    For us, it is more similar to a being transgender than it is to performing in drag. I think that you still have a superficial understanding of the the pup community. It is not a costume to put on a show and create a new persona, it is an expression of who we are.

    That is why it hurts.

    You quote me as the emblematic response. I appreciate that because while we are upset, I think that our response has been emotional, civil, and demonstrate a willingness to engage and educate.

    But please. Don’t pity us or feel sorry for us in a ‘cosmic’ way about how we have been treated by the world. #1 because you are part of the problem. But more importantly, (much like Chabad) we are a community that is so strong we not only support each other, but we educate, outreach, and provide support for those beyond our community.

      • He said “similar.” Not the same. Read the whole paragraph. He’s not equating the two. He’s trying to find a comparison (ANY comparison) that might get through to Ben.

        Obviously there’s a spectrum. For some pups this is an EXTREMELY deep personal identities and for others, not so much.

        Also for what it’s worth he mocked at least 2 women and 1 trans guy at the event (that I know of). So he’s also transphobic and misogynist.

  3. How dare you! I witnessed your reporting and I heard all the wonderful and heart felt answers you where given. Yet you still mocked and ridiculed the community. I also did not like the fact that you spoke for me during your video. You have no idea the emotions I had during that night. You try going out there pouring your soul to a crowd and then having to be emotionally stable after that. I don’t hate Rush nor was I upset at my loss. Please learn from this and make a real apology not this half ass sorry not sorry BS

      • HAND THAT FEEDS ? PLEASE DONT EVER AAY THAT AGAIN YOUR HUMOR IS NOT FUNNY. ITS OFFENSIVE AND TASTELESS. BELIEVE ME WHEN I SAY THAT THE PUP COMMUNITY WILL MAKE IT OUR MISSION TO NEVER HAVE A PERSON LOKE YOU EVER DO A PIECE FOR US! LEARN TO ACCEPT YOU WHERE WRONG !!!!!!! WE DONT LIKE CHILDREN AT THE BEST OF TIMES BELIEVE ME BUT THIS TOTALY TAKES THE CAKE!

  4. Apology not accepted. You don’t get it, do you? You were not laughing with us, you were laughing AT us. Please come back when you have home training.

    • To be clear, I have not apologized.

      Unlike gender, which we have learned is not as binary as we once believed, there is no spectrum on which one can fall between human and dog. You can act dog-LIKE, but it goes without saying that that does not make a person any less of a human being. There was no one at this event who suggested that your community seeks to *actually* identify as dogs—and I don’t believe your leader when he says that you do. Dogs, for instance, don’t write op-eds or throw events, for instance. They don’t have opinions. They are animals without self-consciousness.

      Rather, what I learned from you guys is that assuming the role of dog allows you to access a head space in which you feel free, and maybe even more like “yourself.” That I understand clearly. But you trivialize what it means to be transgender with this malarkey.

  5. Do you get paid to write this garbage or do you submit it freely? Just stay out of Leather events if you just want to laugh and poke fun at the genuine people in them. You’re not doing us a favor.

  6. Yeah wouldnt you be offended if I did a show about rich white gays in weho that have to bleach their asshole, trim their pubes, get fake tans, and get plastic surgery to fit in?

  7. 17 paragraphs. 15 of which defend your own view of an event you were attending as a guest and did absolutely zero research on before you attended. 1 paragraph where you express sorrow for the way people are treated by others (not yourself) and then one paragraph where you mention something you didn’t include because it was not the way you were looking to portray this community – and yet you found it to be the most moving part of the experience for you – never the less it landed on the cutting room floor. I think a lot of people are still waiting for an apology.

    If you came to have fun WITH them, this all would have gone much differently. But throughout this non-apology justification you repeatedly state you were there to make fun OF them. Is it any wonder that people felt taken advantage of and hurt but what appears to be a comedic hit job? A lot of what happens in the fetish, kink, BDSM community is based on trust. You have to trust the person tying you up or putting a locked collar around your neck. You trust people to respect you when you open up to them about your inner sexual desires, fantasies and practices. These people trusted you and you violated that trust.

    And yet, through all of that, individuals in this group have invited you to come back to get to know them better and what puppy play is really all about. I’ll paraphrase your last line in this and let it speak back to you. “Feel sad for yourself because you poked fun at somebody else’s expense who would never poke fun at your expense.”

    And consider making a real and true apology.

  8. Mr Kawaller,

    While you’ve hinted to the closeness of this community in both your video and what only can be described as essence of an apology above, you seem to miss the fact that the LA Leather Community (which includes a number of subsets and groups, including the Pup community) is in fact one large family. It’s a family that has endured many attacks just for being who they are. And just like a family, there is infighting, drama, oddities, humor and joy to be found rampant throughout. And just like a family you will find those who laugh at themselves and at others within the family. You’ll have fighting within the family. You’ll have family members making fun of each other. But the constant throughout all this is that it’s members of the family who are doing the laughing or fighting…and that’s okay. That’s what families do. But the second someone from outside that family steps up and makes fun of that family, you better believe that all the infighting, all the drama and all the laughing at ourselves will come to an abrupt halt…because no one makes fun of our family. I would expect you to react the same way if someone were to attack your family. This is why taking a “comical” attack on a community that you are not part of is unacceptable. You’re attacking a family…one that invited you in and tried to provide some education.

    As a gay man yourself, you understand what it’s like to be attacked for simply existing. In this case, unfortunately, you’ve adopted the same attack vector as those who are outside the leather community and either are threatened by its existence or use hurtful humor to alleviate ignorance.

    But please note this…we are a family and we are protective of each other. Further degradation of the community, specifically the Pup community, will not be tolerated.

    Instead I invite you to reach out and learn more about the community you’re poking fun at. I’d be happy to take you to events, set up conversations with different members of the leather community, or answer any questions you may have.

  9. Generally, when I find out something I’ve said or done has caused offense or hurt feelings, my immediate reflex is to apologize. The “oh come ON” response you’ve admitted to here indicates a fairly solipsistic view. You even identified what you did (punching down) and then did backflips to dodge any self-accountability. You need to ask yourself, when you screw up are you the kind of person who says you’re sorry and tries to do better, or are you the kind of person who shifts the blame for offense to others?

  10. Okay, pups. I think I can get us on the same page, having read Pup Ash-Tray’s editorial and these comments.

    I was making fun of you. To apologize would imply regret about this, and I may be many things, but I am not a bullshitter. The party line from you guys is that you identify as dogs, and that this somehow makes you as afflicted as those who feel they were born the wrong gender.

    This is ludicrous, for reasons too obvious to enumerate. And, while you may have struggled with fitting in or finding a family or any of the other things many people struggle with, you are not in fact living as the wrong species. And if you are, this is simply one of life’s many disappointments. Equating this with being transgender (a demonstrably persecuted group) is, to use the failsafe charge of our time, offensive.

    So, yes. I am making fun of you for this. Because it is an idea worthy of ridicule. Peace.

  11. You’re gross… and your attempt at explaining why you did what you did seems more to excuse your ignorance. You literally said, well since the queer community already goes through shit, what’s wrong with you not adding more shut to a group that I’m sure to your dismay, is a part of the queer community. Then you had the audacity to bring the fact that this current administration could be a reason why people were offended by your ignorance. You keep digging yourself deeper and deeper so really, do yourself and this joke of a publication a favor and hush up. What the hell is happening to our community that people like this feel like it’s okay to shame anyone’s preference/lifestyle/etc ?!?!? Btw… if that’s how you’re going to continue to operate, do us all a favor and don’t claim to be one of us. Lastly, if you’re going to make a video about any community, or any part of a community, educate! Don’t use people to make fun of and make yourself feel better than because guess what, the way you treat them is the same way a large portion of the straight world thinks of and treats you/us!!! Wake up… truly funny people don’t need to be an asshole in order to be funny.

  12. To be clear, I’m not a pup but I know many of them. And no, I don’t think it’s the same thing as being trans, either. I was commenting more from the perspective of someone who considers himself a reasonably nice guy.

    You’ve owned that you were making fun of these people. Well, people know when they’re being made fun of, so you can hardly be surprised at their response. If you own that without apology, then it seems disingenuous to get indignant when the people you’re ridiculing get defensive. Standing your ground is your right I suppose, but don’t kid yourself that you have the moral high ground here.

    Here’s hoping your next bit is more funny and less mean-spirited.

  13. Comparing pups to trans…. You just taught me how incredibly ignorant a gay man can be on social media. Obviously you aren’t kinky at all and don’t represent most of the LGBTQIA community, and therefore hold yourself to some self-imposed moral code. This was just a pathetic whiney boo-hoo waste of my time to read, what was your actual point Mr. Dexter? I hope for reasons like the ones you stated above, you aren’t invited to events in the future where you blatantly bite the hand that feeds YOU. What drivel.

    There is a line in comedy where one can step beyond the scope of hilarity, your ignorance has crossed it. And obviously you ARE upset that our community didn’t appreciate your actions as much as your Editor, who will still have a job long after you stop being able to produce content. They aren’t compromising their credibility here, you are, and without content for your mockery, you are just another faceless person wanting attention you do not deserve. Have fun with that a couple years from now.

  14. Okay even if this article isn’t an apology, I guess there might be a bit too much kerosene in this argument and Mr. Kawaller makes some good points.

    Yes The Trump climate is very dangerous for sub-culture groups. We don’t need another excuse for mainstream people to find reason to harm us. But it’s not particularity Mr. Kawaller’s piece that’s struck a chord with me. His piece is very close to a lot of mainstream punchy-humor pieces.

    From what I can infer, Kawaller’s very campy-hollywood-esque attitude is very accepted in entertainment social circles. But that attitude mindset that prioritizes “entertainment for entertainments sake” is SO FREAKING harmful and destructive to individuals. And the entertainment people can’t see it. “Take it easy, it’s just a joke” seems to be a fitting hypothetical quote. But it’s not a joke. Because ratings and sacrificing ethical integrity for one liners and cringeworthy entertainment is what sells in today’s apathetic shaudenfraude climate.
    Take any reality star with five minutes of fame and see how the cheap laughs literally destroy their emotional stability and ability to cope. And I don’t think it’s a well kept secret either. People who work with media know exactly how it impacts general opinions and slanders regular people but also boots ratings.
    That “entertainment mindset” is definitely not something we need to invite into the gay community, especially to a subculture group , who is one of the easier targets , and who if things escalates will need more strength than others to just survive Trump-esque politics.

    These people are working so hard to gain respect and build safe environments at a time when it’s getting incredibly more difficult. i know it’s not just Mr. Kawaller, but as a pup I find myself facing so much scoff humiliation and jestering on a daily basis from people out in the open. For just fucking standing there. No it’s not Mr. Kawaller’s piece that did it, but it’s been getting worse every year recently and I am confident it’s because people have been conditioned to think it’s okay to point smear and bully the “freaks”. Because i know it began the day I got to know the “entertainment community” and not a day sooner.

  15. Quote: “True, there were some missteps, like when I asked a girl what she was doing among all these homosexuals, and she said, “I am a homosexual,” and I felt like an idiot.

    …yeah, but you never apologized to me for that. It was super shitty to feel like I didn’t belong.

    Anyways, regarding this whole mess: if you do a “funny” segment on a group of people and that group of people almost unanimously agrees that they are offended, then it’s likely you came across as meaner as you meant to be.

    You can be funny without being mean. You can be informative while still being funny. You can laugh WITH people instead of laughing AT them. These are subtleties your humor lacked. I think you have potential (your “I advocate for cotton!” joke was so, so close to being self-depreciating and hilarious) but I think you’re handling the backlash very badly; you keep insisting people should find your video funny, but you’re not entitled to our laughs.

    One heckler doesn’t mean anything. But when the entire room is booing, there’s something wrong. As a comedian, you should learn to read the room; learn to adapt your humor; learn the difference between “fun” riffing and mean riffing.

    I hope you eventually come to understand why everyone is so upset, if only because I don’t want to see other niche fetish/kink groups marginalized by your “humor.” Also, I hope you recognize the usefulness of learning to graciously accept criticism; it will lead you to more opportunities in the future. Currently, you’re getting yourself blacklisted from a lot of events. Admitting that you “sacrificing [others’] feelings for the sake of my work” does not make you look good to anyone.

  16. Your faggotry aside, your video as well as your non-apology apology just proves your just another know it all white male who gets defensive when called out on his BS. Your humor didn’t go over so well brcause you aren’t one of us. So when you throw “snarky” remarks and questions, it makes you seem condescending. Just because you didn’t feel like an asshole doesn’t mean others didn’t feel you were behaving like one

  17. Enjoy never being invited to a gay event in LA within the kink community again after this… Your ridicule within this response is not comedy, it’s bigotry. Google the word.

  18. If you at this point are still refusing to learn and defending your shitty worldview, you are willfully ignorant and frankly, a closed minded piece of shit.

  19. Hmmm, I wasn’t sure how I felt about your video because on one hand you do put a lot of effort into introducing the LA gay life to your audiance, and on the other hand you seem very condescending at least towards this subgroup of LA gay community. So, I asked a few straight and gay friends who do not identify with leather and/or kink to watch your video and see what they thought. I think the majority of comments I got ranged between “that idiot” and “what an a**hole!” Well earned title and nice job making LA Gay Life Great Again… keep up the good work.

  20. I feel like you need a history lesson:
    It’s not about you and your pathetic attempt to gain traction in the shit storm you created so let’s talk history.
    It wasn’t till recently that being in the BDSM community in whatever way what’s concidered as an illness. If you were apart of the BDSM community you were thought to be child molester, sick and deprived individual that were nothing more than filth to the community. What you also may not know is that the BDSM communities have often been blamed for living a true a real existence with out conformity. As a result get blamed for the AIDS/HIV epidemic in the 80’s. The epidemic that would kill hundreds in the Leather Community.
    What you fail to realize is your video wasn’t just a poor knock off of Billy Eichner’s series. It was a video that highlighted your ignorance.
    I stood there as you mocked the contest in front of myself and two other Judges. I said right to your face that I was apart of the largest and oldest LGBTQ organization in the country and internationally. YOU look dead at me shrugged and said “well I don’t know what any of that means” and flip the page. You didn’t take a second to listen to anyone. You were looking for your next punch line!
    I am thankful for the reads you did catch during my your inappropriate interviewing. Your are speaking for the “cotton” community “tellin the what they already know” and acting just like one of them.
    You wrote a fluff apology and think that an entire community that you have offended from all over the country is going to let you off the hook.
    Think again….
    as for you commentary on the contest itself you really didn’t ask is the judges what it took to earn the title you have basically no clue how far the community has come. I have judge the contest each year it has been around. It is a hard task and it’s days worth of literally trying to find a reason why someone shouldn’t have the title. I say this because each of the contestants deserve the title. They ALL show that they are a better person than you. While we split hairs to find the little bad in such amazing and brave individuals you were undermining the very heart of the community wich is Love, Trust and Having an open mind with out judgment.
    Your clearly the one in the dog house now.

  21. Dudes, I was a dick to you guys. I am sorry. I have always tried to be aware of the line between irreverence and being hurtful. My defenses went up in response to your negative reaction and I lashed out like a real shithead. With a cooler head I’d like to apologize for my comments in this thread, which were hostile and unproductive. And, regardless of whether or not this was “fair game,” this episode will undoubtedly make me think more deeply about how my work affects the people in it.

    I am sorry for how I treated you.

    • Anyone want to take bets on whether he’ll take down the video or write another piece about how he was a shithead, or whether this is all we’ll get? My money is on the latter.

    • An apology in the comments for comments you made in the same comments is not the same as a public apology after writing two consecutive articles in which you made fun of a marginalized community and attempted to call it comedy. A public apology and the retraction of the original video would be nice, not just an apology in the comments for insensitivity in the comments. Also, you’ve offended more than just “dudes” – again if you expanded your horizon and perspective you might (MIGHT) see the full extent of the harm you did and the full range of people that you offended and hurt. But frankly not many of us are holding our breathe that any of that will happen.

  22. I’m not someone who is into pup play nore am I a pup handler.
    But know many pups and there handlers. The video you made was awfule. Further more the apology you have sent was rude, sarcastic and unauthentic. Your no journalist. I hope you learn to be mature and demonstrate better judgment in the future on sub cultures that you cover.
    PS being happy about this kind of back lash shows your lack of character and danger to the lgbtq commumity.

  23. I think your most recent apology is a reasonable one. I think you had it right when you talked about ‘punching down.’ Not that pups are beneath you, but making fun of people is often hurtful whether you intend it to be or not. There’s also a huge difference between laughing with people, and laughing at them. One of hen is just fucking gross.

  24. What I find funny, is the things you find as “events of little general importance”, are some of the MOST important events for queer people; where some, these are the only places they feel safe, or that they are able to be themselves.

    Your amusement of the subcultures in the gay community shows your lack of understanding of the fights that these people have done, so you can parade happily around as a gay white male.

    Your halfassed apology does nothing, because even through out your long winded post, you STILL failed to see why YOU where wrong with out being called out by fellow queer people.

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