Queering Animal Liberation: Lesbian communists are coming to take your fur coats...and they should
Updated: Nov 24, 2022
In honor of Pride month, the following piece is edited from my thesis White Meat: Animal Symbolism and Identity Politics in the United States
In 2019, the Los Angeles Times wrote an article about changing attitudes around wearing fur. The author quoted trapping advocate Nick Catrina, who verbalized his frustration with the normalization of anti-fur sentiment (Sahagún, 2019). He said, "Animal rights activists are terrorist groups, mostly led by lesbians, who destroy property and burn down animal research facilities for their cause. And progressives, in their march toward communism, are trying to ban trapping. They’ll get rid of hunting too after they take over the government of the United States."
It’s a very small quote that contains some very big dog whistles. He declared animal rights activists are terrorists, a highly politicized term. Further, he not only believes these groups are led by queer people, an already shocking assertion, but that they are explicitly led by lesbians. This misogyny compounded by homophobia is not incidental. On it's face, the accusation is as laughable as it is nonsensical. But in reading the subtext of this incendiary rant, it begins to make sense how he got here.
Of all the disparate groups who fall under the umbrella of queer identity, lesbians in particular threaten patriarchal power. Lesbians, more than anyone, are so characteristically self-sufficient that they demonstrate to the world that straight men are not needed.
Catrina then draws a link to communism, which hearkened back to the words of Sebastian Gorka at the 2019 CPAC, when he proclaimed to his audience that they would be starved of hamburgers as part of a supposed communist plot (Farzan, 2019). But as absurd as this link seeems superficially, the connection between queer politics and communism is not as tenuous as one may think. In fact, according to historian Samuel Huneke, communist states have sometimes been havens for LGBTQ rights.
In the Washington Post, he argued that many early leftists embraced queer identity and sexual autonomy. August Bebel, leader of the German Social Democratic Party from 1892 to 1913, supported the legalization of homosexuality and argued on the floor of German parliament in 1898 to demand a repeal of the country’s sodomy law. Even during the Cold War, archives and oral histories reveal East Germany was a more open and tolerant place for queer people than many Western states. Huneke also said, “Similarly, after the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia, they introduced a modern penal code in 1922 that abolished Russia’s sodomy law. In the 1920s, communist and socialist parties were often proponents of legalizing same-sex acts.”
It is, therefore, not an accident that animals, lesbians, and communism merge to become a singular boogeyman for Catrina. Within this merging mechanism, queerness is determined to be a subversive sexuality, one that is encoded with subversive politics, i.e., communism. A rejection of animal skins represents the realization of Catrina’s fears of displacement, a decentering of white heteropatriarchy.
It is unlikely, however, that Catrina would have known this. And that’s not to cast aspersions on his background or breadth of knowledge. This history has been deliberately obscured by those in power for generations. So the question becomes how did someone like Catrina get this type of messaging. The answer is through years of coordinated pathologizing of queer people and animals from U.S. political actors.
Speaking about gun laws in a conference call with representatives from the Tea Party in 2013, Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert of Texas compared same-sex marriage to bestiality. He said:
“It’s kind of like marriage when you say it’s not a man and a woman anymore. Then why not have three men and one woman, or four women and one man, or why not somebody has a love for an animal? There is no clear place to draw the line once you eliminate the traditional marriage. And it’s the same once you start putting limits on what guns can be used then it’s just really easy to have laws that make them all illegal.”
Gohmert isn’t alone. Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum said:
“In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever, to my knowledge, included homosexuality. That's not to pick on homosexuality. It's not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be. It is one thing.”
Conservative U.S. lawmakers, evangelical Christians, and special interest groups have relentlessly (and baselessly) framed same-sex attraction as a deviant behavior, and sexually abusing nonhuman animals is an easy way to plant in the public consciousness just how immoral it is—and to be clear, I deliberately name bestiality as sexual abuse because no meaningful verbal consent can be gained in a situation where one person violates an animal sexually.
But this obsessive hyper-sexualization of both queer people and animals ignores two fundamental truths. One, people sexually abuse animals all the time. Two, and more importantly, most of those people who do so are straight.
Why do we know this? Because the primary way in which nonhuman animals are violated is through farming. And there is no room for pearl clutching that farming should be regarded as sexual abuse. It's so plain that most states in the union have had to rewrite old laws to create exceptions for it.
There is no escaping the fact that the entire practice of industrial animal agriculture relies explicitly on the sexual abuse of animals. But even taking “legalized” bestiality out of the equation, farms are over-represented in estimations of abuse. Dr. Alfred Kinsey reported as early as the 1950s that there was a much higher prevalence for zoophilic acts among people who worked on farms and that a staggering 17% of males had experienced an orgasmic episode involving animals.
Plainly stated, there is zero reliable data that farms are densely populated by queer people. To the contrary, queer people experience such high rates of discrimination in rural areas that they’re over-represented in cities. What we are observing is a projection of sexual proclivities carried out by mostly straight men in the service of capital for the production of meat, one of the most enduring symbols of power, domination, and patriarchy in Western civilization. And they project it onto queer identities and animals (along with the occasional dreaded communist).
Me researching furries (2019). A study by David J. Rust of 360 members of the furry community suggested less than 1% were plushophiles and that only 2% were zoophiles.
Predictably, this project of hypersexualizing queer people and animals also has racialized consequences. In Histories of the Transgender Child, Dr. Jules Gill-Peterson talks about intersex children in particular. She explains that while physicians in the early twentieth century believed that White intersex and trans children could be "fixed" into "normality,” Black trans and intersex children in particular were seen as inherently incapable of transformation, stuck in a "primitive animality.” The metaphorical and sometimes very literal animalizing of supposedly undesirable people reveals that racial identity, queer identity, and animality do not exist in isolation, and that their continued demonization is not only intentional, but necessary for Western domination to succeed in its death march.
Frankly, the animal kingdom itself threatens to undermine the supposedly binary nature of sexual and gender identity. Western civilization despises the natural world because it reveals the absurdity of the supposed binary simply by existing. The Christian lie that same-sex attraction is unnatural is laid bare by nature itself. The diversity of sexual and gender presentation throughout the animal world mocks them. It’s no wonder that the West seeks to either civilize it or abolish it altogether in favor of domesticated animals and livestock animals who exist in a state of what theorist pattrice jones calls compulsory heterosexuality. And with only 4% of wild animals remaining, it has regrettably all but succeeded.
But the inevitability of Western domination is not assured. If the queer community and the animal rights community worked in cooperation, substantial gains could be made. As out lesbian author and journalist Jane Velez-Mitchell stated, “The LGBT community knows what it’s like to be voiceless and to be treated as ‘less than.’ That’s why the gay community often has exceptional empathy for the downtrodden, the overlooked, the forgotten.”