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?
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.
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… Read more »
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.
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.
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… Read more »
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.… Read more »
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… Read more »
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.
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.
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
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.… Read more »
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… Read more »
Clearly your comments about this non aopology commentary have demonstrated to us all that you have no empathy towards the people at the Pup contest. You seem genuinely proud of the hit job you did. The fact that you don’t recognize your video was harmful and hurtful is very disappointing. You talked about punching down and punching up to make humor. This video was a downward punch. You may not see it but it should be clear based on the responses you have gotten. You made it to be funny, in the eyes of the leather (more specifically the pup)… Read more »
It’s really sad that you think it’s acceptable to treat people this way, and that you think it’s a career. You’re an asshole, for real.
What you do is not journalism. That would require objectivity and an interest to portray the subject of your stories in their best, or at least most honest, light rather than belittling them and using them as the but of several tasteless jokes.
Also, what you do is not comedy. Comedy is funny.
I would like to retract my previous statement. It’s been brought to my attention that my comments were unfair to journalists everywhere. Freedom of speech is an important thing in this country and people have the right to say what they are feeling even if I don’t agree with it.
Having said that, I still think you are a bully for going after marginalized groups and simply making fun of them. Many of your same jokes could have been great if you had just an ounce of compassion rather than total disdain for your subject matter.
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… Read more »