Pup Play helps people maintain a sense of community during COVID-19
In our horrific modern world riddled with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, many ancient pleasures are totally unavailable: karaoke, crowded concert halls, sitting inside a bar chatting with the bartender. What does all of this have in common? They are at the heart of the comfort of being in a community.
Many younger gay men who crave this personal interaction and community have found it through puppy play, which has continued to gain popularity during the pandemic. At first glance, practicing a fetish may seem like nothing more than masquerading as a dog while hanging out and sometimes having sex with your best friends. Below, it is about seeking comfort, care and community in an increasingly cold world. With another wave of COVID descending on us and Trump supporters looting the Capitol, who wouldn’t rather be a “big stupid dog,” in the words of Zan, a puppy-play enthusiast.
Zan, 27, discovered the puppy play fetish on Tumblr seven years ago from his dorm at Boston University. Her Twitter and Instagram are full of selfies in various neon puppy hoods (or, to the layman, masks) with a trendy chain necklace. In her experience, members of the small community seek to meet their emotional needs. “There are a lot of anxious people in the puppy community,” he tells me of Zoom.
Anxious people are drawn to scenarios where someone is there to appease them, to tell them that they are, in fact, a “good boy”. This dynamic is at the heart of the puppy game. “There is a dom / sub relationship where one person provides care and another receives it,” Zan explains. After the government has not provided us with care, why not seek a new master?
“Everything is so stressful and boring and evil and horrible,” he adds. “I can’t look at my phone anymore, and my brain is falling out of my ears, then this huge rubber guy with tattoos wants you to be his dog – and you’re like, ‘Wow, that sounds so easy and awesome! “
More than stress relief, puppy play gives Zan and others a sense of security. Some of that security also comes from so-called “packs,” which are a variation on the classic idea of queer-chosen families. Before finding a group of like-minded people in Brooklyn, the fetish was primarily an internet aesthetic for Zan. Now that’s quite an identity, and the people he’s found through it are his pod.
The sense of community is also essential for Jasper, another member of the pup-play community, who also calls himself Dadpup or Aura. “I wanted a group, a family – and I wanted a pack. I wanted to be with people I could trust and not just have one night stands. He has actively identified himself as a puppy for the past five years. He first became familiar with the subculture 11 years ago by participating in the fetish festival MAL (Mid-Atlantic Leather weekend). The old guard of leather dads didn’t provide a lot of “hugs” or friendliness “in Jasper’s words, which made puppies stand out among festival attendees. “I was hesitant to spend time with the puppies at first because they seemed so needy or clingy,” recalls Jasper. “I wanted to be a badass and not have the comforts of someone else with me at the time.”
This kind of ‘badass’ identity is a mainstay of many kinds of fetish games, but perhaps disillusioned young men are wary of anything resembling the toxic male ideals that have already caused so much harm. Why not engage in something kinky and fun that also provides care and support?
The platforms Twitter and OnlyFans have played a central role in the visibility of the puppies, largely due to the demographics of people on the sites. “They’re a younger crew, for the most part,” Jasper notes of the puppy community versus the fetish community in general. Jasper quickly notes that in the 10 years he’s been involved, he’s seen all of the kink come up.
Yet the most visible people online are the youngest, who already appear in our algorithms with thousands of followers. “You see more people on OnlyFans; people are more and more comfortable with the people they are, ”says Jasper. Along with a growing sense of self, Jasper also notes that the rise of OnlyFans is related to fewer people having to deal with the repercussions of jobs they no longer have. People create accounts (puppy or otherwise) to both ease new financial burdens and satisfy the human desire to connect. In the absence of real humans to congregate with, throwing on a hood and turning on the webcam is the best alternative.
Many of these balaclavas are from Mr. S Leather. The fetish store saw an increase in puppy play as soon as they launched their neoprene balaclava in 2016. Some hoods cost as little as $ 109.95, or less than a Nintendo Switch. Now Mr. S Leather has a whole section of their store devoted to puppy accessories. You can get plugs with tail attachments, S & M-esque muzzles, necklaces, leashes and chain collars that look like home around any trendy gay’s neck.
Zan will sometimes wear the balaclava when hanging out alone. “Have you ever wanted shit so you put on a big hoodie?” It’s like that, ”he said. Jasper also sees how the fetish could be a comfort. “You can actually become something else and feel more comfortable in this costume because you have to step away from reality most of the time, especially now,” he says. “We don’t want to live in this reality.”
Before the pandemic, Zan’s pack hosted parties at Brooklyn bar The Vault. They managed to pack the room on a Wednesday, not something the now-closed space could do often. But the OnlyFans and Twitter accounts won’t shut down, giving aspiring dogs a way to find their pack. “Even though we don’t meet in person, we do meet virtually,” Jasper said.
Some puppies trying to grab a balaclava and meet virtually for the first time may have to wait a little longer than usual. “Unfortunately, in order to keep our COVID production facility safe, we have fewer people making hoods, so uptime and turnaround times are a bit longer than normal,” said Murdy, Marketing Director by Mr. S Leather, by e-mail. Murdy continued, “Most puppies aren’t worried and are happy to wait for their puppy creations to be delivered.” They will have to wait longer before they can ride together in a group of like-minded dogs. Until then, their front camera and the expanse of the internet will have to do the trick.
It is easy to note the rise of puppy play in the increasing strangeness of our time. But is it so strange? Frankly, under all the gear and whimsy, puppy play is just about finding the love, safety, and community that we all seek in these scary times. Acting like a dog is only one way to an end.