A few years ago on Twitter, I found myself mindlessly clicking on a breadcrumb trail of ‘likes’ linked to a random post. It was under these banal circumstances that I came across a user profile with a brief but purposeful bio, one featuring the mysterious acronym ‘LGBTZ’.

The first four letters were obvious enough to me. LGBT, that bite-sized abbreviation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, has become a nearly ubiquitous rallying call for members of these historically marginalised groups and their allies. Even Donald Trump spoke this family friendly shorthand in his convention speech (although his oddly staggered enunciation sounded like he was a nervous pre-schooler tip-toeing through an especially tricky part of the alphabet). Trump also tacked on a “Q” for all those ill-defined “Queers” in the Republican audience. (A far less common iteration of this initialism includes an “I” for “Intersex” and an “A” for “Asexual.”)

But Z? The Twitter user’s profile image was a horse, and other language alluding to the fact he (or she) was an animal lover – and not of the platonic kind – brought that curious Z into sharp, squirm-worthy focus: “Zoophile”.

Perhaps we should take a hard look in the mirror and ask whether excluding Zs and Ps and others from the current tolerance roster isn’t doing to them precisely what was once done to us.

If you’re not familiar with the term, a zoophile is a person who is primarily sexually attracted to animals. The primarily part of that sentence is key. These aren’t just lascivious farmhands shagging goats because they can’t find willing human partners. That’s just plain bestiality.

Rather, these are people who genuinely prefer animals over members of their own species. If you hook a male zoophile’s genitals up to a plethysmograph (an extremely sensitive measure of sexual arousal), these men display stronger erectile responses to, say, images of stallions or Golden Retrievers than they do to naked human models.

I’d written about scientific research into zoophilia, along with other unusual sexualities, in my book Perv, so it wasn’t shocking to learn zoophiles have a social media presence. What’s surprising is this maligned demographic is apparently becoming emboldened enough to pull its Z up to the acronym table.

 

 

Paedophiles have started inching their much-loathed “P” in this direction as well, albeit in veiled form with the contemporary label “MAP” (“Minor-Attracted Person”). This is especially true for the so-called virtuous paedophiles, who are seriously committed to refraining from acting on their sexual desires because they realise the harm they’d cause to children. Similarly, many zoophiles consider themselves gentle animal welfare advocates, denouncing “zoosadists” who sexually abuse animals.

In any event, it’s easy to shun the Zs and Ps and all the other unwanted sexual minorities clawing their way up the acceptance ladder, refusing them entry into our embattled LGBT territory, because we don’t want to be associated with “perverts”. We’ve overcome tremendous obstacles to be where we are today. As an American growing up during the homophobic Reagan era, never in a million years did I imagine I’d legally marry another man one day. Yet I did. At this stage, perhaps we should take a hard look in the mirror and ask whether excluding Zs and Ps and others from the current tolerance roster isn’t doing to them precisely what was once done to us.

I know what you’re thinking. There’s a huge difference, since in these sad cases we’re dealing with the most innocent, most vulnerable members of society, who also can’t give their consent. That’s very much true.

When you actually try to justify our elbowing the Zs and Ps and others of their ilk out from under the rainbow umbrella though, it’s not so straightforward. Any seemingly ironclad rationale for their exclusion is stuffed more with blind emotion than clear-sighted reason.

To begin with, one doesn’t have to be sexually active to be a member of a sexual community. After all, I identified as gay before I had gay sex, just as I imagine most heterosexual people identify as straight before losing their virginity. In principle, at least, the same would apply to morally celibate zoophiles and paedophiles, neither of which are criminals and child molesters. Desires and behaviours are two different things.

Secondly, there’s now strong evidence paraphilias (lust outside of the norm) emerge in early childhood or, in the case of paedophilia, may even be innate. One zoophile, a successful attorney, told researchers that while his friends in middle school were all trying to get their hands on their fathers’ Playboys, he was secretly coveting the latest issue of Equus magazine.

Whether Zs or Ps are “born that way” or become that way early in life, it’s certainly not a choice they’ve made. This isn’t difficult to grasp but it tends to elude popular wisdom. I don’t know about you but I couldn’t become aroused by a Clydesdale or a prepubescent child if my life depended on it. That doesn’t make me morally superior to those unlucky enough to have brains that through no fault of their own respond this way to animals and children.

It’s an uncomfortable conversation to have, but there’s no science or logic to why “LGBT” contains the particular letters it does.

Not so long ago, remember, the majority of society saw gay men like me as immoral – even evil. Not for anything they’d done but for the simple fact that, neurologically, they fancied other men rather than women. The courts would have declared me mentally ill, not happily married. Just like conversion therapy has failed miserably to turn gay people straight, paraphilias are also immutable. Every clinical attempt to turn paedophiles into “teleiophiles” (attracted to reproductive-aged adults) has been a major flop.

Who knows what tortuous inner lives all those closeted Zs and Ps – and other unmentionables bearing today’s cross of scorn – experience, despite being celibate. Clinical psychologists report many of their clients are suicidal because of unwanted sexual desires – and this includes teenagers with a dawning awareness they are attracted to younger people.

I think it’s patently hypocritical for the LGBT community – which has worked so hard to overcome negative stereotypes, ostracism, and unjust laws –  to shut out these people, fearing they would tarnish us more acceptable deviants. We’re only paying lip service to the concept of inclusiveness when we so publicly distance ourselves from those who need this communal protection the most.
In fact, LGB people arguably share more in common with the Zs and Ps than they do the Ts, since being transgender isn’t about who (or what) you’re sexually attracted to, but the gender you identify with. Unlike those representing the other letters in this character soup, trans people say their sexuality plays no role at all. Why then are Ts included while other, more unspeakable, sexual minorities aren’t?

Here’s my point then. It’s an uncomfortable conversation to have but there’s no science or logic to why “LGBT” contains the particular letters it does. Instead, it’s an evolving social code. So, is the filter that shapes this code just another moralistic lens that casts some human beings as inherently inferior and worthier of shame than others? And if this is so, who gets to control this filter and why?

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Why do we see sexual minorities as perverts?