D-Girls and C-Boys: Troublesome Terms in Furry Porn

Pornography tends towards extremes. Genitalia is emphasized and often over-sized; bodies are idealized; the sounds and smells of sex are either downplayed or overplayed.

Such distortions of the real world are both good and bad. They are good because it’s what people want, and people should be free to fantasize however they wish. They are bad because they set an unrealistic precedent for the real world. And so people enjoy consuming outlandish depictions of sex while often simultaneously feeling bad for personally failing to meet that unattainable standard.

The problem especially obvious when it comes to pornography that depicts women with penises, or men with vaginas*. These depictions are, give or take, of transgender people, and are usually wildly unrealistic. It’s bad enough that such pornography reinforces the tendency for transgender people to be thought of as biological curiosities, and worse that the terminology used to describe this pornography—d-girls and c-boys—is degrading.

This article is about the conflict between two competing demands. There is the libertarian demand for freedom to produce and describe pornography in a straightforward and useful fashion, and the humanitarian demand for transgender people to be treated in a respectful and reasonable fashion.

(And one quick warning before I go on: beyond this point I will be direct in my use of crude terminology.)

Terms like dickgirl and cuntboy are indisputably degrading. The main problem is objectification.

There are relatively few transgender and genderqueer people, with 2 to 5% of the population estimated to experience some degree of gender dysphoria, i.e. a difference between their gender and biological sex (ref). The number is much higher in furry—up to one in four of furries report differences between their gender and biological sex (ref Furry Survey, although the answer varies depending on how you treat the data)—yet still a minority. And like most minorities, people are assumed to not be transgender or genderqueer unless proven otherwise, so the numbers of visible non-cisgender people appear much lower.

Pornographic representations of transgender people, such as dickgirls and cuntboys, are common. In such pornography, in furry or anime or elsewhere, they are usually represented as being purely sexual beings. To refer to a transgender person as a dickgirl or a cuntboy is to define them by their genitals and sexuality, as an object that exists for sex and sexual gratification. Context doesn’t really matter—such terms are dehumanizing regardless of intent.

Women suffer a similar problem. It is common for women to be objectified (i.e. denied human agency) by men, inside and outside pornography. This is a pervasive problem in most societies around the world, and is one the main drivers of feminism and feminist theory. The problem is not always obvious to see because we tend to accept the world as it is, so let me give you a simple, convenient example:

“It was the difference between the way a lion hunts to catch and devour its prey and the way a squirrel collects and stores nuts for winter.” (ref)

 

That quote is an excerpt from Nev Schulman’s book, In Real Life. You might know Nev as the feckless peanut who was featured in the Catfish documentary, and he now fronts MTV’s Catfish TV show. He is writing about a personal epiphany that led him to consider women as more than just potential sexual conquests.

Nev thinks that he has grown to respect women, but notice how he compares women with unthinking objects. Pre-epiphany they are prey; post-epiphany they are resources. He hasn’t learned a thing: to him, women are mere objects—to be consumed and forgotten while he moves on to his next meal. And while Nev’s peanutry is an extreme example, objectifying language towards women is everywhere.

Similarly, to refer to transgender person as a dickgirl or a cuntboy is suggest that they are defined by their sexual utility, and therefore to inherently deny their humanity.

The second problem with these terms is the focus on genitalia. Biological sex and gender are two different things, and the emphasis on the ‘dick-‘ and the ‘cunt-‘ suggest that this is of more, or at least equal, importance as the ‘-boy’ and the ‘-girl’. It’s not. To assert that genitalia defines gender is wrong, and is wilfully offensive towards those furries who experience a difference between the two. It is blatantly transphobic.

Dickgirl and cuntboy are not the only dehumanizing words used to describe transgender or genderqueer people. Terms like shemale are similarly objectifying. There are also words that are less overt but come associated with a history of oppression, such as ‘tranny’, which is comparable to using ‘faggot’ to refer to a gay man. These terms are never okay to use in reference to a person unless you have specific consent to do so.

Hermaphrodite (or herm) is another offensive term widely used to describe furry pornography, broadly in reference to intersex people. Hermaphrodite is a deprecated Victorian medical term used to describe a human with two sets of functioning genitals, one male and one female. Yet this is something that does not, and cannot, occur (in humans). It is misleading and stigmatizing.

(For the record: an intersex individual is someone who does not have typical genitalia at birth. Intersex people can be male, female, or somewhere in between. With intersex people as with everyone else, biology does not define gender.)

So that’s one side of the coin. Objectifying and dehumanizing language is clearly to be avoided.

Unfortunately, objectifying and dehumanizing language is also useful. In pornography, dickgirls and cuntboys are not intended to reflect reality—they are intended to be sexual objects. Characters in much, if not most, pornography are (basically) mindless: they have little more reason to exist than to provide a template for sexual fantasies. In many ways, it’s just narrative efficiency.

And some characters in porn—furry and non-furry—are genuine hermaphrodites. To give an example, Bernard Doove has written many stories about chakats, a ‘true’ hermaphroditic species with a biological imperative to have sexual congress every day. This might not be great literature, but presumably it satisfies the desire of its intended audience. To call these characters hermaphrodites is reasonable.

There is a fundamental conflict here. On one hand, we wish to treat people with respect, on the other hand sexual fantasies often tend to be about the physiology and not the person.

This philosophical conundrum is one that has been debated at length in the last 100 years or so of feminism. Early feminism was influenced by Immanuel Kant, who felt that sexual objectification is a natural human response but a fundamentally dangerous and negative one. He wrote:

“sexual love makes of the loved person an Object of appetite; as soon as that appetite has been stilled, the person is cast aside as one casts away a lemon which has been sucked dry. … as soon as a person becomes an Object of appetite for another, all motives of moral relationship cease to function, because as an Object of appetite for another a person becomes a thing and can be treated and used as such by every one” (Kant Lectures on Ethics, 163)

 

Kant concluded that sex outside of monogamous marriage was wrong. He felt that the marriage contract ensured that people would be morally respected, and not just used for sexual purposes and discarded. And while I think we can all agree that Kant is a churchy priss, he is correct that we have a problem: especially when it comes to young men.

As a general rule, men mature physically faster than they do emotionally, with empathic skills still developing up to around age 30. An emotionally immature person tends to see themselves as the hero in a movie, where they are the only actor and everyone else is a minor player. A child only thinks of themselves; an adult will naturally appreciate and consider the interests of other people. Unfortunately many emotional children are also physically mature men in their teens and twenties… a big furry demographic.

Young men are more likely to consume pornography and fail to consider that real-life people are more than mere objects. Arguments for censorship of pornography are usually geared towards restricting access for young people, fearing that it reinforces the natural tendency towards self-centrism. It’s a reasonable argument, although not in line with modern thought, feminist or otherwise.

Nowadays, people accept that objectification can be pretty great, as long as it is done in a consensual fashion. Rather than requiring Kant’s marriage contract, people can choose to objectify or (be objectified) as they wish, as long as no enduring harm is done. This argument (which I have simplified) is one that is largely pro-pornography, pro-sex work, and sex positive.

So it is okay to depict rape or murder in furry pornography, tag it as N/C or vore so people know what to expect, while simultaneously agreeing that rape and murder are not things to be enjoyed outside of a fantasy context. And it’s okay to enjoy Doove’s hermaphroditic chakats while also treating intersex people with respect.

The issue becomes muddied when you consider furry characters. Furries like to play with identity, and it’s common for furs to have an avatar that diverges from biological reality. That might be as simple as a large penis, or more pertinently those furries who roleplay as hermaphrodites, and those as transgender-but-with-a-focus-on-genitalia.

Further, it’s common for representations of furry characters to be objectifying, a phenomenon not restricted to non-cisgender fursonas. It’s common for female transgender furry characters and also male cisgender characters to have overt genitalia. And that’s all good. The problem comes about because these fursonas refer back to real people, and our two groups of furries with enormous cocks—the women and the men—are treated differently.

Our cis male fur—let’s call him Starfox—tends to be given agency by default in human society and so his fursona’s sexuality is seen in that context. However our trans woman—let’s call her Krystal—is regularly fetishized and objectified in human society, a problem which might be reinforced by the sexuality of her fursona.

Krystal has a choice to make. She can choose to hide or understate her sexuality (which is bad), or she can choose to express it and risk reinforcing the perception that she is a sexual object first-and-foremost (which is bad). Starfox, despite having the same choice, doesn’t face the same consequences.

There is a balance to be struck between the freedom to explore sexual identity, and the requirement to treat culturally underprivileged people with respect and humanity. In general, and as always in such a situation, it is the privileged people who must change their behaviour.

This doesn’t mean that terms like dickgirl and cuntboy should always be off-limits. They are useful at times, such as categorizing pornography. It is a fact of life that many people enjoy pornography that depicts something that is biologically impossible or otherwise incompatible with real life, be it objectification or racism or weightism or sexism or non-consensual activities or chakats. There is nothing wrong with enjoying such fantasies.

There is, however, a need to consider those people who are negatively affected by such language, and sometimes this means taking active steps. Examples of good practice include use of appropriate trigger warnings ahead of non-consensual pornography, and the replacement of offensive terms like ‘dickgirl’ with alternatives like ‘futanari’. Where alternative words don’t exist, new ones can be coined—in discussions with people on this topic, a friend of mine with a cuntboy character who is uncomfortable with the terminology (but finds the porn totally hot) half-jokingly suggested switching to the satirical ‘vagentleman’.

There is a good example of the issues here over on a Weasyl journal written by Rampack. Rampack’s point is that troublesome words like shemale, cuntboy, herm et al should never be used. It’s a well-made argument but one that doesn’t leave space for those people who choose to play genuinely hermaphroditic characters, or want to find some totally hot cuntboy porn on e621. Once you pick away at those grey areas and edge cases, Rampack’s point can be seen as one against ignorance, where furries are using these terms without a proper understanding of how they can be damaging. Rampack’s intended target isn’t the responsible furry vagentleman, it’s the emotionally immature solipsist.

The conflict between the desire for sex-positivism and the desire to treat everyone with respect is not just a furry problem. It is a universal issue, and has been central to much of the growth and internal conflict in 20th century feminism. In all cases, the goal is to allow depictions of objectification in pornography, while reinforcing the requirement for any real life objectification to be consensual.

It’s a complex topic. Suggested relevant and further (lay) reading follows. (Kant does not appear.)

Feminist Perspectives on Objectification
Sexual Solipsism: Philosophical Essays on Pornography and Objectification
Enjoying the Problematic on our sister site Love Sex Fur

* this sentence corrected on 9 Dec 2014. It originally read “…women with male genitalia, or men with female genitalia”. Thanks to Lucian at genderterror.com.

About JM

JM is a horse-of-all-trades who was introduced to furry in his native Australia by the excellent group known collectively as the Perthfurs. JM now helps run [adjective][species] from London, where he is most commonly spotted holding a pint and talking nonsense.

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21 thoughts on “D-Girls and C-Boys: Troublesome Terms in Furry Porn

  1. Umm, I’d say objectification is an understatement. But that’s what all pornography is, objectification, exaggeration, sexism, distortion, and lots of other bad things.

    1. I think you’ve hit on the problem with pornography in general, although I certainly wouldn’t say that “all” pornography fits into one or all of those bad categories.

      In general I’m pro-pornography, in that – outside of whatever happens to float my personal boat – I don’t have an opinion either way on its merit as long as no harm is being done in its production. Areas get greyer when you think about whether harm is being done as a side-effect of its consumption, but in general I’d say make the pornography freely available and police the consequences… akin to alcohol or gambling or just about any vice you care to name.

  2. I guess it’s not really clear to me what the point of this is supposed to be. Like, what is the recommended course of action? You’ve even walked back from the “don’t use these terms,” granting that they can be appropriate terms in categorizing creative works. I suspect you would even stipulate that they can be appropriate self-descriptive terms, either because to say otherwise would deny agency to those who want to self-identify that way, or on reclaiming grounds.

    I think we can probably agree that there’s a continuum of acceptability where potentially offensive terms are concerned:

    1. I get to call myself an off-color term — for example, “jap” or “twinkie” instead of “Asian-American.” Not just because I’m a member of that group, but because I get to choose how I want to call myself the same way I get to call myself ‘Rob,’ and it’s not problematic
    2. With their consent, I can call other members of that group by that term, and it’s not problematic
    3. In certain circumstances (generally cultural commentary or self-deprecating humor) I can refer to the group as a whole by that term, and it’s not problematic
    4. Re: Case 2, without consent, it’s not acceptable to refer to an individual of that group by that term
    5. Re: Case 3, it’s not acceptable to use that term generally

    I suspect disagreement emerges on when I get to tell you not to use that word at all. I absolutely get to tell you not to use it with regards to me, because I’ve never consented to it. Calling me “you jap” when I’ve asked to be called “Asian,” or “sir” when I’ve asked to be called “ma’am” — for that matter, calling me “Bobby” when I’ve asked to be called “Rob” — is of course irksome because it denies me my own right to self-expression and self-determination. It doesn’t follow, though, that I get to demand that other people change their vocabulary when referring to yet other people who are also not me. It really, really doesn’t follow that I get to tell people with furry Japanese-American characters what to do or call themselves. I would argue that it’s not up to me to take umbrage on behalf of Asian-Americans, and it’s certainly not up to you.

    Let’s not say “looking for offense” because that presumes motives unfairly. But if I wanted to, shall we say, “unpack” the troublesome tropes in furry fandom I would be here a long, long time. You sort of hint at this. The exact same matrix surrounds, for example, what you term “weightism” — whether it is people choosing to represent themselves differently from their real life selves, people reducing these physical attributes of their characters to fetishes, people using terms that would be questionable if addressed to somebody they met on the street. It also surrounds the rampant appropriation that occurs when a culturally homogeneous group like the fandom (young white men, as you note) reaches outside those boundaries.

    “Stop appropriating” is probably as futile a command as “stop calling yourself a [x],” and as I said I’m not certain I have the right to make that demand anyway. But then we’ve kind of stepped back to the lowest common denominator of vague “awareness.” I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I think it’s likely that most people know that “cuntboy” is going to offend someone, the same way that I know that writing rape fantasies is going to offend someone. They (and I) choose to do that anyway because either we assume that the number of genuinely offended people is small, or we don’t care.

    Perhaps what you’re looking for is an admission of the latter?

    If the problem is with the name, then getting people to change a word based on the real-or-perceived slight to a very small number of people is effective. If on the other hand the problem is with the objectification, rather than the name — which you’ve said — then “I’m aware that my position of privilege permits me to draw hermaphrodite smut, and I am going to do it anyway” is pretty much just the same thing as saying “I don’t care” with a suitably gender-studies-major filter on it. From my perspective “I don’t care” at least has honesty going for it, and I sort of wish more people would be willing to cop to that.

    I guess my objection is that “replace reasonably common term with one further down the euphemism treadmill” and “spice up your art with some decorative trigger warnings” is not useful advice. The kind of people who care about trigger warnings, the kind of people who have already signed up to see what terms are “nonproblematic” for the 2015 model year, are definitely the kinds of people who can just add this as another tickbox of Things to Avoid. But then you’re preaching to the choir. The real task is probably to get people to accept the treadmill, and trigger warnings, in the first place and Tapestries and e621 are a hell of a hill to die on.

    1. Hi Rob, thanks for chiming in. I think you can guess that your two articles on and about this topic formed part of my background research.

      I totally accept that this article contains no useful information for a gender-studies-major, as you put it. In fact one criticism I’ve seen (on Twitter) is that my article fits into the broad oeuvre of “white cis dude tells people what to think”. That criticism is totally fair.

      But this article isn’t for gender-studies-majors, or for our grown-up emotional children. It’s for people somewhere in between, and I think it serves two purposes:

      1. I think think that “replace reasonably common term with one further down the euphemism treadmill” is, indeed, useful advice.

      I think it’s useful advice because people don’t always think about this sort of stuff. You may see it everywhere if you post provocative journals about the perils of writing N/C fiction on Tumblr, or if a subset of your Twitter feed likes talking about ethics in games journalism. But a lot of people don’t see it, or at least don’t see it couched outside of extremist black/white versions.

      You say that “I think it’s likely that most people know that “cuntboy” is going to offend someone”, yet many people are getting that one wrong. I chose Rampack’s journal as an example of someone who has been hurt by the laissez-faire use of such terms, and I could have chosen several other examples. Some people using “cuntboy” may often be doing so responsibly, but I believe that a lot of people are doing so in ignorance of how some trans and intersex people feel when they hear it.

      That’s why my recommended course of action is watered down so far as to almost homeopathic. It is little more than “be aware that if you must use these terms then look for better alternatives otherwise do so responsibly”. Not every question has a good answer.

      2. Which brings me to the second point, which is about language. I’m doing my best to make a moderate, informed argument. I’m hoping that people reading this will be (a) entertained and (b) enlightened.

      There is a dearth of moderate, intelligent arguments out there online. I think that an evidence-based opinion, as opposed to ideology-based opinion, is a better starting point for people learning about a new topic. In an ideal world people would think back to my reasoning the next time they come across a related conversation. This has been my experience with reading [a][s] articles written by other people, and I hope that my writing has a similar effect at least some of the time.

      On a less direct note, it’s difficult to write about and talk about the best use of language. Language is a powerful thing, and its power is rarely appreciated. A topic with strong opinions either side, some references to sex and some coarse language is, I think, a good base from which to explore how we use language, and how it can be a force for good or otherwise. My hope is that the salacious material provides the reader enough momentum for me to mention Kant without becoming boring.

      The more we write and talk about this sort of thing, the better our language gets. The leading edge of political correctness is regularly lambasted for coining awkward terms, yet these terms commonly make their way into mainstream vocabulary. These terms are important because they can invoke a complex idea without having to explore the whole ground and fiddle away at the edge cases in a 2000 word article on [a][s].

      Right now the mainstream seems to be adopting some of the key ideas sourced from trans rights arguments – words like ‘trans’ and ‘cis’ for example. That’s a good thing. Hopefully we will shortly see something akin to adoption of ‘gay’ instead of ‘faggot’ – because ‘cuntboy’ deserves to be consigned to the same scrapheap as ‘shemale’.

  3. Loosely related, closer to RL, this popped up the other night and I wasn’t sure whether or if to wave it at anyone in particular. The ‘hottest’ or most-relevant posts have since reassorted. http://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/2ovwa8/serious_straight_guys_whove_been_with_transgender/

    It might be well and truly buried there now, but there were some points addressing an essential conflict between the set of people immersed-enough-in-both-worlds-enough-to-be-demostrably-‘supportive’ and the set of people ‘straight’ enough to actually prove ‘passing’ not intersecting.

    And thus does the universe find a way to make things awkward when I’m doing my best do be supportive (at least?) to a [i]different[/i] friend whose concerns lie most squarely There, as i’m a Re-Directed Male / shaman she probably doesn’t want-care-for-or-need just now.

    [Not that that hetero instead of holistic thinking is a box that’s either required or possible from me, but it’s just head-in-paws that: I well-beyond-get-it, what less than objective proof can be as reassuring?]

  4. Also, only a quick skim through the article, but I think the terms are actually popular because they’re a reverse of realistic mores – just like ‘trapping’ is never a thing outside out of perhaps a very very small and possibly completely rumored if not prearranged-and-paid-to-experinece subculture in Thailand, say.

    If you were a young and confused bisexual fossa, you might’ve had young and confused bisexual fossa days where you were pretty sure you had some sort of preference.. but then, if you had that preference, what happens if you swap tackle? Or alternatively, what happens if you keep the prefered phenotype, but swap the ‘dispreferred’ tackle on to the ‘preferred’ phenotype? And so we learn.

    And if sometimes the tastes do want to run a little Rocky Horror / Mad Science about it – where someone, somewhere along the the line is a little -surprised- about a change of events and there’s the opportunity to have the fun of learning or showing the ropes all over again… well, that’s weiiird, but not specifically vulgar.

    If it’s the unfortunate choice of nomenclature that’s become standardized, please propose something new and get it out there because it’s never been a huge interest of mine and frankly I’ve always been a bit appalled at how bad all the words for female anatomy somehow sound anyway. There’s no direct soft-hard consonsant collissions in male genitalia at least. o_O

    1. I guess the best things you could say about those terms is that they are pragmatic. They leave you with no doubt about what they refer to. And I completely agree that, aside from the offensive nature of the terms, they are also crude to the point of being cringeworthy. I cannot imagine ever saying them out loud.

      I deliberately avoided proposing new terms. I dare say that the article already goes a long way along the “cis guy tells non-cis people what to think” road, and I don’t really want to go further. Hopefully alternatives will naturally appear from within trans circles (if they haven’t already) akin to the way that “gay” appeared as a respectful alternative to words like “faggot”.

      In the meantime people like you and me can do little more than, as you say, our best to be supportive.

  5. As you say, physical biology does not define social gender. So why link the two when they have separate terms already?

    The issue with your thesis is here:
    “Pornographic representations of transgender people, such as dickgirls and cuntboys, are common.”

    The pornographic works you take issue with do not, in general, represent transgender people. They may represent transsexuals – but most of the time, they aren’t even intended to do that. Instead, they depict fictional characters with conflicting primary and secondary sexual characteristics, which is a fetish.

    The “words” problem has a simple solution:

    * Where the focus of a work is on sexual characteristics – typically pornography – use: cuntboy, dickgirl, or hermaphrodite
    * Where the focus is gender (say, a male character in a dress), use: transwoman, transman, or transgender.

    In practice, very little furry art is tagged with transgender terms, suggesting that the purpose of most depictions of conflicting sexual characteristics is to satisfy a fetish (this is bourne out by the rating and other themes of such artwork). Likewise, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a trans person being called a cuntboy or a dickgirl in real life, even among furries.

    It is, of course, the prerogative of the owners of fictional characters to create sexually-objectified depictions. In this context, describing transsexual/intersexed/hermaphroditic characters objectively is at least as acceptable as expecting “gay” or “straight” work to involve dicks and vagnias respectively – probably more so, because being “gay” is less about sexual characteristics than being a “dickgirl” is. [In contrast, terms such as “male” (or “transmale”), while still describing sexual characteristics, do not imply a sexual theme.]

    1. Hi GR, thanks for the intelligent and well-constructed comment. I think that the spirit of your comments are spot on, and you’d be right as long those words that focus on sexual characteristics weren’t ever used to describe real transgender and intersex people.

      Unfortunately they are. Intersex people have been called hermaphrodites in the not-too-distant past, and the word remains harmful in memory of that ignorance. It’s comparable to dehumanizing language applied to black people, in that it directly calls back to an old, dying, offensive ignorance.

      Trans people have a similar problem, in that they have been fetishized and exoticized. This problem exists today, with phrases like “chick with a dick”, or words like ladyboy or shemale. In all cases these terms are dehumanizing, and in all cases they are sometimes used to describe real people. My two examples for the article, dickgirl and cuntboy, are less commonly used but still carry the same dehumanizing implications.

      Now of course, nobody intends to be offensive when using admittedly functional words like dickgirl and cuntboy to describe furry pornography. But, as ever, effect is more important than intent. Minimizing use of these words, and/or replacing them with inoffensive but equally functional alternatives, would be a positive step.

      1. You want to change society by changing usage, but the reverse is far more likely – usage changes as society’s understanding of the term grows. We’ve seen this with “hermaphrodite”. It’s not a bad thing to use it for a character which is a hermaphrodite (having both sets of reproductive organs, such as chakats), because it reinforces understanding of correct usage.

        There’s many issues with replacing words – to take a couple:
        a) you’re trying to change a word because some people haven’t been using it accurately, and then expect those same people to change their usage; and
        b) the replacements (if you manage to promulgate them) are likely to become loaded with the same negative secondary meanings if you don’t address the underlying reasons that they had them in the first place. Furry artists who attempted to brand their work as “anthro” back in 2000 found it did not escape the stigma, but merely drew attention to it, while handicapping them with their target audience. [Another example: “lame” -> “cripple” -> “handicapped”-> “disabled” -> (?)]

        Disagreements over usage are not unique to porn, or art. For example, in an article you linked earlier, I disagreed with the use of the word “transphobic” to describe actions which were not motivated by a phobia of trans people. Does that mean everyone should stop using the word in cases where that was the motivating factor, because it’s been used to impart an undue negative stigma in some cases? I think not. It’s a useful word; you just have to stick to the definition, and call people out when they don’t.

        To challenge your last assertion: many furries seem to want to be objectified and dehumanized, and deliberately describe work featuring their characters with terms which are seen as degrading. They do not intend to offend, merely to degrade themselves. How would you suggest dealing with this issue?

        1. I completely agree that changes in society will lead to changes in (word) usage, but I don’t see why that precludes people taking the time to think about their own choices. Why not use newer alternatives to replace terms that others find harmful or offensive?

          Similarly I agree that changing words can introduce new problems, or merely end up with the same problems. But that doesn’t always happen, and there are loads of examples about word changes that are unambiguously positive: “gay” instead of “faggot” for example.

          The alternative, or new, or politically correct, terms are usually imperfect. But they don’t need to be perfect for them to be better.

          By the way, “transphobic” doesn’t only mean “motivated by a phobia [or hatred] of trans people”. It also means “prejudiced against”. If you are wilfully opting to use language that is offensive to transgender people, instead of the alternative, that’s transphobic. Whether you feel phobic or hateful or prejudiced isn’t relevant, it’s the outcome that matters. By the same logic, insisting on using “faggot” instead of “gay” is homophobic, regardless of whether you think that “gay” should only mean “joyful and carefree”.

          1. Apologies for the delayed reply; Christmas is a busy time!

            I think I’ve explained the reasons to avoid the introduction of new words. To summarize: the cost to introduce them is higher than the cost to explain and encourage correct use of existing words; and without doing that, new words are likely to be useless. (You can try to replace “furry” with “anthro”, but it retains or acquires the stigma of furry until you get the word out about what furry actually is.)

            The problem with “faggot” is precisely that people started to use the word for far outside its original definition. If people had just looked strangely at you when you said it and replied “that’s a person, not a bunch of sticks”, we would not have had that problem.

            In my eyes, the use of “he” or “she” it is simply stating a fact: that a person is male or female. But I’m open to not using such pronouns for trans people, as a reasonable accommodation to their feelings which does not compromise my own personal views.

            In practice it is rare to have to choose directly between truth and a person’s feelings, outside of Internet debates. If such a situation is constructed by the person to be offended, it’s hard to see how it is “willful offense”, except perhaps on the part of the offended.

            I disagree with your view that “the outcome is what matters”. “Phobia” has a clear meaning; if you try to extend it beyond that, then you are using language incorrectly. At the risk of becoming self-referential, you could use “pedantic” if you believe a person to be excessively concerned with rules, or finicky about details of language. This would also be an expression of personal opinion, as opposed to attribution of a mental disorder; in your own words, an alternative to a word which others find harmful or offensive through its application.

  6. Okay, like you said, intersex is nonstandard genitalia, but nonstandard genitalia can also be a woman with a penis or a man with a vagina. Regardless of their sex, they can identify as whatever gender they want to. For instance, I have a character who has a male voice and chest but a vagina. He identifies as male even though he was raised as female, mainly because that’s just what he feels he is. He is not transgender, but intersex.

    Most c-boy and d-girl characters are intersex, regardless of what common misinterpretations are. Most of the time, the terms cuntboy and dickgirl are used for ease of finding those types of characters, and regardless of whether people do find them offensive or not, that’s what’s used, and sometimes, instead of trying so hard to change society, we just need to try and destigmatize some words in our minds. There was a period of time where some people considered “gay” in reference to homosexual people to be offensive, but instead of trying to get society to change, they just destigmatized the word. Also, for instance, I have Asperger’s syndrome. A common degrading term for it used to be Aspie, but people with AS turned it around to mean something *good*. So why can’t we just regard cuntboy and dickgirl as neutral words?

    Even as a gay man, I know there are times when people get offended too easily. This is one of them.

    1. Hi CJ, thanks for the comment. I appreciate your general argument, and the need for a balance between being respectful and being reasonable.

      Your suggestion that cuntboy and dickgirl be regarded as neutral (rather than offensive) is a fine one, however neither you nor I get to decide that. There is no good, logical reason why “faggot” is offensive but “gay” isn’t… that’s just the way it is. There is history behind those words and meanings that are not immediately apparent. The same goes for dickgirl/cuntboy. Sadly, wishing for the words to not be offensive doesn’t make it so.

  7. Here’s the thing I don’t get. I could understand if these terms were being used in a negative manner only every single time I’ve ever seen someone identify their characters as such it’s been in a positive manner. I know people who have C-boi characters and it’s a positive part of how they express themselves.

    I could understand if they’re being used negatively but what happens when the people using them consider it a positive thing? Is it really cool to tone police them and tell them they can’t turn a negative into a positive if it works for them? Gay people call each other faggots all the time. Females call each other bitch all the time and it’s not always meant to be negative. It’s meant to be empowering. A lot of transsexuals call themselves trannies.

    I think this is a complicated subject and I don’t think folks who use those terms should be condemned just because they’re using those terms. Context matters.

    1. Hi Zidders. I agree that it is a complicated subject. The term “cuntboy” is:
      – totally okay to use to refer to a character
      – totally not okay to use to refer to a transgender man

      We have a lot of trans and gengderqueer people in furry, and lots of people with such characters. Spaces where people use “cuntboy” in a neutral (or positive) way are also spaces where trans men exist. And, in general, the right for our trans men to feel safe is more important than the right for our characters to use the obvious term.

      It’s a conflict, and there is no perfect answer, as I discuss in the article. But hopefully that clarifies why these terms are okay from perspectives but not others. It’s not “tone policing” – I certainly don’t mean to condemn people that use these terms – it’s just about being aware and being respectful.

    2. Hi Zidders

      I was reflecting about my response to you overnight and I think I might have been a bit snippy. Your follow-up comment basically covers everything I was saying, but in a more concise and more friendly fashion. My apologies for being curt, your comment is a thoughtful and engaging one, and you deserved better.

      On my thought process when approaching this article: I read Rampack’s journal, which prompted a conversation with my friend who has a c-boy character. He was aware that the term can be considered a problem, but didn’t really know what to do about it. All this surprised me a bit – it had never crossed my mind before – so I went and did a bunch of background reading to understand what the problem might be, which ended up with this piece.

      Quite a few of my articles, especially those on political issues, come about that way. I’ve written about trans people, genderqueer people, women, zoophilies, babyfurs – younameit. I am none of these things. I come at these topics with curiosity – my approach is usually to learn about the topic at hand, and then write as if I were talking to myself before I did the research.

      I suspect that this approach makes it seem like I am trying to express a political agenda of extreme-tolerance towards minorities, which is not the case. However it would be fair to say that, once I’ve done the research, more often than not I learn that the minority perspective is a valid one. If anything, this article is a case where I don’t really agree with the minority argument, as put forward by Rampack (although I understand the perspective, and to be fair Rampack climbed down a bit in the comment thread on their journal).

      Surprisingly regularly, my articles end up as the subject of derision on places like Reddit, predictably on subreddits largely dedicated towards complaining about minorities. I’m sure you can imagine the sort of discussion that takes place. My biggest problem is that people don’t engage always with the argument; they often look to attack me personally. I’m okay with that – I’m not a vulnerable person, especially compared with the minorities who are usually the targets of such attacks – but it bothers me that I’ve spent all this time learning about an issue, and that people who care about it enough to get angry don’t take the time to think about the reasoning behind it.

      Anyway, that happened with this article, and just before responding to your comment I was reading about how my words here – which I think are pretty logical and dispassionate – make me a “social justice warrior” or a “male feminist” or a “zoophile apologist” or whatever it happens to be this time around. I was feeling defensive, and I’m sorry that came across in my response to you.

  8. I will add that I do think people should think about the terms they use but I also think that if we’re going to expect folks to think about what terms they use we should do our best to try and understand why they may be choosing to use those terms.

  9. Since it doesn’t look like many trans people are going to weigh in on it, I’ll put my own two cents forward.

    I’m not going to dance around the subject, the terms dickgirl and cuntboy are pretty offputting. The reasons for which have already been covered pretty thoroughly above. As far as terms go they’re not the worst someone could use, but they are objectifying.

    Choosing to use them or not respecting the individual’s choice of pronouns is problematic. That’s just how it is. No amount of rationalization and talking about proper language use is going to make us not see people who refuse to as, well, kind of shitty.

    I’m going to be blunt, most trans people don’t care about how non trans people feel on the subject. I think most of us are reasonable enough to accommodate someone who is making the effort and failing sometimes. But going out of your way to not respect what someone wants to be called is rude and often a symptom of other transphobic beliefs.

    In the fandom we all agree to work within the confines of a constructed reality with rules that differ from the world we live in. Having said that, nothing exists without social consequences. Trans people materially exist. It’s not just a fictional concept. By using or legitimizing problematic language in fiction, we allow people the perception that its OK to use the same language in real life.

    The fag analogy is a good one and has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not the historical meaning of faggot has changed. The fact is that it is employed by people to denigrate homo and bi sexual people and it has no place in every day language.

    Ideally I would like sites which employ some sort of tagging system to start adding and encouraging artists to move to other tags like “transgender”, “mtf”, “ftm”, etc. I know that’s not an easy transition to make and yes a lot of people are going to get lost. Terms like dickgirl/cuntboy got baked into the fandom early on and they generate a fair amount of search traffic. This isn’t a trivial issue for artists.

    But I think the issue goes further than Words Being Offensive, a dishonest characterization that I think some people are dead set on using. This isn’t about censoring anyone’s precious free speech. You’re still free to be a dick, but we’re also allowed to ask that the communities that we’re a part of become a lot more inclusive. This language is alienating and commodifying. It reduces trans people down to dicks, tits and vag. It changes the individual into something to be consumed.

    1. Ally, thanks for the comment and your input. As a cis guy, I try to write on topics like trans issues and feminism with research and perspective, but I still suspect that people read them with trepidation. I try hard but even so I don’t always get it right—we’re all learning as we go I suppose—so it’s always nice to hear a positive comment. Thanks!

      (In an ideal world, it wouldn’t be a cis guy writing these articles, and any criticism aimed in that general direction is fair. My only response is that I’d rather write them than not write them, if you know what I mean.)

      I guess this article is also aimed at cis readers. It’s my hope that people will read this and come away with a bit of perspective (as well as being entertained of course) and moderation. Like a lot of articles I weite, I assume that the audience is a younger version of myself: the one before I did my research or really knew anything on the topic. That’s not to say that trans or genderqueer people won’t be interested, just that they are already likely to be well aware of these issues, and—like you say—probably find the opinions of cis people to be pretty irrelevant anyway.

      By the way, I’ve subsequently learned that this article ended up on Reddit, as some of our article do, where the leader of the thread called me a “retarded furry SJW”. Happily, the thread quickly devolved into… reasonable discussion.

      http://www.reddit.com/r/TumblrInAction/comments/2pdal0/retarded_furry_sjw_thinks_furry_porn_words_are/

      I figure if trans people like yourself think the tone is about right, and Redditors looking to belittle minority groups also think it’s about right, I’ve done a pretty good job.

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