"Is my dog gay?" Well, how could you even tell?

Jane Fae ponders the lessons a gay dog from Tennessee can teach us all about human sexuality.

Phew! The world breathed a sigh of collective relief last week, as the Tennessee pooch, under sentence of death after its owner decided it might be gay, found a new home.

The tension may have been short-lived: it took little more than a couple of hours between the story breaking on the interweb and a kind soul coming forward to rescue the condemned canine. Still, it set me thinking. A dog’s gotta do what a dog’s gotta do: can it make any sort of sense to accuse him – or indeed, any animal – of being gay just because he gets a little frisky with another same-gendered mutt?

What, after all, is “gayness”? Is it as simple as who you shag? Who you are attracted to? Or something infinitely more sublime?

I have a friend who identifies as lesbian. Likes women, sleeps with women, has recently ended a long-term relationship with ditto. Definitely “one of them”. Except for the occasional lapse: the one-nighters where – she is shameless in owning this – she has gone out with the express intent of finding a man for carnal purposes. Still, she reckoned, that didn’t make her straight. Or even bi.

I didn’t get that at all – until I did. I, too, identify as lesbian: can count on the fingers of one hand the men I’ve fancied: all three, very girlish boys.

Girlish boys – and boyish girls. I still drool over images of a leather-jacketed Judith Butler speaking her mind politically. Obviously I am turned on by post-structuralist philosophy! And a certain type of woman.

But there are those moments – usually late night ones – when the body plays funny tricks. When it twitches and gaps and, unbidden, my thoughts turn toward the darker side. More precisely, towards the fantasy of a jolly good rogering, even if – my friends think I joke on this: I don’t – my good-natured, attentive rogerer wears a paper bag on his head, and leaves politely, wordlessly, at the end.

“Tell us about it, Jane!”

“I've never...never...”

Not for nothing is my favourite Rocky Horror persona the virginal Janet “slut” Weiss. Toucha-toucha-toucha-touch me: I want to be dirty!

I’d also quite like to curl in the arms of that ultimate father-figure, Valjean. Physical attraction? No: just comfort.

If its difficult to pin down us human apes with a simple label, how much more so to categorise animal attraction? Does it even make sense to talk of gay and straight animals? Apparently some humans think it does: for instance, the lady who attempted to foist her own heteronormative values on her dog and our’s, the other day, with excited cries of “stop that! Its dirty”.

Presumably, rather than seeing two dogs engaged in some pretty banal doggy bonding, she felt duty bound to intervene to prevent an outbreak of bestial tonguing. The shame!

Though this starts to turn the argument full circle – and not necessarily in any direction that offers solace to your average homophobe. Whisper it low, but: I’m also a fan of evolutionary psychology – at least as study. I know that’s considered anathema in some quarters: but then, unlike some (reactionary) journalists, I actually studied the subject, the techniques. I’m well aware of its limits and would certainly hesitate to make broad generalisations about what is “right” for humans based on some spurious interpretation of “natural laws”.

Except. I can be mischievous, too. Standing back and observing human society: assuming, as some folks have, that alpha-male led polygamy is somehow the natural order of things; one ends up with a most uncomfortable conclusion (for some). For in such a society, not only would gayness be “natural” for the vast majority of males: it would be virtually de rigueur.

Oh, my! That, perhaps, highlights the difficulties of trying to write human experience over onto the animal world – and vice-versa. Sometimes, two dogs, licking each others’ nether regions are just that – and no more. Neither example for us humans – nor creatures acting in any way unnaturally.

Though, at the end of this sorry tale, I can’t help wanting to find the heartless b*d who set this story off in the first place. “Do you believe in God?”, I’d ask.

“And if you do, how do you know that a 'gay dog' deserves to be killed for no other reason than that it is true to its nature - and not a sign from God that you got it wrong.

That in this 'mixed up, muddled up, shook up world', gayness is as natural a state of being as any other?”

A dog takes part in a rally celebrating equal marriage in Mexico City. Photograph: Getty Images

Jane Fae is a feminist writer. She tweets as @JaneFae.

Photo: Getty
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The UK press’s timid reaction to Brexit is in marked contrast to the satire unleashed on Trump

For the BBC, it seems, to question leaving the EU is to be unpatriotic.

Faced with arguably their biggest political-cum-constitutional ­crisis in half a century, the press on either side of the pond has reacted very differently. Confronting a president who, unlike many predecessors, does not merely covertly dislike the press but rages against its supposed mendacity as a purveyor of “fake news”, the fourth estate in the US has had a pretty successful first 150-odd days of the Trump era. The Washington Post has recovered its Watergate mojo – the bloodhound tenacity that brought down Richard Nixon. The Post’s investigations into links between the Kremlin and Donald Trump’s associates and appointees have yielded the scalp of the former security adviser Michael Flynn and led to Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from all inquiries into Trump-Russia contacts. Few imagine the story will end there.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has cast off its image as “the grey lady” and come out in sharper colours. Commenting on the James Comey memo in an editorial, the Times raised the possibility that Trump was trying to “obstruct justice”, and called on Washington lawmakers to “uphold the constitution”. Trump’s denunciations of the Times as “failing” have acted as commercial “rocket fuel” for the paper, according to its CEO, Mark Thompson: it gained an “astonishing” 308,000 net digital news subscriptions in the first quarter of 2017.

US-based broadcast organisations such as CNN and ABC, once considered slick or bland, have reacted to Trump’s bullying in forthright style. Political satire is thriving, led by Saturday Night Live, with its devastating impersonations of the president by Alec Baldwin and of his press secretary Sean Spicer by the brilliant Melissa McCarthy.

British press reaction to Brexit – an epic constitutional, political and economic mess-up that probably includes a mind-bogglingly destructive self-ejection from a single market and customs union that took decades to construct, a move pushed through by a far-right faction of the Tory party – has been much more muted. The situation is complicated by the cheerleading for Brexit by most of the British tabloids and the Daily Telegraph. There are stirrings of resistance, but even after an election in which Theresa May spectacularly failed to secure a mandate for her hard Brexit, there is a sense, though the criticism of her has been intense, of the media pussy-footing around a government in disarray – not properly interrogating those who still seem to promise that, in relation to Europe, we can have our cake and eat it.

This is especially the case with the BBC, a state broadcaster that proudly proclaims its independence from the government of the day, protected by the famous “arm’s-length” principle. In the case of Brexit, the BBC invoked its concept of “balance” to give equal airtime and weight to Leavers and Remainers. Fair enough, you might say, but according to the economist Simon Wren-Lewis, it ignored a “near-unanimous view among economists that Brexit would hurt the UK economy in the longer term”.

A similar view of “balance” in the past led the BBC to equate views of ­non-scientific climate contrarians, often linked to the fossil-fuel lobby, with those of leading climate scientists. Many BBC Remainer insiders still feel incensed by what they regard as BBC betrayal over Brexit. Although the referendum of 23 June 2016 said nothing about leaving the single market or the customs union, the Today presenter Justin Webb, in a recent interview with Stuart Rose, put it like this: “Staying in the single market, staying in the customs union – [Leave voters would say] you might as well not be leaving. That fundamental position is a matter of democracy.” For the BBC, it seems, to question Brexit is somehow to be unpatriotic.

You might think that an independent, pro-democratic press would question the attempted use of the arcane and archaic “royal prerogative” to enable the ­bypassing of parliament when it came to triggering Article 50, signalling the UK’s departure from the EU. But when the campaigner Gina Miller’s challenge to the government was upheld by the high court, the three ruling judges were attacked on the front page of the Daily Mail as “enemies of the people”. Thomas Jefferson wrote that he would rather have “newspapers without a government” than “a government without newspapers”. It’s a fair guess he wasn’t thinking of newspapers that would brand the judiciary as “enemies of the people”.

It does seem significant that the United States has a written constitution, encapsulating the separation and balance of powers, and explicitly designed by the Founding Fathers to protect the young republic against tyranny. When James Madison drafted the First Amendment he was clear that freedom of the press should be guaranteed to a much higher degree in the republic than it had been in the colonising power, where for centuries, after all, British monarchs and prime ministers have had no qualms about censoring an unruly media.

By contrast, the United Kingdom remains a hybrid of monarchy and democracy, with no explicit protection of press freedom other than the one provided by the common law. The national impulse to bend the knee before the sovereign, to obey and not question authority, remains strangely powerful in Britain, the land of Henry VIII as well as of George Orwell. That the United Kingdom has slipped 11 places in the World Press Freedom Index in the past four years, down to 40th, has rightly occasioned outrage. Yet, even more awkwardly, the United States is three places lower still, at 43rd. Freedom of the press may not be doing quite as well as we imagine in either country.

Harry Eyres is the author of Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet (2013)

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder