"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.

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The decline of the north's sporting powerhouse

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Now, things are different.

On a drive between Sheffield and Barnsley, I spotted a striking painting of the Kes poster. Billy Casper’s two-fingered salute covered the wall of a once-popular pub that is now boarded up.

It is almost 50 years since the late Barry Hines wrote A Kestrel for a Knave, the novel that inspired Ken Loach’s 1969 film, and it seems that the defiant, us-against-the-world, stick-it-to-the-man Yorkshireness he commemorated still resonates here. Almost two-thirds of the people of south Yorkshire voted to leave the EU, flicking two fingers up at what they saw as a London-based establishment, detached from life beyond the capital.

But whatever happened to Billy the unlikely lad, and the myriad other northern characters who were once the stars of stage and screen? Like the pitheads that dominated Casper’s tightly knit neighbourhood, they have disappeared from the landscape. The rot set in during the 1980s, when industries were destroyed and communities collapsed, a point eloquently made in Melvyn Bragg’s excellent radio series The Matter of the North.

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Yet today, we rarely get to hear the voices of Barnsley, Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham. And the Yorkshire sporting powerhouse is no more – at least, not as we once knew it.

This should be a matter of national concern. The White Rose county is, after all, the home of the world’s oldest registered football club – Sheffield FC, formed in 1857 – and the first English team to win three successive League titles, Huddersfield Town, in the mid-1920s. Hull City are now Yorkshire’s lone representative in the Premier League.

Howard Wilkinson, the manager of Leeds United when they were crowned champions in 1992, the season before the Premier League was founded, lamented the passing of a less money-obsessed era. “My dad worked at Orgreave,” he said, “the scene of Mrs Thatcher’s greatest hour, bless her. You paid for putting an axe through what is a very strong culture of community and joint responsibility.”

The best-known scene in Loach’s film shows a football match in which Mr Sugden, the PE teacher, played by Brian Glover, comically assumes the role of Bobby Charlton. It was played out on the muddy school fields of Barnsley’s run-down Athersley estate. On a visit to his alma mater a few years ago, David Bradley, who played the scrawny 15-year-old Billy, showed me the goalposts that he had swung from as a reluctant goalkeeper. “You can still see the dint in the crossbar,” he said. When I spoke to him recently, Bradley enthused about his lifelong support for Barnsley FC. “But I’ve not been to the ground over the last season and a half,” he said. “I can’t afford it.”

Bradley is not alone. Many long-standing fans have been priced out. Barnsley is only a Championship side, but for their home encounter with Newcastle last October, their fans had to pay £30 for a ticket.

The English game is rooted in the northern, working-class communities that have borne the brunt of austerity over the past six years. The top leagues – like the EU – are perceived to be out of touch and skewed in favour of the moneyed elites.

Bradley, an ardent Remainer, despaired after the Brexit vote. “They did not know what they were doing. But I can understand why. There’s still a lot of neglect, a lot of deprivation in parts of Barnsley. They feel left behind because they have been left behind.”

It is true that there has been a feel-good factor in Yorkshire following the Rio Olympics; if the county were a country, it would have finished 17th in the international medals table. Yet while millions have been invested in “podium-level athletes”, in the team games that are most relevant to the lives of most Yorkshire folk – football, cricket and rugby league – there is a clear division between sport’s elites and its grass roots. While lucrative TV deals have enriched ruling bodies and top clubs, there has been a large decrease in the number of adults playing any sport in the four years since London staged the Games.

According to figures from Sport England, there are now 67,000 fewer people in Yorkshire involved in sport than there were in 2012. In Doncaster, to take a typical post-industrial White Rose town, there has been a 13 per cent drop in participation – compared with a 0.4 per cent decline nationally.

Attendances at rugby league, the region’s “national sport”, are falling. But cricket, in theory, is thriving, with Yorkshire winning the County Championship in 2014 and 2015. Yet Joe Root, the batsman and poster boy for this renaissance, plays far more games for his country than for his county and was rested from Yorkshire’s 2016 title decider against Middlesex.

“Root’s almost not a Yorkshire player nowadays,” said Stuart Rayner, whose book The War of the White Roses chronicles the club’s fortunes between 1968 and 1986. As a fan back then, I frequently watched Geoffrey Boycott and other local stars at Headingley. My favourite was the England bowler Chris Old, a gritty, defiant, unsung anti-hero in the Billy Casper mould.

When Old made his debut, 13 of the 17-strong Yorkshire squad were registered as working-class professionals. Half a century later, three of the five Yorkshiremen selec­ted for the last Ashes series – Root, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance – were privately educated. “The game of cricket now is played in public schools,” Old told me. “Top players are getting huge amounts of money, but the grass-roots game doesn’t seem to have benefited in any way.”

“In ten years’ time you won’t get a Joe Root,” Rayner said. “If you haven’t seen these top Yorkshire cricketers playing in your backyard and you haven’t got Sky, it will be difficult to get the whole cricket bug. So where is the next generation of Roots going to come from?” Or the next generation of Jessica Ennis-Hills? Three years ago, the Sheffield stadium where she trained and first discovered athletics was closed after cuts to local services.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era