Last week, Channel 4 screened The Secret Life of Human Pups. It documents the growing scene of men who ‘come out’ as pups. They wear specially made dog outfits, play with dog toys, and eat food from bowls. As one ‘human pup’ puts it: ‘This is who I am’. It follows a story from Norway about a woman who ‘realised she was a cat’ when she was 16. In an interview that has received nearly 4 million views, Nano, who’s now 20, says she was born in the wrong species. Her psychologist says that she can grow out of it, but Nano wants to be a cat for life.
The human pups were widely ridiculed last week, with the hosts of ITV’s This Morning struggling to keep straight faces as they interviewed them. However, the documentary also showed some of the damage that this ‘escapism’ had caused. Identifying as a pup called Spot has cost reigning ‘Mr Puppy UK’ Champion Tom his relationship with former-fiancée Rachel. But should we just blindly accept someone’s claim to be a dog or a cat because they say so? Even if their anatomy and their DNA say otherwise?
There’s no doubt that the whole understanding of identity is a hot topic, at least in the UK and North America. In December a married Canadian man with seven kids left his family ‘in order to fulfil his true identity as a six-year-old girl’. In an video released with The Transgender Project, he says ‘I don’t want to be an adult right now’.
Another video that’s trending shows Joseph Backholm interviewing students at the University of Washington to see whether they thought it was ever right to tell someone their chosen identity was wrong. Students had no problem accepting the right of a 5’9” white man to claim he was a woman and were only slightly slower to accept his assertion that he was Chinese. Most begrudgingly accepted his claims to be 7 years old, though wouldn’t have let him enrol in primary school. Only one was prepared to tell him he was wrong when he claimed to be 6’5”.
Backholm concludes: ‘It shouldn’t be hard to tell a 5’9” white guy that he’s not a Chinese woman, but clearly it is. Why? What does it say about our culture? And what does it say about our ability to answer the questions that actually are difficult?’
Published in Stranraer & Wigtownshire Free Press, 4 May 2016