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

08 Dec 2014 |

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.