Hey my favorite group of kinksters! It’s time to delve into the sexually charged aspects of the law in another Fetish Friday here on Lawyers & Liquor, with all of the associated whips, chains, clamps, hot wax, and just general blowing of those vanilla minds that you guys love so goddamn much! So without further ado, because unlike Mistress Mona I don’t get off by making you squirm in anticipation, let’s dive right into the hot, sticky, and oh-so-alluring mess that gets created with the wearing of fetish gear in public!
Like most subjects these days, this one was first presented by the furries, those interesting folks that get themselves up in a tizzy about all sorts of things. Apparently there’s an ongoing debate about the legality and appropriateness of wearing things like leather hoods shaped like dog heads (“Pup Hoods”) the public spaces of convention hotels and centers and the associated impact on the public. A lot of the back and forth on the matter seems to be “it doesn’t look right to others” on one side with the opposing side responding “there’s nothing illegal about wearing this stuff in public.”
Can you filthy little worms figure out which side of that debate caught my interest more than the other? Oh yeah, baby. It was the legal aspect, because lawsplaining shit is my thing.
So let’s start delving about elbow deep in the dark crevices that’s the legality of using and wearing fetish-associated gear in public. Today we’re gonna focus on Pup Hoods specifically, but I think I’ll be back to this one in regards to other things in the not-too-distant future, because there’s a LOT of other shit we can talk about in relation to this.
But, as always, first a disclaimer, because like all of you fine folks, Boozy likes to play safe.
Some Shit To Understand First.
Few things I want to get started before you motherfuckers (I should probably be a little more careful about the terms I’m using around you assholes) start freaking the fuck out: this is an academic and esoteric discussion. This is not fucking legal advice, do not fucking run out there screaming that the world is ending at your next Kink Night because a lawyer on the fucking internet said some shit to you. The laws I’ll be discussing are state-specific, as are the interpretations of the same, and I’m only presenting them here as examples of certain laws which could impact the legality of wearing fetish gear in public. If you’re genuinely worried you need to contact and meet with a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction, preferably without the riding crop being involved, but hey, your sweaty dollars spend the same as everyone else’s.
First, let’s define “Public”
In the strictest sense of the word, “Public” actually means “areas that are open to the general public and owned by the government, such as streets, sidewalks, government offices, schools, etc.” However, this is the fucking law we’re talking about, and “government owned spaces where the general public is at” is not the actual legal definition of a “public space” in most places. Generally, a “public place” at law (and remember, your mileage may vary) is really all of those things and areas that are open to the general public, whether or not they’re privately owned. This includes stores, restaurants, hotel lobbies, business foyers, and the common areas of apartment or housing units. Essentially, the legal definition of a “public place” is basically “anywhere the general public can get to without jumping some additional hurdle like paying for a membership.”
If you can just walk in off the street and be there, just make the assumption that somebody can argue it’s a public place under the law, okay? Because the gist of this is it may not matter if you’re in a privately owned facility when the general public has an automatic license or invitation to enter the same facility.
We can see this pretty well in Pennsylvania’s law against “obscene and other sexual materials or performances,” 18 Pa.C.S. Section 5903(a) which broadly makes the places the offense can be committed any place where:
[the materials or performance are displayed] in such manner that the display is visible from any public street, highway, sidewalk, transportation facility or other public thoroughfare, or in any business or commercial establishment where minors, as a part of the general public or otherwise, are or will probably be exposed to view all or any part of such materials
So yeah. Depending on your state, the definition of a “public place” can be pretty goddamn broad.
Why does this matter?
It matters because there are specific laws governing dress and behavior in public spaces. We’ve talked before about how unlikely it is the government is going to break down your door to stop you from dribbling hot wax all over a partner when you’re doing it in the privacy of your own home. The same sort of thing applies here: you can’t be hit with a charge for wearing a mask or fetish gear if you’re where nobody can really see you except for the people that want to see you. Private spaces don’t apply.
Also, in general, if a space is being used exclusively for a private function, any laws that apply to the wearing of that sort of stuff in public aren’t really going to apply. But for that to be true, it has to be exclusively used for a private function, meaning members of the public can’t enter the area or walk by and see it. Period. A shut off space. Think of the difference between, say, your unenclosed back yard visible from the street and your kinky, kinky windowless basement.
Getting the picture? Good. So now we can start talking about some more specific shit, like…well…
Pup Hoods: Breaking the law by being a good boy?
First we need to recognize what the fuck a pup hood really is. It’s a mask. It’s a goddamn mask made of leather, or vinyl, or some similar material. Whatever other emotional connection or psychological connection a person has with their pup hood, and whether or not they actually use it for sexual fetishization purposes, what we are talking about here are fucking masks.
Gee. I wonder what else is considered a mask under the law. Maybe a giant animal head. One with fur instead of leather.
And that’s where we run into the first legal hurdle, because, in a number of places, there are explicit laws against wearing masks in public. Now, these laws will vary from place to place, but the gist of them is as follows: You cannot wear a mask in public which conceals your identity unless you fall under a limited number of exceptions. Some states make these summary offenses, meaning the intent behind wearing the mask is completely fucking irrelevant, whereas other states that have these laws on the books make them intent based offenses, meaning you need to actually intend to conceal or hide your identity in the first place to be breaking the law. Still other states may require the intent to break some other law as a condition of violation of a mask law.
Interesting, huh? Can you see why I say “check your local laws”? Because in some places, simply putting the hood on and stepping out of your house can stick you in violation of a mask law.
Mask Laws Suck
Yeah, but they started with the best of intentions. See, it’s not like pup hoods are the first time someone may take issue with people hiding their appearance and then stepping out into the world to show their new face to everyone.
In fact, most of these laws were perceived in their original form way before anyone would ever dream of going to the local Hilton dressed as a shiny, slick doggy. The genesis of these laws is from the middle of the 20th century! And a quick look at Ohio’s law makes it clear why a lot of places were fine with the idea of saying “Nooooo, no way” at first:
No person shall unite with two or more others to commit a misdemeanor while wearing white caps, masks, or other disguise
….”white caps, masks, or other disguises.”
….Dudes, Anti-mask laws started as a way to stop the motherfucking KKK. We’ve kept them around because people who are doing criminal things often like to conceal their identity.
WHY ARE YOU SAYING THEY’LL PUT ME IN THE POUND?
It’s not exactly a public decency offense anymore, it’s a public safety offense. And, like a lot of public safety and morals offenses, you aren’t likely to get arrested or cited unless the cops really get a hard on for you that week or you’re one of those shifty assholes who really makes the cop senses tingle.
So, while “no masks in public” are a thing, the real times you’ll butt up against it because you’re wearing a pup hood are when a) you’re causing a disturbance by doing so; b) people are obviously getting upset; or c) the cop’s being a dick. And honestly, the most likely result is you’ll get told to take off the hood. Only people who fight with the cop are going to get arrested or ticketed…and if there’s an intent-based aspect, you have a damn good argument in court to get rid of the charge.
So don’t freak too much about it. Or freak all you want. Just don’t worry.
If I’m Not Breaking the Law, Why Can’t I Wear It At A Hotel-Based Convention.
Virginia has explicitly made an exception for private property owners, such as hotels, in relation to anti-mask laws. Let’s look at that for a better idea of why you may be getting told, at an event, to take off the fucking mask:
It shall be unlawful for any person over 16 years of age to, with the intent to conceal his identity, wear any mask, hood or other device whereby a substantial portion of the face is hidden or covered so as to conceal the identity of the wearer, to be or appear in any public place, or upon any private property in this Commonwealth without first having obtained from the owner or tenant thereof consent to do so in writing.
You’ll note the neat part of that is if you’re on private property, the owner of the property can explicitly give you, or the event that you’re at, the permission to wear a mask. If they do, then there’s no worries in Virginia. BUT if the venue says “no masks” or even “this type of mask is okay, but that type isn’t in our public areas,” it’s going to be the venue’s rule that binds the convention or group and all of the attendees. In either case, it’s unlikely that, even in states where the mask law is slightly more stringent, the police will take action unless the property owner complains.
At least on a mask law.
…Why the caveat?
Because mask laws aren’t the only laws in play here. There are a lot of other laws at play. Like, for instance, obscenity laws, disorderly conduct laws, or “public lewd conduct” laws. But…I wouldn’t exactly worry about those.
The reason? Well, let’s look to that bastion of social progress, liberal thoughts, and sexual freedom…Texas. You may remember Texas as the state that literally arrested two gay men for having consensual sex in their goddamn home and charged them for sodomy. So it’s a pretty good bellwether as to the strictness of the laws we talked about above, if you ask me.
First, Texas law does have a statute that on its face tends to make it sound like doing damn near anything offensive in public is going to get you slapped with a “disorderly conduct” charge. Even if it isn’t sexually charged in nature, something as simple as sunbathing nude on a secluded beach is enough to get you slapped with disorderly conduct in the great state of Texas if a fisherman happens to see you. When you toss in that whole “lewd conduct” portion of the law, it seems like it’s a dead-bang winner on whether wearing something with a heavy sexual connotation in the public’s mind, such as a pup hood, would net you a charge, right?
No. Because despite what people say on the Twitters, “lewd” does not simply means “it offends my sensibilities.” While what is or is not lewd may have a subjective meaning that varies from person to person, under Texas law (and the law of most other states), lewd conduct has a really specific meaning. For instance, Texas states that “public lewdness” only exists if:
A person . . . knowingly engages in any of the following acts in a public place or, if not in a public place, he is reckless about whether another is present who will be offended or alarmed by his:
(1) act of sexual intercourse;
(2) act of deviate sexual intercourse;
(3) act of sexual contact; or
(4) act involving contact between the person’s mouth or genitals and the anus or genitals of an animal or fowl.
See the key factors? Lewdness is all about sexual contact, not merely wearing something that may be suggestive. Likewise, obscenity in Texas is limited by their definition of “obscene materials,” which (as we discussed a bit back when talking about fucking your pets [seriously, what the hell happened to my life?]) is limited by statute to:
[M]aterial or a performance that:
(A) the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that taken as a whole appeals to the prurient interest in sex;
(B) depicts or describes:
(i) patently offensive representations or descriptions of ultimate sexual acts, normal or perverted, actual or simulated, including sexual intercourse, sodomy, and sexual bestiality; or
(ii) patently offensive representations or descriptions of masturbation, excretory functions, sadism, masochism, lewd exhibition of the genitals, the male or female genitals in a state of sexual stimulation or arousal, covered male genitals in a discernibly turgid state or a device designed and marketed as useful primarily for stimulation of the human genital organs; and
(C) taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, and scientific value.
You’ll note that this is an “and” test, which means legally each of the (A), (B), and (C) elements must be present (the B.i and B.ii or “either/or” tests for the second element). Now, while someone may think a person wearing a pup hood in public is sexual in nature, the fact is they don’t depict fucking, and they aren’t designed to show off the bulge or stimulate the genitals. So, yeah, obscenity is a likely no go.
So….they’re legal? We did all of that to say they’re legal?
I’m not saying that. I’m saying that proving the case, under the singular laws we’ve taken a look at, that pup hoods are per se inappropriate legally to wear in public places (or in private places without permission or where the public can see them) is gonna be hard to impossible. The simple fact is, if someone wants to find a reason to charge you, they fucking will. But there’s nothing obviously or even subtly illegal about doing so.
So, you know, have at. Legally .
I’M GONNA BE A CORGI.
Cool, but don’t rush out to do it just yet, because “legal” and “okay” aren’t the same thing. Remember that in many cases, you have a responsibility to practice your fetish responsibly. And that means, on a purely non-legal level, you should probably take into account the environment in which you’re in before masking up. Forcing others who have not consented, either implicitly by attending with the knowledge this will be present or explicitly, is not fucking cool.
But if an event says “hoods are fine,” and someone starts to complain knowing that? Well…they knew what they were getting into.
But if you’re in a place where people who don’t know about it are gonna be? Consider the appearance and effect. That’s all I ask. I personally don’t give a shit. Others may.
I’m sticking this part all the way at the bottom. And I’m doing it specifically to weed out the people who started bitching about me not saying this without reading the whole thing first.
I understand that things like “pup play” are not intrinsically sexual for some people. I came across this neat article in prepping this piece which talks to the non-fetish, mental health, “feeling better about yourself” side of being a pup. It’s neat, and it helps people become a part of a community and feel good, address issues, etc. Sure, that may be a minority (in perception if not in reality) of the people involved, but it bears mentioning. But this is Fetish Friday, and on Fetish Friday I talk about stuff that is sexual or romantic in nature and the public perception of it versus the legal perception of the same.
So please, understand, if you are into pup play for purposes that are not solely kink related, I’m not attacking you. I’m saying that the majority of the public will view and treat it as a sexual kink, and your hoods as fetish wear.
And, frankly, I’m a little fascinated by you guys. So…if you see me around and feel like answering some questions, I’d love to hear more.
Now, I’m off to do other shit.