Qmmunity: Be Fur Real

Chatting with local trans pet play titleholders in Austin kink community

Iron Pup 2024 Rick Zentler (Photo by Reuben of @queeriesandmore)

As Trans Day of Visibility approaches, I’ve been thinking about what being seen actually means. Within Austin, there are trans people in every type of queer-centric community, but they’re not often platformed the way their cisgender counterparts are. But in that TDOV spirit, trans members of Austin’s growing critter community have made strides into the spotlight – and they’re just getting started.

Critter play – or pet play – is a subculture within BDSM where folks dress in leather designed to resemble various animals and play in the headspace of said animals. Pets are often accompanied by handlers, who “hold the leash” so to speak. Much like in the leather community, critters and handlers often enter competitions where they can earn titles both locally and, as is the case for Austin-area pup Max Stanlick, internationally. Stanlick, who won the Iron Bear’s Iron Pup 2023 title, will be heading to the International Puppy & Trainer Contest held in Chicago on April 4.

“The biggest effect for me in my community as a titleholder has been Visibility,” Stanlick explained about his journey over email. Through one-on-one conversations, teaching and attending kink-related classes, and other activities, he’s found “pawsitivity” in other trans folks and allies “working to make things more accessible to those who feel that they are not valued.”

For current Iron Pup title holder Rick Zentler, aka Champ the Fox, much of what’s endeared him to the Austin pet play scene has been thanks to Boop Society of Central Texas. This local critter play group organizes meetups, walks, and other events tailored to animal role-players. Zentler appreciates how well Boop Society adheres to their motto of accepting all critters and lovers. “As a transgender individual myself, diversity and inclusion are absolute MUSTS for any group I am a part of,” he wrote over email, “and I am thrilled to see ample representation within the pet play community here in Austin.”

As an experienced competitor, Zentler draws a comparison between leather culture and pup play – in particular, pointing to how initial aesthetic pageantry has taken a slight backseat to deeper, more community-focused qualifiers. Titleholder to titleholder, the responsibilities shift, but to Zentler, there’s one that lives above the rest. “I would argue that the single most important responsibility is to simply act in accordance with your values, whatever they may be,” he said. “For example, I strongly believe in the mental health/emotional wellness benefits pet play has to offer, and that kink in general ought to be destigmatized in society. Therefore, a big part of my platform for my title year has been to educate others about those subjects and how they can personally help advocate for the same, creating ripple effects.” He’s taken on this task through mentoring with the newly formed Critter Austin Mentorship Project, which utilizes an eight-session program to “educate the mentees on all aspects of pet play and how they can be their “best critter selves” as exemplary members of the larger community.”

But these are just the pups. Her face being one familiar to anyone who’s been around Austin’s drag brunch scene, Maxine LaQueene – aka Maxi Herndon – has also earned the title of Texas Handler 2023. “I’ve been not just like a community leader, but kind of a viewpoint,” Herndon said during a phone interview on her titleholder status. “My relationship with the leather community intertwines with being a trans person and also being a drag entertainer.” Her aim as a Texas Handler is to connect the communities she’s in and bolster their presence.

“Being Texas handler,” Herndon said, “I don’t describe it as well, my partner is a pup and I’m his handler. For me, Texas handler is, like, I handle the entire community. I’m very Mother, you know, I’m Auntie. I give such loving feminine energies.”

Herndon finds those feminine energies rare in the stereotypical leather titleholder, but she’s working to make that lack a relic of the past. “The leather community, much like the drag community, was kind of built on the shoulders of trans people and specifically trans women and women of color,” she said. “But over the years, it’s been dominated by masculinity and what people would immediately think of: your cis gay men who are wearing harnesses and are very overtly masculine.” Making room for more trans representation – particularly feminine rep – is her priority. “Anything I do with the leather community,” she said, “I’m just trying to bring trans excellence and high-quality feminine energy.”

All three titleholders expressed a great deal of excitement about Austin’s critter and kink community’s future. That potential will not only be on display on the international stage this month, but also right at home: Austin Kink Weekend, a newer annual event that pulls together kinksters across Texas as well as global leather, BDSM, and kink folks, hits April 18-21. While there’ll be plenty of classes, kink markets, and parties, new leather and critter competitive titles will also be awarded. Onstage will be trans pups and handlers, putting to work the trans-forward values on which Trans Day of Visibility are based. Good luck, y’all!

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Summer Clearance returns the nu metal mayhem with a $7 cover and all the mall-goth vibes you can handle.

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Sunday 31, OutWellness

The phys-ed focused folks of OutWellness partner with Chris Pennington, aka the Epic Place, for a somatic dance party that’ll get your queer body movin’ & groovin.

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Thursday 28, ColdTowne Theater

Yee-haw! Your Thursday’s gonna be a boot-scootin’ laugh riot thanks to this queer comic lineup: Glenn Rose, Katherine Hutch, May Buzzetti – of former “Come as You Are” hosting fame! – Reier Cammerman, Roxy Castillo, and host Sarah Spear.

Want more queer? Visit austinchronicle.com/qmmunity

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LGBTQ, Austin Kink Weekend, The Iron Bear, Iron Pup, Boop Society of Central Texas

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