I caught up with Howl — a sex and relationship coach who’s also deep into BDSM, including pet play. While most pet play focuses on puppies, Howl is exploring their feline side.
When did you start to explore your big cat persona?
When I was a little kid — I was running around pretending to be different animals and role playing as characters from all the movies, shows, and books I was consuming. That’s typical for many kids, but I guess I just never stopped.
I started to formally explore the feline persona when I got a little deeper into BDSM and pet play about ten years ago. I’d seen puppies before at fetish conventions, but I didn’t identify much with a dog. Also, I incorrectly associated it exclusively with master/slave dynamics — it hadn’t exploded on the internet yet. But even as I learned more about puppy play, what I was seeing didn’t quite fit with my image of myself.
My Daddy at the time helped me to realise my interest in training and teaching. I still wanted to be some kind of animal, and I’d always been more of a cat person — both in preference and personality. That’s how Howl emerged. Being a cat really seemed to fit well with my style of dominance. I hadn’t seen anyone else doing it, but I tend to do what I want. Often, when I share with people that I was a big cat, the most common response is — ‘Oh wow, is that a thing?’
What is it about cats that really connects with you?
Most things — from their general behaviour, to their look. I’m very similar in personality to my favourite cats. ‘Cats don’t have owners, they have staff!’ is a saying that I share quite a bit. I feel like cats are complicated creatures, easily misunderstood and disliked, but cherished by many people. I also feel that big cats rule the animal kingdom, which I admire and respect.
When do you unleash Howl?
I’ve used Howl to resist the need to compartmentalise everything — especially where there’s opportunities to make connections and bend rules. Even my art practice — music and sound design — is extremely experimental and blends genres. Howl is a combination of so many communities and fandoms that I love.
I express Howl in the dungeons, commissioned art, sex, in the nightlife scene, the furry fandom, erotica, and even in public. I teach sex education and kink education, so Howl is even part of my professional work occasionally.
To create Howl, I’ve taken different pieces that I like from the worlds of BDSM, King, and pet play, and left out what doesn’t make sense for me.
I’m a furry with no intention over being a fursuitor, but I love to still dress up as my character and express it in other ways. I wear a lot of latex and leather, which isn’t always common or even welcome in the furry fandom. I still get art commissioned, both fetish and non, where I feature Howl as a furry, a human in gear, and hybrids of pet play and furry life. I wear gear outside of the dungeon and fetish cons. I wear heels because it makes me feel like a cat, with digitigrade feet paws.
You spend a lot of time in the club scene. How does Howl relate to drag?
I love drag and club life. I started go-go dancing and doing boylesque at a young age. I spend a lot of time in the clubs, so I bring Howl into that. In the nightlife and drag world, hyper gender-based portrayals or other illusions are common. Their looks are a major element and almost always change, and a lot of folks host and perform as their drag persona. Howl’s look doesn’t change much, similar to that of an anime or cartoon character who looks the same every episode. I don’t use makeup to create gender illusions, lipsync, tuck, or pad. I do push for a hyper illusion of an animal through my fetish gear, wear heels and nails, fuck with gender, host parties, and perform with club kids and people who do drag.
Why is pet play something that appeals to a lot of guys?
Pet Play doesn’t just appeal to guys, but it’s way too easy to feel that way. While gay white men specifically are celebrated more and dominate the airwaves and news-feeds, they’re not the only ones interested in or playing around with animal role play. Pet Play has a lot to offer, and plenty of folks are drawn to it because there’s so much there.
For a lot of folks in my circle, it’s a form of stress management. It’s something that can be fun and entertaining. It can introduce social codes for folks who may struggle with socialising, or just appreciate alternatives. There are healthier models for how to exist on the power spectrum than the abuse that we often see in wider normative culture.
For some it can be sexually arousing, while others don’t mix sexual tones in their play. People find purpose, confidence, notoriety, escapism, and authorship over who they are. Pet play allows people to take things within and express them safely in this way, as well as being a vehicle towards qualities they aspire to.
My approach is definitely a mixture of things, sexual and otherwise. It’s an opportunity for me to call on leadership and organisational skills, mentor others, as well as feel powerful and mystical.
Is the Marvel character of Black Panther your ultimate fantasy?
Black Panther is a major inspiration for Howl. From the actual animal, to the political party, as well as the Marvel comic book character — Black Panther has a lot to do with who I am. However, in my conception, Howl is a royal super villain instead of a hero.
When it comes to hooking up with guys, are you only connecting with guys who are into pet play?
I’m pansexual and very kinky, so I play with all types of folks. While BDSM is a major component of my sexuality, I don’t engage in BDSM with everyone I play with. Pet play is actually a relatively small percentage of my interest and attraction. I’m usually most interested in other queer people of colour.
I play with a lot of puppies for sure, but not exclusively. I have lots of fetishes, but my cat social media is all about a cat as supreme ruler, which in my mind is exactly how a cat would post.
Is there a difference in what you feel when you’re having sex with someone as your cat persona, compared to when you’re having sex with someone just as you?
I definitely don’t go into a cat head-space in every sexual interaction. Though there is some crossover. In non-kinky situations, some of my sexual behaviours are still very cat-like and primal. I love to bite, scratch, growl, be in control, and tap into that inner-animal, because those are natural responses for me when I’m aroused. Though I definitely don’t bring that persona out fully and formally outside of BDSM scenes.
If someone was interested in starting to explore pet play, what advice would you give them?
People should do their research. It’s important to identify what elements are appealing to you, and what things you’re less interested in. I couldn’t tell you how many people I’ve come across who aren’t exploring strong areas of interest because they’re so caught up on the elements they don’t connect with, not realising that they can omit those things. I meet people all the time who say things like — ‘I love the idea of puppy play, but I don’t like it sexually…’ and my response is — ‘Then don’t bring it to the bedroom, pet play isn’t inherently sexual.’
I also think it’s important to actually find some way to play as that animal — or with the animal if your role is to be the handler. Getting on the ground, being pet and fed, getting art made, writing stories, pet nicknames, making the sounds, having folks interact with you in the way you’d like — these things are all so important!
I see people drop a lot of money on gear to express or validate an identity that they’ve hardly formulated or haven’t intimately connected with. Gear is fun and exciting, but it doesn’t have to be everything for everyone, especially right away. I come across way too many people who don’t go to events because they feel that they don’t have enough gear.
What are some of your goals and ambitions for the remainder of 2018?
I’m going to be doing a lot more public education, performances, and fetish demonstrations. I especially love doing these in spaces that aren’t traditionally kinky. Some of the major highlights for later this year include some teaching at Great Lakes Leather Alliance, Montreal Fetish Weekend, and a European tour. I’m also working on some national education initiatives with Kink.Com.
I’m also reviving a major project of mine — Sex Out Loud Live. It’s a gathering space for candid conversations about our sex, love, and intimacy. The program includes panels, community discussions, sexual health resources, and performances. The cool part is that it takes place in non-traditional education spaces, such as nightclubs.
By trade, I’m a social worker who focuses on relationship education. I’m also working towards becoming a Sex Therapist, plus I offer sex and relationship coaching. I’ve recently introduced the option to work with clients online, as Howl.
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How to explore your fetish fantasy
I caught up with Will Kane from calendar-boys to talk about the art of fetish photography.
When did you discover and start exploring your passion for photography?
From as far back as I can remember, I was always into photography. I remember going on school trips at primary school and always making sure I had a camera with me. Back in the 80s, I was always very clear about what I wanted to shoot and who’d be in the shoot - making the tall kids stand at the back, and getting lots of heckling and shouts of ‘hurry up’ - but I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and this was back in the day where you had to leave your film with the chemist and wait a week to get them back to see if you had decapitated anyone.
I think I probably got a new camera every year for Christmas. My first camera had the 110 film, then I remember getting the disc camera which was super slim and deemed revolutionary at the time, then I went through a stage of disposable cameras because they were cheap and I’d then get them printed on CDs so I could edit and save them.
About 10 years ago, a colleague at work inspired me to a Canon camera. It’s so fancy - it has so many features that I don’t even need or use, but it allows me to capture the images I need before I manipulate them into the finished product.
What drew you to specialise in fantasy fetish-wear photo-shoots?
Who doesn’t love a man in uniform! I love a fancy dress party, either throwing them or attending them, but either way I take my costume very seriously. As a result, I’ve ended up with about 10 cool uniforms that I acquired from eBay, Amazon, and various specialist online stores. People always commented on how authentic the outfits were at these various parties, and obviously people always seemed to want a pic standing next to me in whatever outfit I was in.
I began to think I could combine these two things - my passion for photography and my love of sourcing authentic genuine costumers. I thought that there must be guys like me - normal build, shy-ish, non-scene, that most likely don’t fit the stereotype of what a fetish-wear guy looks like. I’m not a baldy, bearded, buff bear, but every time I wore the CHiPs outfit from the 70s TV show, I felt incredibly powerful, sexy, and horny.
I’m also a member of fetish app Recon, and I get lots of messages from guys who look at me in some of my pics and are very surprised that someone like me would be into leather and uniforms. My response is always the same - do not judge a book by its cover.
What sort of guys are you interested in commissioning you to take photos of them in fetish-wear?
All sorts - I shoot anyone and everyone! When I see pics of guys in fetish-wear they usually fit the stereotype of being buff, bald, bearded bears. It led me to think - What about us less built guys? What about us shy guys? Also, fetish-wear can be expensive, so I thought that if someone has seen some leather porn and thinks - ’I’d love to get some chaps but wonder if they’d suit me’ - this way they can come to my studio and have some cool and hot new pics, and also see how’d they look in leather. A new pair of chaps cost upwards of £200, but my shoots cost a fraction of that.
Shy guys and curious guys are made especially welcome, as I understand their nervousness about appearing in gear. When I first bought chaps and a waistcoat and put it on for the first time, I felt incredibly powerful and horny and sexy but also was aware that to some potentially ‘hardcore’ leathermen I probably looked ridiculous. I’m part of a group called Leathermen South, which is based in Brighton. They’re always encouraging me to don my leathers and attend one of their meets, but it’s only me holding me back. It’s a confidence thing.
I’m also happy to shoot anyone who is already into fetish-wear. Maybe they have lots of leather and trackies, but want to try on some police uniforms - I have six to choose from. Or, maybe guys want some new pics for various social media or hook up apps, or it could be a gift to a partner, or if you’re having a party and fancy some pics for a super cool invite. I’ve had guys who want to surprise their boyfriend for a calendar for their office so they can gaze at them adoringly 365 days a year.
I’m happy to shoot duos - a couple of mates together, or perhaps a couple. I’m also happy to shoot them in some amorous positions, but I need to make clear that I’m not a pornographer. I have had lots of interest from guys who want to get into porn - I’ve been able to give them some great shots to send off to porn producers and studios. My studio is very welcoming and very private, and has a well-stocked fridge to ease any nerves.
When I’m scouting for models, sometimes I get guys who have no clue that they have this amazing look and are pleasantly surprised at the end results. I had this one guy who was short and stocky and super sexy. He had a silver crop, so I suggested that he’d look amazing as a skinhead. He’d never thought of that look, but when he donned the gear he looked like a different person and developed this hard-man persona while in gear. The outfits themselves have powerful qualities.
What sort of gear do you have available?
I have over 70 costumes and outfits and props and scenarios to choose from. Within that 70, there are also variations, so even one particular genre can maybe take a good hour to shoot with all the various gear and props I have.
This is something that I discuss with the client before the shoot, to make sure that I have everything in their size and also to make sure they’re all washed and ready to wear. I have the usual stereotypical items that us gay guys seem to like - leather, sports gear, suits, and many, many uniforms.
My collection took quite a while to accumulate, as I was getting suggestions from friends and online fetish forums. Previous models I’ve had have really surprised me in what they’ve found sexy. A few models said that they really liked the paramedic uniform. I’ve had so many requests for lingerie. I also have some superhero costumes.
Is the photoshoot itself a sexual thing?
It is indeed! Guys can’t help being aroused, so thankfully my studio is very private and not overlooked, so guys can disrobe and parade around naked as much as they like. For those shy guys, I have slippers and dressing gowns for guys to wear between takes and costume changes. My studio also gets quite hot under the studio lights, and I have a TV there with various DVDs if guys need some visual stimulation for ‘adult’ pics.
There are times when I’ve had to leave my studio when I’ve gotten aroused - I’ve had to go away and ‘adjust’ myself, as it’s not very professional and I’d prefer guys to look into my lens not my bulge. I have had guys message me and ask if I’ll be naked for the shoot, or if I’ll also be dressed up in fetish-wear. The answer is no - I’m too busy assembling their outfits and props for their shoot.
Because we’re much more open these days, we’re able to discuss our porn-watching habits more openly and so a lot of guys want to emulate their favourite porno genres - army, builder, boxer, convict, cop, cowboy, doctor, firefighter. The fact that my studio is private and warm also makes guys feel more comfortable disrobing in front of strangers, but also some guys are just exhibitionists. I have a huge full-length mirror, so guys can constantly check themselves out when in gear. I shoot everything against a white backdrop - I then Photoshop the background to match the outfit.
My job is to make everyone feel super-confident and make them look as amazing as I can so that they’re not disappointed with the end result pics.
If I was a bit fetish curious, how would I go about organising a photo-shoot to start to explore that side of my sexuality?
Guys get in touch through my website. That way they’ve mostly already looked at all the different outfits that I have to choose from. I given them a call, and we discuss the outfits that have caught their eye. I ask about what outfits they find sexy on others, what porn they watch - lots of different questions to get a picture of what’s going to work best for them. Then, we book the shoot in and we start to bring those fantasies to life.
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