Why Are So Many Trans Mascs Pups?

Of course there are the trans masc stereotypes everyone knows about — the names we pick, the button downs we wear, the platform shoes that most of us under 5’6 own. Then, there are the unexpected ones I discover myself.

When a couple trans masc friends turn out to be into pup play, it’s a coincidence. When half of the trans men I know are into it, it’s a pattern. And when it shows up on other trans dudes’ Feeld profiles three times within one night of swiping, it’s officially worth an investigation.

I began to mentally set up a Pepe Silvia-style bulletin board with red string to solve one question: why are so many trans mascs pups?

Let’s Start at the Beginning: What Is Pup Play?

In academic terms, “pup play (also known as puppy play) refers to a form of role-play in which adult humans adopt characteristics that mimic the behavior of young dogs. Normally framed as a kinky sexual activity, individuals tend to adopt a submissive role, imitate the posture of a dog, and wear a collar and other ‘gear’ associated with owning a dog.”

Basically, it’s a kink thing, and it’s exactly what it says on the label. No, the people who are into it obviously don’t think they’re actual dogs, but more on that later.

Why Am I Writing About This?

Am I into pup play? That’s a reasonable question to ask a man who spent weeks of his life researching and conducting interviews about the subject. While I like behind-the-ear scratches as much as the next guy, I am not part of the pup community. But as one study on the psychology of pup play put it, “the attitude of a society which is hegemonically heteronormative toward sexual subcultures which are perceived as ‘deviant’ or queer has a well-examined tendency to push members of those subcultures together.” To translate: as a trans person, almost any community that gets called freaks just for existing is my ally.

What Research Has Come Before Me?

The first place I turned to was academic research. As expected, there’s not much research into the pup community. But to my pleasant surprise, it wasn’t nothing. I primarily worked off of three studies that interviewed pups: one from 2017, one from 2019, and one from 2022.

Arranging my bulletin board to solve why so many trans men are pups started here.

In the 2019 study from the Archives of Sexual Behavior, researchers Darren Langdridge and Jamie Lawson set out to answer a similar question to mine: What attracts anyone to pup play? They identified five “themes” behind people’s desire to participate: “(1) sexual pleasure; (2) relaxation, therapy, and escape from self; (3) adult play and vibrant physicality; (4) extending and expressing selfhood; and (5) relationships and community.”

This was where I saw my first clues. Those last two themes of expressing selfhood and community so inherently overlap with transness.

But Studies Weren’t Enough…

These studies mostly centered cis gay men, so if I wanted to find answers on transness and pups, I’d have to expand my search for experts. I looked to my own community. I interviewed four pups, three of whom identified as trans or nonbinary, to get more perspective on their pup experience. And because my rabbit hole hadn’t gone deep enough yet, I also interviewed Caryn Sherbet, LMSW (they/them), a queer nonbinary sex therapist who specializes in working with queer and trans clients.

With all my sources and the five themes in place, it was time to start attaching red strings to the bulletin board.

Extending and Expressing Selfhood

The connections between transness and expressing selfhood are obvious. Being trans is the ultimate expression of the self — we’ve come to understand this part of ourselves so thoroughly that many of us change our lives to become who we know we are.

One of the pups I interviewed, Mick (they/he), also saw this connection between the trans and pup communities. As they said, “it’s all about shaping your world and how you’re perceived, as you desire. Both communities throw the rule book out to a certain extent and focus on playfully exploring all the weird, unconventional parts of you and celebrating it.”

Being a pup lets everyone experiment with gender expression, not just trans pups. With the freedom to be whoever you want (even a dog) comes the freedom to question everything. In the words of the Archives of Sexual Behavior’s 2019 study, “the key is how the puppy role enables the participant to explore… a new aspect of selfhood, try it on for size, or express some personal perception of the ‘real me.’”

Even the one pup I interviewed who identified as cis, Lavender (he/him), said being a pup helped him explore gender. “It has also allowed me to play with my gender identity, like is my pup-sona a boy or a girl? I tried both, but what seems to feel best is it allows me to be more of a femboy pup.”

Just like being trans, the ways to express one’s pup identity are endless. As a pup I interviewed named Maverick (he/they) said, “we’re all just looking for ways to express our authentic selves. Just like there are as many genders as there are humans on the planet, there are as many ways to be a pup as there are pups on the planet. It’s simultaneously so simple and so complicated.”

By the Way, No, This Form of Expression Doesn’t Mean Pups Think They’re Actual Dogs

The difference here between pup-ness and transness is that trans men are men, but pups are not dogs. They know they’re not. This isn’t your grandpa’s worst nightmare of “kids identifying as animals” coming true. It’s a kink thing.

The 2019 study stated, “participants were clear to explain this was not a delusional practice: they do not believe they actually are puppies, but instead a serious creation of a play space in which they may lose themselves in a moment of role-play through physical exertion, joy, and a vibrant physicality that is apparently unavailable to them in other ways in their lives.”

And because they’re not dogs, this is in no way bestiality. One participant in the above study put it best: “It’s ludicrous. It’s people. If a horse puts on a hat and dresses up as a man, they can’t get a job.” Just like putting on a pup hood doesn’t make someone a dog.

Caryn, the sex therapist I spoke with, said “I think people who misunderstand pups [as bestiality] are probably just quite dumb, honestly, and you can quote that. But I think with a lot of kink stuff, what you see on the surface is not necessarily what’s happening emotionally underneath. And taking that into account is really important.”

Relationships and Community

My personal favorite part of being trans is the community it comes with, and the sense of community that being a pup provides its enthusiasts is no different. As the 2019 study noted, “for the vast majority of participants, puppy play involves deep and meaningful relationships with a number of potential others: other pups, packs, handlers (where either of those exist), and crucially the wider puppy community locally and around the world, in person and online.”

In this study, one pup named Bruno is quoted as saying, “it’s the relationality between the way I feel internally and also the way people then treat me, see me, and then that encourages it more and more and more. I find it much more difficult, say, when I’m by myself to feel that same kind of connection.”

This feels true to how being with other trans friends affirms my gender — yes, we exist as ourselves outside of anyone else’s perception of us, but being in a space that perceives us as who we want to be is nourishing.

One of the pups I interviewed was also a handler. The 2022 study described handlers like this: “Much in the same way that a pet dog has an owner, these participants described the role of a handler as acting as a care-giver and protector.”

For the handler I interviewed, Pup SAZ (he/him), the role is even more supportive than that, “I get to be a safe space and a voice for people that don’t feel like they have one, or wish to strengthen their voice… When you’re first starting out, sometimes you need a gentle nudge and someone to help you navigate the space. And I’m very honored and happy to do that.”

I’ve had a similar experience with transness. Friends who have been in the community longer were there to give me a gentle nudge and help me navigate.

What About the Other Three Themes?

Even the points that didn’t immediately jump out at me from Langdridge and Lawson’s five themes ultimately still had connections to trans masc identity. I continued to put red strings on the board, but this is where things get a little more complex.

Escape From Self

I would argue that “escape from self” applies, but not because transness is about escaping the self — rather, being trans requires so much effort to become yourself, that an escape from self can be like a little vacation.

The 2019 study wrote more about the pup headspace that participants aim for, saying that “temporality is key here as the focus is intensely in the present, with worries about past or future stripped away.” The past of gender is scary; you were someone else then, and you didn’t feel quite right yet. The future of gender is scary, too; will you ever become who you want to be? As a pup, this isn’t a factor. You just get to exist, no further complications.

Every single person I interviewed referenced that escape as a core part of being a pup — not just an escape from the self, but an escape from responsibilities and expectations.

Maverick said that “being a pup allows me to take a break from expectations that pull me in every different direction on any given day, whether it’s related to work, school, or my relationships. Not only that, but pups don’t know anything about the horrors of capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy, puritanism, colonialism… so there’s a bit of escapism that pup play allows for in that way.”

Caryn’s main theory on why so many trans mascs are pups centered on an escape from expectation and needing to be taken seriously. They walked me through their thoughts:

“I think trans mascs specifically have to spend so much of their lives fighting to be taken seriously… If you have any experience in girlhood, you are sort of always fighting to be taken as seriously as cis men are. And I feel like if you then [transition]… there’s a very specific kind of power and privilege that comes with masculinity. But in order to actually have access to that power and privilege, you have to really embody masculinity in very specific set of narrow ways… if you’re someone who has spent their entire life only seeing their value in relation to their seriousness, getting to be a pup means getting to be valuable while being completely unserious.”

Adult Vibrant Physicality

At its core, being a pup is just another form of adults playing. As Pup SAZ put it, “what D&D, cosplay, and RPG is for some adults, pet play is for others. And it’s one of the sweetest most wholesome things I am honored to be a part of.”

Mick, one of the other pups I interviewed, specifically saw parallels between masculinity and the form of play that being a pup involves. “There’s something really boyish about being playful the way you do in pup circles. The tussling around, the innocence, the messiness of it, almost feels like you’re recreating a childhood as a boy that you never got.”

The benefits of embodying a different physicality can be especially important for trans people. In the words of the 2019 study, “not only is there an escape from the self in psychological terms but also a sense of being able to step back from a person’s bodily inhibitions and enjoy and embrace their physicality.” The appeal is understandable for trans people who may feel that the body they currently have is limiting.

One of my favorite tidbits of information from my academic pup research is from the 2022 study: of the pups that identify with an individual breed of dog, “the most favored breeds are for large dogs — perhaps speaking to the intersection of masculinity with kink.” Because big dog = masculine, obviously, just like all dogs are boys and all cats are girls.

Maverick brought up one breed of dog in particular, specifically as a masculine stereotype. “I think a great example of non-toxic masculinity is the ‘golden retriever boyfriend,’ and I don’t think that comparison is coincidental. It’s so hard to navigate masculinity as a transmasc person, and leaning into this innocent, playful, curious energy that dogs — but especially golden retrievers — are known for [feels] not only approachable, but enticing for me as a safe, contained way to explore and externalize an unfiltered masculinity that bypasses intellectualization.”

Maverick continued, “I also get to express myself physically, embody a softer masculinity, and show affection and receive it in a way that feels contained, safe, and intimate.” That softer masculinity brings up a point that I kept coming back to throughout my research: dogs don’t know human masculinity, they just know good boy, and that’s a type of masculinity in itself. Because of its softness, that masculinity may feel more accessible to trans men.

Sexual Pleasure

And now for the last theme. Does sexual pleasure overlap between transness and pup-ness? That’s complicated.

Being trans is not a kink, despite other people’s attempts to fetishize us. When I asked Pup SAZ if his gender identity affected his experience of being a handler/pup, he said, “I have been very fortunate to say that it hasn’t. However, in the kink community, sometimes it has. I have definitely had cis men say to me before ‘I’ve never slept with a trans man before [and] I want you to break my gold star’ or ‘trans is my kink.’ Being a bisexual trans nonbinary man, I’ve heard a lot of things I shouldn’t hear.”

That’s where the complication comes in —as trans people, getting to untangle the kink from our gender identity isn’t always an option, when some cis people MAKE our gender identity a kink. Sure, trans people often report better sex lives once they start transitioning, but that’s not because they’re turned on by the transition, it’s because they’re more comfortable in their bodies.

Caryn acknowledges that there can be overlap between kink and gender affirmation. “Kink can be super, super gender affirming for people because at the end of the day, what you’re playing with is power, presentation, [and] existence in your body or outside it. You are breaking down and getting to handpick which of the human psychosomatic experiences you want to have and which ones you don’t. And so it can be really, really empowering and [give] a ton of room for exploration gender-wise to get to play.”

Also, as it turns out, being a pup isn’t always sexual. How sexual being a pup is varies from person to person. As Mick put it, “It’s a kink that can be more aligned with lifestyle, or can be highly sexual.” Studies agreed with the gray area. The 2022 study reported that “participants were asked the extent to which pup play was sexual and/or social, on a five-point scale from [purely] social to [purely] sexual. The mean response was 3.02, with the majority rating their style of pup play as equally social and sexual” — aka, right down the middle.

So, Why ARE So Many Trans Mascs Pups?

Taking a step back to look at my red string-covered bulletin board, I don’t see one answer to why so many trans mascs are pups — I see many.

Maybe it’s that transness and pup-ness come with community and self-expression, but the list of all things that come with community and self-expression is infinite. Relationships, escapism, unconditional acceptance, and affirmation that you can be whoever you want to be can be found in many ways other than just being a pup.

Maybe it’s not a new thing, but instead has just become more visible. As the 2017 study notes, “diverse forms of sexual desire and identity have become highly visible in the internet age, potentially rendering sex less shocking and resulting in a ‘democratization of desire.’”

Maybe it’s because newer generations are just more down for whatever. The 2022 study found that “there is a positive association between being younger and identifying as a pup.” And according to Pew Research data from 2022, “adults under 30 are more likely than older adults to be trans or nonbinary. Some 5.1% of adults younger than 30 are trans or nonbinary… This compares with 1.6% of 30- to 49-year-olds and 0.3% of those 50 and older who are trans or nonbinary.” If more young people are trans, and more young people are pups, it makes sense that there would be some overlap.

Maybe it’s because if you’re willing to accept transness, you’re more open to other possibilities. Caryn said that “I think with both kink and gender, just conceptually, once you start breaking both of these things down to really granular levels, it’s like, what does anything mean? If you’re someone who is spending their free time being a pup, your gender is kind of whatever in the sense that this is not linear at all.”

Ultimately, I think having more overlap between trans communities and ANY communities is a good thing. As Pup SAZ said, “trans pups are amazing and more and more are coming into the community which is greatly needed. Trans handlers included… We still coexist in spaces with the older generation that wants to learn and better their knowledge to be better allies and defenders. So the more trans advocacy and education we have, the better.”

For My Hours Upon Hours of Research and Interviews, My Answer Seems to Be Another Question: Why Is Anyone Into Anything?

If anyone would know, it’s a therapist, so I asked Caryn if that’s even an answerable question. “My instinct on that is no. Sometimes you have a situation where it’s pretty easy to look at the etymology of a specific person’s specific kink… There’s a reason that a lot of people who tend to flock to kink are people who have had really specific restrictive experiences in their lives, whether that’s sexuality, religion, family, whatever. [Sometimes we can] understand how [the kink] got here, but sometimes people just discover stuff and are like, huh, new thing unlocked. And it’s kind of just that.”

And hey, if you’re trans masc and reading this unlocked a new thing, there’s a whole community of pups out there that’s just like you.

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Max Gross

Max Gross (he/him) is a trans writer and comedian based out of Brooklyn. His writing can be seen in The Onion, Reductress, Slate, and now, wherever you're reading this.

Max has written 4 articles for us.


  1. Fascinating! Pup play isn’t my thing but it is SUPER popular in my city/area so this was an interesting opportunity to learn more.

    Also anyone who liked this article might also enjoy the podcast Why Are People Into That!

  2. For me, it’s because I kept being treated horribly by the out, professional queer community in my area. But they all treated their dogs wonderfully; I started exploring pup play as a way to transform my community’s disregard and contempt for me into something I can stomach, and mostly to trick them into maybe being less ableist.

  3. This was excellent! An interesting combination of subjects, well and and cleverly explored. Thank you for this high quality article! I know I’m going to be thinking about that golden retriever boyfriend/exploring positive masculinity through pup play connection for a while.

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