The Zaush Issue – leaked private messages make a public discussion.
by Patch O'Furr
(CONTENT WARNING – discussion of sex and abuse.)
Zaush is one of the bigger stars of furry fandom. He’s one of the top most followed artists, who cranks out copious amounts of porn. It’s drawn to a pro level and earns him a full time income on Patreon, with high demand from an audience of furverts who couldn’t find it at a friendly neighborhood porn shop. It’s a perfect niche if that’s what you’re into. Or maybe it’s a dark corner Zaush has painted himself into – judging by concerning practices that have come to light.
I’m not that familiar with his stuff. Personally, I’ve avoided it because that kind of porn turns me off. That’s not because of being judgemental to fetish. In my critical opinion, it’s more like cute cartoon animals doing sticky gang bangs could use all the cute and not so much sticky. And I wish established Disney characters weren’t getting bent out-of-character. But my main dislike is for the stories and power dynamic in them. I love furry art for showing more warmth and feeling than live human actors; but this art gives me bad feelings. The stories seem to reward bullies taking sex from prey like taking candy from a baby.
This brings up common jokes about his characters getting younger and younger over time.
At one point in mid 2017, I even had a disagreement with someone about that – and now let’s cut to the chase. That gut feeling got vindicated. Private messages with a commissioner on Zaush’s personal account have leaked, and warning: 1) they can be described as catering to pedophilic interest. 2) It’s not just art – there’s real pics of little kids in bathing suits used for art reference. 3) There’s also actual porn of the “barely legal” genre.
WARNING AGAIN: THIS CONTENT IS VERY BORDERLINE. IT APPEARS TO BE LEGAL ACCORDING TO KNOWN INFO, BUT YOU SHOULDN’T CLICK IT IF BORDERLINE IS RISKY TO YOU.
- Image 1 – explicit images of adult actress Sammie Daniels
- Image 2 – another explicit image, claimed to be mainstream
- Image 3 – chat
- Image 4 – images of kids in bathing suits
- Image 5 – images of kids in bathing suits
- Image 6 – images of kids in bathing suits
What followed deserves credit; there wasn’t effort to lie, and that helps a lot for an honest discussion. And, even if borderline-legal, there’s a LOT to discuss. This is part of the point of the article: if this stuff is going to get made, consumers of it should be fully aware of what they’re supporting.
To break this down, the borderline content is the extreme of cub art. Here’s what I last posted about that – it’s arguable that people who role-play as being kids are doing something harmless and even therapeutic or positive. Boozy Badger, a fandom lawyer, said similar stuff about AB/DL acceptance being harmless or good (for example, supporting people with medical incontinence.)
But there’s a difference between that and using pics of real kids to produce porn of imaginary ones.
Where do you start with what that difference means?
Arguably you could say a fictional depiction of an underage person, like a cartoon, is violative of the law. However, while this could theoretically happen, prosecutions to conviction on such a provision (Federal here, PROTECT Act) are rare. /1— Boozy Badger @ AnthrOhio (@BoozyBadger) March 5, 2018
Legally, it’s murky; you could start with calling cops, but they probably won’t do anything about it.
But you don’t have to stop with calling cops. Communities don’t run by having people arrested, if there is even a technical violation – and that’s a last resort. Relying on technicality is unlikely to solve a problem; it’s what “borderline” stuff is made to evade. Of course, on the positive side, there’s parents, families, organizers, and institutions to encourage good stuff. This community largely lacks those – but it doesn’t lack people who make effort to create their community.
That’s why we get to talk about it.
Zaush appears to be catering to an audience with a lot of money flow. When I see the talent he’s using, I feel a bit disappointed. If this is the top art furries support, why not aim higher? Good writing should be able to succeed whether or not it involves sex. OK, but I framed this as a problem – if it does good business and people want it, what problem?
Well, that demand comes from a community that gave Zaush a platform – without cons, and publishers, and websites, and users for them, he wouldn’t have his niche. That reminds me of hearing (unverified) that Zaush isn’t accepted as a client by the main fandom publishers – but more to the point, Furaffinity appears to bend rules for his art that others don’t get to bend. Those rules are against explicit art that depicts underaged characters – which Zaush does all but semantically (since they’re just “labeled” as not underage.)
Judging by what was in those PM’s, the semantic exemption is hard to claim any more. Supporting such rule bending (because people want their porn) suggests a community double standard for popularity.
That’s why we get to talk about it.
There’s precedent for regulating this content. Softpaw Magazine was banned from several cons and the Ursa Major Awards, and FurAffinity was unable to make payment processor relationships due to porn on the site. It arguably restricted fandom growth into a niche. Wanting freedom for that is a double edged sword that cuts into other freedoms. And it’s not just about whether Zaush’s stuff is harmless or not – what about relaxing standards so much that actual illegal stuff gets mixed in? There’s precedent for that too, such as when a Softpaw contributor was arrested for illegal images of children.
It relates to a “group ethic” that was in my article: R.C. Fox arrested for child pornography, furries question fandom connections. That can make slippery slope arguments that I disfavor (I don’t think tame cub art leads to child abuse), but a group can still have consistent standards.
As far as Zaush being harmless… that’s also a point of contention; in 2010, he was accused of rape and predatory behavior. He gave a long answer that leaves many people unsatisfied, with no explanation for what a putative victim had to gain by lying – especially since the story came to light from private messages and it wasn’t shared for public attention.
The contents of Zaush’s PM’s came out that way too. How a reader treats those (and if he gets favored) vs. how they treat the private messages of a woman talking about rape (and if she doesn’t) may say something about their standards.
When I had a gut feeling about the content of Zaush’s art hiding a deeper problem, and got vindicated for that… there’s a similar feeling many others have about his behavior. Cops don’t arrest for feelings, thankfully. But on the flip side, an average abuser has many victims and gets away with it for years before getting caught.
That’s why we get to talk about it.
Another issue that followed this.
About me – my experience includes years of fighting powerful abusers that few people know about; and by relationship there was another such fight that pulled a family apart. A side supported an abuser, and a side wanted justice but couldn’t get it because statutory limitations ran out before the problem could be spoken about – but a civil judgement was ultimately won. The costs for that are terrible and often only the lawyers win.
That’s why people don’t talk about it. It’s frustrating as hell and has insidious effects.
Another affecting thing is how I most likely have a sleeping disorder that means I’m always writing between midnight and dawn. Dealing with frustration on sleep deprivation should be avoided. And I’ve been religiously replying to all Twitter contacts, but the followers keep rising so much that it’s good to stop trying (I love you all though!)
This was some context for charging in to defend a friend, not even looking at who I was replying to and posting some overreactive stuff. It got this feedback:
(them) Hey patch, i was trying to defend your efforts to expose zaush earlier, and i just gotta say you did a really piss awful job of handling the shit you stirred with it. i really don’t get why over a misunderstanding you needed to go for the kneecaps bringing up someone’s dead husband like that. I really had to ruminate on saying something to you for a while, I’d be lying if i said the way you carry yourself into these things really inspires my trust. It’s one thing to need to straighten out some idiotic bullshit whining about drama and the inconvenience of calling out harmful garbage in the fandom, like, i’m with you 100% on that. And, sure, maybe not everybody uses the word “condone” that way, I did have to look it up myself, but the insinuations you made by bringing up someone who’s literally been dead for two years as if their widower has a vested interest like you did was totally uncalled for, you had absolutely no fucking reason to hint at that conclusion, it was honestly juvenile and really lays bare the sort of exaggeratedly divisive attitude you bring into issues like these. I figured it was better to bring this to you directly to give you the opportunity to consider it yourself. You ought to know that even someone with a wide tolerance to raising hell for the right reasons, like me, has been cringing at the way you do things from time to time and just scoffed at that low blow you decided to take there. Take this from somebody who genuinely wants you to do well and achieve something for this community… i have nothing to gain from saying any of this to you. Please don’t make me regret it. Godspeed.
(me) Bringing up a guy’s dead husband “in the moment” was a horrible idea. It’s not that simple however and would be a mischaracterization to call that an attack, I didnt name either person or direct it at them. It was a general comment to friends of mine who were being aggressively brigaded from off site. Which a person did before blocking and couldn’t have been expected to see a no name comment. That doesn’t make others involved innocent, and although it was totally unfair of me to talk about one person from the past, it’s a current topic with others that’s constantly brought up about who is defending who and why. I don’t fault anyone for defending offenders as people either, I don’t want people to be sent to live under bridges.
(them) We’re coming from the same place but how we handle it is super important, and if you want to avoid the perception of being a shallow shit stirrer it’s even more important. The best approach is just to lay out why there’s a problem with that attitude and let it be, digging in like that never goes well.
(me) The whole drama boils down to a friend of mine was unfairly brigaded over a “do nothing” expectation and I overreacted in tone. My friend btw is far from immature or reactively social-justicey about this stuff. In fact i think she’s military and a super clear communicator. If she was upset about being mistreated, that really told me something was wrong.
(them) you’re in a position where tone management is key to success. not necessarily an enviable position.
Laying out what that silencing effect is and does can be more useful than just characterizing them for creating it. I always try to use collaborative language as well:
“I know how much anxiety it can produce to see people in our timelines going on about something like this, but we can’t prioritize our comfort and convenience over other people’s safety” – “When we’re saying ‘leave it to the police’ and shutting down other methods of recourse, we’re not only abdicating social responsibility to communicate a danger to people who may run into this person, but failing to recognize how high the bar is for something like this to become legally actionable — if we wait to meet that threshold, perhaps nothing ever happens and people keep getting hurt.”
Material outcomes > personal dynamics. Collaborative linguistic structures > direct characterization and indictment.
I definitely don’t write this stuff to make friends or I’d stick to safe stuff. You win some and lose some, but I can try to learn from it.
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