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Interview with Dr. Zidenberg

Please note that this transcript is automatically generated and contains many inaccuracies

[00:00:00] Toggle: All right, welcome back fellow zoos. It’s Toggle and Aqua and we are joined by a very special guest today. This is Alexandra Zydenberg who is currently an assistant professor at the Royal Military College of Canada and previously you completed your PhD in Applied Social Psychology at the University of Saskatchewan, which is where we’re familiar with you from.

Is that correct?

[00:00:23] Alexandra: That is correct, yes.

[00:00:26] Toggle: For those of you who do not know, Dr. Zydenberg has worked with our community previously, on research projects, involving the community. That is mostly what we’re going to be talking about today. start this off with what is it that made you actually want to research the topic of zoophiles in the first place?

[00:00:46] Alexandra: Sure. So it was actually a little bit of an accident that I got into this area. A happy accident because I find it quite interesting, but unexpected. so originally, at the University of Saskatchewan, I was working on a very different dissertation about something completely different. and a friend of mine had went to a presentation at a conference on animal sexual abuse specifically.

And we were interested in that topic and we ended up, designing a study about what veterinarians know about animal sexual abuse. And then as I was, reading for that project, I kind of stumbled into, literature on zoophilia specifically. And I thought it was a very interesting topic and I realized there wasn’t a lot of information in that area.

So we ended up making another project, the one that I worked with Zooville a bit and the zoophile community to actually complete. those two projects were never meant to go together. They were never meant to be my dissertation, but unfortunately my first dissertation supervisor actually passed away.

And in order to finish my PhD, those two projects got kind of. clumped together into this really weird, difficult to manage, bigger project because they are

quite different. They focus on different subject areas and it was really hard to put them together into

something that made sense.

[00:02:23] Toggle: Yeah, that makes sense to me. Now, you did mention you did a literature review in preparing for your veterinary one that led you to looking into zoophilia. So, you found that there was not a lot of stuff there. What was it that you were hoping to contribute to the collective understanding about zoophilia?

[00:02:40] Alexandra: Uh, for the most part, what we wanted to really look at was coming up with some sort of scale or measure that could better, capture the full picture of zoophilia because as it stands right now, Zoophilia in psychology gets lumped under a category called paraphilias not otherwise specified.

[00:03:07] Toggle: Right.

[00:03:08] Alexandra: any specific kind of criteria for those paraphilias.

So when you’re doing research or clinical work, that makes it It’s a little bit difficult to conceptualize kind of what goes into zoophilia. And what you see in research is a lot of the time you’ll get kind of a yes or no question of are you attracted to animals, yes or no. And that gives you some information.

But human sexuality is quite varied, whether people are attracted to humans or animals. Or whatever it is they’re attracted to. So a simple yes or no question just isn’t adequate to capture the whole concept. So what we were really interested in was trying to make a measure that could better capture the construct of zoophilia.

And that could really help open up avenues for research in the future.

[00:04:04] Toggle: Yeah, absolutely. I definitely agree. Yes or no is really not going to cover it from my own experience and even just talking to other zoos about what interests them as zoophiles. It’s so varied.

[00:04:15] Alexandra: Yeah, it really is. I was quite, I was blown away by all of the variety of responses, and the variety of, different animal attractions that were reported in those studies. So it was quite, quite an interesting experience for me as someone who’s not part of the zoophile community.

[00:04:33] Aqua: I’d like to go back to the conversation that you had with your colleague about the conference that they attended, where there was a discussion about ASA, so that’s Animal Sex Abuse. is there a formal definition that you’re using for this? what does that include?

[00:04:48] Alexandra: Uh, there is a definition that’s provided by Smith and Blackwell. and from my memory, it’s sexual contact that Causes harm to the animal.

Um, it is a more nuanced definition, but I can’t remember it word for word.

[00:05:07] Aqua: I see.

[00:05:08] Toggle: I actually find that very interesting.

[00:05:10] Aqua: yeah, I’m surprised that it’s so general because that would seem to include a huge range of acceptable activities that are of sexual nature, that we simply do to animals without even asking in a commercial setting.

[00:05:23] Alexandra: There is quite a bit of, philosophical debate on why we allow some things and not others, which is not my area of expertise, but I’ve read into it a a little bit.

[00:05:34] Aqua: the season finale for Season 5 was, a discussion about, the mainstream belief system, which it has come to be known as carnism, and it describes a mechanism that allows people to, create psychological distance from their moral values and what they would consider correct or reasonable behavior and what actually occurs on their behalf.

the discussion we had was mainly around, animal agriculture and our food system, Toggle and I, if you didn’t know, are both vegan, so we’ve been thinking about this for a really long time, and it’s always bothered us that, basically every minute of every day, there is some animal product being produced and sold that is entirely dependent on, uh, veganism.

Animal sex abuse by the definition that, you know, we just heard, and yet there are very neat exceptions written into most of the legislation, around animal sex abuse, which, permits it, puts a lot of focus on zoophilia.

[00:06:41] Toggle: And it’s interesting to me that it, that the definition involves harm specifically, because that opens up the debate of like, okay, what is harmful and what’s not? so that’s why I thought that was interesting as well.

[00:06:53] Aqua: Mm hmm.

[00:06:54] Alexandra: definitely a really big, Really complicated question on why we allow some things, but not others. And, I’m probably not the best person to answer it, but, um, it brings in a lot of different areas like philosophy, a bit of psychology probably as well, on why we’re willing.

To allow some things that serve us and why we define some other things as being deviant.

[00:07:25] Aqua: somebody quipped recently, , about this. it may have been you. and it was simply that, at least the zoophile asks.

[00:07:31] Toggle: Yeah, that was me.

[00:07:32] Aqua: okay, so maybe we’ll come back to, the ASA question later. when we, talk about your other study, which was, intended for doctors of veterinary medicine, we know first hand it was an awkward combination and it created a bit of stress for us, thankfully cooler has prevailed pretty quickly,

[00:07:53] Toggle: Yeah.

[00:07:54] Aqua: and, and actually I think, there may have been some good from combining those because it does address some other difficulties that zoos have.

And it confirms a few things that we’ve been living with, and, and trying to work with. you know, if there’s time, we’ll, we’ll get to it.

[00:08:11] Toggle: I want to come back to the actual study that you did with zoos. So you put together this study. what did you find that really surprised you? other than, I know you talked about like the variety of the sexuality that was involved. What other things did you find that surprised you there?

[00:08:29] Alexandra: I’m a bit of a stats nerd, so the part that I found the most interesting or the most surprising, uh, was the four subscales that we created.

[00:08:39] Toggle: Hmm.

[00:08:40] Alexandra: so We were able to kind of group people, to put it as simply as I can, into one of four kind of categories. The

first was just,

a scale that we called zoophilia.

So that just covered really generally kind of a sexual attraction to animals. Then we had people who fell into, the category that we called opportunism. So those are people who are not necessarily attracted to animals sexually, um, or romantically, but they would have sex with an animal if the opportunity were.

we had our zoo sadism and zoo necrophilia scale. So those are people who are especially interested in harm to the animal, causing pain and even death, or having sexual relations with dead animals.

And then, last but not least, we had a subscale that we called, furry sex.

So those are people who are more interested in the sexual aspects of the furry fandom.

[00:09:47] Toggle: How do each of those four indicators there contribute to like the overall probability that someone is actually a zoophile?

[00:09:54] Aqua: or or is it the other way?

[00:09:56] Alexandra: It’s sort of the other way. I can’t necessarily say that it predicts whether or not you’re going to be a zoophile, but the scale is able to discriminate well between people who do say that they are attracted to animals and people who say that they aren’t. So we did have a little yes or no question, and we were kind of able to confirm that those subscales classed people correctly.

[00:10:21] Toggle: Interesting.

[00:10:22] Aqua: I think, I remember when I read, your paper, there was a special note at the end, in the discussion that, , tried to make it really clear that the relationship had some directionality there, and that it wouldn’t be right to infer that someone who was in any one of those, categories was a zoophile yeah, there was some confusion around that, or the idea that if somebody Really, Zoophiles are more likely to fall into one of these other subscales or endorse something from them. That seems like an important distinction to make, and when I read it, I thought about How others are going to receive this work and, how it might be editorialized or, consumed or transformed into something practical, so, how much consideration did you give, , to your discussion and, and your summary there, you know, for, for how it might be used later?

Is that even a factor when you’re doing this kind of work?

[00:11:27] Alexandra: Sure. so For me, my kind of philosophy on being a scientist involves thinking about the implications of all of our findings.

I, of course, I’m limited by my own experiences, my own background, my own lens for viewing the world. So I’m never going to perfectly capture. All of the potential harms that could come out of a piece of research, but it’s something that I do think about.

So, for this particular paper, Myself and my doctoral supervisor, tried really hard to present things as neutrally as possible. which is hard to do because I think it’s, it’s almost impossible to be neutral as a human. But we tried our best to just present the information as it stands, not to put any presumptions onto it.

What that means or, how that should be taken. We were trying our best just to present the information as it stood. we also did, provide the manuscript for review to, , a small number of individuals in the zoophile community so that they could flag anything that might be particularly harmful to the community that might be a misinterpretation.

As well as just to get a little bit of input from the community, because for us, not being part of the zoophile community, not having that attraction to animals, some of the ideas just don’t occur to us. so it was quite helpful in the interpretation of things as well to have that feedback, but it also was a way to, honor the contributions.

We understood that this is a very personal, very vulnerable piece of information for our participants. And we wanted to try our best to honor that and produce research that wouldn’t harm the community in exchange for participating in our research, because that’s something we definitely want to avoid.

I think the particular comment In the discussion the one that you brought up specifically might be that we only asked a self report of, zoophilia and it wasn’t assessed clinically.

[00:13:59] Aqua: Right.

[00:14:00] Alexandra: and that just means that. We’re relying on self report. So somebody could go in there, they could lie and say that they aren’t or they are zoophile, and we can’t really confirm whether or not that is the truth.

So that is a limitation to our findings. We’ll never be a hundred percent certain that everybody who said that they were a zoophile actually was, or

everybody who said no actually wasn’t, but we did some things to try to offset that. The survey was anonymous, we had a little bit of community buy in, community feedback, so we’re hopeful that those offset some of that risk.

[00:14:41] Aqua: I think, this is a good time to talk about that whole process, of, working alongside us to, craft this project. it’s been about, five years? since Z. T. Horse, first made a public effort to reach out to, academics and researchers who would be interested in studying us and having a tough time finding anyone to participate.

it’s not simply, oh, Hey, here’s our forum. , Submit your survey and have at it, no problem. there are some steps, that ZT asks everyone, to follow. and from there, I guess the survey’s direction and intent is, you know, he assesses it. I don’t really know what his criteria are. so I’m wondering, Alexandra, if you can, comment about how that process went, did you find that easy and cooperative, or was it adversarial or hopefully at least diplomatic?

[00:15:34] Alexandra: Sure, so as I said, this was part of my doctoral dissertation, so I was still a graduate student, a senior graduate student, but, I was definitely a bit nervous reaching out because I wasn’t sure how, I was going to be perceived or if I was going to get a response at all. But I was actually really, impressed by the level of interest.

That the community seems to have in research and their willingness to participate. I do research with quite a few, vulnerable groups, some stigmatized groups, and not everybody is interested in participating in research or participating in the research process. so I was really. happy, and really excited to have so much interest in the research.

when I don’t work with vulnerable, communities, I often work with students who are mostly just there to get their research credit and get out, and they do not care at all. so it’s really actually refreshing to have people who are, interested in the results and the process and, really all of those steps along the way.

and it was quite easy to work with the community, I would say. it did take quite a bit of work. There was, quite a bit of back and forth and, trying to kind of come to an understanding on different measures or why certain things were not changeable. Like, if it’s a standardized scale,

it’s hard to change things because

[00:17:06] Aqua: Yeah, because your result wouldn’t match anything else, it wouldn’t be comparable. Um,

[00:17:11] Alexandra: some of those, those little things were a little bit hard to reconcile, but not necessarily because it was difficult to work with the community, just because they’re big concepts that are, are difficult. but

overall it was quite smooth.

[00:17:27] Toggle: let’s actually talk a little bit about how the, uh, the study went there as well. I remember the initial thing that we actually got to take a look at from the beginning. and it involved like animal pictures and things like that. Can you explain the methodology behind the initial study?


[00:17:42] Alexandra: so the initial study. involved a bunch of animal photos, which did actually make it to the final product as well. A scale that was created by the research team, and that’s the scale that ended up being the sexual interest in animals self report. If

you read that final paper, that’s the one that has those four subscales.

And then there was, couple psychometric measures that were in there that didn’t make it into the final product. Then there was the paraphilias scale. So that was a scale looking at other paraphilias or other sexual interests that people might have. And a demographics questionnaire, which we tried our best to Make, non identifying.

That was a concern for us, for research ethics at our institution and for the community itself. is there anything specific you would like to know about the creation of, any of those?

[00:18:45] Aqua: curious about the composition of the animal photos.

[00:18:50] Alexandra: Sure.

[00:18:51] Aqua: I remember laughing at some of them and thinking, like, wow, really? You know, this is, it’s a blurry, pixelated picture of a cat on a folding chair. You know, it looks like it was, uh, you know, screencapped from a video, and there were a couple of others in there, I think there was a wolf, who was, in my opinion, a bombshell,


[00:19:14] Toggle: But then there are also like puppies too.

[00:19:16] Aqua: yeah, there were, there were puppies, so there were some, you know, in some of this I can figure out, like, okay, well, you know, this is a baby animal, so this will probably rank high on the cuteness scale, but I don’t know how anyone else is going to rate.

This animal on the sexiness scale, for example. but I, I guess this gets into experimental design. were there specific images that were understood, by you and your team to be like, okay, These are the ones that we’re looking at, and the rest are to establish a baseline, or, does that make sense?

[00:19:49] Alexandra: So I would say the picture part was entirely exploratory.

So we didn’t have a specific hypothesis that we were operating on. But what does exist in the literature is kind of, a mess, I would say, uh, any animal that you can think of, the literature points to and says, this is a popular animal.

This is one that many people are attracted to. And there isn’t a lot of information on what makes an animal attractive. If that is the same thing as cuteness. And then for human sexuality, you can be sexually attracted to, people or animals or whatever it is you’re attracted to, whoever you’re attracted to.

And you can be romantically attracted to them, and those aren’t necessarily always the same. So, what we wanted to do was look what that pattern of attraction looked like. And if there was a correlation between sexual attraction, romantic attraction, and cuteness.

[00:20:58] Toggle: Interesting. first studied it and it was like, are you romantically attracted? What I found interesting about that is every time I thought about it, I was like, I don’t know this animal. How can I tell if I’m romantically attracted to them? did that kind of question ever come up while you were exploring, you know, creating this methodology?

[00:21:17] Alexandra: For sure. I would say that’s a bit of a limitation. It’s hard to look at a photo of anyone or anything and deem that you are going to be romantically attracted to them or romantically interested in them. And we tried to include a little instruction that says, kind of imagine the future. Imagine what it could be like to be with this animal.

Would you be romantically attracted to them? It’s an imperfect metric for sure.

[00:21:46] Aqua: I see. So the intention there is for participants to consider it like people watching. you know, if if they’re on like a busy main street, or they’re at a restaurant or something, and just

[00:21:57] Toggle: I could see myself with that dog.

[00:21:59] Alexandra: Yeah, exactly. it’s something that could be looked at in more detail in the future. We did find that there was some correlation between romantic and sexual attraction ratings, but cuteness, not so much. a cute animal was just a cute animal. It didn’t necessarily correlate with that attraction.

[00:22:21] Toggle: So how did the methodology evolve from your initial conception of the study? There are a lot of things that made it to the end, what sort of things changed as you worked with the zoo community to really kind of finalize how things were going?

[00:22:33] Alexandra: most of what was in the initial study did make it to the end. we added more photos of animals, different varieties of animals. The way those animals were chosen, if you would like to know, was I went on Google, I picked photos that were available, to be used commercially, so that we didn’t get in trouble using copyrighted photos, and I just typed in cat or dog or whatever it was.

So I just kind of picked them at random, the best photos that were available.

[00:23:06] Aqua: You know, it’s, that may have been the last opportunity we have in history to just Google pictures of animals, and get real animals back.

[00:23:15] Alexandra: Yeah, that is probably true. but again, as someone outside of the community, I honestly don’t know what makes an animal attractive. So, I did get some feedback that some of the photos I took were not particularly attractive, or they were not what people would be interested in, so I went and found some different photos.

I added some animal categories that I hadn’t thought of. I think, dolphins, camels, tigers, and others that I’m forgetting now. But definitely those three were added in based on some feedback, which was very, very helpful because, from the outside. It’s something I never, never would have thought of or never would have corrected without that feedback from the community.

And then I think the other biggest change is that there were a couple scales that, were not well received. so, we took those out. I think it would have been interesting information to have, but the feedback was that they would be Very ill received by the community. We would lose some trust, lose some buy in, and we decided that it was more important to get the best information we could with the scales that were less objectionable and to kind of let that drop.

[00:24:42] Toggle: Yeah, I can understand that. , full disclosure for anyone who’s listening, obviously Aqua and I did participate, in this research. and I will just kind of disclose one of them. I remember going through these questions and it was like, does your wife scream when you beat her, yes or no?

And I was like, what kind of question is this? when you say like a scale, or a metric, are they like individual questions or were they like, Like a system, like a paradigm of like, this is something that is standardized that we use all the time, but it’s kind of objectionable.

[00:25:10] Alexandra: It’s adapted from a standardized scale that’s used in other paraphilia research.

[00:25:17] Toggle: I see. Okay. You did work with the community on this particular one. From the start of ZT Horses research outreach effort There have been some concerns from some site users That we have to be careful about quote unquote like putting our thumbs on the scales And that means like researchers can’t let zoos participate in shaping the research questions because it threatens the independence of their work I kind of get the idea that’s not really the case.

What made it okay for us to help you? Where’s the line there between like, your independence and, making sure that it’s objective, , versus, making sure everyone buys into what you’re asking.

[00:25:54] Alexandra: Sure. it’s definitely. Something somewhat tricky to navigate. And it really depends on your approach to science and kind of the, the philosophy behind your science. So often we operate from, positivist philosophy or a lens, and that is that there is one reality.

And we can measure and capture that reality. And if you’re doing research from a positivist framework, then you have to be objective, completely removed from the process. And you are supposed to be this stone, untouchable, objective person. I can do positivist research. but for a project like this.

I wouldn’t say that’s the lens that I take. I take more of, an alternative approach, where we look at, the world as having multiple realities, and those realities are shaped by our experiences, by our interests, and by people existing in those places. So if we think about science in that frame, then it’s actually quite helpful to have the input of people who are from those communities, who have those experiences, so that we can capture their reality.

So I would say that’s more of my approach for these projects. And within that approach, I get to be the expert in research methodology. In analysis, in a bit on the science behind human sexuality, behind paraphilias, but I am not an expert in being a zoophile, being attracted to animals, being part of that community.

So I think it only helps to have that voice in there because it allows us to do better science, to better understand the reality that we’re operating within.

[00:28:01] Toggle: Entirely inclined to agree with you there. You did mention you were doing a parallel study as part of your. Dissertation with Veterinary Professionals,

um, we did find that, during the time where we were doing this study,

[00:28:16] Alexandra: I got lots

of angry e


[00:28:18] Toggle: it caused a little friction there. you did use different language than you did with interfacing with zoos directly regarding, uh.

Festiality and zoophilia. What considerations led you to making those choices in language that you did with, the veterinarian professionals?

[00:28:33] Alexandra: Sure. they are quite different studies, different populations, different constructs that we were looking at. So that necessitates different language. So, if we use the exact same language in both studies, both of those communities are going to object to language that we use, because it doesn’t fit what we’re trying to study.

It doesn’t fit their experience of the world. So for the vet study, we were quite focused on, , their ability to detect harm to those animals. we did ask them if they knew the difference between and, bestiality, but beyond that, we weren’t really interested in their understanding of zoophilia itself.

We were more focused on their training in detecting abuse, whereas on the, zoophilia side, we were interested in understanding sexual attraction, which is a very different question. So, to be appropriate for both of those groups, to be appropriate for our research question, our research design, we used very different language, very different questions, and really they were never meant to kind of go side by side.

[00:29:49] Toggle: I am curious though, since they did go side by side, what did you find that was enlightening in your veterinary professional study?

[00:29:56] Alexandra: Sure, so I would say From the beginning that project was quite interesting. I didn’t know it when I started the project, but there is a big, taboo in veterinary medicine about talking about sexual abuse, which is kind

of odd because they will talk about reproductive health. They’ll talk about animal husbandry.

But the second that you want to broach the subject of sexual contact with animals, sexual harm with animals, everybody kind of shuts down. So it was very difficult to find someone who would act as a consultant for that project. and I would say in light of that, the results actually were not that surprising.

[00:30:38] Aqua: I was not surprised at all. Uh,

[00:30:41] Alexandra: I can imagine. The results really showed us that veterinarians get no training on animal sexual abuse. they didn’t really want to talk about it. Although they did endorse wanting more training in it, they really had no information.

[00:30:59] Toggle: See, that’s so interesting. I get what you say makes total sense, but at the same time it’s fascinating to me that they literally just don’t want to talk about it at all,

[00:31:10] Alexandra: I agree.

[00:31:11] Aqua: it reminds me of, another, community that is measured by one of your subscales from the, zoophilia study. which really, really doesn’t want to talk about the thing in the room. There’s almost no airspace for it, but is equally motivated, to identify, zoos or animal sex abusers, so that they can be removed. I think the root of both of these, groups is that, because there is no good information and because it is so volatile, that disgust or, discomfort really prevent any kind of meaningful discussion to happen. there were a couple of things in, the veterinarian study that jumped out at me.

I said before I wasn’t surprised at all that, vets on the whole, don’t feel like they are adequately trained or prepared to identify abuse, in their patients. There was also, some interesting discussion around the patient client provider relationship, which is a business relationship, so there’s potential conflicts there that might dampen their interest in, being more proactive. the one that, I saw right away was that, there was uncertainty, in your sample of veterinarians that they would even be able to identify abuse, if there was no physical harm present. and the more time that passes, of course, the condition of the animal improves evidence degrades, so, there’s maybe an animal welfare, complication here as well, in that if vets are much better prepared, let’s imagine, , to detect animal sexual abuse, that might discourage, their clients from bringing animals in, out of fear that they would be wrongfully accused of, of something, um, And this is a reality that zoos have to deal with.

Navigate every day. So, I wonder if you had, thought about how that could be resolved, or, or is that a much bigger, social difficulty, than simply, Making sure that that’s, more prepared and understand that, yes, it falls under their, mandated reporting.

[00:33:23] Alexandra: I do think it’s a bigger question, and it doesn’t just apply to animals who are abused. It applies to, humans as well. and that’s

always something that we have to balance, where we want our medical providers, whether they’re, doctors for humans or veterinarians, We want them to have the best information to detect if their patients are being harmed, but there’s always the balance of, perpetrators of that harm.

in this case, it was actually animals not wanting to bring their pets in to get that care

[00:34:02] Toggle: I should also specify, . I think not only people who would cause harm, but people who would understand that they are trying not to cause harm at all might also be nervous about it if they’re having sexual interactions with animals. Right.

[00:34:17] Alexandra: Yes, for sure. Or attitudes towards veterinary medicine, wider views on that relationship, and how to best navigate that is something that we, or I say we because I’m used to working on a team, but, for the research side, it’s, it’s just me. So that’s something that I am interested in, exploring in this new study that I’m developing alongside a small research advisory council, composed of zoophiles from Zooville, so that’s something that we are hoping to get some more information on.

Because right now, we don’t really have very much information on that relationship and how that looks from the zoophile perspective. So I have a bit of information kind of on that ASA side from vets, but we don’t really know what that looks like for the zoophile community.

[00:35:17] Toggle: Well, that actually brings me to a really good question. Now, I understand you obviously did your doctorate and it involved zoophiles, but something there made you interested in continuing there. what was it that really sparked your interest to keep going? And what is it that’s coming next as far as you can actually talk about?

I know sometimes things are like, you don’t want to talk about them too far ahead, but I’m curious what other efforts are coming down the pipeline there.

[00:35:44] Alexandra: Sure. So I am a naturally curious person. And once I have the answer to one question, I probably have ten more questions. So I have a lot of things going on

at the same time in my head. I recently found out that I have ADHD so that the six tracks of things going on in my mind finally make sense.

[00:36:05] Aqua: Uh huh. Welcome to the jungle.

[00:36:08] Alexandra: But one of the byproducts of that I guess is that I really love to ask questions. And, at the end of my doctoral dissertation. I just had so many questions left, and the community seemed to really be interested in research and in answering those questions, as well. So, I just thought, well, I have this connection and this interest, I might as well keep going.

There are so many more things that we can learn. so, there’s a couple of projects going on at the same time. we’re currently writing a paper that, stems off of my dissertation, where we actually looked at, different genders. Within our sample. So when I did the initial analysis for my dissertation, for that paper that’s published, we actually found that we had a sizable number of people who didn’t identify as men or women, but they identified as a number of, non binary and transgenders.



wanted to look at that group for a couple of reasons. One, because in discussing research with the community, people who are, not within that gender binary have been brought up a few times. And the other big reason that I wanted to look at that group was because in human sexuality research, a lot of the time people who are trans or non binary get left out of the conversation.

A lot of the research that comes out for that group involves things like sex changes or

gender dysphoria and that’s interesting and worthy of exploration but to focus solely on that leaves this whole Yeah, exactly. There’s a whole unexplored world, really for people who are trans and non binary because there’s just so little research on them in general.

So we took a look at the differences between those groups and we did find a couple of interesting things. There were some different patterns of endorsement of paraphilias and on those four subscales of the scale that we created. and we really put out a call to other researchers to include people outside of the binary in their research, to report, more information about them so that we can learn more about what they are interested in, how, Sexuality looks and functions for them, because if we just focus on things like, gender or sex reassignment, we’re really missing out on things that could help them in the long run if they, are struggling with their sexuality, if they are interested in really exploring themselves more, having that information is really important. the other big project that I mentioned that included that vet. So, given the interest in research from the community, and that I am not, an expert in, the experience of being a zoophile, I adopted what’s called a community based participatory action research, approach.

Again, I am the expert in research methods. I know how to create a survey, how to analyze it, but I had a lot of community feedback on what was the most important questions that I should be asking, how those questions could be asked, and what’s worth looking at for you or for your community. So, We ended up with quite a few questions. It’s a quite a long survey. It’s currently, going through the research ethics approval process at my institution, which has involved a lot of questions and explanations, on my end, I would say, you mentioned people being uncomfortable or potentially, you know, I’m feeling some disgust at the subject, and I would say that’s quite a barrier research.

it’s people who are not very familiar with human sexuality at all who end up reviewing applications. so sometimes it can be quite difficult for people to understand why someone might be interested in. In asking questions about human sexuality, not just for zoophilia, that applies to almost every study on human sexuality.

It makes people uncomfortable, and that, that can cause some difficulties. But, I’m hopeful that in the next couple of months, , that will be approved and we’ll be able to start the rollout on actually collecting some data, and because it’s, community based participatory action research, I will run the analyses, I’ll write up those analyses in a way that makes sense, and then with that research advisory group That has been convened for me.

we’ll actually discuss, the implications of those findings and try to, somewhat co write a discussion together.

[00:41:41] Toggle: That sounds

super exciting. Haha. I’m really excited about that actually, to be honest.

[00:41:47] Alexandra: Thank you. Me too.

[00:41:48] Aqua: I’m, I’m hoping, this one, will have the, same or better level of engagement that some of the other studies that ZT has facilitated. one of the concerns that I’ve noted from other users on the website is that there’s a little bit. Fatigue, and skepticism in, having to answer the same kinds of questions on the standardized measures over and over again before getting to the heart of the matter. so one of the challenges that, I wonder if we could do a better job addressing is how to, better advocate for participation and help people to understand that this really is. that we have and it’s really important to just suck it up and get in your comfy chair and play some music and answer the damn questions. It sounds like from your explanation just now, this one is going to be extremely relevant right away.

[00:42:44] Toggle: I’m really

thrilled about the trans part. Yeah, absolutely. We have so many trans people in this community, they get totally overlooked by all research about zoos. They just do. And so that’s super exciting for me.

[00:42:56] Aqua: You did touch on something in the approval process that, , is, a question I’ve had for a while, and, uh, when we interviewed, Dr. Hanne Maletzky, she had an anecdote about how her peers, were really skeptical and worried about her, topic for her dissertation, but she was very stubborn and You know, didn’t really listen to them, and, and eventually, you know, they supported her effort. there are a lot of moving parts here, I think they’re different from one institution to another, according to, what the focus is, maybe budgetary concerns, I hate to say industry ties, but that’s, you know, that’s also, , a potential roadblock.

what have you encountered so far, with your study for, veterinary professionals and for us? Like, what has the, the feedback been like? has there been any, any noteworthy criticism?

[00:43:46] Alexandra: I would say with the VET study, Given that many vets don’t like to talk about the topic, it’s mostly just kind of flown under the radar. There’s been a couple kind of like newsletters or people who have cited it, but for the most part, there’s not a lot of discussion about that. for the zoophile paper, I’m sure you’re aware of some of the troubles that can come from social media,

[00:44:13] Aqua: oh yes.

[00:44:15] Alexandra: working in this field, working not necessarily just with zoophilia, any paraphilia research is a bit risky as a researcher, doing this podcast, for me, is It’s a bit risky as a researcher because you never know how the public is going to react to it.

And I would say that, myself, my colleagues in the area, we do occasionally get death threats.

[00:44:45] Toggle: oh

[00:44:45] Alexandra: People send, yeah, it’s just a bit

[00:44:49] Aqua: Wow, really guys?

[00:44:50] Alexandra: of the job

[00:44:51] Aqua: Ugh,

[00:44:52] Alexandra: and kind of an odd hazard because Even if you are against the paraphilias that we research, my philosophy is that you should want more information about those communities nonetheless.

[00:45:08] Aqua: right. If you’re going to be mad about something, at least know what it is.

[00:45:13] Toggle: I think, actually that’s counterintuitive. I think people who are mad about things want to know less and less about them.

so they don’t have to think about them.

[00:45:23] Alexandra: that seems to be how it works in practice, unfortunately. So, I would say for the most part, people have been quite positive about, that particular paper.

[00:45:34] Toggle: That’s good.

[00:45:35] Alexandra: Thank you. I have talked to quite a few people who based on their kind of their usernames or the symbols that they have in their profiles, uh, I do think they are part of the zoophile community, and for the most part, they have been very positive.

Every once in a while, I’ll get somebody who is upset, or, distrustful of the research,

but for the most part, I would say the community has been very interested, very engaged with that research. other professionals in human sexuality, paraphilia research, I’ve been quite accepting of the research. mostly it’s, members of the public who are not necessarily very informed about psychology, research, sexuality, who occasionally get very angry.

[00:46:22] Aqua: Mm hmm.

[00:46:23] Toggle: Well, I do want to say, like, we’re getting close to the time here, but I wanted to know if you had a little extra time for some more questions. We only have a couple more.

[00:46:32] Alexandra: I do. Yeah.

[00:46:34] Toggle: Okay. I wanted to make sure to respect your time here.

[00:46:36] Alexandra: Thank you. I appreciate that.

[00:46:38] Aqua: okay. I have, , I think probably the sharpest question that I wanted to ask. I promise it’s not too bad. when I read the discussion for the research, for the veterinary professionals. towards the end, I remember, a little bit of, speculation, I suppose, concerning a small number of vets that didn’t seem to strongly endorse, a position, uh, in the About a SA as, necessarily harmful. It’s been a little while since I looked at it, so that might not be exactly how it was phrased. there was a suggestion, for that small group of vets, that had a weaker endorsement, that they could be themselves, facilitating harm or participating in it themselves. And, I bristled at that one a little bit, probably because, again, because of being vegan and being aware of the nature of our food supply, and, you know, some of the irony there. but I wonder, who or why, , someone felt it was necessary to make that statement, given that, as you said, vets are so unwilling to discuss this. And there doesn’t seem to be a lot of oxygen in the room for any progress there.

[00:47:50] Alexandra: so unfortunately there are cases where vets have sexually abused animals.

They show up in the news every once in a while, but I know the, the exact part that you are talking about, and, it was actually a suggestion from a reviewer of the paper, and by suggestion, I mean, insistence that that was added in, for it to be published.

and it is speculation. We don’t know if those people Did, perpetrate sexual harm against animals or if they participated in anything related to that, but, given the difficulty in veterinary medicine with talking about those subjects, there is some insistence. That certain things be added in, not necessarily because they are fully empirically supported, but it is a possibility that there were some people who were perpetrating behaviors as well.

We don’t really know.

[00:48:48] Aqua: Okay. I don’t have anywhere near the credentials that you do. It seems to me that some degree of speculation is permissible, and it’s a good idea, perhaps, because it opens up, further questions and lines of study.

[00:49:02] Alexandra: Yeah, for sure. even with the complicated statistics, There is some level of speculation or, guessing. There’s a little bit of art that goes into science, and that is entirely permissible, and it does help open those avenues of research. so, it’s not a thread I intend to pull anytime soon, but, maybe somebody else would be interested in looking or digging into that a little bit further.

[00:49:33] Aqua: yeah, okay. it jumped out at me, because I think it really highlights, the tension that zoos find themselves in with our relationship with, our, veterinarians or our animal family. And that is, we are aware that, you know, our relationships might not be outwardly harmful. in fact, we work very hard to make sure they’re not.

And that makes us invisible. But, that doesn’t stop, say, social or legal discussions about us from happening anyway.

[00:50:03] Toggle: Right.

[00:50:03] Aqua: And, it leads to some really, in my opinion, some really perverse and ironic, moments where, for example, having a really complete medical kit, in your hallway closet, in case there’s an emergency and you need to stop the bleeding for some reason.

Whether human or non human, if a zoo ends up in some trouble, the presence of that medical kit and competence, in all of its, accessories and, and instruments and just basic first aid, that becomes paraphernalia, along with, perhaps having certain research materials or certain books on the shelf.

[00:50:39] Toggle: Or you’ve been having art of furries on the walls.

[00:50:42] Aqua: right. so reading it, like I understood why it was there, but it stung. Because it’s only one, very real possibility for why the respondents, gave the answer they did.

[00:50:53] Alexandra: That is very fair. I will absolutely agree with you. It is only one explanation. and I can see how it would come across as not. Particularly, necessarily well informed.

[00:51:07] Aqua: yeah, that’s not to deny that there aren’t cases where, vets are discovered doing, terrible harm to, their patients. it does happen. There, I think there was one fairly recently, a couple years ago. for me, this is a core issue. It’s finding a way to bring the temperature down. In that relationship between high skilled, veterinary professionals who we rely on for emergency care that’s outside of our purview, and it’s difficult to imagine how this, relationship flips over, regarding sex where, every vet that I’ve ever seen, has been delighted that I’ve been so engaged and so willing to learn and it’s, you know, we’ve had appointments run long, Because there’s so much to talk about, and it’s fun, and it’s cool.

but this singular issue turns it on its head.

[00:51:56] Toggle: Let me ask like a, like a more general question that’s not as pointed.

[00:52:00] Alexandra: sure.

[00:52:01] Toggle: can you talk a little bit about the difference between quantitative and qualitative research efforts?

[00:52:08] Alexandra: Sure. so with quantitative research, , you’re really looking at reducing things down to numbers. So those are things like your scales, whether they’re validated or not. we have Likert scales where it’s like. You can rate something from, very favorable to very unfavorable, and at the end of those, what you’re doing is generally inferential statistics.

So you’re taking a small sample, that you’ve measured, and you are using that small sample to make guesses about the wider population. because often we don’t get access to bigger populations. so with this research that I’ve done, we take a sample from Zooville, from internet forums, from Twitter, all those places, because that’s all we have access to.

We’re never going to be able to, access the whole population of the world to, actually know what every zoophile thinks. So we use quantitative approaches with inferential statistics. With qualitative methods. We’re less, interested in that generalizability of going from a small sample to the bigger population.

And we’re much more interested in the context. So we look at where people live, what communities they participate in, kind of those more More contextual detail, for lack of a better word. what we’re measuring is not necessarily something numerical that we do statistics on. Qualitative research looks often at language or, on dialogue as our data.

But you can do it with other things as well. So you could qualitatively look at art.

I’ve seen some that looked at, uh, fabric, or needle art, or like different pieces of artwork made with thread and, and different fabrics. you can do qualitative on quite a few things, but we’re less interested in going from that sample to that bigger population.

With qualitative approaches, rather than having people fill out scales, it’ll often be things like interviews and focus groups, where you get people to talk about their experiences, their way of viewing the world, and you get really rich data that sometimes you can’t capture in a scale.

[00:54:37] Toggle: going back to the quantitative one there, it’s a common understanding that, you know, the larger your sample, the more you can trust it to make inferences on a larger unsampled population. But people might not understand if it’s more complicated, like how large is actually large enough.

And how, you know, selective can you be in your sample before you run into trouble with this?

[00:55:00] Alexandra: with most of our inferential statistics, the answer’s gonna be a little bit different based on what kind of method you’re doing. Generally, you want at least 50 people per condition that you’re looking at. But that’s on the lower end of things. So, when you’re planning out a study, and you know the statistics that you want to use, so maybe you want to use a t test, or an ANOVA, or a regression, we do what’s called a power analysis.

And that tells us, uh The sample size we need, so the number of people we need, to be pretty sure that we’re going to be able to detect if there is a difference there, statistically. It’s a little bit more complicated than that. I teach stats, but I won’t, I won’t do a stats lecture. I’ll spare everyone that.

but essentially, you can actually calculate how many people you will need, So that you are pretty sure you’re not going to miss.

[00:56:06] Aqua: I’m so glad that you’re able to stay longer and, talk shop with us. that’s, um, that’s not something we’ve been able to do, with really yet. Hmm, hmm, hmm.

[00:56:14] Alexandra: Yeah, I’m glad there’s nothing really, going on for me tonight. So, um, I’m happy to chat about research longer.

[00:56:24] Aqua: I’ve

got two questions left. do you want to talk about furries or sampling bias?

[00:56:29] Alexandra: Uh, whichever you would prefer. I’m good with either.

[00:56:32] Aqua: Okay let’s do sampling bias then. As zoos, we’ve been critical, of some of the existing research, that’s currently being used, for example, to lobby lawmakers to pass laws with harsher penalties for anyone convicted for sex with an animal. those studies, we find, tend to be small and, convenience samples, whatever that means, and they seem to focus on, incarcerated persons who are in prison for some other violent sex crime, and they, attempt to measure their endorsement of interest in animals as victims or as, potential gateways.

to violence against humans, basically establishing that there’s a connection from one to the other. and what ends up happening is, they infer that there’s, real violence or potential for that violence, that must exist in zoos who are free. I’m not convinced that that’s a valid, position to take.

I can think of a number of basic arguments about, bias, I mean, survivorship bias comes to mind. but I’m wondering what you think about this, and, and maybe this gets back into the prior material, research that you did in the very beginning, if you found something similar.

[00:57:46] Alexandra: Sure. so I would say. Yeah. I agree. It is the case that quite a bit of the research that exists, has looked at what in my field we would call forensic samples. So those are people who are incarcerated or somehow, in contact with the law. And that is limiting because If we think about, our legal system, and who is likely to come into contact with our legal system, generally, we’re talking about people who have more extreme behaviours, potentially more deviance in other ways, in attitudes, things like that, and they don’t necessarily represent, um, The entire population.

so if we think about going from a small sample to our wider population, the sample that we have is potentially different from our population for a number of reasons that come into contact with the law. So I don’t think It’s fair to fully generalize to everyone who, has a sexual interest in animals if we’re talking about zoophilia or any paraphilia, just from people who are incarcerated or have been arrested or whatever, I think to do that, you end up with more of those extreme cases and you miss out on a lot of the people who aren’t necessarily, perpetrating those same behaviors or, you know, doing things in the same way as those people in those little samples.

And that’s actually a danger with any type of research. So, it is really, really hard to get fully representative samples. And to be able to do some of those sampling techniques, you need to know the composition of that full population. Which, a lot of the times, just isn’t very possible. If we’re looking at, , the demographical characteristics of Canadians, because we have a census, we can go in and kind of make a guess at that.

Or all Canadian women, or something like that. That’s a little bit easier We don’t know about that population, but if we’re talking about something like paraphilia, or even people who have, certain mental health diagnoses, if we’re talking about psychology research, or, whatever it is we’re interested in, oftentimes we don’t know what that population looks like.

We’re not able to create something that would be representative of that. So we end up taking our little samples. and those little samples are limiting in some ways. We don’t know how representative they are of the whole population. But as human beings, as researchers, we have to do our best with what we have.

And one way that we have to do that is be very clear as researchers about our limitations. So, anybody who does research with forensic samples should acknowledge. This is a forensic sample. They don’t necessarily represent the whole. Whether that’s understood by politicians, then, completely different question.

But, the way we take our samples, where we get our participants from, definitely can have an impact on our ability to generalize.

[01:01:15] Toggle: I really

appreciate that. Thank

you. It’s a little validating because like, man, it sucks to see those, those kinds of things pop up.

[01:01:21] Alexandra: In the paper that we published, we actually specifically say, uh, it’s like measurement and correlates of zoophilia in a community sample. So we are saying that specifically we looked at people who were not incarcerated. and that is kind of a flag to other researchers reading it, that we are looking at a community sample.

so there are a couple of community samples that exist, some colleagues. At, a university in Halifax, Nova Scotia here in Canada, just recently did some research with, individuals who are interested in breath play and they looked at a community sample. there’s a couple other community sample research that has come up recently, but.

you have to seek out those community samples because a lot of what exists. Is forensic samples, which has its, its limits.

[01:02:14] Aqua: Right. and finding those communities, of people who don’t have very good incentives to want to be seen in the first place. you know, that’s really at the heart of, the purpose of this interview and the work that we’re going to, build around it is, for a few decades, people in my community, Were essentially underground, except for a few very, very overtly zooey individuals. There’s a lot of reasons why that happened. They’re not good, but lot of discussion and a lot of change took place around that. Without us being present. So, this is really, I think, the reason, that, ZT and others, like Toggle and me are out here trying to make it possible to study, zoos who have not found themselves in legal trouble, which is new, You know, five years ago, I don’t think this would have been possible.

[01:03:07] Alexandra: Sure. I would say that as a researcher, it’s more difficult to do research with community groups because you do have to form those relationships. You do have to kind of have that back and forth. Whereas with forensic samples, they’re kind of a captive audience, as long as you can get access to their data, through like Correctional Services Canada or the U.

S. counterpart. it’s easy to, to go in and do that. also I would Say it’s in the community’s interest to work with researchers. Because people who have, more nefarious motives, they can still find the information. They can go and scrape social media. They can find forums and analyze those posts and put whatever spin they would like on it.

But if the community would like more research that serves their purposes, if they’re interested in learning more about specific things. It makes sense to work with researchers. and I say that as someone who tries my best to work with communities, I’m sure not every researcher always has the best purposes.

But, I think for the most part, if someone is reaching out, they’re willing to at least have that conversation. that’s a conversation worth having.

[01:04:29] Toggle: Amen to that. All right,

is our last one, I promise.

[01:04:33] Alexandra: Perfect.

[01:04:34] Aqua: oh yeah, this is, this is a bonus.

[01:04:36] Toggle: Bonus question. So, FurSciences latest publication actually does cite your work, kind of really the first time they’ve really acknowledged the elephant in the room when it comes to zoophilia, but a lot of what they’re doing still is kind of, it feels like they’re downplaying. the, prevalence of zoophiles in the community.

and one of the things they say while they’re citing this research of zoophiles, and yours of course does make mention of zoophiles. You know, a furry aspect to your, indicators for zoophilia. Now, I’ll say for our audience, it is, there is directionality there, it is not that being a furry makes you more likely to be a zoophile, so much as the other way around.

If you’re a zoophile, there’s a likelihood that you’re also a furry, correct? Okay, so basically what it comes down to is they’re like, you know, we have this access to the furry community, that other researchers do not, and so it, they basically speculate that other researchers just don’t know The furry community the way they do, don’t have the access to the furry community the same way that they do, and thus can’t draw a lot of conclusions about the prevalence of, for instance, zoosexuality in furry. do you think that’s a fair assessment? You know, given that their data is relatively available, or maybe in other words, do you feel like you were at a disadvantage because you lacked sufficient understanding of the furry community when studying our community? Or that other research institutions might be at such a disadvantage.

[01:06:08] Alexandra: I mean, I would say I’m not an expert in furry culture and actually, when my dissertation Was published before the actual research article was published. the, research group at Fur Science, gave a little bit of commentary on my dissertation that, we had focused mainly on the sexual aspect of things.

Which is

very fair criticism. Because that is what we did. So in the published version, if you compare it to my dissertation, the subscale actually changed. So in my dissertation we say furry subscale. In the published version, we say the furry sex subscale, because that is what we were interested in.

We’re interested in the sexual aspect. The rest of furry fandom is interesting for someone else to research. It’s not really my domain. and for whatever reason, I did see that citation come through and rather than citing the published version of that paper, they cite my dissertation, which is fine.

It’s still the same information, but it lacks that little change where we talk about it being the furry sex subscale. I felt it was a little unfair for them to say that we obviously don’t know what we’re talking about, because We reduced it just to the sexual aspect when we actually do acknowledge that.

they know a lot about furry culture that I don’t, and that’s fine. I don’t think it necessarily was a disadvantage for the particular questions that we were asking. If we were asking about furry fandom more generally, I would say absolutely. They absolutely have an advantage because they are embedded in that community.

They know a lot about it. they have all of that information. but for the tiny slice that we were looking at, I think we probably had adequate information. not that we couldn’t learn more. I would love to learn more about the subject, be more embedded in that research, but it, it wasn’t really the purpose of that particular group.

[01:08:26] Aqua: So, it’s interesting that you mention that. so, FurScience, has been, operating for just over a decade, and, it would be unfair to them to say that they are anything less than the gold standard regarding furry research and data. They are, hands down. But, I wonder if the opposite scenario is possible here, where because Furscience is so embedded with the furry fandom and with fanship, that, they are less able to separate themselves from their work, and their mission statement in order to address more difficult topics. so Ophelia in the fandom is real. There’s quite a lot of us there, and it’s a continuous frustration that we have, that they, they don’t seem to give it the attention or the care that it really deserves. and ultimately, I think that’s detrimental to, furry fandom in the long run. could it be that, their proximity to this work is, actually affecting their, ability to, study this?

[01:09:33] Alexandra: I, honestly don’t know any of them, very well. I, I’ve read a little bit of their research. There is a chapter in the book that they just published that does go over a little bit about zoophilia. so I would feel bad, speculating on that because I’m not entirely sure

what their backgrounds are.

I don’t know if any of them have training In things like or kind of the more general side of human sexuality, so having that lack of knowledge could mean that some of those pieces of the puzzle get dropped, but I’m, I’m not sure, and they are experts in, furry culture, and I definitely, don’t want to disparage them or say that they’re not experts,


they are,

[01:10:22] Aqua: Of course.

[01:10:23] Alexandra: Yeah, so I’m not a hundred percent sure.

I would say that sometimes if you are very embedded in a community, it can lead to blind spots or it can lead to, sometimes rigid thinking. not just for people who are in the furry fandom. I mean, I’m a woman. Sometimes I do research on women and I’m very bound by my own experiences. My own way of looking at things.

So, sometimes being embedded in communities or in identities can definitely shape the way that you look at them. but, I don’t want to, I don’t want to say anything mean about them without having the whole picture.

[01:11:05] Aqua: That’s, that’s absolutely fair.

[01:11:06] Toggle: them anyway.

[01:11:08] Aqua: Yeah, most of what I have to say is, effervescent praise. It’s, uh, it’s just that one little thing.

[01:11:17] Alexandra: Yeah, I would say they seem a little resistant to the idea. but again, I’ve never really tried to speak with them about it or really, dig into it. So I don’t know if that’s the case or if that’s just how it kind of has come across.

[01:11:34] Aqua: Fair enough.

[01:11:34] Toggle: Fair enough. Thank you so much, Alexander, for actually coming and taking even extra time to speak with us today. We really appreciate you and we appreciate the work you’re doing with the community, and we hope to be a part of it for however long you continue doing it.

[01:11:49] Alexandra: Thank you. I really appreciate that.

[01:11:50] Aqua: forward to the next thing.

[01:11:52] Alexandra: Same.

[01:11:53] Toggle: Uh, speaking of the next thing, I want to give you a chance, if there’s anything that you’re working on or anything that you want to shout out, I’ll give you the floor to have the last word if there’s anything you just kind of want to say to the community or anything like that.

[01:12:05] Alexandra: Sure. I guess the biggest thing I would like to say is to thank everyone for putting their trust in me, and for answering really sensitive questions, and, really trusting that I will be responsible with those answers, and, and sharing some difficult questions. Subjects and difficult, experiences with me.

I really appreciate that. I know it’s hard and I hope I have lived up to the trust that you’ve put into me. Otherwise I would just say, keep an eye out for the next survey that will hopefully be out fairly soon. I am on social media. I have a website where you can find email address. If you do have any questions, I am happy to answer them.

[01:12:54] Toggle: that address, of course, is alexandrazeidenberg. com.

[01:12:59] Alexandra: Yes, that is my website. Yes.

[01:13:02] Toggle: Alright, well thank you so much, we really appreciate you, and of course, as always, stay tuned for more Zooier Than Thou.