The Science is Cisgendered: Gender-Neutral Cats Are the Civil Rights Struggle of Our Age

 

tumblr_inline_mnvkilXfzB1qz4rgpDon’t laugh at Washington Post editor Lauren R. Taylor. She is an earnest young woman with a passion for social justice. Which is why the Pulitzer-laden newspaper devoted precious editorial space to explain how she’s raising her cats as gender-neutral.

My new cats were freaking out. In carriers in the back seat of the car, they yowled their displeasure. I reassured them: “Don’t worry boys, we’ll be home soon.”

Whoops! I had called them boys, when in fact they were girls. An understandable mistake, as I’ve had cats for about 50 years, and all of them have been male. “I’m going to have to work on using the right pronouns,” I thought. And then another thought: “Why? They’re cats.”

We’ve all been there. Just the other day, Calvin the Wonderbeagle yanked a new loaf of Nature’s Pride Honey 7 Grain off my kitchen counter and consumed it in four bites. After I yelled, “Dude, why are you such a jackass?!” his mournful eyes told the story better than words ever could: I have yet to self-identify as a “dude” and certainly am no donkey. It’s just like a white human oppressor to define my species, take me captive, and exploit me as the unterhund to your übermensch. Now rub my belly.

I evolved a little bit that day. And, like Mx. Lauren R. Taylor, I too decided to raise my dog to be gender neutral, even though Calvin has a pee-pee instead of a woo-woo. Taylor’s insight continues:

The cats’ lives wouldn’t change, I reasoned, and it would help me learn to use plural pronouns for my friends, neighbors and colleagues who individually go by they, their and them. Even though using they, them and their as singular pronouns grates on many people because it’s grammatically incorrect, it seems to be the most popular solution to the question of how to identify people without requiring them to conform to the gender binary of female and male.

This oppressive gender binary is enforced by the male-oriented “hard” sciences (revealing name, that). They claim that “women” have two X chromosomes, while “men” have one X chromosome and one Y chromosome — the science is settled. More like the science is cisgendered.

Around the house, with just me, Essence and Trouble – named for Rare Essence and Trouble Funk, for the DC music lovers reading this – things were pretty easy. I’d make a mistake (called “misgendering”), saying something like “Where’s your brother?” (Yes, I talk to my cats.) Usually, I’d remember to fix it (“Where’s your sibling?” or “Where’s your pal?”). Just as I’d hoped, I began finding it easier to remember to use gender-neutral language for the humans in my life.

And I began to get an infinitesimal taste of what transgender and gender-nonconforming people face. I’m not talking about the outright bigotry and hatred –something I can’t know without being in their shoes — but the complete cluelessness. Friends would come over, I’d introduce the cats and their pronouns, and some would ask, “But what ARE they?” Some would randomly use “he” and “she.” Some would stumble, unable to form a sentence when talking about one of the cats.

Some claim that millennials are shallow for ignoring the oppression of rampant war, third-world poverty, and genital mutilation, but isn’t calling a female cat “her” a form of gender mutilation? The patriarchy’s rape culture is bad enough for humans; don’t inflict pronoun violence upon our feline companions.

If only the veterinary-industrial complex was ready to accept androgikittens.

Things got a little more real when Essence got sick. They were really sick. I took them to the vet and had to weigh the question: Do I explain their pronouns not only to the vet, but also the front-desk workers, the vet techs, and everyone else we interacted with?

I am eager to invite Mx. Taylor to my Memorial Day barbecue.

Before the illness was over, we saw five vets, two sets of front desk people, and countless vet techs. I chose to fall back on my cis-gender privilege (look it up) and used the singular pronoun for Essence. I understood that wouldn’t have been so easy if I were the patient — or if Essence were human.

While all of this was unfolding, friends would ask me: How is your cat? “They’re better” or “The same. The vets don’t know what’s wrong with them,” I’d say. “Wait a minute—are they both sick?” people would reply, confused.

Confusion privilege is to be expected when a part-time multi-platform editor at the Washington Post bravely deconstructs the deceptifice of misgendering feline phallocracy. But the real culprit is the proper grammar taught to us by adults who assumed toddlers want to identify as competent speakers of English.

It is confusing. We’ve had gender drilled into us as part of language since we first heard adults talking when we were infants – decades of “he” and “she.”

But at the same time it’s necessary. People are coming to understand that not all of us fit into the “girl” box or the “boy” box. Those who don’t are claiming space to be who they are. We all need to find ways to acknowledge and respect that. My way of respecting it just happens to be raising my cats gender neutral. You can choose your own.

Thank you, Mx. Taylor for enlightening us all. The next time I bring Calvin to the vet, I will make the staff call him “them,” because language shouldn’t be a means of communication, but a minefield of grievance. I just hope the vet doesn’t double charge me for the rabies shot.

There are 126 comments.

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  1. EJHill Podcaster

    My last two dogs were made gender neutral. It’s the duty of all responsible pet owners. Didn’t change their pronouns, though. I think my vet charges extra for that.

    • #1
    • April 5, 2016, at 4:38 PM PDT
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  2. Mollie Hemingway Contributor

    I can’t believe the original piece is real. It can’t be real, right? It can’t be real.

    • #2
    • April 5, 2016, at 4:39 PM PDT
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  3. Profile Photo Member

    If she can’t call them “he” or “she”, on what basis can she call them “cats”?

    • #3
    • April 5, 2016, at 4:43 PM PDT
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  4. Dave of Barsham Member

    r9k88T6

    The 21st century is getting pretty freaking tedious…

    • #4
    • April 5, 2016, at 4:48 PM PDT
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  5. Mollie Hemingway Contributor

    This WaPo essay is so bad that even the WaPo commenters — as bad as they come — are mocking this piece.

    • #5
    • April 5, 2016, at 4:56 PM PDT
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  6. Valiuth Member

    I have many questions and comments about this. First off, isn’t she just imposing her own will upon her cats? How does she know her cats wish to not gender identify. Did they tell her? Or did she just choose to violate their bodies by removing their sexual organs in a brazen act of mutilation there by leaving them asexual creatures?

    I understood that wouldn’t have been so easy if I were the patient — or if Essence were human.

    If she were the patient she would would have used first person pronouns which are gender neutral. In fact only third person pronouns in English have gender to them.

    The next time I bring Calvin to the vet, I will make the staff call him “them,” because language shouldn’t be a means of communication, but a minefield of grievance.

    To be fair if you did it would not be the first time in the English language that the plural pronoun has replace a singular one. “you” used to be the plural version of the second person pronoun with “thee” being the singular. In fact “you” basically took over the job of all 2nd person pronouns.

    • #6
    • April 5, 2016, at 4:59 PM PDT
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  7. John Seymour Inactive

    Quinn the Eskimo:If she can’t call them “he” or “she”, on what basis can she call them “cats”?

    Do you want to out her exercise of cis-species privilege or should I?

    I should note this article finally made me go look up what cis-gendered meant. Turns out it’s just a fancy made up word for “normal” or “psychologically sound.” I would tell Taylor that whatever she is she’s not “cis,” but I’m afraid she would think it’s a complement.

    • #7
    • April 5, 2016, at 5:05 PM PDT
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  8. Marlowe Inactive

    Well Christians are being beheaded and enslaved in ISIS controlled territory, the strongest country in the west is worried about this nonsense. What has tumblr done to us?

    • #8
    • April 5, 2016, at 5:17 PM PDT
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  9. KC Mulville Inactive

    OK everyone. Don’t make any sudden movements …

    • #9
    • April 5, 2016, at 5:19 PM PDT
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  10. Fredösphere Member

    Screw gender. Like a good leftist I’m going to get ahead of the pack and denounce the false choice of cat vs. dog as a social construct.

    • #10
    • April 5, 2016, at 5:20 PM PDT
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  11. Basil Fawlty Member

    Stamp out Feline Idiopathic Cistitis!

    • #11
    • April 5, 2016, at 5:23 PM PDT
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  12. Belt Member

    Mental illness is privilege, and she’s trying to make it mandatory…

    • #12
    • April 5, 2016, at 5:24 PM PDT
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  13. Cow Girl Thatcher

    You know….it occurred to me that, when Mx. Taylor decided to de-gender-fy her speech, she is showing her English Language Privilege. When I learned French in high school, I was taught that every noun has gender. I believe it is the same way in Spanish and Italian, and other Latin based languages. Hey, I think even Russian grammar is extremely gender-based. One cannot speak French correctly without specifying gender: le or la; or in Spanish you have to deal with el and la. I don’t know enough about Italian or Russian, but I had it explained once that gender really complicates Russian grammar. So…Could we deal with this kind of privilege, huh? How’s about it? Do you plan to just ignore the plight of the non-cis-linguisticly oriented grammars of the world?

    • #13
    • April 5, 2016, at 5:24 PM PDT
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  14. Front Seat Cat Member

    Comments:

    I hope the kitties are better?!

    Very cute picture I might add.

    Calvin the Wonder Beagle was just hungry – give him a break.

    My cat is all girl – a real pris and she knows it – she can Never be confused with a boy and no one would, so no such thing as gender neutral.

    However…..when a new dog moved into the neighborhood named Watson, our neighbor dog Frasier commenced to make friends – he walks down there daily – he has even gotten frisky – no one knew Fraiser was a closet gay – not even the owner – he even has a hoodie that says bad to the bone – he’s really sweet – maybe he just had a romantic moment and it’s over. I still think of Frasier as all boy. Life is too confusing these days.

    • #14
    • April 5, 2016, at 5:29 PM PDT
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  15. livingtheLoneStarlife Inactive

    Most of the time I use a gender-neutral description for my dog – moron.

    Especially when the moron goes in the pool for the second time before 10am and expects to come inside soaking wet.

    • #15
    • April 5, 2016, at 5:37 PM PDT
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  16. 1967mustangman Inactive

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: She is an earnest young woman with a passion for social justice

    So I did a little a research and earnest she may be but she is neither young or a millennial. According to her LinkedIn page she graduated from Oberlin in 1979. I think what you have here is just your garden variety crazy cat lady.

    • #16
    • April 5, 2016, at 5:51 PM PDT
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  17. Miffed White Male Member

    I’d comment on this, but it’s not nice to make fun of the mentally ill.

    • #17
    • April 5, 2016, at 5:54 PM PDT
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  18. SecondBite Member

    Um. What about “it”? Gender neutral, third person, and, for a long time, standard when speaking or writing of animals, since “he” and “she” were reserved for humans.

    • #18
    • April 5, 2016, at 6:12 PM PDT
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  19. Douglas Inactive

    Mollie Hemingway:I can’t believe the original piece is real. It can’t be real, right? It can’t be real.

    Of course you can’t believe it’s real. Your white privilege prevents you from seeing the struggle, cis-human.

    • #19
    • April 5, 2016, at 6:18 PM PDT
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  20. James Gawron Thatcher

    Jon,

    because language shouldn’t be a means of communication, but a minefield of grievance

    You are a poet Jon. I think I’m getting verklempt.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #20
    • April 5, 2016, at 6:29 PM PDT
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  21. Percival Thatcher

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: Things got a little more real when Essence got sick. They were really sick. I took them to the vet and had to weigh the question: Do I explain their pronouns not only to the vet, but also the front-desk workers, the vet techs, and everyone else we interacted with?

    I think Mx. Taylor should walk down the street explaining all this to every person she meets. Oh, the bus station too! There is no better place for explaining important concepts such as this to total strangers as the bus station.

    • #21
    • April 5, 2016, at 6:35 PM PDT
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  22. Profile Photo Member

    John Seymour: Do you want to out her exercise of cis-species privilege or should I?

    It’s probably for the best that we don’t. Not for her sake, but for the sake of the cats. Having her yell at the vet for treating the cat like a cat when it might be a bird or a fish is only going to come to a bad end.

    • #22
    • April 5, 2016, at 6:50 PM PDT
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  23. RightAngles Member

    Mollie Hemingway:This WaPo essay is so bad that even the WaPo commenters — as bad as they come — are mocking this piece.

    Good.

    • #23
    • April 5, 2016, at 6:51 PM PDT
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  24. La Tapada Member

    The world is turning into a strange place.

    • #24
    • April 5, 2016, at 7:23 PM PDT
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  25. James Of England Moderator

    Goshdarnit.

    So, I don’t think this is a bad piece. She’s not suggesting that the cats identify as anything. She’s not imposing her will on her cats. She’s struggling to use gender neutral pronouns for people she cares about who want her to do that, and she’s discovered a way to train herself; practicing with cats.

    There are many people who find themselves in this situation. If a child, or a friend or colleague transitions and asks to be referred to by a new pronoun, and the compromise you come to involves you conceding that point, implementing your intention there can be difficult. Particularly for older folks, pronoun gender is just incredibly hardwired. It may be that her approach is a useful innovation for many people whose families are going through hard times; I’ll certainly keep it in my mental toolbox for counseling folks in that situation. It’s not easy to practice regendering someone in your mind, and pets (or, if you talk to your car, maybe cars? I don’t talk to either, so I’m just guessing here) seem like one of the better opportunities out there.

    If you accept that it’s not insane to agree to call someone you care about by the name they prefer, including pronouns, I’m not sure that I see anything in this article that requires political correctness, let alone political correctness taken to crazy levels. Naming your cats after local bands is a little hipster, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we had some Ricochetti with pretentious cat names (my parents named a cat Charles James Fox, which seems no more reasonable, although I’ll admit to sharing that pretention more comfortably than the band name ones; her geekdom is not my geekdom, nor my parents).

    For those who did not read the article, Taylor does not use “Mx.”; that’s Jon’s enhancement.

    • #25
    • April 5, 2016, at 7:38 PM PDT
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  26. RushBabe49 Thatcher

    These are the people who want sexual liberation for every possible type of sexual being. And they have adopted “gender” instead of “sex” when talking about human individuals. Trans-gendered used to be transsexual. Their entire lives revolve around sex, yet they can’t call it sex. Your sex is male or female. Words have gender. Euphemism city!

    • #26
    • April 5, 2016, at 8:29 PM PDT
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  27. Vicryl Contessa Thatcher

    I must be a truly awful person. I call my female cat a “pretty girl,” and I tell my male cat he’s a “handsome boy.” I too am a garden variety crazy cat lady, but at least I do my part to perpetuate the patriarchy.

    • #27
    • April 5, 2016, at 9:30 PM PDT
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  28. The Reticulator Member

    Where are the PETA people when you need them?

    • #28
    • April 5, 2016, at 9:39 PM PDT
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  29. RightTurn Inactive

    If there’s a Lotion in the Basket prize for unhinged pronoun usage, I nominate this.

    • #29
    • April 5, 2016, at 9:58 PM PDT
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  30. Douglas Inactive

    Vicryl Contessa:I too am a garden variety crazy cat lady, but at least I do my part to perpetuate the patriarchy.

    Hey, on the upside, there’s now a toy just for you…

    91-nutAsiGL._SY355_[1]

    • #30
    • April 5, 2016, at 11:13 PM PDT
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