Don’t Inflict Your Gender Norms on my Dog
Orsino, sporting a hair-clip and punk dye7/9/15
Let’s be frank. My dog is ridiculous looking. This creature was not bred to survive in the wild or to intimidate. He’s basically a 14 pound dirty white mop that doesn’t shed. His hair just grows and grows and grows (hence the mop bit). Sometimes I keep his hair long and vision becomes an issue for him. The simplest way to prevent him from running into walls is to use a clip to hold up his hair. The result is, in my opinion, both adorable and absurd. Happily, he doesn’t seem to mind.
So what does this have to do with anything? People on the street often comment on his adorableness and then ask “what’s her name?” I always smile and say, “he’s a boy and his name’s Orsino, it means ‘Little Bear.’” Frequently people will react with shock and then ask why I dress him up “like a girl.” Or they’ll ask, “don’t you worry people will think he’s gay?”
For whatever reason, people who would never dare be so confrontational with another human feel totally comfortable policing my dog’s gender performance. Most of these people would have no problem neutering him, but they’re still worried that he might be perceived as gay. They wouldn’t bat an eye at cutting off his balls, yet they’re worried that my dog’s hairstyle might be emasculating! What could be worse than to be seen as “less than a man” – right?
Orsino showing his support for same-sex marriage on Facebook
This blatant aggression has had the strange effect of making me more conscious of how gender expressions are being policed in subtle ways in my seemingly liberal neighborhood. I have begun to notice that servers always bring my husband my whiskey on the rocks and give me his martini; that people are nicer to me when I wear a dress; that cashiers call me sweetie. (Of course, there’s nothing wrong with people being nice, but the fact that they’re only nice when I’m appropriately “feminine” means that when I violate gender expectations I’m no longer worthy of kindness.)
Those of us who are fortunate to live in relatively accepting communities sometimes don’t notice these subtle acts that seek to contain us within very rigid structures of gender and sexuality. It’s something I’ve read about many times and experienced to various degrees, but somehow watching people’s unfiltered reactions to my dog’s lack of “masculinity” has really driven the point home.
I mean, he’s a dog. So what if he sports a faux-hawk and some punk hair dye from time to time? Maybe he’s just a hipster. So what if he would rather snuggle than take a hike? It doesn’t make him any less of a man. It’s all very silly.
What does it say about us as a society that we still think this way?