I’m from The Bronx. When I was 8 or 9 years old I was really into this show called Pepper Ann. And it was this cartoon about this skinny red-head girl with glasses named Pepper Ann. She was in the 7th grade and always getting into trouble because of her overactive imagination. And Pepper Ann was really cool to me because she would always roller skate around town and she got to go to the arcade with her friends without her mom escorting her there, and in my 3rd grade mind she was living the life. But even cooler than Pepper Ann was Moose. Moose was this really awesome kid who skateboarded and played sports like I did and was always there for Pepper Ann whenever she needed. So Moose looked and sounded like any little boy but Moose was actually Pepper Ann’s little sister.
So Moose’s gender ambiguity was never addressed in the show but I really connected with it. And I didn’t have the language to understand or express what I was experiencing. And there were other characters in other shows that were quoted as queer, like Scar in “Lion King” and Jafar in “Aladdin” and Phil and Dil’s mom in “Rugrats.” I identified with those characters but Moose was special because Moose was the closest thing I had as a little kid to a physical manifestation of how I envisioned myself as this little genderqueer kid. So since then I just have been really interested in finding reflections of myself any- and everywhere I can. It’s this little thing I do and I call it “queering things up.” And it’s just taking something that’s not explicitly queer and making it so.
So I work with dogs. I’m a dog handler at a dog daycare and it’s exposed me to this strange, strange world where straight people feel the need to unnecessarily gender and sexualize their dogs. And I’m really ashamed to admit that I have spent probably hours at this point entertaining these people like, “Yeah, Nathan and Stella did look really cozy today” or like “Breeze, such a slut” or “Porkchop is such a ladies’ man.” And a lot of times it is really humorous and often in good fun but it can be isolating and just a reminder, because if people are willing to be so restrictive and enforce these heteronormative and cis-normative standards on dogs, it’s probably really indicative of how they treat these things when it comes to people as well.
So I’m in the back one day with one of my co-workers, his name is John, really, really cool guy, and he’s 18 or 19 years old, really young, really awesome, always joking around, he just had this really bright energy and I always looked forward to shifts with him. Now we’re in the back one day and we’re joking about poop because when you work with dogs and you spend a lot of time with a lot of dogs, you become desensitized with poop, it’s everywhere, it gets on you. It’s poop. So the conversation moved from poop to names and I told him how I thought it was really cool when dogs had people names like “Walter” and today I had a “Claudia.” I just thought that because it’s so cute. So there’s this one beagle and she was really beautiful, named Charlie, and I just mentioned, “You know, I think it’s so cool that Charlie is named Charlie even though it’s a girl dog.”
And John’s face was just, “Charlie’s a girl? What…but…her name…but it’s Charlie…people are weird.” His reaction was so…I wanted to be like, “Yeah, people are weird, because she’s a dog, why are you reacting like that?” But I just kind of mumbled, “Maybe it’s short for Charlotte…” and the relief and understanding that washed over his face when I gave this excuse was just like another reminder of just how even the nicest most well-meaning people often enforce and subscribe to these ideals that are just so oppressive and so suffocating, even when it comes to dogs. So it can be discouraging.
But one thing I’ve found myself doing at work, and I think it’s reactionary to this aggressive heteronormative, “Nathan and Stella, yeah, Porkchop is a ladies’ man”, and I just find myself, a while back I was mopping some pee because that happens too with dogs, and I turn around and I see these two dogs getting ready to go at it at this huge pile of poop and of course I went over to stop them but in this brief moment when I first looked over, I didn’t see dogs about to eat poop. I saw this beautiful English Setter, Emmy, she’s really sweet, and Matilda is just awesome, Hound mix, and she’s got this red color. And instead of seeing two dogs about to eat poop I look over and I just see Emmy and Matilda sitting across from each other and poop sitting right between them and Emmy looks at Matilda’s eyes and looks down and looks up shyly and looks down, and Matilda looks at the poop, and looks up at Emmy, and looks at the poop, and takes a little shy lick, and Emmy takes a small bite, and all that’s missing was some violin, some candles, I felt like I was interrupting a moment when I had to stop them. It was great, it was dogs eating poop, but it was so, so romantic, or at least it had the potential to be, because if you read between the lines enough, anything can be queer.