Cat As Gender

Written May 11, 2011.

Because I am biologically female and identify as a Barbary lioness, it is relatively easy - and logical - to assume that I identify as a female person. Since this assumption is incorrect, I'm going to attempt to explain the multiple gender-carrying facets within my body and psyche.

sexual dimorphism in cats

In brief: Sexual dimorphism is a set of physical and/or behavior differences between male and females of the same species, beyond the simple difference of genitalia and breeding/child-rearing behavior.

African and Asiatic lions, as well as possibly some extinct precursors or sub-species, are the only drastically sexually dimorphic cats. Males and females are very physiologically different, with males being much larger and maned; their behaviors are also defined by sex. The females band together with other females to form the core of the pride, hunt, and care for their cubs, while males protect the pride from other males, breed with the females, and get ousted by younger and stronger males periodically. With African lions, females are the heart of the pride and do not leave, nor accept new females very easily. Some males, on the other hand, never claim a pride and wander as loners, fending for themselves.

Barbary lions are not African lions. While the physical distinction remains, Barbaries lack behavioral dimorphism. There's some evidence that Barbaries may have paired up, presumably same-sex pairings since that's the norm with other lions and some African cats, like cheetahs - but, overall, they are solitary animals. The food supply in the Atlas mountains was not enough to support prides of these giant predators. That means that, unlike in a pride of African lions, each male or female Barbary had to do the exact same things to survive - hunt, claim and keep territory, and continue the species via reproduction.

We can glean some insight into likely Barbary behaviors by examining other species of large, solitary cats: jaguars, tigers, leopards, cougars. Males tend to have a roaming territory that overlaps that of several females', which he'll mate with when they're in season. Females guard their territories against each other, and males guard their territories (and their females) against other males. While the local male may overlap a female's territory, they do not hunt together or share food; they may, in fact, fight over kills if the male wants something the female's eating. (Males tend to be somewhat larger, even in solitary species, and stealing kills from a smaller predator is the way of the opportunistic hunter.) Males almost never participate in rearing cubs, and most females won't let a male near her newborns for fear of him killing them; in many feline species, a male will kill cubs that aren't his to speed up the female's return to estrus, so he can mate with her and produce cubs of his own.

gender vs. sex

Since "sex" is physiological and "gender" is behavioral, Barbaries don't have gender. They are physically sexually dimorphic, but they lack dimorphic behaviors to separate male from female in day-to-day survival; thus, no gender. I identify as a Barbary lioness, not a lion, because of the physical phenotype of the female - not because of behavioral differences, which don't exist, and not because I have a female human body.

In other words, my sex is female, but my gender is not. Cat doesn't have a gender, but I could say that my gender is cat.

cat as a gender

(Please note that the following paragraphs that talk about gender are talking about gender stereotypes. I personally do not consider any given physical, emotional, or mental characteristic to be always linked to a given sex, so in that sense, I don't "believe" in gender - however, for the purposes of communicating effectively within a heavily-gendered culture, I've got to use the common stereotypes. I am not in any way implying that these stereotypes are accurate or apply to everyone of a given sex.)

As mentioned earlier, each Barbary will need a standard skillset to survive, no matter its sex. Hunting. Keeping territory. These are things that are pragmatic, that require exertion, that require physical competence and a considerable martial prowess, that require aggression and some measure of hunting strategy (even if it's instinctual or minimal). In human society, in my culture, these are all stereotyped as masculine qualities. Physical strength? Fighting skill? Holding your ground, protecting what you've got? Being loud and looking big to bluff away a threat? When manifested by a human, these are usually considered male traits.

With Barbaries, it's also vitally important to know when to not fight, when to surrender, when to flee. The old adage, "When two tigers fight, both will die." is true of most large, solitary predators. Even if one cat wins, it's probably too wounded to heal before it starves or before it's killed by another predator. Being able to assess a threat and know when not to engage is crucial, even if it means giving up a kill or even a territory. Being able to be stealthy is important in both hunting and avoiding threats. It's simple self-preservation. These qualities, when manifested in a human, could be seen as cowardly or weak-- or feminine, as females are often thought to be less aggressive and/or non-confrontational.

Essentially, I have a set of instincts that could be interpreted as both masculine and feminine. My values - physical competency, martial ability, independence, survivability, cleverness, adaptability, resilience, fierceness, physical size, quickness of mind, stealth - reflect the qualities that are most likely to let me, as a human and as a cat, survive the longest, eat the most food, and lose the least amount of blood in the process. My values drive my interests and my hobbies, as well as my own tendencies; to offer only a few examples, I study martial arts, I do things myself well before ever asking for help, and I am very good at reading the emotions involved in a situation so that I can avoid conflict or win if conflict is necessary. I find it equally important to be able to disappear in a crowd and stay invisible, anonymous, as I do to be able to hold my ground and recover swiftly from challenges.

I don't have a clear-cut gender. I manifest plenty of stereotypically masculine traits, just as I display some stereotypically feminine traits. My body is female, but my appearance is masculine, due to body shape (tall, muscular, broad-shouldered) and clothing choice. Depending on the situation, my behavior may be strongly masculine or much more relaxed, comfortable, and probably seen as feminine. And since I don't consider behavioral or most physical traits to be sex-linked, I have no problem being uncategorized by the outside world, though I still get irritated when people attempt to box me into one side of a binary.

bottom line

As a feline and as a human, my sex is female.

As a person, my gender is cat. Another way of phrasing it is to say that I'm genderqueer: I have masculine and feminine qualities and may, at any given time, display the characteristics of one, the other, both, or neither.

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