The Trouble With Cat

Written May 10, 2011.

Being a cat in a human society can be fucking hard - physical dysmorphia and asocial instincts combine to make it a challenge just to function as a normal person sometimes.

in flesh

When I'm tired, I want to close my eyes and let my body fall into a stronger and more natural stance. I want to stop using only my damaged eyes to perceive the world - I want to open my ears and nose, I want to taste the moisture in the air on my tongue. I want all this weight I feel to be supported by four thick legs instead of two too-long ones. I want my muzzle, my ears, my sharp unbroken teeth.

It's disconcerting, dysmorphia. Hard to sit or stand upright when I'm feeling this powerful disassociation with bipedalism. Hard to keep my head up, hard to keep from hunching into my neck and shoulders, leaning until I'm no longer quite so vertical. Hard to reconcile the length of my legs with the shortness of my arms, the inequality of limbs unsettling. Hard to remember that the shape of the head, the structure of the face, is not one that can make sense of most of my instinctual expressions.

with people

Cat is a flipped switch sometimes. I can consider this thing (ahem, person) to be mine, at which point I can metaphorically piss on them and be comfortable around them. They don't register as threat or competition or food, but as part of my territory. This doesn't mean I don't respect the individual in question; on the contrary, I acknowledge their independence and not-me-ness, which is why Cat doesn't mind if they walk out of the territory and stop being mine. It's their choice. But while they stay, they're mine, and I'm cozy, relaxed, sometimes attentive, occasionally protective.

Even the people who are mine, however, occasionally get walloped with Cat's lack of social understanding. I don't grok social obligations or should-do's. Sometimes, I know enough to play along and act like a normal, sociable human. When I'm emotionally invested, I become willing and eager to help, to interact, to participate - I am cheerful and open and offer myself up freely. But when I don't want to interact, when I'm not emotionally invested in that moment, in that particular scenario, I'm blank. It's like Cat gives this look of why do you expect me to care? and simply tolerates the situation at hand. Even the people I love will occasionally receive this apathy in response to something that matters to them.

And the people who aren't mine at all? Oh, man. Certain interactions are fine, like those necessary for survival and not-indefinite in time: paying bills, holding a job, obtaining food. But present me with a group of strangers when it is not absolutely vital for me to be in that crowd, and Cat immediately, passionately balks. I feel standoffish, challenging, some mix of fear and aggression: why the hell are you here? what the hell do you want? gerroff, you bastards, leave me alone. This also happens when I imagine future social scenarios, not just when I'm presently in such a situation, and this is why I'm not social. Even if I know that a given situation will likely be positive and enjoyable in some respects, Cat still presents this brick wall of protest.

I know I should feel bad for not giving a shit about so much, for not being open to interacting with most people beyond necessities. But the thing about feline apathy is that I don't care about not caring about things. I don't actually feel bad for this; it's more of a matter-of-fact it is what it is sensation. I know that it may be offensive or hurtful to some people, but I am only responsible for my actions (which are not inherently harmful), not anyone else's reactions. I don't want to be more social or more of a person-pleaser, though I still go well out of my way to make sure I don't hurt anyone. I'm not going to lie or suffer just to make someone else happy, but I'm also not going to make someone else miserable with my callousness if I can avoid it.

animal communication

There is such honesty in animal communications. If I snarl when touched, then don't touch me. If I rub against you, then you are welcome to touch me. It's that simple. And if I snarl, it's got nothing to do with who you are - it's only a reaction to something you did or said. It's not a value judgment; it's a form of communication.

I don't want to give these verbose explanations of why I feel this way, nor do I want to spend my breath reassuring someone that I'm not mad, I just don't want to be touched, no really it's quite alright, calm down, I didn't mean to upset you... I hate apologizing for communicating my honest, blunt reaction in a non-harmful way. It feels absurd and restrictive. But, in the human society in which I am a member, such clear signals are not socially acceptable.

And when my mood or state of being changes, as it is wont to do at a moment's notice, for reasons obvious or invisible or internal, I must resort to explaining myself with words instead of communicating my new mood with a simple noise or body language. People outside my head do not always have to know why I feel how I feel, goddammit, and I resent that so many people think it's their right, instead of their privilege.

closing note

I am incredibly lucky and grateful to have my mate, a leopard-person, who gets cat interactions and communications, who handles me as an animal-person instead of a human. He is the one person who pretty much never drags verbosity out of me when I'm unwilling to give it or gets hit with the apathy wall. I adore him and appreciate him more than I can possibly express.

Some of my friends who read this may be offended, hurt, or disappointed. I hope no one takes my reactions personally - what I've written about is related to who I am, not who you are, and it is no fault nor responsibility of yours. I value the relationships that I have, and I enjoy sharing experiences with my people - even if, on occasion, I don't share the emotional investment.

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