When Gracie meets up with another dog, she goes right to butt-sniffing. Serious sniffing. This forces me to make small talk with the other owner. At first, being a shy person, this seemed like a weird thing to do. Now it is natural. The standard questions are boy or girl (if it is not obvious), what is your dog’s name, and what kind of dog is that. I’ve learned to recognize a lot of unusual breeds and “designer” mixes.
Some owners know what mix their mutt is because they adopted the dog as a puppy and know the dam (and sire). Some owners guess based on what the dog looks like (ears, muzzle, tail, markings). Most of us are curious. To solve the mystery, I could do a DNA test and find out Gracie’s genetic material. I’d have to swab her dog’s mouth, put the results in a plastic container, and send it to the lab. A few weeks later they would tell me how many different breeds were identified, and the percentage of each breed in the mix.
When asked, I say that Gracie was supposed to be a Flat-Coated Retriever mix, but she seems more like a Border Collie mix. I haven’t done the test. What if it came back that she was a Chow/Chihuahua mix, or a Spitz/Field Spaniel mix? Would I feel differently about her if I knew her true genetic identity? What would Gracie’s results tell me? We’ve already figured out each other’s personality, routines, and obnoxious habits.
I can’t ask Gracie if she feels more like a Border Collie or more like a Flat-Coated Retriever. If she could answer, she’d probably say that she doesn’t know what a Border Collie feels like or how it is different from what a Flat-Coated Retriever feels like. Sometimes she feels like chasing sheep (futile because we live in Manhattan) and sometimes she feels like chewing on a sawed off deer antler (possible as one is always in her toy box unless she already pulled it out). She would add that she never, ever, feels like playing fetch with a tennis ball. Then she might roll over for a belly rub, unsure of the difference between feelings and instinct.
I don’t know what my DNA test would show. Scientists haven’t found the butch gene or the transgender gene. I’ve always felt hardwired to be more boy than girl. It is an intrinsic, subconscious, pull. There is a wide range of gender expression for women to choose from, but none of it feels right to me. When I look at women on the subway I can see a lot of subtle differences in how they present themselves. Sexy, demure, conservative, punk, religious, intellectual, athletic, hipster, girly, colorful, expensive, maternal, trendy.
I’ve never seen a woman on the subway and thought “I’d like to look like that” or even “I’d like to wear that”. When I’ve had to wear women’s clothes I’ve felt like an impostor. I am comfortable with the jeans, t-shirt, plaid shirt, sweater, and hiking boot look. There are a lot of guys on the subway who wear a variation of that look. Some go for lumberjack, others for geeky/nerd. I go for “a boy and her dog”. It’s in my DNA. I’ve got the dog gene.