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.
Gracie asks for what she wants. When she wants to come up on the bed or couch, she grunts a little low “urg” to get my attention, and waits for an invitation. When she wants her belly rubbed, she rolls over and taps her tail. When I have ignored chow time she lies down in my sight line and stares at me. When she is ready to go out she goes to the door. When she is bored she goes to her toy box and throws everything that is in it onto the floor. When there is an “urgency” she noses me and dances around. There is no confusing or mistaking any of these signals. Gracie is confident. Gracie is a good girl.
I find it difficult to ask for anything. I learned to suppress my desires. I learned to stop saying what I wanted because I wanted to be a boy. What game do you want to play? What do you want to dress up as for Halloween? What do you want to do when you grow up? Do you want to play house? What do you want for your birthday?
The message was clear. If I told the truth, I got in trouble. If I lied, I betrayed myself and ended up with a Barbie Dreamhouse. Either way, I was not getting the hockey skates. The safest thing was to say nothing, but you can’t stay silent forever. I know, I tried, it doesn’t work.
Donna wonders why, after all of our time together, am I still so secretive? Why can’t I just tell her what I am thinking? Why is it so difficult for me to talk about my feelings? Why can’t I tell her what I want? Why do I hesitate? Why don’t I trust her?
I still feel like the eight year old who yearns for hockey skates but is afraid to ask for them. I hope that refusing to suppress my trans*-ness, my boy-ness, and my more than vanilla butch-ness, will eventually let me loosen my tongue. I would like to answer Donna’s questions honestly, without fear, and without squirming in my seat. I would like to be as confident as Gracie. I would like to be a good boy.
If I could be as cute as Gracie women would stop me on the street and ruffle my hair and say that I was the cutest thing ever.
I never felt cute as a child. I desperately wanted to be cute. I wanted to be handsome. My fantasy was that I would be scooped up and hugged because I was too cute to walk by. I wished that women’s heads would turn because I was so handsome.
I did not want to be pretty; pretty was for girls. If anyone’s head turned it was because I was one awkward chubby kid with short hair in an ugly dress. And my mother was probably speaking sharply to me.
When I walk Gracie women stop me on the street and say “oooh what a cute dog!”. Gracie is a big flirt. She lays her ears back and pulls on the leash to say hi. She smiles at the woman passing by. She gets up on her hind legs and waves her front paws. She loves toddlers. She sticks her nose into strollers. She will make a bee-line for a woman on a park bench. She will sidle up to strangers and rub her head against their legs asking for a little scratch. She has admirers in the neighborhood. Tom and Bill carry special treats just in case they run into Gracie out on her last walk in the evening. She is a popular girl.
I was not a popular girl (already I can hear myself muttering “I was not a girl”). I was not a popular child. I was a shy kid who wanted to be a cute boy (in my mind there was no other kind). The girls at P.S. 40 said I had cooties. I was teased and picked on. I kept to myself. I thought it was my fault for being weird.
I get to be cute by extension when I am out with Gracie. When I am walking her I feel cute too. Loose, relaxed, bouncy, free, real, approachable, friendly. Now if I could just learn how to flirt.
I got my first dog, Lena, after I moved in with my girlfriend. Getting a dog was a condition of our moving in together. I really wanted a dog. I’d never had a dog, but I knew I couldn’t commit to having a dog if we were living separately. What I didn’t know, was that when I am with a dog, I become a boy. It works like magic. The dysphoria disappears. I am temporarily transformed.
Lena was a great dog. She was a shepherd mix (a hiker upstate told me that she thought Lena was a Malinois Shepherd). Her original owner died of AIDS, and his brother had promised to find Lena a good home. I saw a flyer about her on a table at an ACT-UP meeting. When I brought her home, Donna said it was as if I had brought my new mistress home to live with us. I was hooked. I was finally a boy with a dog. Every morning we went out and played ball. We came home and hung out on the couch and read. I stayed a boy and Lena grew old. She was sixteen when I put her to sleep.
I needed another dog, but Donna was not ready. I was miserable. I missed Lena. I missed being a boy. I felt disconnected from everything. I snuck onto the Internet to look at rescue dogs. Finally Donna said “I can’t stand it anymore, get a dog”. She said she’d like a black dog with ears that hung down and that was smaller than Lena and had a white spot on her chest. I wanted a dog that I could take to the dog run and was good with kids. I wanted a rescue. I wanted another Lena. But instead I got Gracie.
I adopted her “sight unseen” from All About Labs via Petfinders. She was supposed to be a ten month old Flat Coat Retriever mix, but when she popped out of the rescue truck she looked like a Border Collie that fell into the inkwell. I call her my Borderline Collie. I call her the Black Enigma. She loves a belly rub. She won’t play fetch, catch, or Frisbee. I love Gracie. I’m her boy.
The first time I brought her into my apartment she ran figure 8’s in the living room, jumping up on all the furniture. Then she threw herself at my feet, rolled over, and wanted me to rub her belly. She wriggled on the floor and grunted like a wild little pig. Then she barked at me until I rubbed her belly. You can guess who was trained first. I should have called this blog A Dog and Her Boy. It might be more accurate.