Sunday, January 06, 2008

Is there such a thing as a transgender cat?

The reason I ask is that my beautiful Lilycat really seems to be more of a boy than a girl. I know she's physically a neutered female and when the vet removed her girl parts, she (the vet) didn't say anything about there being any anomalies, but she looks and acts like a big male.

Having had several transgender friends, I'm conscious of the gender identity issue for humans and maybe that makes me more alert to gender signals, but I have caught myself calling Lily "he" and "him", even though she has a female name and is a black tortoise-shell calico, a color pattern which is almost never male.

Lily is big and bulky, not fat, but she probably weighs 18 pounds and she behaves in a boyish way. I think I've become more conscious of this behavior since Maxie came to live with us. Maxie is an as-yet-tomkitten who is definitely full of testosterone, even at 5 months, though fortunately he hasn't displayed any spraying behaviors and will be off to the vet himself in a month or so for a little clipping of the nether regions.

I have read somewhere that sexual orientation is a feature of all animals, not just humans, and that homosexual behavior is displayed by a percentage of all animal life. Because Lily is spayed, she's not getting any sex hormones, so I can't say that she's a lesbian cat. But there is something different about Lily and it seems to be her masculine nature in a female body. Her nature is so different from Loosy's nature that it's remarkable, and some of the differences (not all) seem gender-ish in nature.

I used to think it was because she had a feral mama and might have absorbed some of her mama's wild instincts. Now I wonder if her nature may be more connected to her sense of being different.

Of the three cats, s/he is probably my favorite because she is so different. She is absolutely gorgeous but very wary of strangers and takes a long time to warm up to anyone else. Yet she will hoist her majestic bulk up into my lap, plant her paws against my bosom and her head into my chin, and purr till the house rattles. She is pretty much a one-person cat and this is very flattering, of course.

When Maxie came along, Lily was initially very wary of him, seeing him, no doubt, as a competitor for my affection. But she came to terms with him much sooner than Loosy, who still hisses and swats him angrily, and the two of them are more like big brother/little brother. Maxie seems to consider Lily his bud and he clearly considers Loosy a girl to tease and torment.

Now, I know I'm anthropomorphing my cats and that there may be no substance to what I'm theorizing. But I've been wondering about this for awhile. If anyone has any evidence or helpful input, I'd appreciate it. Her gender identity is not a problem of any kind, it's just interesting.

14 comments:

Ms. Theologian said...

I think you're right on. I've wanted to read Evolution's Rainbow for a while, which seems to support your hypothesis.

ms. kitty said...

I hadn't heard of that book. Thanks, Ms. T---I'm definitely going to read it. It makes me sad that many human beings don't see biological diversity as being positive, at least when it comes to sexual identity and gender expression

Joel Monka said...

On one hand, animal gender roles may be different than human- aggressivenes and territoriality are not neccessarily gender linked in animals. That being said, I've had cause to wonder about cats myself. I once had a large, powerful male cat that was nonetheless very parental, doing better with kittens in the house than the female cats- he even let kittens attempt to suckle and do that kneading motion on him.

Steve Caldwell said...

I've read about intersex deer that are accidentally shot by hunters.

The news stories about this mention hunters shooting does who have antlers and look like bucks.

"Transgender" is viewed as an "umbrella" term with other categories exist within it.

Intersexuality is one category that falls under the transgender umbrella according the sexuality education materials from the UUA (Transgender 101 handout from the UUA Office of Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Concerns).

Transsexuality also exists under the transgender "umbrella" as well.

I suspect that transsexuality also exists in the animal kingdom where individual animals have a sense of identity that doesn't match the biological plumbing.

However, that is probably harder to prove this given that we can't really interview our cats and ask them how they see themselves in the world. We're probably stuck with observing behavior and trying not to filter our observations through our cultural expectations about gender that Joel has cautioned us about.

LinguistFriend said...

My main experience in this area came when my ex-wife departed with the dog and male cat, leaving me with the three female cats. One of the females shifted gears into a definite alpha role over several months, to an extent such that I checked her equipment more than once, thinking that I might have missed something. That said, I am sure that Steve Caldwells's comments are well based. It's time that I got a veterinary Merck manual, which was always available, when I was working regularly with a vivarium and a vet.

uuMomma said...

My experience with cats is that neutered males are much more loving and friendly than female cats and I always said that I would get two males or one female the next time I got cats. Of course, I now have one male and two female cats. The boy and the youngest girl (not his biological sister) are like two peas in a pod; the other female (long hair calico) is stand-offish to mostly everyone--except when she needs a petting. Then she presents herself for some loving and when she's done, she's done.

The vet noted that calicos are generally not the sweetest cats. As this is my second in my adult life, I would agree. I think they prefer living in a one-cat household.

Funny thing, last night I said to my youngest kitten (who has gained a tremendous amount of weight since her nether surgery) "whose the fattest girl?" and my middle daughter, who was holding the big fat male, responded "Tiger."

"He's not a girl," I said.

"But he acts like one," she said.

Why? Because he is tender and loving and let's the youngest female chase him around the house.

Anywho ... enough of that. Thanks for your comments on my blog. Hard to answer, but we are all haninging in. Best,

h sofia said...

Sure - why not?

Anonymous said...

I wrote about my cat, Bubba. Check it out.

http://helpbubba.synthasite.com/

cazfromcornwall said...

Hi, I've got a multi-cat household, and am positive one of my gals is transgender. I've got 6 cats, 5 girls and a boy. I have a tortie and white, and 2 of her girls who are ginger and white. The 2 girls could not look more different. One is petite and beautiful, and keeps herself to herself, with no particular friends, she get son with everyone. her sister is about half as big again, and has very different texture fur. She 'looks' like a boy, but she dominates another girl cat (tabby and white), who seems to enjoy it. They are both currently unspayed, but they both bite each others necks (front and back) and play fight a lot, and are inseparable.

I have a book called "Biological Exuberance" Animal homosexuality and natural diversity, by bruce bagemihl, phD, which has sections on transvestitism / transexualism but the use of these terms are generally reserved for animals that change gender. I may need to read it a bit more!

There is evidence of animal homosexuality without doubt, so it doesn't seem a huge leap to suggest the same could be true for transgender.

Celeste said...

Hi Lilylou!

My situation is the opposite of yours. My cat Machka is a male who has always struck me as having feminine characteristics. I don't think it's all in my head, either, because the way he is received by my other cats seems to corroborate this.

My cat Aldo is a strong, robust male. My girl kitty Izzy, who passed away last year, was a classic girly-girl. She got along very well with Aldo but resented Machka till the day she died. I believe she was under the impression that Machka was a girl and therefore a rival. Aldo was obviously male and therefore no threat to her. Although Machka was always kind to Izzy, it's obvious now that she felt threatened by his female element.

I should mention that Aldo does not like other male cats yet gets along well with Machka.

If humans can be homosexual and transgendered, I don't think it's a stretch for cats to be as well, as they, like us, are mammals and have similar emotions and thought processes.

Celeste

Ellie Pollard said...

I've been having the exact same question about one of my cats, but opposite. I have five cats, all of which are male, but only Grady lives inside. He's the youngest and also the only one that isn't neutered. We got him because he reminded us a lot of a very dear female cat we had that just recently passed away of some form of gum cancer. He has a similar pelt color (black) and at the time we got him he had almost the exact same color eyes. Her name was Gracey, which is why we named him Grady.

After the first few weeks, we noticed that he acted a lot like Gracey. His personality was very similar, but I didn't think anything of it at the time. I was just elated to have another cat who was so similar to my beloved baby girl.

We've had him for a few months now, though, and he's beginning to act in some ways that are very odd for a young male cat. He's reaching that age where they start to "mature." You know, the time when you need to take them to the vet to get fixed. But rather than getting hostile towards other males, spraying, and acting like a typical, testosterone-filled male cat, he's actually been acting exactly like you would expect a female cat on her first heat to act.

The first thing we noticed once he reached that age was that he was began to try and run out the doors. At first I didn't think anything of it, but as time went on he began to do it more and more often, and my mother made a comment about how he was acting like a female in heat. That was the first time we double checked his nether regions. Eventually on one of his mad dashes outside, he ran into one of my other boys, Mickey, who was in the garage sheltering from the snow. Grady acted just as you would expect any non-fixed cat who encountered a spayed or neutered cat would, and hissed at him and tried to swat him on the head (of course that didn't really work out for him because he's a petite little thing and Mickey is pretty large). Luckily, though, neither one of them started a fight because Mickey's pretty laid back and I can't imagine Grady attacking anything, and we got Grady back in the house.

Still, ever since he encountered another male, even though Mickey is a NEUTERED male, Grady has been running around the house at night yowling like a female in heat. Ever since he's started doing that, we double checked his gender THREE TIMES. He definitely has male parts, but yet he keeps us up all night yowling, and runs out the door every time it's opened like a female looking to be bred. He's even picked up the little 'mrrrrrrow' thing females do when they're in heat.

This whole thing has been confusing for me and I don't know quite how to react to it, but I'm pretty sure Grady thinks he's a she. I definitely believe transsexualism and homosexuality are possible in other animals, too. It wouldn't make sense for humans to be some special case.

Ellie Pollard said...

I've been having the exact same question about one of my cats, but opposite. I have five cats, all of which are male, but only Grady lives inside. He's the youngest and also the only one that isn't neutered. We got him because he reminded us a lot of a very dear female cat we had that just recently passed away of some form of gum cancer. He has a similar pelt color (black) and at the time we got him he had almost the exact same color eyes. Her name was Gracey, which is why we named him Grady.

After the first few weeks, we noticed that he acted a lot like Gracey. His personality was very similar, but I didn't think anything of it at the time. I was just elated to have another cat who was so similar to my beloved baby girl.

We've had him for a few months now, though, and he's beginning to act in some ways that are very odd for a young male cat. He's reaching that age where they start to "mature." You know, the time when you need to take them to the vet to get fixed. But rather than getting hostile towards other males, spraying, and acting like a typical, testosterone-filled male cat, he's actually been acting exactly like you would expect a female cat on her first heat to act.

The first thing we noticed once he reached that age was that he was began to try and run out the doors. At first I didn't think anything of it, but as time went on he began to do it more and more often, and my mother made a comment about how he was acting like a female in heat. That was the first time we double checked his nether regions. Eventually on one of his mad dashes outside, he ran into one of my other boys, Mickey, who was in the garage sheltering from the snow. Grady acted just as you would expect any non-fixed cat who encountered a spayed or neutered cat would, and hissed at him and tried to swat him on the head (of course that didn't really work out for him because he's a petite little thing and Mickey is pretty large). Luckily, though, neither one of them started a fight because Mickey's pretty laid back and I can't imagine Grady attacking anything, and we got Grady back in the house.

Still, ever since he encountered another male, even though Mickey is a NEUTERED male, Grady has been running around the house at night yowling like a female in heat. Ever since he's started doing that, we double checked his gender THREE TIMES. He definitely has male parts, but yet he keeps us up all night yowling, and runs out the door every time it's opened like a female looking to be bred. He's even picked up the little 'mrrrrrrow' thing females do when they're in heat.

This whole thing has been confusing for me and I don't know quite how to react to it, but I'm pretty sure Grady thinks he's a she. I definitely believe transsexualism and homosexuality are possible in other animals, too. It wouldn't make sense for humans to be some special case.

Lilylou said...

Thanks, everyone, for your comments. Lily has become more tolerant of Loosy since Max left us for that great food chain in the sky but she is still a boyish girl.

Anonymous said...

There is a good book set in Australia about a transgender cat; it's title:
A Tom Called Alice.