Do your pets lead you into surprising conversations? How animals make straight people like me.
Happy Autumn! I’ve already purchased basically all the pumpkin dog biscuits I could find – you too?
It’s been a busy month for my fur-children and I as my partner and I made the big move from NYC to Portland, Oregon. To get our critters and ourselves cross country we needed to drive, and because we were traveling with cats, and in particular elderly cats and multiple dogs we were scheduled the drive to stop in small-ish towns/truck stop hotels in: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Utah.
No offense to any of you living in those places, but not exactly my dream destinations as a very very visibly queer couple. I had a lot of safety concerns before we hit the road. For example, we were even spending the night in Laramie, Wyoming a place that was beautiful but felt incredibly haunted.
I was very worried about the drive because it was going to mean stopping in states where my partner and I had very little (or no) protections. I was concerned we could be denied services, where my partner (who is trans) could be denied access to public bathrooms etc. It was nerve wracking to think about how to keep our whole family safe for the week we were going to be on the road….
I feel really fortunate to be writing this in Portland and that I can say our little queer family made it safely across the country and that everything went more smoothly than I thought. Honestly, I attribute the success of our move to the planning that went into it, but more so honestly to our pets!
Not only were they cheerful the entire way, but I really think our animals were responsible for the positive interactions we had with people while on the road. I’m heavily tattooed, have facial piercings and basically am just very visibly queer– but cute dogs go a LONG way towards making people less uncomfortable with me. My dogs don’t de-queer me, but they certainly make me more palatable to the straight world I think because they draw the focus away from me.
I think that in some ways because of the furbabies my little family became a cute oddity instead of the “scary homosexuals” at each of our nightly stops. People wanted to know where we were traveling, what it was like traveling with cats, how our cats had taken to life on the road (short answer: the cats did so so well and were happy and relaxed every day).
Being able to talk to people about my animals, which usually prompted conversations about their pets was a great way to break the ice and break down differences that might have otherwise prompted (based on past experiences traveling to conservative areas of the country) a less positive interactions.
Basically, animals make things better. I’m not suggesting that the country would be a better place if we had more animal lovers in charge (though it is an interesting coincidence that Trump has broken with tradition and is the first sitting president to not have a dog in nearly 130 years) but I don’t think it hurts. Animals teach us a lot about compassion, they help to break down divides and start conversations between people who under any other circumstances likely wouldn’t have a single word to say to one another.
This move was the first time that I have actually driven across America, and it led to us stopping or at least driving through many states I’ve never visited before and likely wouldn’t have any reason to go out of my way to visit. At a cultural moment when our country is so divided it was interesting to be in very red states surrounded by people who (more likely than not) have voted for politicians that directly oppress me and my queer family.
I certainly don’t think that by briefly meeting a queer person any of these people are going to necessarily suddenly have a change of heart about how they vote, but I do think there is something to be said for going outside of our comfort zones and having a conversation especially centered around something neutral (like pets) can be a great opportunity for opening up a conversation that might lead to broader change.
Do your pets lead you into surprising conversations? Do they help you to feel more comfortable going to more homophobic areas or talking with people who you perceive might not otherwise like you? Let me know in the comments!