According to US statistics, gay men and women are 10 per cent more likely to have pets than heterosexuals. I think there is a bigger void in our gay hearts to be filled with unconditional love from pets that become our best friends, companions and family members. For a gay individual, the bond with his/her pet could become the strongest and longest relationship in life. For gay couples, often childless, pets become surrogate children.
Pets not only make our lives fuller and brighter, they also make us more active and healthy. Scientists have discovered that stroking an animal helps regulate ones blood pressure. Cats are claimed to heal body aches. There seems to be some chemistry that attracts humans and pets and keeps them together. Indeed, it was found that interaction with pets, especially stroking, induces endorphins in both owners and their pets. These hormones block pain, induce pleasure and help bonding.
Research has also found that dogs can read facial expressions and more, they tune into their owner’s emotions, adjust to his/her character and mimic their behaviour. Dogs, for example, can even be trained to recognize and prevent fits of epilepsy in their owners. And don’t they say that dogs look like their masters? Well, there is science behind that, too. Apparently long term spouses in harmonious relationships start to look similar. The secret is that couples mirror each other’s poses, gestures and facial expressions; years of mirroring adjust spouses’ features accordingly. For dogs, mirroring of their owners comes naturally.
Pets help their gay and lesbian masters and mistresses escape from isolation and distract them from depression by setting up daily routines. They also give more opportunities for social interaction; people find it easier to start a conversation with strangers when they have pets to talk about. Pets decorate our lives and can in turn be used as living accessories, signaling one’s taste … or lack of it. While this would equally apply to straight pet owners, gays and lesbians are likely to go the extra mile in showing affection to their animals.
My artist friends in Vanuatu had a pet pig that was allowed to ransack their garden and was even fed food cooked in the ceremonial umu. Their beloved cats, once dead, would be stuffed to continue their ‘life’ in the house, being stroked and talked to. I remember watching a NZ TV program about a gay Aucklander who let his chooks inside his house with antique furniture, took them on his lap and also shampooed them regularly.
Another of my friends who is bisexual has a special bond with her cat adopted from the SPCA. It became a bridge between her and her pupils; she came to her class with the great idea of writing letters to her cat, who then writes back to them. These correspondences have been going on for years; there is enough material for a book.
I wish she had copyrighted her idea, as it has recently been copycatted by designer Karl Lagerfeld whose cat Choupette got her own Twitter account with over 26,000 followers, sharing thoughts on life and fashion trends. And the cat must know what she is writing about. After all, she is looked after by two maids who keep a diary about her day. She gets manicures and massages, her pâté is served in Goyard dishes at the table, she sleeps in a Colette shopping bag, uses an iPad and plays with antique Chanel lace (though dislikes Chanel No. 5 perfume).
Abercrombie and Fitch’s CEO Mike Jeffries and his ‘life partner’ Matthew Smith set up a five point set of instructions on seating for their beloved dogs Ruby, Trouble and Sammy when travelling on their personal jet. Exclusively male stewards are ordered to wear A&F briefs and cologne No. 41 while on duty and have to remember that “when Ruby and Trouble travel, Ruby will sit opposite Michael in the cabin, in Sammy’s seat. When Sammy travels, Ruby will sit in Trouble’s seat.”
It seems that pets and gay designers have always belonged together and could never go out of fashion. Alexander McQueen left equal shares in his will for his family members and all three of his dogs, also putting aside several hundred pounds for animal charities. Legendary designer Yves Saint Laurent was particularly fond of one breed, the bulldogs. Remarkably, each of his subsequent dogs was called ‘muzhik’ (peasant in Russian), following his master everywhere from catwalks to nightclubs. Muzhik the first has even been immortalised in a portrait by Andy Warhol.
Andy Warhol was rather obsessed with pets too: ‘I never met a pet I did not like’. His love affair started with cats; his first book was a book of cat portraits. Later in his career his affection turned to dogs. His most beloved companion was Archie, who even left his paw ‘signature’ on some of his master’s works. And Warhol would often hide behind the mask of Archie, addressing questions to his dog he did not want to answer. Or he would make a statement that ‘at the time of the article, Archie was not able to be reached to comment’.
So GLBTI folks are not only more likely to have pets, they quite often go over the top showing their love and affection, treating their animal companions as equals, their family, sometimes even as their alter ego. Could it be that because many of us have felt like underdogs or stray cats as teenagers, wishing to be rescued and pampered in a loving home, that when we grow up we dedicate so much love and devotion on those depending on us, making sure their lives are as fab and glam as possible?
| Alexander Lowë
Main photo: Lady Penelope Trotsky Todd from the Auckland Pride Parade 2013.