The Lesbian and Her Dog: A Visual Homage
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Part ode, part editorial, in this piece I want to think about the lesbian and her dog—or the queer woman and her dog (if that adjectival designation better suits you).
My Super Ex-Girlfriend once said to me that she could live alone forever, without human companionship, if she lived amongst the company of her dogs. I, who always identified as more of a cat person, couldn’t quite comprehend what she meant until I myself lived through a series of trials and tribulations (of the lesbian kind, of course), in which my dogs became my saviors. They gave my days structure and filled them with love. When human love faltered, they became my “sweetness and light.”
And I noticed—on my many dog walks and long afternoons at the dog run—that I wasn't only one queer in my neighborhood in "upstate Manhattan" who utilized leisure time with her dogs as a form of therapy. A group of us, who congregated at the run on Sundays, quickly realized that not only did our dogs demand (through their necessity to go to the bathroom and for exercise) that we venture out into the world (when we'd prefer to be depressed souls hiding in bed), they also functioned as the "talking point" with which we shy and heartbroken homos could connect and talk with each other when we encountered each other on the street or at the park.
Reflecting upon the import of my dogs, I’m reminded of Dog Love, a book written by one of my mentors, Marjorie Garber, who asserts that the significance of our canine companions is that they allow humans to express their most profound emotions—without judgment. The lack of judgment is what enables, even promotes, our willingness to show our dogs affection (of the non-bestial kind, let me be painfully clear). Garber wonders,
“Why is it sometimes easier to say ‘I love my dog’ than ‘I love my spouse’? Dogs, we often say, offer unconditional love, where human lovers and human beloveds are often, well... all too human in their inconsistencies, frailties, and willfulness…. It's not that people feel less, or less strongly, about other people than about their dogs -- at least for the most part. It's rather that the overwhelming dimension of human need sometimes makes the task of reparation seem hopeless. Dog love is local love, passionate, often unmediated, virtually always reciprocated, fulfilling, manageable. Love for humans is harder. Human beauty and grace are fitfully encountered: a child grows up and grows away; a lover becomes familiar, known, imperfect, taken for granted. But dog love is not an evasion or a substitution. It calls upon the same range and depth of feelings that humans have for humans. Historically as well as in modern times it has often brought out the best in us.”
By optimistically concluding that dogs do not function as a kind of “evasion” or “substitution,” Garber conveys that “passionate…fulfilling [and] manageable” love between two humans is possible. Without delving into the quagmire of lesbian relationships, I want to pause here—on what our canine companions offer us. Because, while my dogs will certainly never be capable of replacing the love of a beautiful woman, they have indeed fostered my ability to express my emotions, and, by means, have allowed me to comprehend and acknowledge the extent to which I am capable of loving.
And, I am not the only lesbian or dyke or queer woman (I happily accept all three appellations) who loves her dogs. Just check out these awesome ladies (who variously self-identify, but who I’ve collected under my Big Gay Umbrella…ella..ella):
Robin Roberts & her dog KJ
Eleanor Roosevelt & her First Dog
Ellen & Portia & their pooches
Alice & Gertrude & Basket (I'm guessing this is Basket I and not Basket II.)
Jane Lynch "Can-Do-No-Wrong" walking her doggies.
Margaret Cho's dogs know how to SMIZE.
Queen Latifah & her "trainer" burn some calories (walking their dogs)
Why, yes, Rachel Maddow's dog IS smarter than you.
Wanda Sykes is WERKIN it (booty tooch!) -- as is her pooch.
Kate & Leisha being ADORBS with Kate's dog Floyd (pic by J.Beals, fyi)