Monday, December 7, 2009

written on the (pit bull) body

i am sitting here listening to Antony & The Johnson's "Cripple & The Starfish" over and over and over.

it's true i always wanted love to be
it might be that my emotional response to this song has a little to do with my husband's sweet adult daughter coming to live with us this past week. she has left an abusive relationship, one where she was isolated and beaten over the course of years. of course, we didn't realize. she and Mr Muscle hid it well. i'm feeling very protective of her.

but i've also been reading and re-reading the awesome Eva Hayward's essay on this song - which is actually how i learned of it - Lessons from a Starfish in the anthology Queering the Non/Human. it's the most fascinating essay and so difficult, i've almost taken to reading it upside-down. it's as artful as the song - thankfully someone as brilliant as she is covered this song.

i really can't summarize the essay here, and i hope you'll read it. but we are familiar here, i think, with the fact that gender and sex and species all exist within discourse. they are all based on relationality and are mutable. inspired by the song, the examples taken up are the starfish and the transsexual/transgender person. eva is considering how the act of cutting can be potentially regenerative, a beginning of healing, an opening of the way to trans-gender or even trans-species re-formations.

so alongside this trajectory, i'm also thinking about cutting in trans-species relationships. specifically, spay/neuter and the deafening mainstream mandate to alter one's pets. i'm less interested in debating the need to sterilize pets, but in the way our society has chosen to accomplish it: through invasive cutting and removal of all reproductive organs. these surgeries are not necessary to prevent reproduction.

when humans decide not to reproduce, they might have a vasectomy or tubal ligation, and those procedures are equally possible in animals, and they accomplish the same goal. a vasectomy is especially easy, an outpatient procedure with local anasthetic. the doc makes small incisions, cutting vas deferens tubes which carry the sperm. the castration of a human male is typically performed only in cases of cancer (or SRS).

of course, the reason is that the goal of spay/neuter is not just to control reproduction, it's to control reproductive behavior. to stop male dogs from chasing females, and stop females from attracting males (and bleeding all over your carpet). and vets will try to sell you on the whole cancer-prevention angle, which i just reject outright. but there are lots of other factors, including surgery risks and well-known but unpublicized health problems that come with spay/neuter.

IMO the seeming "need" for cutting out all these organs has more to do with vets making money, coupled with the typical pet owner's desire to infantilize pets, and along with that, an anxiety around sexuality that is triggered by our pets' all-too-visible genitalia.

i have friends who giggle nervously about their dachshund's "dog-gina" every time she rolls over for a belly rub. and there are the doggie butt-covers available on etsy. but those examples are nothing compared to the ugly stares you get if you walk an uncastrated male pit bull around town. apparently dog balls (and especially pit bull balls) engender a lot of horror, not to mention lectures from spay/neuter advocates. i just want to say, "what's the matter, you've never seen nuts before?!" they might toss out a few neuticles to appease the manly dog owner, but basically it's a war on testes. you might scoff, but i know a vet who makes her christmas garland out of all the nuts she's snipped.

for those of us who are trying to honor the agency and subjectivity of animals, the removal of all reproductive organs might resemble other debates around the politics of sexuality. dare i liken it to other historical examples of the forced sterilization of disabled women and third-world women, or female circumcision? maybe, maybe not. but this is clearly another case where "scientific" or "medical" discourses around spay/neuter are undergirding certain ideologies that have nothing to do with science or (veterinary) medicine.

scary when most people who drop their pets off for these supposedly routine and much-needed procedures really have no clue what's involved, and that includes the legislators. btw, i really did review a draft of a proposed mandatory spay/neuter law, and it required that all pets be neutered or "spaded" by 6 mos.

i wish spading had something to do with starfish, but i don't think it does.