We’re here, we’re queer and we’re at the dog park.
The late afternoon sun shines through the dense canopy of trees in the Manhattan park. Trotting along at ankle level is my Chihuahua mix, Mercury, who resembles the hordes of subway rats more than the other dogs in the off-leash area — that is, if the city’s rats wore light pink sweaters.
We’ve recently moved from the West Coast, and this is our first trip to this particular park, so I am slightly nervous. When most pet parents take their dog to a new park, their worst concerns relate to how their dog will react to the unfamiliar surroundings.
I am confident that my dog is completely comfortable in any new situation and adept at making swarms of canine friends wherever he goes. My primary concern: having to out him, and how the other puppy parents will react to a gay dog in their midst.
I used to wear a button that said “I Love My Gay Dog” in situations such as this, but with the move the button was misplaced. I am going to have to do all the talking myself.
Gay Dogs in the Movies
Of course I’m far from the only person with a gay dog. Queer pets got widespread attention in the 2003 film Legally Blonde 2: Red White and Blonde, a film that parents of gay pets are still cheering about. Elle Wood’s Chihuahua, Bruiser, was portrayed as a gay dog who proffered to go on walks in a little pink skort.
In a twist of fate that only could happen in Hollywood, a romance blossoms between Bruiser and a very butch, and very gay, Rottweiler owned by a fictional conservative Republican senator from Alabama.
Well, here, I’ll let this clip speak for itself:
As romance develops between the two dogs, the senator is forced to grapple with his own homophobic beliefs in order to come to terms with his beloved dog’s sexual orientation. The acceptance of his dog culminates in his outing himself as the parent of a — gasp! — gay dog, before a shocked Congress.
My Mercury was spared the discomfort of ever having to live a closeted life with a homophobic family. Given that he grew up with queer parents and was immersed in gay culture, his sexual orientation was never an issue. From the time he came home as a small puppy he was encouraged to be himself. And when his attraction to pink cashmere sweaters — and hatred of dirt and tennis balls — emerged, he was always supported.
At one point, he even had a long-term relationship with a dog named Sal. Special play dates were arranged regularly for the couple, and Sal often spent days at our home while his parents worked. When Sal’s family moved to San Francisco, the two were heartbroken.
Queerness in the Animal Kingdom
Recently, the topic of gay pets has come up in the news, with a man in Tennessee surrendering his male dog to the local shelter because he caught the dog humping another male dog. The ignorant man told shelter staff that he didn’t want a “gay dog.”
Setting aside the fact that this poor dog very likely isn’t gay at all but rather humping out of dominance, it’s a fact that the natural world is no stranger to homosexuality. In recent years, more people have become aware of gay and lesbian encounters and relationships within the animal kingdom.
A few years ago, for example, a groundbreaking exhibit at Norway’s Oslo Natural History Museum called “Against Nature?” caused an international stir as it sought to demystify the same-sex relationships of animals.
The exhibit simultaneously made the socially progressive argument that homosexuality is natural, using its prevalence in the animal kingdom as a basis for that analysis. According to the exhibit, homosexuality has been observed in more than 1,500 animal species and is a well-documented practice in 500.
It’s widely accepted that within giraffes homosexuality is more common that heterosexuality, and with black swans same-sex couples are a regular part of flock life. Similar to the practices found in humans, it’s not uncommon for a male swan in a same-sex relationship to mate with a female in order to have a chick to raise with his male partner.
The romantic stories of queer animals capture the hearts of many, regardless of sexual orientation. One famous couple were Roy and Silo, two penguins at New York City’s Central Park Zoo.
The penguins adopted and raised a chick named Tango together and remained a couple for more than six years (they have since separated). The story of their family is memorialized in a picture book for young children titled And Tango Makes Three.
Mercury’s Acceptance at the Park
Living in Manhattan, I should know better than to worry about Mercury’s park debut.
Over the course of a few hours, Mercury spends quite a bit of time playing with a large pit bull mix, before settling down to a quiet game of sniff with a little brindle Italian Greyhound in a black bomber jacket.
When the pair begin sniffing, the Greyhound’s mother comes up to me, and in hushed whispers says, “I’m shocked he’s so into her!” She has assumed from the pink sweater that Mercury is a girl, a mistake I quickly correct.
A big smile crosses her face, and through her giggles I hear her say, “That makes so much more sense — Charlie’s gay!”
- Live Science: Same sex couples common in the wild
- National Geographic: Homosexual activity among animals stirs debate
- Queerty: A menagerie of gay animals
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This featured contribution, written by Sassafras Lowrey, originally appeared in the Dig & Scratch pets newspaper, and has been updated.