Being a part of the LGBT community has been difficult at times. The realization at a young age that I was gay wasn’t a burden so much as it was a fear of the future. A frightening projection of hate, judgments and bigotry. Thankfully, these concerns weren’t as dominant growing up as they would be in my adult life.
Good friends, compassionate family members and a multitude of gay and lesbian literature helped me through the coming out process, but there are other allies that sometimes don’t get the recognition they deserve.
These cohorts have always been with us. Harbingers of good will, support and the ultimate in acceptance without prejudice.
Of course I am talking about our furry allies. Our dogs, cats, or any other such living non-human creatures that listened to us and comforted us when we felt at our worst. But I am not talking about the pet in the way that it comes rushing to the door after you have had a bad day, or the feline that lays on the top of your head as you sleep; these traits are examples of love from our animals which everyone enjoys.
I’m talking about these animals as the silent allies which helped us as gay and trans people when we couldn’t take another judgement or homophobic slight. I am also talking about these pets as support systems when we fell into the abyss of addiction, or the traps of social anxiety.
Even through the toughest of times we factor in our pet’s care even if that means the tough decision to give them up.
Of course animals help many people survive the obstacles of a cruel world, but I want to talk about them specifically as they ally with our own community. LGBT people treat their pets differently, it is a balance of love and appreciation that is constantly trying to be repaid by both parties.
When those of us realized we were “different” as kids, there is really nobody to whom we could reach out. We are stuck within our young mind’s limited library of critical thinking skills and it may take many years before we formulate a plan on which way to announce that we have different approaches to life, different than the majority of traditional society.
In that time during the difficult stages, some of us turned to stuffed animals or other forms of comfort items. We poured our hearts and tears out to these substitutes and cried into their synthetic fur.
If we were fortunate to have a living human-animal interaction, there was always a pricked-up ear at the ready, a side-swipe nuzzle against your face, or the easing cuteness of a wide-eyed pocket pet.
In some cases our dogs or cats may have been the first living things we came out to.
In our adult gay lives we chose to have our own four-legged friends whether it was a dependent puppy, a wobbly kitten, a mature shelter dog or the inheritance of a pet that a friend could not take to their new apartment.
These allies helped us through the tough times when dates we really liked turned out to be one-night-stands. They got us through heart ache and heartbreak. The amount of unconditional love was immeasurable and the thing is, they have no idea of the amount of joy they bring us, and therefore it is altruistic in every sense of the word.
A few years ago, I was going through a tough time. I had ended a 12 year relationship and had fallen prey to things that were not the healthiest for my body or soul. I was depressed and unhappy. A friend of mine allowed me to move in with her and her dog Katie.
It was a time of healing--a step back as I got my sad gay life together. Through it all Katie, a freckled-nose, black Lab/Australian Shepherd mix was always at my feet or resting her chin on the edge of my futon-turned-bed. I talked to her when nobody was around and she listened, smiling in a way that I cannot describe as anything but anthropomorphism.
I played music for Katie when my room mate was away at work and sang to her songs that made me feel better. Sometimes she liked the entertainment, other times she would head to the front door feigning to have to go out just so she wouldn’t have to listen another round of “Bleeding Love.”
She endured the crumpled up tissues that fell on her head as she laid next to me under the bed. As a gay man my problems seemed so crushing.
Katie is still with me today.
Gay people have the added task of maneuvering through a judgmental world, one of inequality and fear, sometimes toxic. We want what everybody else wants, however the journey to get there can be quite treacherous even in our own circles.
Our animals have no idea of the problems we face as we head out into the everyday world. They don’t have to worry about the religious right or the homophobia that seeps its way into our subconscious on a daily basis.
In fact, it would seem they want us to get married and have kids. It means more people in the house and a chance at frequent walks, petting or treats straight from the bag we happen to have open at the time.
I’m not saying that if you don’t have a pet that your life is harder; there are other things that I’m sure help keep you strong. But people--LGBT people with animals treat them as beacons of true love. They are in fact the only creatures who depend on us in non-judgmental ways.
We don’t mind cleaning up after them, buying them expensive gifts or making sure their health is up to par. LGBT people treat their pets differently and it benefits them both.
As we head into this new world of LGBT freedoms and equalities; results of hard work and community activism, let’s also remember that we had other allies who may have never spoke to us in language as we know it, but communicated and reacted in ways that we understood.
They are the some of the best motivations for inner-change and renewal of spirit. If it weren’t for them we may not know what it feels like to care and unconditionally accept another living thing.
As we celebrate all of the good that has happened in our community in the recent years, lets give thanks to the often ignored constituents within our plight that helped keep us strong.
So, to every LGBT person’s pet that has helped in some way to ease their owner’s state-of-mind, helped them by just sitting by their side, or let them know they matter, I say thank you.
Even though there is not a day dedicated to your contribution, you are an ally and an important part of an LGBT life that may have taken a different route had you not been in it.
Timothy Rawles is Community Editor of SDGLN. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @reporter66 on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to 888-442-9639, ext. 713.