Felix Polydactyl Meander

Roland Stahl

     This is an essay on gender liberation, celebrating the large and growing number of people who are neither “male” nor “female” but somewhere in between.  But first I want to write about Meander, my daughter’s polydactyl (many toed) cat.  

     When my daughter was a little girl, one of her friend’s cats was having kittens.  The friend offered my daughter “the pick of the litter.”  The kittens were born, and my daughter fell in love with one of them and happily brought it home.  Now I have loved cats all my life (– and dogs and children and trees and fragrant roses), so I was happy to welcome my daughter’s new kitten into our lives, but I was dismayed to discover that her choice was a polydactyl, and not just with an extra toe somewhere, but all four paws had about seven toes!  It looked like he were wearing big, clumsy gloves on every paw.  My daughter was so full of love and joy for her new kitten, so I muted my reaction a little bit, but I asked her why, if she were offered the pick of the litter, why she had to choose a kitten with such obvious defects.  Why couldn’t she have chosen a perfect kitten (none of the other kittens had any extra toes)?

     But Meander (as he would later be named) was not defective at all.  He was totally perfect in every way. I have known and loved a great many cats in my life, and never have I known a nicer cat.  He was sweet, gentle, friendly, loving, mellow, and totally delightful.  Whenever I would put on some classical music (say, a Telemann oboe concerto), Meander would come running to sit on my lap or on the end of the bed and listen to the music with me, his ears always moving to tune in the music just right.  (I have always been envious of cats’ ears.)

     In earlier times, some people were so barbaric as to cut off the extra toes from a polydactyl, so that the cat would conform to the norm and be “just like everybody else.”  I don’t know if my daughter selected her kitten because of the extra toes, but they certainly didn’t bother her at all.  My daughter was very young at the time, and I suspect that she just tuned into her kitten completely oblivious to the extra toes.  I would have missed my chance – I would have been prejudiced with the attitude that I should choose a “perfect” cat, and so would have missed the joy and delight of having such a wonderful cat entering into our lives, enriching us immeasurably.

     So I am sure the lesson is clear by now – you don’t have to cut off any extra toes.  1000 years ago the differentiations of people into two opposite genders was much more pronounced than in the present day.  All throughout history there have always been both men and women who have not conformed to this differentiation, but, for the most part, men were raised to be strong, aggressive, and warlike.  War, in fact, has always been considered to be the defining occupation of a man.  Women, on the other hand, were softer and nurturing – homemakers and mothers of children.  But the world has changed a lot over the years, and there is less and less reason all the time for any essential polarity between men and women.  

     This transition has been happening gradually.  In the not too distant past, fathers who considered their boys to be too soft (not to say “effeminate”) might send them off to a military academy to turn them into “real men.” Today’s young men are increasingly rejecting that solution, but they often seem to be turning to another option which seems to me to be just as surprising – not wanting to be turned into a “real man,” they sometimes try to turn themselves into “real women.” Both options seem crazy to me.  

     Of course I hasten to proclaim my belief in the natural right to the freedom for everyone to live their life any way they please, in any way that seems good to them (and their partners), regardless of anyone’s preconceived ideas of what is “right” or “natural,” but, in the present essay, I want to speak up for a third option – to accept yourself exactly as you are, and to live your life just the way you want to live.  You don’t have to be either male or female – you can live your life happily as an in-between.  You might be androgynous, or you might have some combination of male and/or female qualities.  And – a lot of us like you that way!  A typical aggressive male with no redeeming female virtues is an unpleasant character.

     I remember (many years ago – the 60s) at the Stud, a famous gay bar in San Francisco, South of Market, you might find an astonishing assortment of faeries, twinks, drag queens, and an extravagantly costumed array of persons of indeterminate and irrelevant gender.  All persons were uniquely themselves, “doing their own thing,” and no two were alike, but long hair and bright colors were typical.  This extraordinary, glorious, and refreshing celebration of individual freedom delighted me much, much more than the later evolution to costumed uniformity known as “the Castro Clone” (After Castro Street, not Fidel) – short hair, lumberjack shirt, boots, mustache, and scarf around the neck or in the back pocket.  

     My favorite image retained from those days was of a man dancing divinely at the Stud in a long, flowing black gown.  He wasn’t trying to be a woman – he had long hair, but he also had a full beard, and he had no fake tits or painted lips or nails; he was just blazing brightly as 100% himself, whether you liked it or not.  The thing is – a lot of people liked it.  Just as my daughter, given the chance to take the pick of the litter, fell in love with Meander, gloves and all, so, in the same way, many people today are not looking for a “typical” or “standard paradigm” male or female, but, given the choice, we might look for someone who is somewhere in-between.  

     Certainly there are plenty of men, women, and in-betweens who lust after big, beefy aggressive males with a dominance personality (-disorder), and, in celebration of diversity, I am glad that there is someone for everyone, but I know I am not the only man who greatly prefers an “in-between male” – sweet and gentle, soft-bodied, somewhat feminine – an artist or musician rather than a football player.  I have always been entirely bisexual, and I have loved women all my life, but I have always preferred tough, independent women with flat chests and narrow “boyish” hips to the apparently more popular big-breasted bimbos.  But I am most highly aroused by sweet, gentle, and pretty young men of low testosterone, who are more likely to be found baking bread than playing football or joining the army.

     So, to all the lovely young men who fit my phantasy profile, please don’t join any army in hopes of being turned into a “real man” – but you don’t have to turn yourself into a woman, or cut off any toes, either – I love you just the way you are, and I’m not the only one.


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