27 February 2010

What Cats Know About Gender

Max is climbing all over me again. Earlier, Charlie was doing the same. They've always been very affectionate cats, but ever since I've returned from having my surgery, they can't seem to get enough of me. I thought they'd get used to having me again a few days or a couple of weeks after I came home. But they're just as greedy for me as they were the night I came back from Trinidad.

I'm thinking now about a few nights ago, when Sara and Dee stopped by my place. It was the first time Dee had been to my apartment, and almost as soon as she settled into my couch, Max climbed on her. He clung to her and purred loudly and deeply, as he does for me. Dee--who, as best as I can tell, is a woman only in the sense that she has XX chromosomes, and who has said that she'd make the transition to male if she were younger, had fewer health problems and better finances--worried that Max was attracted to her "as a woman."

I assured her that Max was simply an "aggressively friendly" cat and would climb on anyone who didn't resist him. Well, that statement was a bit of a stretch, as I've only had a few people to my place since I adopted Max. One, Millie, rescued him from the streets, so of course he loves her. And he tried to climb on Nina, but I had to pull him away because she's allergic. Ditto for my old landlady. He also climbed on Tami, who is most definitely female and has a few more cats than I have. Let's see...Who else did Max "conquer?" Well, he used to climb on Dominick whenever he came over. He's lived with cats--and dogs--all of his life and knows how to treat them.

Hey...Now it occurs to me that almost everyone I voluntarily spend time with is female. Anyway, Max tried to sit on all of them. Charlie, once he got to know them a bit, would curl up with them. But now I wonder: Do they really like women better than men? Or are they simply more used to women?

I've heard people say that cats like women because we're similar in sensibility to them. Someone else, I forget who, said that cats know we'll make a fuss over, and speak soothingly to, them. Either theory seems plausible enough. Still, I have to wonder whether cats actually know a human's gender--and if they do, whether it makes any difference to them.

Before I adopted Charlie, I had another cat with the same name and a very similar gray and white coat. He used to rub himself on my hand when I was holding the phone receiver--and talking to a woman. It didn't matter which woman; Charlie liked them all.

The day I met him, he was rolling and curling around the other kittens in his litter. They were born to a cat who lived with a friend of a friend; I had gone to her house with the intention of adopting one of those kittens. But, to my delight, Charlie adopted me: When he looked at me, he and I both knew that he was going home with me. Janette, who was the chaplain at Housing Works during the brief time I worked there, said that it was proof that I am indeed female, even though I was living otherwise. "He knew before you were ready to," she quipped.

What I find interesting is that Caterina and Candice, the two female cats I've lived with, were the same way with me and other women. So were both of Tammy's cats--a female and a male.

Hmm...Now I'm wondering whether cats are a gender unto themselves. One thing I know is that, on the whole, they--whether male or female--are drawn more to females than males of the human species. Does this mean that all cats are lesbians or straight males?

Whatever they are, they probably think we're silly. And that's exactly what they love and use in us. And many humans, like me, are only too happy to indulge them. Given my history with cats, how could I not?

Whatever their motivations, they know how to make us happy.