We know there are ‘dog lesbians’ and ‘cat lesbians’ — or people like me who love them both equally — but cats have undeniably been more associated with lesbians. It’s not just a stereotype either: a poll of lesbians on @lesbian__history’s Instagram revealed that half had at least one cat but only a third had at least one dog.
Cats have historically been associated with women. Perhaps the cat-loving lesbian stereotype is because a lesbian relationship involves double the women, so double the cats. The word “puss” was used to refer to cats before it became slang for vagina. The connection can’t possibly be coincidental.
Maybe the association started with witches who, The Cut outlines, have appreciated cats for “companions in spiritual matters and in persecution.” Or maybe, the disobedient nature of cats appeals to women who are “generally disgusted by the demands of [heterosexual] marriage, gender roles, or mainstream femininity.” Lesbians do, naturally, rely less on men. Hmm.
Kate McKinnon and Ellen Degeneres are two lesbians — among many — who really love their cats, to the point that it’s inconvenient to others. But who cares? Cats rule (literally). They have been goddesses. Bow down, lesbians.
Lesbians aren’t afraid to play up to loving cats. Kate McKinnon played Barbara DeDrew, an older lesbian “cat lady” who runs a cat rescue and cycles through a bunch of obsessed lovers, on Saturday Night Live’s Whiskers R We. The cat rescuer is a stereotype most of us welcome gladly and there is truth to it. In the aforementioned lesbian Instagram poll, almost all of the responders said they rescued their cat or dog rather than going to a breeder. Being compassionate is a vibe!
McKinnon is a real life cat lover. McKinnon rescued her cat from a pizzeria and then named him Nino, after the said restaurant. The website CatTime fills us in on the deets:
“Nino is 17 pounds from eating so many pizza crusts and Kate tries to help him lose weight but she just can’t seem to say no to her cat, who she calls her son. She talks about Nino every chance she gets.”
McKinnon says in the YouTube video that her close friends would describe her as “covered in cat hair.” She “tried” to stop Nino from jumping up on the dining room table when she first rescued him but she felt guilty after got upset that she was controlling him. He has now claimed a decorative serving tray as his own. On the dining table.
I think most of us say we originally “tried” to teach our cats to stop jumping up on the dining table. I think most of us pretend “they’re not supposed to be up there” when friends are around. The truth is that cats don’t see us as their boss and we love that they fight for their right to party.
Ellen told goodhousekeeping that she and Portia have three cats and three dogs “but, like any celebrity parent, I think it’s important to keep them out of the press.” Without being prompted, she says her favorite pet is one of the cats, Charlie, who passed away in January 2020.
Ellen Degeneres’ obsession with her cats is the only thing that Portia de Rossi claims bothers her in their marriage. Portia states to Jennifer Aniston:
“Every single night, just as I serve her [Ellen] dinner, just as I put it down in front of her, she gets up and feeds the cats – every single night…I love cooking, I love preparing food and I love making it the perfect temperature. I garnish. I try to make it a little romantic.”
Ellen defends herself:
“Somehow, I come in, they wake up and they want to be fed. I have to feed them. It’s not every night but I do know that that bugs her and I rush. I hurry up and rush and feed them but sometimes, they want choices. So I put down two different kinds.”
Cats need to be careful when inconveniencing lesbian relationships, however. Let’s not forget that Tonya killed Dana’s cat, Mr. Piddles – who supported her when she was coming out to a homophobic family – on The L Word.
Doing as we please
When I asked Dana, a lesbian cat lover, why she thinks lesbians have a close relationship with cats and/or are associated with them, she said:
“Cats will not approach you unless they trust you…There is a sixth sense that tells us something about another person, spoken or not. Cats seem to know when you’re all alone or just need a hug. They also know when you want to be left alone [for the most part]…I have also noticed this in the lesbian community, we are all here for each other, whether we feel we need support or not…cats are honest and opinionated…cats are unafraid to tell or show how they feel about anything.”
What makes cats different to dogs mirrors lesbian history. We’ve had to be disobedient in order to live our lives honestly; we’ve gone against what we’ve been taught; we’ve remained feral despite domestication; we’ve been despised by men for rejecting them. In fact, Dana has had a lesbian cat (double whammy):
“The breeder told my family she [my Norwegian forest cat Bitten] refused to “mate” even when she was in heat…she had a big crush on Vanessa [another female cat] and they were inseparable. After Vanessa passed, Bitten was not the same, I still think Bitty died of a broken heart.”
Perhaps it’s not just a coincidence that lesbians are often associated with cats. Oral Historian Irene Reti claims that the connection is spiritual and rooted in history:
“Cat is telling us about independent grace, beauty born of self-respect and pride. Cat knows how to say when she doesn’t want to be touched. Cat knows how to ignore men. It is no accident that lesbian feminists remember, even unconsciously, who our wise and sacred companions are. We who are not afraid to be called dykes, witches, crones or hags, are also friends of cats.”
Jackson Galaxy, cat behaviourist and certified gentle soul, says that many men don’t like cats because they like to be ‘top dog’:
“[men] like to have things handed to them on a silver platter. Men like to dominate – that’s our history, we like to dominate, we want to put our fist through something and say ‘this is mine’….That’s why we like dogs. Because, by and large, we have made them – we took them out of the wild, said ‘do this job for me,’ roll over on your back, wag your tail like this, smile, let me scratch your tummy, bring me my slippers and look at me like I’m the sun God, and your dog does that. But your cat won’t do it. Men can’t put up with that.”
Cats don’t seek to aggravate us when they refuse to get off the dining table, they seek to cohabitate and exist with mutual respect. Some people view that as defying humankind’s supposed superiority. Not lesbian cat-lovers, though. We know a cat’s worth.
While cats paw an expensive vase off a side table and watch it shatter on the floor, they want humans to get one thing straight: they domesticated themselves. They’ve spent centuries resisting human dominance. They helped keep mice and rats away from our food in the beginning, we liked them around, but they decided to give us a chance at friendship. Cats have strict boundaries. Perhaps that’s another thing lesbians relate to or, for the lesbian codependents among us, aspire to.
I’ll leave you with a quote by Robert A. Heinlen, “Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea.”