The humans called Dennis Avner “Stalking Cat.” His kind referred to him as “meow.”
The cat-like Avner, who held the Guinness Book of World Records mark for body modifications — including a bifurcated lip, extensive tiger-stripe facial tattooing, surgically pointed ears, and silicone injections in the cheeks, chin, and forehead — died earlier this month.
The human authorities suspect he killed himself. I suspect humans, threatened that one of their own had defected to the cat community, killed him.
Human nature, alien to Stalking Cat, remains quite familiar with suicide. The dearth of documented cases of self-inflicted felicide raises suspicions. Only an Ace Ventura could definitively answer this whodunit. The one certainty here is that it’s a jungle out there for a person who realizes he, she, or it is an animal trapped in a human’s body.
Dennis Avner never found acceptance among mankind as a felid despite the plastic surgeries, the tattoos, and the silicone injections. He was, in a loose sense, a real-life Philip Nolan — a manimal without a species.
Biology is the new racism. The phobia against transanimals recalls the societal obstinacy regarding transgenders. We exiled them to the “third bathroom,” inscribed pesky reminders of their physiology on their driver’s licenses, and imprisoned them with criminals of the opposite gender. Some men still won’t consider dating a woman who was born a “man” — whatever that antiquated designation means. One surmises that Stalking Cat encountered similar prejudices among potential dating partners of all sexes and species.
Society’s rejection of transanimals results in their rejection of themselves. When a man splits his tongue, amputates his arms, and fuses his legs together to realize his inner serpent, society calls him crazy, a freak, and troubled — instead of what he is: a snake. We will become as sane as they are only when we finally see transanimals as they see themselves.
All this recalls the dark ages when we denied that one biologically born a male who surgically remade herself as female was as much a woman as your mother. Dennis Avner was as much a cat as Chastity Bono is a man.
Yet, many landlords won’t rent to transanimals. Their contracts stipulate “no pets.” Restaurants still post “no dogs allowed” signs. Public parks demand that you keep animals on a leash. Dennis Avner served in the Navy. But he did so in the form of a human being. The ban on transspecies soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines persists despite the obvious intimidation factor that a battalion of tiger-men would impose on the enemy.
What was Stalking Cat supposed to make of the many restrictions, formal and informal, that civilization imposed upon his wild spirit?
Transanimals face a gross double standard vis-à-vis transgenders. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services decrees that the Affordable Care Act forbids discrimination against transgendered patients within federally funded programs. U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf, a Reagan appointee, has ordered Massachusetts taxpayers to fund gender reassignment surgery for Michelle Kosilek, an inmate convicted of murdering his wife after she caught him in her clothes. Sixteen state governments find a compelling interest in forbidding employers from taking into account a man’s metamorphosis into a woman, or vice versa, when hiring and firing.
By what logic do these states, the federal judge, and HHS, which prohibit discrimination based on gender identity, then permit discrimination based on animal identity?
In fits of self-absolution, tormentors conveniently maintain that the extinction of Stalking Cat, along with a transgender suicide rate 25 times the general population’s, proves that self-mutilation begins a slow self-destruction that ends in one’s ultimate destruction. Society has dysphoria over sexual, and species, dysphoria. We lose some of our humanity when we don’t extend it to gharials, capybaras, and narwhals. Cats are people too.
Mourn Dennis Avner’s tragic demise. But celebrate the miracle of his longevity. While most house cats survive to about 15, Stalking Cat lived to 54. If you last that many years more, you will surely meet others of his kind.
It’s a bestial domain we inhabit. Or, as Cat Stevens — no relation to Stalking Cat — told us, “Ooh baby, baby it’s a wild world.” It’s getting wilder.