By: Hellen Harty
My cat Ollie is a son-of-a-bitch and my one true daughter. I don't think any human daughter I may have during my life could be as nice-looking as Ollie, and when it comes to daughters it's all about looks. How else are you going to marry them off? If your daughter is ugly and you're trying to marry her off, you are in a real tight spot. Speaking of cat daughters, that reminds me of when I told my grandma that my best friend said she would prefer to get pregnant with kittens rather than humans. She liked kittens so much, and wouldn't it be so funny to be a pregnant human and then surprise, you have kitten babies come out? It was meant to be a light-hearted joke, but my grandma took it as a dark-hearted jab at an activity (called “giving birth”) she did six times during her life. Grandma had to leave the room, and I'm not sure if she started to cry a little. I felt pretty bad and apologized, but I still think it's a funny thing to laugh at. Plus, women get emotional for no reason sometimes, and that's on them. Unfortunately Ollie wasn't there when I subjected my grandma to the nightmarish prospect of human cat births; I'm sure it would have gone over better if she had been.
Sometimes I call Ollie a son-of-a-bitch. Sometimes I call her a whore, and sometimes my mom does too. We have liked this joke for a long time. It's by no means because Ollie is rude or difficult to be around, like most whores. She's a sweet baby cat. She will gladly sit on your lap like a bunny and purr at you with her eyes half-closed with happiness. I started calling Ollie insulting names because she doesn't know what curse words are and it's good to make fun of misogyny. She will meow at me if I say, "Hey you pretty baby," and she will give me the same meow if I say, "You are a whore." It's a pretty good prank to pull on a cat, and I think Ollie gets the joke on some level.
About a year and a half ago I was at a friend of a friend's house for a small birthday party. I didn't know most of the people at the party, which generally makes me nervous because new people can be awful in old, familiar ways, but I was having a good time and trying to be extroverted. For a while we played a game where you have to guess a celebrity by the description someone is giving--maybe it was more complicated than that, I have no idea. Somewhere down the line I got Lance Armstrong, and the first description that came to mind was, "Ball cancer!" Sorry, but that's the first thing that came to mind, and my team guessed my celebrity's name right away. While everyone else at the party laughed at my hasty description, some guy I didn't know seemed to have a big pooh-pooh problem. He said, "Whoa," and his face got all screwed up, and he looked at his friend and said, "Ball cancer? Jesus. How about 'great cyclist'?" He was not laughing, and he was suddenly not having a good time. In that moment, shit had gotten fucked up for him.
I felt guilty immediately, thinking I had offended this stranger. Maybe he had ball cancer, or maybe someone he likes had ball cancer. Maybe he really likes Lance Armstrong ("great cyclist"), and we can all agree that Lance Armstrong is one heck of a dude. As my shame sunk in, I emotionally sunk down into my belly zone feeling hunched and frowning, and waited till I could leave the party. But before I could even leave the party, I got pretty angry. How come this guy gets to decide if I'm being offensive? If I had really hurt his feelings, maybe he should have said, "Hey girl, that's not cool. My loved one has testicular cancer and it's awful." And then I could have said, "I'm so sorry, man. I don't know you personally and I didn't know that about your life history, and I wouldn't have said that if I knew you. I just think Lance Armstrong is well-known for having testicular cancer. You know Livestrong bracelets? Also, dealing with awful things through humor is a personal interest of mine." Instead, this party boy had to talk about me to someone else but in front of me and in a disparaging way. Whether it made me feel guilty or angry, it felt shitty. I'm still not sure what to make of it.
At the time I wondered if this friend of a friend of a friend would have commented on my "ball cancer" description if I were a guy. And I'm hesitant to say that because people who throw the word "feminist" around like a piece of dirty garbage would screw up their faces and respond by saying, "Whoa." But I can't convince myself that this particular bro would have cared if a muscly dude had shouted "Ball cancer!" at a low-key birthday party where people were drinking beer from cans and smoking weed (luckily not from cans). Is it crazy to think that guy was picking on me because I'm a girl making light of a classic case of celebrity testicular cancer? It felt like he was trying to take me down a peg or two by pointing out that Lance Armstrong is seriously an amazing cyclist.
Calling Ollie my daughter and also a whore doesn't mean she's either of those things, and belittling Lance Armstrong by referring to him as "ball cancer" doesn't disqualify him from having lots of other great qualities. It just means that Ollie is the best daughter in the universe and that we were playing a game where you belittle celebrities because they're barely human beings and should be objectified in party games. Regardless of either of those things, you shouldn't tell your grandma some people don't take child-birthing seriously. The important thing to learn from this story framed in a defense of how I verbally abuse my fifteen-year-old cat is that there is a right and there is a wrong, and Lance Armstrong can do no wrong. And it's important to have strong opinions at birthday parties.