The book Queer Icons and their Cats is a celebration of the kinship between queers and their cats; solidarity to all who face daily oppression for being their authentic self
Queer Icons and their Cats – Alison Nastasi and PJ Nastasi’s book
It is to note that queer does not necessarily mean gay. Queer includes anybody who does not identify themselves as completely heterosexual – for many people, queer has become a way of regaining autonomy over the world which insists upon the gender binary. Throughout time, cats have paved their own way for their solidified status in our changing world and within the ever-pulsating popular culture. Alison adds, that like queer people, cats too haven’t always been seen for the true temperament of their character. She says, «LGBT folks have reclaimed the queer label and cats too, have also had unfair assumptions thrown at them». It is believed that cats have been domesticated for far longer than dogs; evidence probes to the idea that cats began living with humans for the first time during the Neolithic period, the final stage of the cultural evolution of humans. Then, worshipped as deities such as the Bastet, an Egyptian goddess with the head of a cat, is perhaps an explanation for why your cat manoeuvres around your house with such regality and elegance. Over time whilst the imagery of a cat has been venerated with reverence and respect, the relationship between humans and cats has transcended into their long-standing contribution to what makes our lives in our homes, away from the real world, still so rich and fulfilling.
The text produced by the combined efforts of Alison Nastasi and her sibling, PJ Nastasi is a celebration of both queer culture and the adoration of pets, in this case, pointed eared and whisker faced felines. Research surrounding the relationship between LGBTQ people and cats can tell us that the kinship between the two, presents animals as a companion for those who can feel alienated and isolated in society. In comparison to the competing domesticated animal, a dog, cats are viewed as far more aloof as a pet. The trope of the ‘man’s best friend’ has been is depicted in a way which imagines a typically white, cis man, whereas cats are othered in a different way. As Simone de Beauvoir writes in The Second Sex, women are the ‘other’, perhaps cats are similar in this way. It isn’t rare to hear somebody say that they aren’t a cat person, preferring the more docile and passive nature of a dog. Cats could never. If you’re wanting attention and affection from your cat, it happens to only be on their terms. Within the queer community, the lesbian and cat pair are a well-known symbol, which still represents a truism for the community at large: as Nastasi writes in the introduction of the book, seventy-one percent of LGBTQ households have a pet. Cats have historically been present within queer culture; an anthology published in 1991 by Irene Reti, Cats (and their Dykes), is a tribute to the presence of cats in the lives of radical lesbian feminists, exploring a rejection to the banality of patriarchal and heteronormative life.
Lampoon reporting: Nastasi’s time spent looking at icons and their cats
Following on from her previous books of the series, Nastasi has spent time looking at icons and their cats; from artists to writers, she explains that this book was different because of the experience of writing it with her sibling, PJ, who unfortunately couldn’t make it to the interview that day. Nastasi says, «This book was different because I had my sibling PJ, my co-author, and we had always wanted to work on something together since we were kids. We’ve always had cats and animals in our home and I just couldn’t imagine writing the book without them». We spoke about the importance of systemic change over the mere guise of representation for marginalised communities. Nastasi writes in the book of how though through a cultural lens, our attitudes towards LGBTQ people have evolved and progressed, the community at large still face much of the oppression and disdain which previous generations suffered through. Nastasi says, «We need systemic change because we have to have accountability and changes in the laws. We also need to educate ourselves and shift how we respond to these human issues that reflect a certain inclusivity and diversity, so we can actually get down to the root of the issue and we can try to start to build something new».
Over the last few decades, there have been wins for the LGBTQ community, through marriage equality, more LGBTQ representation in politics and within the media. Though, these wins cannot detract from the realities that people who choose to reject the gender binary face. Research shows us how overwhelmingly LGBTQ Americans face discrimination which affects their overall mental and economic well-being. For an LGBTQ person, solace and safety won’t be found in the same places which perhaps a cis, heterosexual person will find it; whether that’s accessing healthcare, housing, or even public spaces such as a library, the obstacles which LGBTQ people face and more in particular if you are black or trans, are much more prevalent. Yet, in Queer Icons and their Cats, both Nastasi’s articulate a perhaps taken for granted virtue in many of lives: «Pet ownership is a balm for the soul». Alison explains that the book series, Cats and Icons, was born out of a listicle she wrote a while back, when she learnt of the British artist, Tracey Emin and her late cat docket.
The process of writing a book – Alison Nastasi
Alison and PJ worked on the book together and separately, allowing each other the freedom to research and explore the stories which interested them the most. She said, «We wanted to just focus on including a diverse group of people whose experiences and stories people could relate to». The book itself, filled with details of lives of people and the relationship to their cat peers into the overarching theme of the book: that cats have always been a comfort to those who have been reprimanded by society for their devotion to rebuff heteronormativity. From Dusty Springfield to Michel Foucault, the book invites you to relish in the small niceties of people’s intricate lives. We spoke about the poise and grace of cats, a characteristic that is seemingly not possessed by the other domesticated animals such as dogs, hamsters or even pigs. For so long, the figure of the «Crazy cat lady» depicted across films, books and tv series has endured itself in maintaining misogyny towards women, who too are choosing to reject patriarchal norms and the regulation of the nuclear family. This trope has often been presented to denigrate women who are perhaps single, unrestrained by the pressures to look and appear visually feminine and are therefore casted out for their defiance of conventionality. For both queers and women, cats persist as a place of safety and loyalty for outsiders.
Cats are no longer a symbol of a bad omen, nor an emblem for loneliness and despair.
In asking Alison about the reclamation of cats and their image in the contemporary world, she says, «It just kinda feels like an outdated mean girls’ stereotype at this point». She also touched upon the way in which social media now exemplifies a plethora of people and their pets – a renewed community whereby a picture of a cat curled up asleep can garner up more attention and likes than perhaps the previously fitting selfie. Research does suggest that social media has become a hub for sharing and interacting with others on the cuteness of their furry friends; celebrities are also engaged in the discourse too, posting pictures of their cats. Alison adds that the way cis men are embracing the love for their cats is just another sign of how cats are no longer a sign of pity.
In the introduction, Alison, and PJ point to the rarest beauty which we find in keeping any pet whether that’s a cat or a dog – that their love for you is not based on superficialities or ostentations like humans. They write, «Animals don’t care about human social constructs like gender, and they don’t discriminate based on sexuality». The presence of animals neutralizes an environment where otherwise ideological difference and identity politics could permeate, succeeding in isolating those who are already marginalized for being true to their authentic self. In asking Alison, how we as humans can render those same feelings to others who struggle with the quest of finding who they are, her reply was, «it’s simple if we let it be. We just love and treat others as we wish to be loved, comfort them, be open to other people, lifestyles, choices, remain kind, listen to their stories. As people we all just wanna be seen and heard, that’s what it comes down to, we just wanna be acknowledged in some way».
Queer Icons and their Cats
The Book is available to order or you can find it in some local bookstores too.
Arts & culture journalist, artist and author of the Chronicle Books series ‘Icons and Their Cats’. She is based in Los Angeles, California. PJ’s preferred pronouns are they/them and Alison’s are she/her.