For Rainbow Bridge Remembrance Day, TransLash community member Yannick reflects on how pets have supported his gender journey.
During childhood, I spent a significant amount of time on the island, learning about life as a toddler immersed in the cultures and norms of Puerto Rican life. There were a lot of people on both sides of the gender binary in my immediate surroundings, all cis, and they all spoke the same language… and said the same things. It was a Republican, Roman Catholic environment; not very welcoming of change — or of fluidity — and everything was cut and dry. Understanding that at a young age as “just the way things are,” didn’t really leave very much space to explore my gender. There wasn’t ever much time alone, and if I had it, I couldn’t trust anyone. Well, anyone other than Talito.
Talito was a black, shih-tzu/komondor sort of mix, who developed a few illnesses and came out of them completely blind and (almost completely) deaf. My aunt had given him to my grandmother after having him for a while, and decided he was a bit too much. Talito didn’t live a long life, but he helped me live a full one while he was here.
Spanish is a grammatically gendered language, giving even inanimate objects masculine or feminine lettering, so my brain was always cut in half with every word I was saying; trying to remember if the words ended in o or a, trying to understand if I was supposed to be feminine, not liking that I had to speak of myself in that way when I opened my mouth, and lacking the resources to express myself.
It seemed like Talito understood my anger and confusion; I would notice him in a corner of the backyard, becoming aggressive out of fear of getting hurt, simply because he couldn’t hear or see what was going on.
I will admit, he did bite me a few times. But I was doing the same thing to my family when they were forcing me into fitting rooms in stores to try on dresses, or do my hair a certain way. Just like Talito, I was also fighting back.
I learned to hold space for Talito’s fear and anger, which led me to do the same for myself.
After one-on-one time with Talito, I would start acting out parts of plays I would write on the spot: cowboys roaming freely, pirates ripping through mystical waves. No matter what it was, I noticed myself writing a few more lines each time for the masculine roles, and really basking in those moments when I was acting them. I even at one point wrote a one man one-act play, that I got back on the stage to perform more than a few times for him.
Maybe it was because my love was getting through to him, but Talito began to calm down when I would come to see him, and he seemed just as happy as I was while I was performing the one man show. I didn’t actually realize this until around fifteen-or-so years later, when I started processing myself and thinking about things like gender identity, and whether or not it was “of concern to me” (the denial was very deep and real) and realizing that I, in fact, am not a cis or straight person.
There was a reason why I had to perform those shows for Talito: I needed to be free somewhere in order to survive, even if I wasn’t fully aware that I was doing it.
I gave myself a space where I was safe, where I felt like I was flying, where anything was possible, where everything was going to be okay … and I couldn’t have done that without Talito.
I kept those memories in the corner of my mind for a long time, but they emerged when they needed to, and showed me that my truth was always there — and I was always strong enough to find a way to thrive while surviving.
This August 28th, Rainbow Bridge Remembrance Day, I want to honor and remember Talito for helping me understand myself — and being the first living creature to see me for who I really am.
You can find dog walking services, wholesome videos, and more below. Hopefully they will help you feel a stronger sense of community with other LGBTQIA+ pet owners, and answer any questions you might have.
- Argos & Artemis is a NYC-based queer and trans owned dog walking company, that “helps pups and humans find their pack.” To understand more of what they mean, read this article by co-founder Noël Duan to learn about how they keep queer and trans dog walkers safe, how we can support dog walkers now, and more.
- ‘Blind and Deaf dog is so loved by transgender dad: ‘I kind of see herself in me’ It’s a very wholesome video, that’s all I can saying without crying.
- Don’t You Want Me is a wholesome global photography project that showcases the beauty & resilience of LGBTQ+ people and their rescue dogs.
- Gay Star News is a good place to go to hear more first hand accounts of people and their pet’s reactions to them transitioning.
- Good Boy: My Life In Seven Dogs by Jennifer Finney Boylan is a memoir, best put by Jennifer, as being “in the love of dogs, and my love for them, that I can best now take the measure of the child I once was, and the bottomless, unfathomable desires that once haunted me.There are times when it is hard for me to fully remember that love, which was once so fragile, and so fierce. Sometimes it seems to fade before me, like breath in a mirror. But I remember the dogs”.
- How One Trainer is Paving the Way For Transgender Dog Handlers is an article put out by the American Kennel Club earlier this year, about dog trainer and competitor Dresden Graff. It’s a really inspiring story about how dog training helped Graff through discovering his identity and coming out, and how he plans to help dogs and people in the same ways moving forward.
- Pets for Patriots wrote an endearing article all about Navy Veteran Brock, and how his dogs help him through his PTSD from war, which goes to show how dogs can help with mental health.
- There is an ongoing study at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Social Work analyzing the way pets impact the lives of young LGBTQ folx. Read about what they’re looking to discover, and potentially participate in the study.
- This r/AskReddit thread, ‘Transgender people of reddit, how did your pet react to your transition?’ is a good place to hear different peoples experiences with their pets and how they reacted to transitions! [Yannick note: In my case, my dog started to become a little confused as to who was calling for her sometimes if she wasn’t facing my direction when my voice started to drop about three months into being on T. It made me a little sad, but other than that, she always knew who I was.]
ICYMI: Check out Team TransLash’s trans-affirming mental health resource guide and Radically Open Dialectical Behavioral Therapy: What Is It and Is It For Me? session notes.
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[Image Description: A dark brown background holds the TransLash logo on the top center, and on the bottom has white texts that reads: “#RainbowBridgeRemembranceDay.” In the center of frame, there is a rainbow with clouds at the bottom of both sides, and sitting in front of it, a BIPOC Queer individual holding a dog, taking a selfie.]