Content notice for mentions of childhood sexual abuse as well as abuser behavior, animal mistreatment, and possible animal abuse. Detailed discussion of it is further warned in the body of this piece.
I don’t really have a Big Political Point to make with this. This is not discourse. This is me writing about something bizarre that happened to me on Saturday.
I do have two minor points: What happens proves that jerks like this do exist outside of the internet and go off at people even when they don’t know whether the people they’re going off at are feminists or SJWs, and that it is very important to pay attention to red flags.
I foster felines for and volunteer with a cat rescue. We deal in a lot of second chance cats — traumatized kitties like my Duchess (she got adopted, by the way, by someone who adores her), hissy kittens, cats with lots of medical issues, former street cats with messed-up ears. Basically, felines with clickbait-worthy back-stories who are hard to find homes for.
This cat rescue, like many across the US, has an adoption center at a pet store which is an enclosed space with glass on the outside.
While customers can walk by it and see the cats in their cages anytime, we let the cats out to play within the center so that they can show better. We also set up a table in front of the center on select days to drum up interest in potential adopters.
I have been part of the group staffing those events for a few months now. I am usually there the only staffer for the event. I never feel alone, though. The pet store manager knows when I come in and when I leave. When it’s slow, I talk to the store employees, groomers, and vet staff as well as the various pet food brand reps who come in. Fellow fosters sometimes bring in their kittens to show. I have “regulars” who come in to admire our kitties as well as plenty of curious people who ask me about cats in general and rescue specifically.
There is a wonderful mother-daughter pair of volunteers that comes by every Sunday to deep-clean the center, but they sometimes do Saturday instead because of the middle-school-age volunteer’s schedule. As is often the case with the youths these days, the kiddo takes better pictures of the cats than the rest of us.
There is another cat rescue that holds adoption events at the same pet store. I know their volunteers fairly well at this point. They set up tables with cages near the door. Due to their placement as well as their focus on kittens over cats, they tend to get more adoptions than we do. Sometimes they do send people over to us, though, since we have more adult cats as well as are willing to adopt out single cats. They do adoptions exclusively in pairs (or to people who already have at least one other young cat), which makes a lot of sense for tiny kittens.
And now, onto what happened this Saturday.
As is sometimes the case when I get into the store, I couldn’t find some of my setup items. I wandered to likely suspects: areas of the store where they might’ve been mistakenly placed. The head volunteer at the other rescue caught sight of me and told me she’d sent a potential adopter my way because he was interested in only adopting a single cat. “I wouldn’t adopt to him, though,” she warned.
I thanked her for the information but after 2 hours had gone by without any sign of someone looking to adopt a single cat, I forgot about her warning. By then, the volunteer cleaning duo had shown up. At some point, the older volunteer left the center to do some of the necessary tasks in other parts of the store, leaving me at the table just outside the center and the student volunteer inside, alternately petting the cats and cleaning the cages.
About 45 minutes before the end of my tabling shift, a man walked by the table, saw me, looked up at our sign, and declared, “Oh! There’s adoptions here, too!” Before I could say yes and the name our rescue as was my usual reply, he had walked right past me and briskly let himself inside the adoption center and started petting the cats.
I was startled. Never had I ever seen anyone who wasn’t a volunteer or employee let themselves into the center before. Most of the time, people don’t even ask if they can go in. In fact, in most cases, I offer to take them in if they seem like they are interested in meeting the cats. After I let them in, they usually ask me which cats they can pet rather than just start touching cats.
Despite how startled I felt, I immediately followed him in, as people who aren’t volunteers or employees aren’t supposed to be in there without one of us present and he hadn’t sanitized his hands first. I asked him to sanitize his hands, at which he laughed and said something about how he didn’t blame me, since he could’ve just used the bathroom without having washed his hands before “putting my hands all over your cats.”
I did not like his verbiage in the slightest. I said that it had more to do with potential germs from other cats than anything from humans.
Good Kitty, Bad Man
After sanitizing his (poop-and-pee covered?) hands, he picked up one of our adoptable cats, an amiable little tuxedo named Brian. Again, he didn’t ask if he could pick the kitten up, which is a bad idea with cats. He happened to get lucky with Brian, who is too good a boy to scratch people — even people who turn out to very much deserve it.
Brian normally loves attention, but the way the man was holding him made Brian squirm. Frankly, it made me squirm. He looked at and touched Brian like he was a cut of steak he was considering buying, not a fellow living being. He let Brian down then asked me “Why didn’t they want him?”
I was confused by his question. It turned out that he assumed that Brian was a surrender to the rescue, that he was someone’s abandoned cat. I said that I wasn’t sure where Brian had come from, but that a lot of our younger cats were originally young kittens saved from a life on the streets. He said he didn’t want a “feral” cat because “you can’t get the feral outta them.” I tried to explain that Brian could not, by definition, be a feral; that no well-socialized indoor-only kitten could be called “feral”; that Brian could have also been a shelter-pull. Je wasn’t interested in listening to me.
The Bomb Drops
He asked me if he could take Brian home today. I said that he would need to fill out an application and that our adoption coordinator would have to approve it before he could adopt Brian (and made a mental note to preemptively warn the hell out of our coordinator to deny his application). He let Brian down, laughed, and mockingly said, “Oh, so some bag lady will come to my house and judge me?” I said that our adoption coordinator was a perfectly nice person. I didn’t know what else to say.
He claimed to have spoken to her before, somehow (although he called her by the wrong name). Then he showed just how little regard he had for his fellow human beings in addition to his contempt for cats by casually telling me that “all these animal people in LA” were “all molested” and that was why they “hid behind animals instead of dealing with their issues” and were “defensive.”
At that point, I had a big enough red flag, in addition to the prior ones, to automatically go into defuse and deescalate mode, especially since the middle-school-age volunteer was still in the room and he stood closest to the door while she was standing at the dead end of the room. Mimicking his casual tone, I asked him how he knew that. He said he had talked to enough people to know.
Pivoting from that bomb-drop, he asked “What’s wrong with him?” and indicated Brian’s paws. Brian is a polydactyl cat with extra toes, often considered a desirable and cute trait in cats. Most people don’t ask what’s “wrong” with a cat even in the case of a cat missing an eye, ear, or limb. They usually ask what the cat’s story is or I will take it upon myself to explain a cat’s extra toes or missing leg or what have you. Most people are both curious and also too polite to ask.
I don’t recall what started it, but he started going off again about how defensive all animal rescue people in LA are. I stayed calm and polite. At some point, I decided to finally state the obvious: “Well, maybe they’re so defensive because you come to their events and accuse them of being sexual abuse victims?”
He started to claim that it’s American culture, that in Europe no one was this defensive and closed-off, again mentioning “these women who are molested.” I asked him if he had any research or evidence — actual proof — for this. He said he didn’t have “any papers” but he “talked to people”, then resumed his rant.
I finally said, firmly, that I would have to ask him to leave. I sensed he was losing his cool because I had stopped politely side-stepping his shitty comments.
“You kook!” he screamed, his fake-jokey manner finally leaving him all anger and resentment. “You’re all kooks!” He stormed off to sulk in the dog harness aisle.
I went to ask the other rescue’s volunteer if that was the man she had told me about. She confirmed that not only was he the one, he had ranted about molestation victims to her, too. Worryingly, he claimed to be picking up a sphinx kitten from a breeder that very day.
Boo, breeders. I know, #NotAllBreeders, but honestly, he’s such a walking red flag that you’d have to actively ignore the bad signs in order to feel good about his chances of being a responsible pet guardian. This particular breeder is likely in it solely for the profit and doesn’t care. I don’t even want to think about what that poor little hairless kitten’s life will be like.
I went back to the center and made sure the student volunteer was OK. She was. Not long after, she and her mother were cuddling kitties and taking pictures of them as usual. I left a little early, ranted about it at whomever was available, then played Let’s Go Pikachu with my fluffiest foster perched on my hip.
So there you have it. You don’t have to be an active feminist on the Internet in order for random men to tell you that the reason you act the way you do is that your dad sexually abused you.
[ start detailed discussion of Dr. Drew and Freud’s beliefs regarding CSA ]
My guess is that he is one of those people that thinks any woman (or person he sees as a woman) who does things he doesn’t like, understand, or approve of, especially deny him something, must have been sexually abused. This is not an uncommon belief, even today and among medical professionals.
Dr. Drew Pinsky spent years telling his Loveline listeners that any woman who wanted anything but married, heterosexual, missionary-style, vanilla, penile-vaginal intercourse must have been molested. If she didn’t remember it, he claimed it must have been when she was too young to remember or that she had “repressed” it. He also claimed that women with high-pitched voiced were molested among many other questionable things.
When I called into Loveline, I was told I was molested for being interested in anal play, threesomes, and kinky sex.
While you probably know about Freud’s sexual complexes, you might not know that he came up with the Electra complex because, when his female patients confided in them about their sexual abuse at the hands of their own fathers, he decided that it couldn’t be true and they must be lying.
Denial of the sexual abuse of children or claiming someone acting in a way not desired by the accuser is sexually abused is an old and persistent form of discrediting women. While men certainly are victims of sexual abuse as children as well, the only time I’ve heard someone tell a man that something they didn’t like about him was the result of it has been from homophobes. Of course, those same people accuse lesbians of hating men because they were molested by men. Somehow, being molested by a man leads women to shun men but men to seek out men? Yeah, I don’t pretend to understand it.
[ end detailed discussion of Dr. Drew and Freud’s beliefs regarding CSA ]
On Red Flags
Aside from the molestation ranting, which crosses enough social norms so as to be absurdly obvious, none of what the man said or did, taken on an individual basis, would be enough for me to call him a bad man liable to abuse any animals in his care. All of them are plausibly deniable. And yet, in aggregate, they paint a clear enough picture that his molestation comments serve as a gift to anyone trained to ignore their own feelings about who is safe and who is not.
- Letting himself in. It could’ve been out of enthusiasm.
- The bathroom comments. He might have genuinely been trying to joke out of embarrassment.
- Assuming a rescue cat was rejected by someone and/or was “defective”. Some people think this out of genuine ignorance.
- Calling the sweet cat you just held without getting scratched even though he was squirming “feral.” Again, this could have been from a real lack of information.
On What I Did
I’m sure some of you are wondering why I didn’t banish him from the center the very millisecond he implicitly accused me of being an overly-defensive molestation victim. The answer is that he was too calm for my taste at that point. That’s not a typo or a joke. He clearly had something milling in him and him going from 0 to 100 would be an explosion of the kind that might have endangered a kitty, my student volunteer, or myself. I felt he needed to show himself more, to “earn” the banishment, in order for him to leave safely.
In these types of situations, I follow what some might call my “gut” or “instinct” tells me. I think of it as carefully-cultivated and practiced internal sense of how to preserve safety. The Gift of Fear is a good read on this sort of thing, written by a real-life experienced safety expert (with the caveat that it’s victim-blaming towards the author’s mother in a few passing comments about her).
It’s a similar instinct that kept me from being snarky, clever, cutting, rude, or sarcastic with him. I sure wanted to. I thought of dozens of retorts I wanted to use. I didn’t use them. If it had been just my own safety at stake, I might’ve mocked him for fun. Instead, I had the kitties and the young volunteer to consider as well.