Skinning Kittens and Other Bad Life Decisions

If you wake up one day and find that you’re skinning kittens for a living, consider the possibility that your life has taken a wrong turn.

Walter Potter was a taxidermist in the Victorian era who created dioramas of mounted animals, like kittens and bunnies, participating in tea parties and weddings. Though the public flocked to see his “whimsical” creations in 1861, by the time of his death their popularity had significantly waned. Though once a highly successful exhibition, Potter’s heirs couldn’t even give away his collection once the public’s tastes changed and charges of animal cruelty were brought to the fore.

Lots of things were different in 1861. There were no vets; spaying and neutering cats was not a thing.  So farmers often killed large quantities of kittens for population control. People lived with that reality. Museum placards claimed that the animals in Potter’s collection died of natural causes, and the public was probably all too happy to swallow that lie, even though it’s not believable. I grew up in farmland and I’ve known a thousand kittens in my day. Only a few have died of “natural causes”–I can probably count them on one hand. A case of distemper, a motherless stray. Certainly, it would be exceedingly unlikely for a dozen matching ginger kittens of the same age and size to all die at once of natural causes. Several times over. But the Victorians were a denial-addled bunch, having just left the scientifically-advanced, education-loving Enlightenment for organ-squashing corsets, sexual repression and charges of female hysteria.  Sounds familiar–I guess these things go in cycles.

When I come across something heinous and disturbing in the world, I often try to put myself in the shoes of its practitioners, to help me sort of process the whole thing. Potter lived in a world where kittens couldn’t be saved anyway. Perhaps he started in his vocation by preserving beloved family pets. Perhaps he was already desensitized by his occupation, and indeed by the culture in which he lived, by the time he began his curious hobby. He was an artist of sorts, and I imagine that the task involved a certain amount of craft and engagement. He probably wasn’t killing kittens; they were probably already dead when he received them. And to be honest, one could argue that if the kittens were going to die either way, Potter’s behavior wasn’t even strictly unethical. Just icky.

Still, whatever else was going on, this was a man who skinned kittens.

All the time.

If you wake up one day and find that you’re skinning kittens for a living, I submit, your life may have taken a wrong turn. If I were Potter, I like to think I would have said, “Nah, man. I get that it’s all very confusing and ethically murky. But I will not skin kittens.”

Skinning kittens is not something I do.”

Culture gets confusing. Ethics get confusing.

But if your culture and your ethics tell you to acquiesce and indeed, to cheer, when a twelve-year-old girl wants to have her breasts removed, perhaps your life has taken a wrong turn. If you don’t protect her with all your might, tell her she’s beautiful, try to keep her intact, side with her over the forces who make her believe she isn’t adequate as she is, perhaps your life has taken a wrong turn.

If your activism centers on hating women, even some segment of them, and rejoicing in violence perpetrated against them; if you can’t find something better to do with your time than to badger lesbians, or others, into sleeping with people they don’t like; if your cause de jour is berating rape victims for seeking asylum from males;

perhaps your life has taken a wrong turn.







What’s Going on Around Here?

You may have noticed I’ve been absent. Some of you have asked where I’ve been and whether I’m coming back. I’ve been meaning to post an update but speaking at three venues, traveling to Europe for the first time in my life, and becoming a finalist in a writing contest have added yet another layer to my already busy life as a full-time grad student and full-time software developer.

So here’s the update. I’ll soon unveil another blog where I’ll discuss and promote the professional project I’m working on, an intense endeavor which some of you are already aware of. Watch this space!

I’ll also continue to post here. I have six new articles in the works and will be bringing back many of the old. I also may be guest-posting elsewhere. Here I’m planning to focus more on scholarly material and less on my past. I’d like to put it behind me, even though it endlessly rears its ugly heads like the Hydra of Lerna with poisonous breath and virulent blood. As recently as last month my ex invented a brand new slew of creative lies about me and is spreading them far and wide.

And while I definitely maintain that he’s an asshole, I’m starting to realize that his stories come from a place of delusion rather than a place of simple malice. In my (justifiable) anger at his abandonment of our marriage, this hadn’t totally occurred to me. But he’s just coming off too darn sincere, and seems to be actually tortured by these events he is grossly misremembering. And there have been clues of his shaky grasp of reality before now. In the last few months of our marriage, I watched him reframe several agreeable and even accommodating events as incidences of oppression. I thought he was embellishing for attention, and since they weren’t about me, I didn’t worry about nor analyze it. But he was deeply unhappy then and is deeply unhappy now. He has banished flexible thinking and self-reflection from his repertoire of behavior, so he literally can’t find his way out. He’s grasping for someone to blame for his losses, and I’m a good candidate, since I represent an old way of life that he needs to pretend never existed because his image and his politics depend on it. Besides, the female intimate partner always has to pay. It is the way of the world.

In any case, look for new articles soon.