Political Rants and Raves

The Lure of Horse Flesh

By Kathryn Bond Stockton

(under the topic: Freedom to Marry Our Pets)


The deed, in fact, has already been done.  In fiction, in life.  By children, of course.  Another lesson from the queerness of childhood.

In The Well of Loneliness (1928), when the Sapphic child, the “queer fish” Stephen, at the age of seven, hot for her housemaid (“hot down her spine”), loses the latter to the footman, she in compensation enters into the “lure of horse-flesh”: “She grew to adore the smell of the stables; it was far more enticing than Collins’ perfume.”  And so Stephen, “laying her cheek against [the] firm neck” of her horse, says to him: “You’re not you any more, you’re Collins!”  We are not surprised, then, when Stephen veritably weds a horse, who, like this one, “trembles with pleasure” between her knees: “It was love at first sight, and they talked to each other for hours…  not in Irish or English, but in a quiet language….  And Raftery [the horse] said: ‘….I will serve you all the days of my life.’  And [Stephen] answered: ‘I will care for you… all the days of your life.’ …And Raftery was five and Stephen was twelve when they solemnly pledged their devotion.”  (Djuna Barnes herself once stated: “I might be anything; if a horse loved me, I might be that.”)  Nonetheless, a dog, rather than a horse, leads to Stephen’s first real love.  Stephen moves to save a woman’s dog from being killed, making this woman extremely grateful: “ ‘I don’t know what I’d do if it weren’t for Tony [her terrier]… I’m kind of thrown back on my dog’.”   The dog is a sign of the woman’s bad marriage – and, as it happens, her availability to Stephen’s love.  (In a note inviting Stephen to lunch, she ends flirtatiously, “Tony says please come Stephen!”)  In two different senses, Tony sits in Stephen’s place: first, in proximity to this woman’s body (“Stephen wanted to [take] her hand and stroke it, but unfortunately it was now stroking Tony”); then, in proximity to her husband’s rage: “ ‘It’s all this damned animal’s fault that you met her!’  He would kick out sideways at the terrified Tony, who had lately been made to stand proxy for Stephen.”

So we should note that queers (of all stripes) sometimes bond with lovers as pets.  In the documentary Chris and Don: A Love Story (dir. Santi and Mascara, 2007), about the writer Christopher Isherwood’s long-term relations with artist Don Bachardy, we are told they called each other “Horse” and “Cat” and wrote to each other in these personas.

I say, then, in the name of the Child, let us have the right to marry our pets—or marry as pets or watch pets marry.  Let us be as children, as the Bible says.

Kathryn Bond Stockton is Professor of English and Director of Gender Studies at the University of Utah.  She is the author of The Queer Child, or Growing Sideways in the Twentieth Century (forthcoming, Duke University Press).

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