It’s twenty passed nine and after making breakfast and coffee to start my week of constant repetition, I hear the sound of ‘clikclikclik’ nearby. My two young male rats (called bucks) are thirsty and I just filled their water-bottle with fresh clean filtered water. Dodger being the more inquisitive one sits on the water-bottle surveying the living room from the cage. Fagin his brother prefers to doze in the hammock or in the blanket nest that they made. Watching them play, investigate talk to each other in high-pitched noises that I can’t hear, I think about why I love rats and why I felt a need to write this essay.
Autistics tend to be required to have certain attachment to things. It’s a sort of litmus test to prove to that we are not some sort of organic machine but a real flesh and human being. In some ironic way I wonder if this behavior is what leads to the empathy tests in Blade Runner to find Replicas. If autistics like Thomas the Tank Engine and Lighting McQueen then they are read as ‘normal autists’ it’s expected of us to like machines with faces for some reason. To empathize with them before we start with bigger and better things, I liked Thomas, but I wasn’t obsessed with it as some autistics do, I prefer Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, especially Master Splinter when I was four and five. That was my first special interest. I wanted action figures and outfits and bed-sheets. I had a love for stories, connections and crime fighting I wanted more than talking trains. I wanted more than what was expected of me to be a good and proper autist.
This doesn’t go away once you’re an adult; now you’re expected of have the right sort of sensory issues, the right sort of special obsessions, to be a virgin, de-sexed and naïve but brilliant. To be a “Gary” from Alphas or “Sheldon” from Big Bang Theory, if you not any of these you’re considered ‘atypical’ at best, or ‘poser’ at the worst. I have been in this conundrum before. Be accused that I am not what I said I am and so forth I don’t look at it with any sort of anger, just confusion. Suddenly everyone is an armchair neuro-scientist. Out of all the expectations I have to carry, one seems to grate on me. It’s one that many autistics have in common and share, yet I don’t seem to fit that stereotype.
You hear it from autists, you see it on webpages. “This is a cat, not a defective dog, this it’s happy being a cat”. There is even a book called “All Cats of Aspergers” that even continues this idea that autistics are like house cats. Autistics are routinely compared to cats; in fact most autistics I have met love cats and talk about them all the time. It’s almost expected of me by other autists than neurotypicals that I should have a hoard of cats and being devoting myself to loving them. Don’t get me wrong. I like cats just fine. My mother has two males at home, Garfield and Andy and I love them both. I was severely attached to our female cat Jade before we had to find a better home for her. Still though, I am not a ailurophile, I don’t have a bunch of cats in my apartment and even though Josh likes them I don’t have big interest in getting one (though, we have considered adopting one, right now it’s not possible with the boys). I am perfectly happy with my curious loving bucks who make me grin every time I see them scuffle, scamper and learn new tricks with me. I have nothing against autists that have and love cats; Josh my partner has interest in them and even acts on occasion like a big lazy ginger tom.
Yet for some reason the idea that we should be compared to a domesticated animal unnerves me. For some reason it’s appropriate to put us on the same platform as animal that wholly dependent on people. Cats are not as independent as most people think. Looking at it for what it is, it feels like it’s another metaphor that autists need allistics to take care of them. I know most people don’t think like that, but I see that perception. But let’s look at how we raise cats. We declaw them, force them in house for their safety, neuter and spay them and we should. They are cats, they don’t have agency like people do, I believe in being a responsible pet owner. I don’t castrate my males as they are brothers and it’s going be a same sex cage, but if they get too violent I will be responsible. Since autistics everywhere are fighting against compliancy and patronistic ideals of the neurotypical majority; I find it almost ironic that many identify with cats and are quiet content with being compared to a house pet. If folks choose to use a cat as metaphor for their state of being, then by all means more power to you. But as for me, I don’t see myself as laid back cat that enjoys cream and fish.
I am investigative, too smart for my own good and have an insatiable appetite. In many ways, I am like a rat. Curious, bright, active and finding comfort with my own kind, I am social and adventurous, a lover of new things and things to explore. In many ways I throw a lot of the stereotypes of a typical autist out the window. Despite the phrase, ‘if you have met one autist, then you have met one autist,’ people don’t seem to follow it very well, including other autists. We make comparisons and we gage each other, there has been pissing contests among autistics on who is more ‘autie’ than thou. Parents to it every day picking out what traits that their child has are ‘clearly’ autistic traits. Thus using it as measuring stick against other autistics. It’s clear that in the spectrum of thing that there are other things I should fixate on. Yet why are we painting ourselves with the idea that we should be tame pets, and why are those traits that make us an autistic used to measure others? Is it because we have to prove to NTs that we are really are pussy cats? That we have to give them some sort of reassurance that we’re not like those guys? Can autistics be like, dogs, ferrets, horses, ducks or even rats? More importantly, what value is it for us to be considered typical by NTs, why should we be their ‘pussy cat’?