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Must Read: Queer Icons and Their Cats

Striking photographs and captivating anecdotes about LGBTQ+ trailblazers and their feline friends, from Freddie Mercury and Janis Joplin to Alison Bechdel and Tig Notaro.

by Avery Felman
December 16, 2021
Dusty Springfield sitting on the floor with a record player and a cat
Dusty Springfield, Queer Icons and their Cats, Chronicle Books (2021)

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“The smallest feline is a masterpiece.” — Leonardo da Vinci

Queer Icons and Their Cats invites readers into the unique and colorful worlds of extraordinary figures and their feline muses, the likes of which include Alison Bechdel, creator of the Bechdel test, a media metric used to decipher the inclusivity of women throughout film history; Dusty Springfield, a ’60s pop-music legend; and James Baldwin, an American novelist who explored issues of racial, sexual, and class distinctions in his writings. The common thread between these brilliant figures? Their unshakable love for their cats.

Not only do authors Alison and PJ Nastasi rhapsodize about the cat’s role throughout history — from Egyptian deities to bewitching figures in European folklore to modern-day pets and family members — they also drop in some illuminating data. According to a national survey conducted by Harris Interactive and Witeck-Combs Communications, “LGBTQ pet owners are more likely to own cats than straight pet owners are (63% versus 52%)” — a stat that the authors attribute to the significant adversity and discrimination they’ve faced from fellow humans throughout history: “When it feels like no one understands or accepts you, when it feels like the entire world is against you, who do you turn to? Your cat, of course.”

queer icon and their cat
Courtesy of Chronicle Books
queer icon and their cat
Courtesy of Chronicle Books

As it happens, many queer people find that having a cat has allowed them to reclaim the gendered elements of cat ownership, i.e. the “cat lady” stereotype. They are at once able to enjoy the companionship and everyday entertainment of pet parenthood, and undercut the lazy trope of the lonely woman who sits at home knitting with her cats. Clearly, many famous figures of the past have felt the same freedom that comes with embracing their connection with cats: Take trailblazing trans pornstar Buck Angel, who was forced to confront his own biases when an outdoor cat named Obama made his way indoors and claimed Angel as his dad. “I always equated cats to lesbians because all my girlfriends and friends had them... I gave in and became a cat lover.”

Freddie Mercury was famously powerless to resist the urge to be close to his feline family, often calling his cats on the phone while he was away from his London residence. His assistant Peter Freestone recalls in his memoir about the singer, “Mary would hold [cats] Tom and Jerry up in turn to the receiver to listen to Freddy talking.” Mercury even dedicated his 1985 solo studio album Mr. Bad Guy to his cats, as well as “all the cat lovers across the universe,” adding “screw everybody else!”

Many more iconic creatives past and present made their way into the book — from soulful singer-songwriter Janis Joplin to modern fashion designer Jason Wu — making for an incredible mash up of art, culture, and LGBTQ+ history that reverses antiquated notions of cat ownership.

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Avery, editor at The Wildest, and her cat, Chicken

Avery Felman

Avery is an editor at The Wildest. She has written for numerous publications, including Refinery29, BuzzFeed, and V Magazine. She lives in Brooklyn, New York with her boyfriend and cat, Chicken, and has high hopes that one of them will let her adopt a dog.