Many thanks to Charlie for this opportunity to guest blog!
Why do gay men love cats? Not all gay men surely. There are staunch dog enthusiasts among us, and the sadly allergic, and even some who don’t like the idea of living with animals at all. But I’d venture to say we’re more likely to have a cat in our house or apartment than your average straight guy.
Most of us don’t have children so that’s one reason why. If I had a child, I’d still have a cat. I grew up in an animal-loving family – dogs, cats, tropical fish, gerbils, turtles, snakes and a guinea pig briefly. I always found cats to be the most interesting and the most rewarding companions. When a cat cuddles up with you, you’ve earned it.
Werecat is about gay men who transform fully into big cats like jaguars and mountain lions. The story started as a horror piece with romantic and erotic elements. But I wanted to do justice by cats. For me, that meant creating a mythology that stood on its own rather than borrowing strictly from vampire/werewolf conventions.
I’m surprised there aren’t more werecat stories. There are so many sources for cat mysticism and legend. The most familiar ones come from ancient Egypt, but you can find examples of feline worship in nearly every ancient world and pre-colonial culture.
In the Americas, the werecat legend has roots in the Olmecs of Central America. They were the first civilization to build monuments to a feline god, the jaguar. Hundreds of years later, the Mayans worshipped a jaguar god and later the Aztecs had an elite military the Jaguar Knights who wore the skins of the big cats because they believed it gave them spiritual power.
My story takes place in North America so I also wanted to draw on North American cat mysticism. I don’t think you can say that cats are central to North American tribe life or spiritual practice, but they are believed to possess spirits or souls. Indigenous religions, like animism, view man and animals as essentially equal and interconnected. Traditions like drumming and dancing ceremonies are used to invoke an animal spirit in order to gain its skill and knowledge. The cougar is revered by several North American tribes, usually to invoke ferocity in war.
These ideas built up my premise for Werecat: that feline shapeshifters were borne from Native traditions and sadly, like so many things Native, obliterated nearly to extinction by European colonialism.
Those themes interested me from a queer point-of-view as well. Native beliefs about sexuality were also trampled by European imperialism and the spread of Christianity. There are similarities between the shapeshifter trope and the experience of being queer, both in obvious ways like having to hide and being misunderstood, and in ways that are important to me politically and spiritually.
I think there’s something liberating about being able to inhabit two types of spirits or worlds. Queer people learn how to fit in, and sometimes pass within a heterosexual world, and we also cross “genders” at least in our private lives if not publicly. I’m drawn to native beliefs about gender, the idea of people being two-spirit, possessing both a female and a male aspect. When I started writing about gay, feline shapeshifters, I found opportunities to explore the different facets of having a dual nature — socially, sexually, and politically.
That was a rather long way around the original question I posed. I don’t know why gay men love cats. Maybe you do? I can only answer for myself – it’s because of the mystery, the mythology, the companionship, and the connection to the past.
Here’s the back blurb from Werecat: The Rearing:
For Jacks Dowd, a college senior who feels ungrounded from his family and life in general, an alcohol and sex-infused weekend in Montréal sounds like a pretty good escape. His Spring Break binge takes a detour when he meets Benoit, an admiring drifter with startling green eyes. A hook-up turns into a day, two days, and then a full week in Benoit’s hostel, making love and scarfing down take-out food. But at the end of the week, Benoit demands that Jacks make an impossible choice: stay with him forever or never see him again.
The night before Jacks is supposed to return to college, he meets Benoit in Mont Royal Park to try to work things out. Benoit springs on Jacks an unfathomable secret: he’s a werecat. He traps Jacks in an abandoned cabin and performs an occult rite so they will be mated forever.
Jacks must learn how he can fit in to the bizarre and violent world that is now his.
And here’s where you can buy it, which I hope you will. It’s a quick read at seventy-one pages and on sale for $2.99:
Here’s a short excerpt from the book. It’s a scene in which Jacks learns the secret of werecat transformation from Benoit, his lover, who converted him.
“Our ancestry goes back to the ancient world, when cults in Africa, Asia and Central America worshipped the great cat,” Benoit said. “Werejagaurs trace our origins to an Olmec King from the Yucatan who performed ritual sacrifices of young warriors, trying to merge their life-force with martyred felines.
“His necromancy didn’t work, but he was so determined to emulate the jaguar god, he killed his favorite beast, laid it at the god’s altar and plunged a dagger into his own heart so he would die beside it. He was said to have been reborn with the shape-shifting magic. Little was recorded about and what happened to him, but some centuries later, in the same region, the Aztecs had an unstoppable army of jaguar-warriors.”
“How did you become a werejaguar?” Jacks said.
“It was a long time ago, when I was sixteen. My father was French, but we travelled the Americas during my childhood. He had a hand in a little of everything, running goods from Guyana through the Caribbean Islands and all the way up the Atlantic to Québec. We were staying on a sugar plantation near Cayenne when the Portuguese and British landed to take the city. We ran off into the countryside to escape the bloodshed. It was nighttime. It was chaos. They were burning everything in town. I got separated from my father, and I wandered deep into the rainforest looking for him.”
Jacks hadn’t been the best student in history class, but he knew a conflict between France, Portugal and Great Britain placed Benoit’s story something like two hundred years ago.
“You’re talking about colonial times.”
Benoit nodded. The space inside Jacks’ head expanded. How could Benoit have lived so long? There were some fine wrinkles in the corner of his eyes, but if they indicated something like a lifeline, he had one groove for every fifty years. He looked like he was in his late twenties, or early thirties at the most. Could it be another miracle of the werecat transformation? Jacks’ breath halted, waiting to hear the details of Benoit’s story.
“While I was wandering that night, there was a she-jaguar stalking me, though I didn’t know it at the time. She must have been very old, from the glory days of the Aztecs. The Europeans had conquered the native people with their gunpowder and their missionaries. There were very few of her kind left.
“Near daybreak, she showed herself to me when I was cornered on the bank of a river. Her spotted muzzle was big enough to wrap around my head, and she was so near she could close the space between us in seconds. I couldn’t move, even if there had been time or a place for me to go. I had never seen such a powerful animal.
“She must have known enough to sort me out from the foreign men who would kill her for her pelt. Maybe she needed to pass along the gift to somebody before she died or maybe she felt something more for me. I’ll never know. After she attacked me and slashed her chest, my father and a group of men gained up on us, following my screams. They shot her, and then stood around in disbelief as her feline body transformed into a young Aztec woman. They buried her by the river. We never spoke about what we saw again.”
“How did you survive all this time?”
“My father managed to work out some business dealings with the Portuguese, and we migrated back to Québec. After what happened to me, he vowed to never return to South America. He settled into the fur trade, which was very profitable. We had a house and a shop on Rue du Petit Champlain, among the wealthiest residents of Québec City. Over the years, I came to know my feline nature, but my father turned a blind eye to the changes I was undergoing. He blamed himself for losing track of me in the rainforest, and I don’t think he could bear to face what had happened to me.”
“What about your mother?”
“I never knew her. My father said she died in childbirth, some native girl from Guyana. He said I should always say she was French to avoid people’s prejudices. I was his only son. He wanted to make certain there would be no issue about his holdings passing to me. The inheritance came sooner than either of us had imagined. Our fourth winter in Québec, he died of pneumonia.”
Benoit’s face was hard. Jacks let a moment pass in silence. But he couldn’t keep the questions inside him contained for long. “What happened to the business?”
“I kept my father’s trade going for awhile, but while my friends and clients grew older, I wasn’t changing through the years. I had to disappear from people who knew me. I sold off everything and placed funds in foreign bank accounts. I traveled around the world, never staying in one place for more than ten years at a time. I became bored with it after awhile, which is why I returned to Québec. It was the closest thing to home for me.”
Jacks’ hand interlaced with Benoit’s as he thought about his remarkable past, and the profound accident of the two of them meeting in Mont Royal Park.
“How did you figure it out — what it meant to be a werecat, and all this history?”
“The information is out there if you weed through all the nonsense about witches and demonic possession. I had decades to study it. I visited Aztec ruins in Mexico and spoke with Zapotec mystics. I lived with the Ashanti People who worship the leopard in West Africa. In Masharata, India, there are villagers who have knowledge of the magic through the cult of Waghia, the Lord of Tigers. I realized what that she-jaguar did to me wasn’t a curse. It was the greatest gift anyone could give me.”
Last here’s a little about me:
About the Author: Andrew J. Peters likes retold stories with a subversive twist. His paranormal romance series Werecat: The Rearing is published by Vagabondage Press (May 28, 2013). His début novel The Seventh Pleiade (upcoming in November 2013 from Bold Strokes Books) is about a young gay prince who becomes a hero during the last days of Atlantis. A 2011 Lambda Literary Foundation Fellow, Andrew has written short fiction for many publications. He lives in New York City with his husband and their cat Chloë.