Saturday, June 4, 2022

Model Your Boundaries From Your Cat

 Originally written for Fetlife, a mediation about communication, boundaries, and fuzzy, fuzzy bellies.

Fun fact - most cats don’t like tummy rubs.

If you’ve had the fortune to be in good feline graces, however, you’ve probably seen one roll over, and present you with their fuzzy belly.  Arching their back, paws splayed, looking at you with soft, trusting eyes.  It is, as scientists agree, the most prized part of the cat.  It’s tempting, lord it’s tempting.  All you have to do is reach out, open your hand, and take what’s offered.

Odds are, you know what happens next.  The claws, the bunny kicks, the hurt feelings.  You’re searching for the hydrogen peroxide, wondering what went wrong.

To the cat, though?  They’ve just had a boundary conversation.

“Here is the softest and most vulnerable part of me.  It’s where I keep everything most tender about me.  When my enemies attack, this is where they strike.  I show this part of me to no one.  I am showing it to you.  Please, don’t touch it.  Or, if you must touch it, please be gentle.  I trust you so much, I am giving you the power to destroy me.”

Should it be any surprise then, the way they’ve reacted?  

This is so much of what submission is about.  Showing another person the part of you that is hidden away, trusting them to take a little, or take a lot, but only what is offered.  

The place where we get it wrong, as humans, is the way we react when too much is taken.  Cats react immediately, without prejudice, but without apology.  They were offering submission, and you fucked up.  The act is over.  You’re going to know they’re displeased.  Submission has boundaries, and outside of them, the person showing you their fuzzy belly should feel free to express their displeasure.

Fault the cat for lack of communication, if you must.  They fail at it, on human terms, though they are speaking.  We just don’t know how to read the flicking of a tail, the tilting of an ear, the subtle shift in pheromones, the subvocalizations outside the range of our hearing.  

Thankfully, when a human wishes to submit to you, they don’t have that problem.  They can tell you whether they want three fuzzy belly pets, or four.  But if you take five, GOD help you if you take five?  You should expect their claws.

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