Animals are great for awkward situations; my pets have helped me talk to straight people.

Animals are great for awkward situations; my pets have helped me talk to straight people.

This year has already brought about many changes for my family — my partner and I purchased a house. The house is fantastic, and the whole family has loved living here, but the past week has been pretty stressful. We discovered a leak in our kitchen coming from our upstairs bathroom.

Dealing with fixing this leak has meant that we have had a lot of work happening in the house, and that has meant having a variety of contractors in our home. I don’t think having work done on the house is something anyone likes. Still, as a queer family, it’s pretty scary in our current political climate because it means inviting cisgender straight men into my home—my sacred space, the one place on earth where I know for sure that I am safe and seen.

My partner is genderqueer, and we have no idea how the various workers in and out of our house saw us. One contractor called my partner “Miss” over the phone and apologized for that after walking into our home. Despite being femme, I’m covered in tattoos and rarely pass as straight.

Before the work started, we remembered to take down some explicit transgender art from the bathroom and lesbian avengers magnets from our fridge — but beyond removing a few explicitly queer things, we weren’t sure how the workers would react to our family, especially in a week like this where queer issues have consistently been all over the news after President Trump removed protections in schools for transgender students.

Because part of dealing with this leak has meant having to open ceilings and part of a wall, it’s just not safe to have the cats running around the house like they usually would. They are hanging out upstairs in our bedroom and my partner’s office until we can get the walls closed up.

But they are much less bothered by the whole process than I am. I’m a pretty anxious person, especially when I have to talk to straight people. Animals help me get through the most awkward or stressful moments — like when I have no choice but to deal with straight, cisgender white men who, by all accounts, are the demographic of humans I’m the most uncomfortable with in my house doing work.

In the past week, we’ve had plumbers, insurance adjustors, mould removers and contractors in and out of our home. Having our dogs in the mix, or even just being able to talk about them after one of these guys hears them barking, has proved to not only help me to calm down.

I’ve also noticed that the dogs become a tremendous neutral topic of conversation that these cis straight white dudes can relate to, and have eased these interactions. Instead of them having some kind of moral panic, we can talk about what our dogs are like, what kind of dogs they all have, a much more pleasant topic of conversation.

The various workmen have been professional, but a few have me sitting at my computer Googling different neo-Nazi / alt-right tattoos. I’ve watched enough documentaries to be able to recognize a few questionable tattoos, and I was pretty disturbed to realize that at least one of the men working on our house this week was sporting a few that are leaning in that direction.

I was grateful to have my dogs to break the ice and distract me from other topics of conversation that could have been very uncomfortable if not unsafe for our queer family.

Animals are great for awkward situations. I know that when I find myself at a party, I’m always lurking around to see if they have pets and if they do? I will spend the rest of the evening hanging out with them. Animals make us feel better, and I think they may even make us better people in some situations.

I’m not sure if these guys doing work on our house would have been explicitly homophobic if we didn’t have dogs. Still, I do think having dogs made that situation more tolerable for everyone and inspired them to be on their best (least oppressive) behaviour. What about you? Have you found your pets help in stressful situations with straight people?