Gendering the Queen

“Can I take a photo of him?” the woman asks.

We have passed each other on the walking path around the lake. We pass each other most days. She does several laps of the lake, often spending hours at a time there with her husband — a big man, retired now, always in shorts and a neatly ironed, button-down shirt — who walks more slowly than she does. They walk separately, but together — she, lapping him and changing direction, he stopping to chat cheerily with every person he encounters. They come to the lake in separate cars, he explains — She gets up before me, you see. But sometimes… sometimes I’m up earlier and beat her to it. Don’t tell her I said that! He likes to speak conspiratorially with everyone, as if he’s keeping State secrets from his wife, as if she’s policing his interactions, as if she’s his jailer… or his mother.

They like to chat and often stop Rani and me. Despite Rani’s determined trot and my obvious earbuds, screwed firmly in. They like to admire her. He tells me lengthy stories about their dog, and how it died, and how that grief has never really left them. He wants me to know that he loved that dog so very much and can’t imagine going through that grief with another dog. He tells me that his wife is the one pushing for a new dog — a little one — that she’d love a dog like Rani. She has neither confirmed nor denied this.

“Yes, of course. Let me call her over,” I say, emphasising the her. Rani’s a dog. One that’s been spayed. She doesn’t care what you gender her. Neither do I, but it’s a good lesson in listening and being respectful of other people and the pronouns they use.

“Oh, she,” she corrects embarrassedly. I smile. The pink collar I put on Rani, the kind of social colour cue people look for on dogs and babies, seems to have made no impression.

Rani trots dutifully over to us, and poses as the woman takes several photos with her phone. Rani knows there’s a treat at the end of this encounter and she stares fixedly at the treat bag in my hands.

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She’s a beautiful girl,” the woman says. She’s determined not to misgender the dog now.

“She is,” I confirm a little too loudly. I haven’t taken the earbuds out of my ears. “And an absolute joy.”

We smile awkwardly at each other. Our reason for interacting has wandered off to roll in duck poo and we’re left with nothing to say.

We mumble niceties and launch ourselves in different directions on the path — she, searching obviously and theatrically for her husband, me, calling loudly for Rani to follow. I still haven’t taken the earbuds out.


Note: Rani (the dog’s name) means queen.

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18 thoughts on “Gendering the Queen

  1. Rani is majestic and adorable.

    I like the way you show multiple levels of awkwardness in this exchange, especially at the end when everyone is trying to escape. It’s easy to picture the couple and their relationship.

    • Myna, I’m so pleased you see Rani’s majesty. It’s true. She is magnificent. And adorable. I’m a little sad to say that this is the general timbre of my exchanges with most of the walkers in the morning — we all have such good intentions, but it inevitably ends awkwardly with us looking for escape.

  2. I hope she had a bath after that duck poo! I get this misgendering all the time with both of my dogs. But who could mistake the queen? I love your description of the couple. I can see them in my mind. You paint a vivid scene.

    • So true! Kids and dogs will always prompt the oddest and most interesting conversations. This couple are amazing. They’re such larger-than-life characters.

  3. I was there with Rani and you in that awkward little exchange. I get it, too! I put a pink collar and use a purple lead for my dog, and she still gets called he. I do take offense, though, but maybe I should be rethinking my stance on this. Haha Still, the queen sounds like a perfect little mischief-maker. Also, I can smell that poo from here. Ewww haha

    • My little queen is a perfect angel (don’t ask my kids about that though — they’re convinced that she’s the third child and I’m much softer on her than I ever was on them), even when she’s rolling in poo or barking at passing strangers. I’m not biased. At all.

      People are so funny. Honestly, these dog walks provide me with both characters and dialogue for my writing.

  4. ASHA! HI HI HI HI HI HI HI HI HI. This was such an intimate portrait that had just the right tempo for a morning dog walk. Also, I mean, your doggie, SHE is truly worth of the title of Queen. I just want to come talk in a high voice to her and pet her on her ears and anywhere else she’ll let me as you and I talk and talk and talk about writing and life and so much more. I’ve missed you and your lush tales. ❤

    • She would be most thrilled with high voice adoration and ear petting! And I would be over the moon at talking to you about writing and life and everything else to boot! I’m so pleased to see you writing again. I’ve missed your words and the wonderful way you weave them. ❤️

  5. I laughed out loud at “Our reason for interacting has wandered off to roll in duck poo”. I walk our dog, and I’m never as eager to chat with other dog owners as it seems they are. Walking is my alone time, man! My chill time! Maybe I’m bad at dropping hints.

    • 😄 this dog is just so doggy. I keep trying to pass her off as a very dignified, Paris Hilton purse dog, and she just wants to roll in stinky things and eat whatever she’s not supposed to as quickly as she can without being discovered. I feel you on other people not picking up hints. I walk with earbuds in. Always. People still try to strike up a conversation with me.

  6. Rani is a queen through and through. I don’t care how much duck poo she rolls in. Also, nicely done on the exchange. I love the transition between awkward and empathetic in it. Plus the grief at the loss of a dog. Sigh. How do you do it? How??

    • Rani certainly rules our house! She has us all doing her bidding, regardless of the duck poo. Thank you so much for the lovely compliments! Sometimes stories just about write themselves — people are sometimes just such fabulous characters.

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