When I first adopted Lolita from the Atlanta Humane Society in 2001, her name was Princess. She was in a room full of mangy cats, but she seemed very ladylike and elegant; she held herself differently, a Christine Baranski type, who wanted out of this dump. I took her home and gave her the name Lolita, a name she quickly grew into as my friends and roommates would often describe her as a diva. “Lolita really is a Lolita,” a friend once quipped. With her high-pitched voice and frequent demands, it was never hard to imagine her as royalty. Lolita–or Princess Peepers or Lady Lola, as I’d sometimes call her–would clearly be played by Helen Mirren in the movie version of her life.
Last night, Craig’s family was coming over for dinner, and I’d purchased five beautiful pork chops from McCall’s Meat & Fish. I was just bringing them to room temperature when Lolita emerged from her kitty litter crate yowling.
“Something’s wrong,” I said to Craig.
“I’m sure she’s fine,” he responded.
I lifted her up and studied her and saw something that made my eyes pop out of my head cartoon-style. “There’s something protruding from her vagina!” I yelled.
“What are you talking about?”
Craig came into the bedroom where Lolita was on her back on the bed and there, for both of us to see, was this pink appendage with a red tip that kind of looked like a very inflamed, pointy nipple. “OK, that’s weird,” Craig agreed.
It was after 6, so I looked up an emergency vet nearby and then spent 30 minutes trying to find it with Lolita howling in her carrier next to me. After a while, I gave up on that one, and drove to an emergency vet in Eagle Rock where a very kind technician took Lolita off my hands and promised to call me when he knew more.
I sat there in a stupor, deeply upset, waiting for the horrible news. “Lolita has a tumor.” “That thing you saw, it’s unheard of in veterinary science.” “Your cat has a vagina nipple.”
After 30 minutes or so, the tech came and got me and took me into a room.
“So he’s in a lot of pain right now,” said the tech.
“You mean she,” I corrected.
“No,” he looked at me like I was being ridiculous, “it’s a he.”
“You mean that thing–?”
“Is his penis.”
I almost fell out of the chair, I was so stunned.
“But how can that be? I’ve had her…him…for 14 years!! I’ve taken her/him to 8 different vets and they’ve never said she wasn’t a girl!”
“Well,” sighed the vet, “the penis usually just stays up there, under the skin. But your cat is so constipated and backed up, she must’ve pushed her penis out trying to go to the bathroom.”
If I was the type of person to dramatically faint, this would’ve been the moment. “Lolita’s a boy?”
“Lolita’s a boy.”
Health-wise, the cat needed to be “disimpacted” (sorry) so I went back into the waiting room and called Craig. His reaction was bigger than mine. “WHAT?!?!?!?!!”
The shock still hasn’t worn off. I texted everyone I knew who’d ever lived with Lolita. My friend Diana, who was Lolita’s roommate for a year, wrote: “This feels like the end of The Crying Game.” My friend Lauren, who lived with Lolita for two years and who just gave birth, wrote: “I am laughing so hard right now I have tears streaming down my face and breast milk leaking down my shirt.”
So what does the future hold for the former Lady Lolita Roberts-Johnson? We’re experimenting with new names. This morning I tried calling her–I mean tried calling him–Logan, which seemed to take. But in terms of gender identity, my cat clearly isn’t in a crisis, we are. What have we been projecting on to this male cat all this time? Are these qualities, which seemed so inherently feminine in the past, really just a product of our imaginations? Is our cat gay?
We’ll probably never know. But one thing I do know: if you’re about to make pork chops for your in-laws, and your female cat suddenly has a fleshy protrusion from its vagina, that’s not an inflamed nipple. That, my friends, is a penis.