‘Perhaps we need to ask how we can assert both our humanity and our animality. How do those of us who have been negatively compared to nonhuman animals assert our value as human beings without implying human superiority or denying our own animality?
On some level identifying as animal has always felt right to me. As a small child I went through a short period where I would bark like a dog when people spoke to me. I didn’t do this out of shyness; according to my parents, I did it because I truly wanted to be a dog. My parents were understandably horrified. Not only did they have to deal with the social implications of having a small child in a wheelchair, but now she was barking, too.
I’m sitting in a cafe in downtown Berkeley as I write this. I have retrieved all of the objects I need from my bag and arranged them on the table in front of me. To do so, I had to put my mouth on the edge of my computer pad and bite down, wiggling it loose from my bag. I then pulled it out and laid it on the table, reached for my keyboard and did the same. I repeated this a few more times until I had everything I needed.
When I use my mouth instead of my hands in public, I realize I am transgressing boundaries, not only of able-bodied etiquette, but of the ways in which one is supposed to inhabit a human body. We use the mouth for language and for eating, yet it is deeply private, an orifice containing germs and breath and slobber. The mouth is sexual. The mouth is animal.
Hands, however, are human. Humans are supposed to have opposable thumbs and dexterous fingers. Like walking upright on two legs, human hands have been said to represent our big brains—as hands make and use tools, they opened the door for human culture to emerge. Hands represent our physical agility and separateness from other species.
I feel animal in my embodiment, and this feeling is one of connection, not shame. Recognizing my animality has in fact been a way of claiming the dignity in the way my body and other non-normative and vulnerable bodies move, look, and experience the world around them. It is a claiming of my animalized parts and movements, an assertion that my animality is integral to my humanity. It’s an assertion that animality is integral to humanity.
I do not mean this in a metaphorical way. It is not that we are like animals or that the idea of animals is integral to who we are—although both claims are true. It is that we are animals. A fact so boringly commonplace that we forget it—perpetually.’