Book Reviews: Cat Daddy; Re-Dressing America's Frontier Past
Terri Schlichenmeyer, The Bookworm Sez

Cat Daddy by Jackson Galaxy with Joel Derfner
c. 2012, Tarcher / Penguin, $24.95, 285 pages

Your cat is making you crazy. He used to be such a good kitty. He used to cuddle and come when he was called. He was such a happy cat but lately, he runs when you reach for him—and he bites, which he never did before. What’s worse: he’s started avoiding the litter box in favor of your closet.

You’ve had him since he was a kitten, but you can’t take it anymore.

Author Jackson Galaxy says that there’s a way to stop Fluffy’s madness. In his new book Cat Daddy (with Joel Derfner), you’ll find out how Galaxy learned to think like a cat.

For a lot of his early adulthood, Jackson Galaxy was in crisis. He drank too much, ate too much and did too many drugs. “Eggshell-like” and prone to anger, he hardly dared to dream about much more than his wish for life as a songwriter and guitarist, a career he thought he’d get by fleeing New York for Colorado.

In Boulder, he quickly found fellow musicians but he didn’t find the fulfillment he sought or the paycheck he needed. Finally, underemployed and overwhelmed, he learned of an opening at the local animal shelter. Maybe, he figured, it was time for a job with altruism, and animals were nonjudgmental.

To his surprise, he was good at this work, and he had a knack for cats in particular.

And then he met Benny.

With a freckle on his nose and an air of bemusement, Benny was certainly a unique kitty but his former owner listed his problems. He wouldn’t bond, hated to play and he didn’t “like” her. She didn’t like him, either.

Oh, and Benny had been hit by a car. His pelvis was shattered so, unable to pay the vet bills, she surrendered Benny to Galaxy, who promptly recognized a kindred broken spirit. He took the cat in and became Benny’s guardian.

Adding another cat to an already overloaded life didn’t seem like a smart move, but Galaxy was determined to do it.

Just like he overcame his addictions. Just like he overcame his erroneous ideas about cats. Just like he overcame his pain to learn about life, from the best mentor he ever had…

Readers who pick up Cat Daddy may think they’re getting a kitty how-to, and they’d be half right. Author Jackson Galaxy (with Joel Derfner) does offer useful advice on learning to see things from a cat’s POV, but that’s not all this book’s about.

With more than just a little in-your-face-ness and some adults-only profanity, Galaxy lays bare his life: his addictions, depression and struggles, failed relationships and tentative romances. He writes chillingly of work at an animal shelter and what the job entails, then he celebrates his stewardship of a change-hating, crotchety cat that never stopped teaching.

Surprisingly, I think this book will appeal to dog lovers who can appreciate a wryly-told story, as well as to feline fanciers who crave being kitty-cornered. If that’s you, then Cat Daddy is a book to pounce on.

Re-Dressing America’s Frontier Past by Peter Boag
c. 2011, University of California Press, $39.95, 257 pages

The outfit was beyond your budget. It was impractical, too, because you’d probably never wear it. It looked great on, it fit just right, it was so perfect, but it would just hang in your closet. Still…

You couldn’t whip your credit card out fast enough.

Do clothes make the (wo)man? Are we what we wear? In the new book Re-Dressing America’s Frontier Past, author Peter Boag, proves that those questions plagued our ancestors more than history admits.

Joe Monahan’s neighbors were shocked. The fall of 1903 was short and winter came early. Tough and self-sufficient, Joe had come to the Mallory ranch complaining of illness and he didn’t look good. Shortly after his arrival, he died in the warmth of his neighbors’ home. The shock came when they went to prepare Joe’s body for burial.

Grizzled Joe Monahan was a woman.

Peter Boag says that such scenarios were common in the West in the decades between 1850 and 1920. Cross-dressers, for myriad reasons, were “very much a part of daily life…” and while people tittered and talked, general attitudes were based on late-19th-century beliefs on gender. Medical experts eventually claimed that cross-dressing was part of a “neurological disease” called homosexuality, and “…homosexuality was understood as an unfortunate by-product of modernization.”

But button-holing wasn’t so easy…

For women, the frontier was a man’s world. There was adventure and prosperity there, and becoming a man as much as possible was a way to seize opportunity. Safety was another reason for appearing masculine, cross-dressing could be scandalous fun, and it could help escape punishment forcriminal behavior. There were also women who believed themselves to be boys from birth.

For smooth-faced men, it was common to dress as women for dances and parties because biological women were scarce. Men impersonated women to entertain others. In some Native American communities, “berdaches” were encouraged to embrace femininity. Like some women, males took on girlish appearances to escape crime, and then there were the men who simply wanted to “be” women.

But for those men, and their female counterparts, life wasn’t easy. Being arrested for the “crime” of wearing clothes for the opposite sex was common and cross-dressers were often shunned. Interestingly, however, their partners (usually same-sex) were generally socially accepted.

Re-Dressing America’s Frontier Past is good, but long. Author Peter Boag offers lots of excellent examples to back up his reasoning behind why these stories are largely hidden from history, and what he found will set Western fans (not to mention screenwriters) on their ears. This is fascinating stuff, on many levels.

And yet—the book has its distractions. It’s very scholarly and often reads like a dissertation, which occasionally makes it hard to read if you’re just looking for a peek at hidden history and not a lecture.

That aside, because it uncovers a wealth of stories that are overdue for telling, I liked Re-Dressing America’s Frontier Past and I think you will, too. If you’re a Western History buff especially, you need to outfit yourself with this book soon.

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