Rye Silverman is a trans comedian in Los Angeles and, like most LGBT people, she had an extraordinary childhood. Rye's young life was even odder than you can imagine, though -- she grew up with what was basically a "petting zoo." We asked Rye about living with all that fur and why pets are so important to LGBT folk.
The Advocate: how did your family end up with 8 cats? Silverman: For most of my childhood we had three Siamese cats: a set of parents and their kitten. For years, though, my mom was always saying she wanted a Himalayan kitten. One day my dad happened to come across one who needed a new home, and my dad brought her to my mom. I guess that burst the dam, because over the next several years we ended up with four more kitties after her. We only had the full house of cats for a short amount of time, it was kind of just a middle period between two generations. The older cats all died not long after. Actually, it was a bit sad because the male Siamese died, and when that happened his mate stopped eating and we lost her pretty soon after.
Do you like cats now? I love cats, but I can't have pets on my lease, which is a bummer because whenever I go home to visit my family I remember how much I love having them. We actually just recently lost the last of those eight cats. She was pretty old, about 16 or 17 years, and my parents' house caught on fire last year -- she survived but we think she never fully recovered from breathing in all that smoke and the shock of being moved around a bunch while they waited for the house to be rebuilt. My parents only have two cats in the house now.
Did your family have any other pets? We had a couple of dogs, but one of them was stolen and the other we ended up having to give away because my mom and I are both allergic. We had a bunch of fish and cockatiels for a while, too. Oh! I had hamsters too. Wow, when I write it all out it sounds like we were running a petting zoo.
What were the cats' names? Or as many as you can remember. I can remember all of them. Leroy and Pearl were the papa and mama cat, Jasmine was their kitten.Then we got Sapphire, Jewel, Opal, Jade, and Diamond (a.k.a. "D.D."). My mom likes naming her cats after gemstones. Plus, we adopted a few stray cats outside over the years -- there was Midnight and then Brutus, and now there are Boots and Tommy. The two house cats now are Tiger and another Pearl.
Do pets mean anything special to you as a trans person? I think like a lot of queer people, there's something very special for me in the feeling of an animal who loves you without prejudices and judgment. I also was being allowed to stay home alone for the first time in my teens, and the amusement of wondering what my cats were thinking when they watched me trying on my secret stashes of women's clothing [was wonderful]. Obviously animals aren't big on reinforcing human socialized gender roles, but they probably did think it was weird that I kept running in and out of my room and posing in front of the mirrors.