Thursday, December 26, 2013

Pussy Galore: Cat show judge has his claws out

"I see myself as a kind of salesperson for pedigreed cats. I probably would've done very well selling cars," laughs Walter Hutzler.

Regardless, the gay 71-year-old New Yorker has done quite well for himself: After struggling as an opera singer ("I always wanted to do the romantic roles, and all I got were comic characters because I was thin and lean and kind of effeminate") and retiring as a hair colorist, he continues to judge cat shows in his spare time. Hutzler spoke with Just Out about his "pet project" in anticipation of a Portland appearance.

On a judge's role

He's the referee. He decides which is right, which is wrong, which is good, which is perfect. It involves knowing the standards and knowing the breeds and having a clear mental picture of what you want the cats to look like.

I think of this as an athletic event because these cats have to be in prime physical shape: They have to be beautifully proportioned, they have to be well-balanced, they have to be muscular. All of those things combine with your own subjectivity.

It needs quite a bit of tact, as well. A lot of people who breed cats — they have an umbilical cord attached to these cats, and their blood and their sweat and their tears sometimes get diminished by rejection.

On the psychology behind pets

Humans get involved with animals because they want to replicate themselves in their animals. When I went to my first cat show in 1959, my friends were saying: "You like this kind of stuff? It's a bunch of old ladies in tennis sneakers!" That probably was so! Because women think they're dominated, and therefore some of the traits that we have in cats — the kind of sweet, expressive, doll-like innocence that some of the cats have — that's a very feminine kind of psychological thing that people want with their animals. It's why people like those cute little dogs and why we like cute little cats.

On the truth about cats and dogs

There's not much difference between a lion and a tiger and a domestic cat, except for small little genes. I would tell my friends: "When you lie down with a dog, it's just like a personality. When I lie down with a cat, it's a lion and a tiger I'm lying down with, and it's still there." I think that's the beauty of it.

The big difference between us and dog shows is that cat shows are a lot fussier, prissier, fancier. It's like a beauty contest. The cats are housed in dollhouses. I call it American froufrou. They have little furniture in there. People go nuts about those things!

The only thing that we don't do is we're not that enamored with obedience. So cats are fairly free to do whatever they want to do, and we don't expect them to heel or to stand perfectly still.

On his personal preferences

I tend to like very flashy cats, cats that have beautiful color. I think that's one of the things that mesmerize people and myself.

I actually live with two Maine Coon cats because I'm in that element that likes Where the Wild Things Are. I like a cat that looks like a cat. I'm looking for a great predator.

I don't think I have a favorite breed, but I think I have a "desert island cat." Maine Coons are completely lovable, but they're like Fred Flintstone: They're kind of big and Jurassic Park and "duh." A Burmese cat has a great sense of humor, and I think if I was on a desert island, I would like a cat that would make me laugh at least.

On his first feline memory

I always had cats at home. I grew up at a boarding school. These were all cats that lived outdoors on the grounds of the school. I befriended them and used to come out with some food that I had saved from meals and feed them.

I was a very lonesome and withdrawn youngster because we came over from Europe during World War II, and I was separated from my parents. I'm a child of the Holocaust. I was born in a small town near Nuremberg, Germany. My father was in a camp, and my mother had a tough time with two young children. We went off to England after that and came to America; we didn't speak English. The first time we tried to cross, our ship was torpedoed.

I had this kind of relationship with cats right in the beginning. It sort of eased the pain of withdrawal of being away from my family. I think that had a lot to do with my appreciation of cats.

I don't even call them pets; I call cats "companions." I identify with them. They're the survivors.

Originally published in Just Out, Feb. 6, 2009

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

I'm No. 1! : Ancient personality system helps me find my type

Such a perfect day. No sangria in the park, but a sunny nap in the Park Blocks was good enough for me.

I was in high spirits after seeing an entertaining movie and eating a tasty Indian buffet, but mostly because I was eager to interview gay spiritual guru Dale Rhodes about a subject near and dear to my heart: me.

I'd been in an introspective mode ever since crashing one of the workshops he facilitates with Cathy Hitchcock. They are experts on the Enneagram, an ancient personality system that teaches fascinating lessons about the human condition.

Dale kicked off the workshop by asking the 20 or so participants for their internal and external reactions to this seemingly simple statement: "Hi, I'm Dan. I'm the new supervisor. I have something I need you to do for me."

When he went around the room, I assumed everyone's answer would resemble mine: "Hi, Dan. I'm Jim. Welcome aboard! What can I do for you?"

Uh, no. The answers ranged from the sycophantic ("I would love to sit down with you to discuss strategies…") to the hostile ("I didn't like his approach," one woman revealed) to the competitive ("I could replace this guy," one man thought to himself). As the facilitators later noted, for all we know, Dan just needed directions to the lavatory.

The exercise demonstrates that we all don't see the world the same way. In fact, we each have a distinct "lens" that affects every interaction with others. "Corrective vision" comes in the form of the Enneagram, which basically shows us how to identify this "flaw" or, quite literally, "sin."

"In the old sense of the word, 'sin' just means missing the mark," Dale explains. "It's what happens when you shoot and you let go of the arrow."

The system is divided into nine personalities, and most people will relate to aspects of several types. The trick is to find the one that represents your essence — not who you'd like to be, but who you are. Here is a brief overview of the nine types, each of which has a habitual focus and accompanying "sin" to overcome:

1. The Perfectionist. Sees oranges falling from a tree and wonders why they couldn't have landed in a more orderly fashion. Focus: error. Challenge: transforming wrath into serenity.

2. The Giver. "Don't worry about me," Mom sighs. "How can I be of help to you?" Focus: others' needs. Challenge: transforming pride into humility.

3. The Performer. Busy, busy, busy. These Tony Robbins wannabes are motivated by a desire to be the best, often at the expense of their own feelings. Focus: doing. Challenge: transforming deceit into truth.

4. The Romantic. Tragic figures who are convinced they were born into the wrong family. Focus: what's missing. Challenge: transforming envy into equanimity.

5. The Observer. Detached, quiet and analytical, these turtles retreat into their shells in search of privacy and self-sufficiency. Focus: intrusions. Challenge: transforming greed into generosity.

6. The Loyal Skeptic. Hypervigilant for catastrophe, these Woody Allen types either dodge danger or challenge it head-on by siding with underdog causes. Focus: hazards. Challenge: transforming fear into faith.

7. The Epicure. Hungry to experience new things and to connect concepts, the Sevens tend to be positive yet scatterbrained. Focus: options. Challenge: transforming gluttony into moderation.

8. The Protector. Activist types who can't stand to see weak and innocent people treated unfairly. Focus: injustice. Challenge: transforming lust into tenderness.

9. The Mediator. No more drama. Can't we all just get along? Focus: others. Challenge: transforming sloth into action.

Still not sure who you are? Online tests can help narrow the scope slightly, but Dale's workshops allow human contact with other members of your "tribe."

"You and the person next to you have a legitimate worldview…that is at times helpful but also can have blinders," he says. "We have to know a lot about that lens in order to see beyond it."

So, after giving us time to study all nine personalities, Dale and Cathy invited each type to step forward for a series of panel discussions. But when the Ones went to the head of the class, I stayed seated because I refused to identify as a Perfectionist, thinking this would somehow be an admission of…imperfection? Instead, I fancied myself an Epicure, a type that reflects where I'm at today, but not my lifelong struggle with my inner critic.

The interview with Dale came several days after the workshop, and by this time I had come to terms with my perfectionism. I shared this epiphany with him, which led to a deeper discussion about my type.

"Your habit of mind would be to repress anger…to notice error," Dale told me. (Considering I've been a copy editor since 1987, I'd say this is a pretty reasonable assessment.)

Perfectionists are "living out the superego," Dale added, warning of unhealthy reactions to urges, whether chocolate or sex. (Hmm, this sounds familiar. Two years ago I was obese and celibate.)

Like most queers, I suspect I'm drawn to the Enneagram because a stint in the closet gives us lots of time for self-reflection. Dale's next weekend workshop is tailored toward gay men.

"Gays and lesbians, because of their experience of being outsiders, have this golden opportunity to be healers and people who integrate and mediate in society," he says, "and I want to be a part of teaching gays and lesbians more tools to do that."

Originally published in Just Out, April 1, 2005