One is inclined and perhaps obligated to ponder the significance of the query and its timing when, immediately after sex, a woman turns to you and asks: “What is the most distinct difference between monkeys and humans?” My answer “monkeys have a tail,” came almost automatically even as I was listing the possible explanations to myself for why exactly she might be thinking about this particular issue at this particular moment. Few items on the resulting list can easily be interpreted as flattering.
My ex-girlfriend had once referred to me as a ‘hobbit, or some kind of fantasy creature’. I was once told that I alternate between being an old man and a little kid. Friends and otherwise have compared me to an owl, a puppy, a snake, a rat, and (of course) a monkey.
In fact, I have been compared to and called a monkey more often than any other animal, for a number of reasons and with varying explanations. But to be associated with being a monkey in this particular context, I will say, was something completely new for me. And the question so prevalent in all our lives: ‘why?’ evoked relentlessly by so many of us throughout our daily existence would surely fail to find reprieve in this situation as well.
Was this woman looking for confirmation that she had not, in fact, just had sex with a monkey? In some countries I suppose it would have been illegal, but most men know that it does little good in the eyes of the law to ask a girl how old she is after you’ve slept with her; and you can be sure that it would be much more difficult to claim ignorance of your partner’s status as ‘non-human’ should you be brought up on charges of bestiality in any court of law (blind people may be at an advantage, as they could claim “He simply had a lot of body hair and was a really good listener! How was I to know?”)
Perhaps this girl only paused to confirm her recent partner’s species as an afterthought because she was not overly concerned with the matter, and was merely curious. If she had found a tail on my person after the monkey/human litmus test was known to her, would she have been appalled? Would she have needed to be?
After all, if I had been a monkey, would I not be a monkey of the most extraordinary kind? Had I not passed myself off as human for days on end? Would that not make me the Chicken Boo[*] of Monkeys? Would I not then be a talking monkey, who could distinguish my phylogenetic identity with greater precision than could she?
And if she had engaged in relations with such an exceptional example of its kind, would that have been anything to be ashamed of? Sure, I wasn’t a space monkey, but even the space monkey couldn’t talk! And who among us has been to space? Who can really compete with a space monkey?? Me, obviously. And I would accept any challenge from such a monkey, had it not died early of cancer due to space radiation (I don’t know that this was its fate, but I think it is a fair assumption. . .).
Of course, maybe it wasn’t a matter of shame or ambivalence, but of adherence to an alternative purpose — maybe she was some kind of collector, and she had a checklist to which she must remain faithful. Maybe I wasn’t Chicken Booing it at all. Maybe she’d thought I’d been a monkey, and I’d only just moments before somehow given myself away as a human (a boring repeat of a species she had checked off years ago). How might I have cast doubt on my monkeyness? Was she in fact disappointed that I was not a monkey? Was she simply confirming that she still could not check ‘monkey’ off her list? (. . .one would not be able to help but wonder what else was on her list, and what had already been checked off. . .)
And so, with my anticlimactic response ‘monkeys have a tail,’ at least one of the many narratives of my life has in a sense come full circle. Over ten years ago some of you may remember my asking anyone who would deign to speak with me if they would end their relationship should they find out that their partner had a tail.[**] And for the record, it wouldn’t bother me one bit, because it really doesn’t seem like a big deal.
But to my great surprise, and truly to my disappointment in the humanity represented by my peers, almost everyone said that they would promptly end the relationship. Even if they had really been in love, even if they were engaged, even if they were soulmates: once we confirmed that ‘no, the tail could not be removed’ and got past the explanations of how on earth one’s fiancee could have concealed a tail for the entire course of their relationship, the presence of a tail was revealed to be unacceptable — an irreconcilable flaw. The tail, for most of you, was an appendage stronger than love.
The heart weeps, indeed. What hope has humanity of loving someone attached to pain and sorrow when we can not love a man or woman attached to a tail? How can we hope to embrace differences in opinion when we cannot embrace differences in anatomy? What has a tail done to any of you?
I myself have been strangled by a tail and had shit covered tails thrust into my mouth, and I am still able to find it in my heart to love tails and the creatures attached to them. Can something as simple as a tail be so terribly misunderstood?
Some will point out that since the likelihood of non-human primates integrating into our society appears to be low and the frequency of tailed humans is close to non-existent, the matter is of little relevance. Some would point out that frogs will not mate with other frogs croaking off-key, and jumping spiders will not mate with a partner who dances to the wrong rhythm. Fireflies ignore all fireflies except for those that blink with the most specific frequency. Why, then, should humans not discriminate against the number of appendages in a prospective mate? To those people I would say, ‘you have a point.’
*Chicken Boo was a common segment on Animaniacs in which a giant chicken posing as a human would be seen as the most prestigious of some craft, and was an elite member of society. Someone would claim that he was in fact a Giant Chicken and be dragged away as a ranting madman. And then Chicken Boo’s glasses or mustache would fall off and everyone would realize that he was in fact a Giant Chicken, and he would thus be chased out of town, accompanied by the theme song ‘You wear a disguise to look like human guys/ but you’re not a man, you’re a chicken boo.’↖
**The initial question was originally inspired by an episode of That 70’s Show, when the characters reacted a bit strongly in my opinion to the knowledge that Foreman’s sister had been born with a tail. Little did I know that, according to the vast majority of people surveyed, the reaction portrayed, if anything, wasn’t quite strong enough. It was indeed truly odd that after I had pestered so many people with this question and upbraided most of them for their answer, that Shallow Hal was released, in which it is revealed in a sub-climax that a secondary character’s main flaw is rooted in his insecurity arising from his having a tail that he can in fact wag but which can not be surgically removed.↖