A case of mistaken identity

It’s been a big week for our pet bunny. Yesterday was Cecil’s first birthday, meaning that he’s been with our family for ten months since the day the kids and I drove out to collect him from the family who’d cared for the litter during those first eight weeks. After acquiring a second guinea pig as company for the one who’d ended up here, we were glad to see that they were even happier together than we’d expected, and the manifestation of this desired result (which includes assuaging our guilt at not spending more time than we did with the one we had) caused us to consider adding another long-eared friend to our warren. To prevent them from breeding like, well, rabbits, we took Cecil to a new vet for a pre-neutering exam because the vet we’d taken him to see for his initial pre-surgical checkup had ceased seeing small animals about twelve minutes after I paid for his first visit and drove out of the parking lot. As I was preparing the travel cage on Tuesday morning ahead of the trip to the new vet, Summerly asked, “Is Cecil getting tutored today?” I told her, “No, this is just a checkup before the, uh, surgery,” not finding it in my heart to correct her adorable word confusion.

This new vet was thirty minutes away, and I was grumpy about having to devote a large portion of my day to driving an animal around for a checkup I’d already done. As it turned out, however, it was an exciting day over there; Cecil was the second of three rabbits in a row to head back to see the doctor, and the vet tech was delighted to have the rare occurrence of three rabbit visits in rapid succession. After she’d taken him inside, I sat in my car until the vet called. “Hi!” she said. “This is Dr. Raab. We’re just having the best time with Cecil back here! We’re going to do a blood draw on Cecil so we can look at the results before scheduling Cecil’s procedure. So the first thing we’re noticing about Cecil is that Cecil is actually…a little girl!” (Props to her for favoring the proper noun antecedent to avoid personal pronoun confusion.)

Well, color me every shade of surprised. I mean, this is the kind of thing you see in a sitcom, right? I’d written a version of this scenario into the young adult novel I finished a couple of summers ago, which tells you something about truth being stranger, or at least as strange as, fiction. I was immediately reminded of the moment in each of my pregnancies when the ultrasound technician identified the gender of my unborn baby (except for Arlo…I diagnosed his maleness myself because that image on the screen left nothing to the imagination). But this gender reveal surprise party took things to the next level; we’d been certain for almost a full year that this leporine family member was the little boy bunny we’d hand-picked and brought home, only to discover that we’d been hoodwinked by happenstance. It was particularly astonishing considering that this animal had already been to a vet, who I guess hadn’t thought to take a quick gander under the tail. I guess there was a good reason the practice had decided small animals were beyond their bailiwick.

We are all still adjusting to this brand new rebranding of Cecil into Cecille*, and it will probably take us months to get used to referring to our pet as a “she”. It certainly does bring up a whole host of gender-identity topics for discussion, so we’ll pick away at those over time, beginning with the first observation from Liam: “But he–I mean she–looks like a boy!” to which I responded, “Because that’s how you’ve seen him–I mean her. Says something about the brain, right? Like when it thinks something is true or real, even when it isn’t, that changes our perception of it, and our impression of its appearance is influenced by those assumptions. It’s a lot to think about, right?!” It really is. There’s so much to unpack from this experience that we have yet to discuss.

There was one easy answer to a question that afternoon, though. When Summerly asked, “So is Cecille still going to get tutored?” I was able to answer without a shred of guile or irony, “No, honey, she won’t. Since Cecille’s a girl, she’s going to be spayed.”

*The pronunciation of her name will not change. “Cecille” sounds identical to “Cecil” (as in “Sea-sill”); the newly altered spelling is more a nod to this experience than it is a comment on the compulsion to feminize a moniker according to any traditional classification determined by anatomical composition.

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