I come to you today to talk about a rare, barely known, hardly acknowledged, but all too real affliction. The phobia of taxidermy. Particularly my phobia of taxidermy.
Upon discovering I am terrified of taxidermy, most people’s first reaction is to laugh. And I laugh too. It’s ridiculous! It’s a crippling fear of an inanimate object that can’t possible harm you (unless it fell on you and an antler pierced your chest or something). Nonetheless, when faced with a moose head or a full-standing bear, I am left with a fight-or-flight response. I hyperventilate. I fight every urge to start making guttural noises and run from the room.
Because, you see, if someone is unfamiliar with a phobia of taxidermy, they wonder who that crazy woman is. And since no one I have confessed this phobia to has ever heard of such a thing before, that’s everyone who doesn’t know me. I have to keep it together.
I think I know where my phobia originated. I was always a bit squicked about taxidermy, I mean it’s an animal corpse, stuffed and made to look alive again. Other than Ed Gein, no one would dream of doing this to humans. Because it’s fucked up. But I digress. As a youngster around the age of 10 maybe, my family was on a trip in Montana, and we stopped at a little taxidermy museum. It was quite the place. This was a long time ago, so I’m relying on old memories, but I do distinctly remember the standing bears at the entrance. Because they are rigged to “pee” on people as they enter. Yes, a dead bear peed on me. Through his dead penis. On a 10 year old girl.
If you think that sparked the phobia, you would be wrong. It wasn’t until we were deep into the museum. And it’s not like a museum where there’s a dead animal there, and another one over there. This place was packed with taxidermy, with just little aisles going through the room. There were dead soulless eyes staring at you everywhere. While perhaps ill-at-ease, even this didn’t bother me too terribly much.
Among all the various forest creatures was a seated bobcat. Very cute. I remember pointing at it and telling my brother to check it out. And then it moved.
The dead animal moved. The taxidermy moved. It is dead and it stood up and started walking away. This bobcat was alive.
You might be thinking “holy shit, a live wild bobcat, get the fuck out of there!” Nay. You see, I was already familiar with domesticated bobcats. In the backwoods frozen tundra of northern Minnesota, there was a domesticated bobcat who wandered around my neighborhood freely like your average housecat. I knew this bobcat by name (I can’t recall it now), and pet him and played with him from time to time.
The fact that it was a bobcat in this museum did not freak me out. The fact that it was alive sure as fuck did.
So you see, my worst fear has in fact happened. A taxidermy animal really did come to life in front of me.* When I see any taxidermy, in my subconscious, I fear it is going to start moving at any moment. I know, intellectually, this is not true. It is nothing more than furniture at this point. But I can’t stop the hyperventilating and the chills coursing through me when coming face to face with a bison head.
*Yes, I know the bobcat wasn’t actually taxidermy. But among the packed forest of taxidermy animals, one that moved sure created the vivid illusion that any of these things could actually spring to life at any moment.
My Continuing Self-Torture
An amusing anecdote. In New York City stands the American Museum of Natural History. A super awesome place with huge models of dinosaurs. Also housed in the AMNH is room upon room of taxidermy animals. All of them posed and in what are essentially dioramas of their natural habitats.
I took it upon myself to take the ultimate challenge for someone with a phobia of taxidermy: tour the AMNH in its entirety. And I did this on three different trips to NYC. Why? Because I would like to put this phobia to rest. The result? It still freaks me the fuck out.
The funny thing about my tours of the AMNH is that there was something that somehow made these taxidermy animals feel less threatening to me: they were behind glass. Inanimate object. No more of a real threat than furniture. Somehow felt less threatening to my phobia because they were behind glass. Because, totally, if a pride of huge lions came back to life, a sheet of glass would stop them from eating my face.
Now, don’t go thinking I was perfectly fine. I was still hyperventilating somewhat. I think the only noticeable reaction was probably my flaring nostrils. And wide terror-filled eyes. But I made myself walk slowly through all these exhibits and look at them. I was alone and no one paid me any mind. My phobia flared up when I reached the herd of elephants which were not behind glass. I still walked slowly and looked at them all.
When I was finished with the dioramas, I went to the dinosaur exhibit. I was in such an incredibly good mood to be free of my arch-nemeses (taxidermy). No, bones do not scare me. They gave me chills, but more from the awe of their massiveness.
Taxidermy fish do not bother me. I have yet to see a large shark in taxidermy form, so I have no idea if that might bother me, but your average Northern will not. Also not a problem: smaller birds or mammals. I guess anything small enough that I could totally “take” in mano a mano fisticuffs. I wouldn’t want to touch any of these things, but if I see them on a shelf somewhere, they do not illicit my phobic response. Usually.
The entire time I was writing this, I had chills. At the memories of all these situations that terrified me. At the very thought of being in close proximity to taxidermy. Phobias are so stupid and defy all logic. But, what can ya do? Laugh at it, do your best to deal with it. Try not to let it run your life.
But, I will not visit your home if there is a deer head on the wall. A bearskin rug will have the opposite of a sexy effect on me.