Welcoming gender diversity at Vegan Soul Wellness Fest

[Image: Pax speaks at a podium on a stage. Photo by Wayne Calhoon.]

Yesterday, I gave a keynote speech at the Vegan Soul Wellness Festival at Laney College in Oakland. As I blogged previously, this presentation was an updated and expanded version of the Welcoming Gender Diversity talk I gave at the Intersectional Justice Conference earlier this year. In this talk, I focused more on the intersections of race and gender, and promoted Black Vegans Rock. My presentation wasn’t filmed (to my knowledge), but the slides are available online.

Welcoming gender diversity[Image: A stage with an empty podium and screen showing the words “Welcoming gender diversity.”]

I was a bit intimidated when I entered the theater and saw hundreds of seats, as I hadn’t given a presentation of this nature to that large of an audience before. The festival was initially sold out (tickets were free but there were limits to venue capacity), but the day of the event it was re-opened to all. Unfortunately, only a couple dozen people watched me speak, but a number of attendees approached me afterward to thank me and ask for more information.

David Carter at Vegan Soul Wellness Fest[Image: David Carter speaks at a podium on a stage.]

The keynote speech of football player and vegan activist David Carter, aka The 300 Pound Vegan, followed mine, and had a much higher turnout. David and his wife Paige (who is also a photographer) spoke about vegan nutrition and systemic racism, among other topics.

Keith Tucker at Vegan Soul Wellness Fest[Image: Keith Tucker stands at a podium on a stage, in front of a screen containing the words “I went vegan”.]

Other speakers included lauren Ornelas of the Food Empowerment Project, Nassim Nobari of Seed the Commons, and Keith Tucker of Hip Hop is Green. A number of workshops and cooking demos (which I did not attend) were held simultaneously, and vendors served up tasty vegan food and other vegan-friendly products. I especially enjoyed a chocolate parfait from Sanctuary Bistro, which the owner assured me was not sourced from countries that enslave children on cocoa farms.

My full set of photos from the event is available on Flickr. Please credit me as Pax Ahimsa Gethen if you use any of them, thanks!

Presenting at WikiConference North America

[Image: Pete Forsyth and Pax speak about transgender issues at the Wikimedia Foundation. Photo by Ziggy.]

I’m pleased to announce that I will be presenting at the annual WikiConference North America, coming up October 7-10 in San Diego. My presentation, currently scheduled for October 8 at 1:30 p.m., is entitled “The Transgender Gap: Trans and non-binary representation on Wikipedia.”

As the abstract notes, I’ll be doing some basic gender education and discussing issues of particular relevance to trans people on Wikipedia, which I previously addressed at the inaugural Bay Area WikiSalon. From combating hate and ignorance and deadnaming to accurately surveying for gender, I’ll address challenges and best practices for improving trans coverage and making Wikipedia more welcoming to trans editors.

Registration is open, and free attendance (without lunch) is available for volunteers. I received a partial scholarship to cover my travel expenses, for which I’m grateful, especially as Ziggy will be coming with me. Traveling while trans is stressful, and though I’ve visited San Diego many times, I haven’t been there since years before my transition, so I don’t know what to expect. I’m hoping to have a good time in addition to learning and sharing information with fellow Wikipedians.

Cow-Con: Cowspiracy, sustainability, and activism

[Image: Overhead view of the main exhibitor area at the Cowspiracy conference, David Brower Center, Berkeley.]

Yesterday I attended Cow-Con, a conference devoted to sustainability and vegan activism, from the makers of the Cowspiracy documentary. The packed event featured concurrent talks running from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. without any formal break periods, followed by a panel discussion. I attended six of the the talks, and took some photos.

Kip Anderson at Cow-Con[Image: Kip Anderson speaks at the Cowspiracy conference.]

Keegan Kuhn at Cow-Con[Image: Keegan Kuhn speaks at the Cowspiracy conference.]

I’d first watched Cowspiracy at a screening in the fall of 2014, and enjoyed it so much that I went to a second screening and bought the DVD directly from the producers and directors, Kip Anderson and Keegan Kuhn. A new cut of the documentary, executive produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, was later released on Netflix; I have not (yet) watched that version.

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau at Cow-Con[Image: Colleen Patrick-Goudreau speaks at the Cowspiracy conference.]

Mark Hawthorne at Cow-Con[Image: Mark Hawthorne speaks at the Cowspiracy conference.]

While Cowspiracy focused primarily on the environmental destruction caused by animal agriculture, I was pleased that most of the speakers I watched at the conference addressed the ethical aspects of veganism. Colleen Patrick-Goudreau talked about using compassion rather than aggression to be a more effective vegan activist. Mark Hawthorne gave a sobering picture of the dreadful harm inflicted upon animals raised for food, clothing, and entertainment. Marji Beach spoke movingly about the residents of Animal Place sanctuary.

Pax and lauren[Image: Pax stands with lauren Ornelas. Photo by Mark Hawthorne.]

But the main reason I attended this conference was to see my friend lauren Ornelas. I’ve written frequently about her great work with the Food Empowerment Project, and her activism not only for our fellow animals, but for humans marginalized by race, gender, class, and other factors. In her Cow-Con presentation, lauren talked about the F.E.P.’s work to help farm workers and to combat child labor and slavery in the chocolate industry. She also argued that because every animal values their own life, taking their bodies, babies, eggs, or milk from them is inherently unsustainable. (lauren and I will both be presenting at the Vegan Soul Wellness Fest this Saturday in Oakland.)

lauren was one of only a couple of people of color speaking at this conference. Since getting woke, I’ve become a lot more sensitive to racial dynamics in both online and offline spaces, especially in the “animal whites movement“. Cow-Con felt like a white-centered event to me, not just in optics (as we must be wary of purely cosmetic diversity) but in tone as well.

One example: In the opening talk by Cowspiracy star and co-producer/director Kip Anderson, he stated that just being vegan isn’t being an activist. He said that Leonardo DiCaprio, who is not vegan, has done more a lot more to help animals than vegans who just sit home on the couch and do nothing.

This activist-shaming rubbed me the wrong way, especially coming from one able-bodied, cisgender white man in reference to another such man who is also an A-list celebrity. I explained in “Dear marginalized vegans” why it is harmful to pressure vegans into “doing something” for the animals without recognizing the challenges they might face in their daily lives.

I’m not saying that Kip is racist; though some argue that all white folks are racist, all men are sexist, all humans are speciesist, etc., that’s not my point here. I just want activists to acknowledge their privileges and not shame other vegans. Simply committing to unwavering veganism, and not being apologetic about it, is advocacy as far as I’m concerned; whether “advocacy” qualifies as “activism” is a matter of semantics, and ultimately a divisive debate.

As I’m still dealing with depression and dysphoria and staying home most of the time, I was overwhelmed by the crowds at this conference, and left before the final panel discussion (which consisted of four white men). Regardless, I’m glad to have spent a few hours in an all-vegan space, and glad the event was sold-out and had many attendees from outside of the already vegan-friendly San Francisco Bay Area.

I didn’t take a lot of pictures (there were at least two official photographers present anyway), but I’ve posted my full set of photos to Flickr. Please credit me as Pax Ahimsa Gethen if you use any of them, thanks!

Presenting at Vegan Soul Wellness Festival

[Image: A poster reading (in part): “Welcoming Gender Diversity – An open conversation with keynote speaker Pax Ahimsa Gethen”]

On September 24, I’ll be one of the keynote speakers at the Vegan Soul Wellness festival in Oakland. I’ll be presenting an updated and expanded version of the talk I gave at the Intersectional Justice Conference earlier this year: Welcoming Gender Diversity: Trans, non-binary, and intersex inclusion in activist spaces. I’ll be representing Black Vegans Rock and discussing the intersections of racism and cissexism as part of my talk.

The other keynote speakers are David Carter, aka The 300 Pound Vegan, and his wife, photographer and activist Paige Carter. The festival will include workshops, cooking demos, food vendors, and more. If you’re in the SF Bay Area, come check it out!

ETA: My talk is currently scheduled for noon. The final schedule should be posted closer to the date of the event.

Rock Against The TPP

[Image: A vocalist from Taína Asili’s band stands on an indoor stage in front of a banner reading Rock Against the TPP.]

Friday night I attended Rock Against the TPP, a rally and concert in San Francisco to protest the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The TPP deal was so secretive and problematic that Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and Jill Stein are all against it, which is likely one of very few things those presidential candidates all agree on. You can read more about the issues and see upcoming tour dates for the concert on the Rock Against the TPP web site.

Evan Greer at Rock Against the TPP[Image: Evan Greer stands on an indoor stage, holding up a sign reading Rock Against the TPP.]

I learned about this event from Evan Greer, a trans activist who is frequently misgendered; I’d previously signed her petition calling for news editors to confirm the gender pronouns of their sources. Greer was even misgendered on stage at this concert that she co-produced (and also performed in), which was painful to witness.

Bonfire Madigan at Rock Against the TPP[Image: Madigan Shive of Bonfire Madigan plays cello on an indoor stage.]

Sellassie at Rock Against the TPP[Image: Sellassie stands on an indoor stage.]

Accordion player at Rock Against the TPP[Image: A member of the band La Santa Cecilia plays accordion on an indoor stage.]

Dead Prez at Rock Against the TPP[Image: The hip hop duo Dead Prez performs on an indoor stage.]

Besides Greer, speakers and performers included Raw-G, Ryan Harvey, Built for the Sea, Bell’s Roar, Sellassie, Bonfire Madigan, Jello Biafra, La Santa Cecilia, Jeff Rosenstock, Taína AsiliAudiopharmacy, and Dead Prez (featuring black vegan Stic Man). Quite a variety of musical styles were represented.

The musicians and other speakers talked about a number of social justice issues besides the TPP, including the Dakota Access Pipeline, racist police violence (hip hop artist Sellassie was one of the Frisco Five who helped oust police chief Greg Suhr), and access to healthy food and medical care. The crowd, which filled the Regency Ballroom, was engaged and energetic.

My full set of photos from the event is available on Flickr. Please credit me as Pax Ahimsa Gethen if you use any of them, thanks!

Honoring our trans elders from Compton’s

[Image: Dolores “Dee Dee” Yubeta, a regular at Gene Compton’s Cafeteria, smiles while holding a mic on an outdoor stage. Rainbow pride and American flags fly behind her.]

Yesterday I headed to the Tenderloin in San Francisco to attend a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot, an uprising against police harassment that predated the Stonewall Riots by three years. This event was created by Felicia “Flames” Elizondo, a trans Latina activist who frequented Compton’s and was present at the riot; she also gave yesterday’s keynote address. I recognized her and several of the other organizers and speakers from other trans-focused events I’d attended in the past year, including the Transgender Day of Remembrance, Transgender Day of Visibility, Tranform California, and the Trans March.

Felicia "Flames" Elizondo[Image: Felicia “Flames” Elizondo speaks into a mic on an outdoor stage. A rainbow flag is in the background.]

Lyle J. Beckman[Image: Lyle J. Beckman of the San Francisco Night Ministry speaks into a mic on an outdoor stage. A Spanish translator provides interpretation.]

While this event was focused primarily on our elders in the trans liberation movement—trans women of color in particular—a variety of speakers and performers were included. Dani Castro and Akira Jackson served as emcees. The event opened with Lyle J. Beckman of the San Francisco Night Ministry. Ronnie Lynn, a popular female impersonator in the 1960s and a close friend of Felicia’s, also spoke.

Activist Mia “Tu Mutch” Satya called for everyone to work for black liberation alongside trans liberation. Other speakers included Compton’s Cafeteria regular Dolores “Dee Dee” Yubeta (pictured at the top of this post), trans pioneer Veronika Fimbres, and trans elder Jasmine Jubillee Gee.  ASL and Spanish interpretation were provided for all speakers.

Singers of the Street[Image: Singers of the Street perform on an outdoor stage, with Jasmine Gee on clarinet.]

Sheena Rose[Image: Drag queen Sheena Rose performs on an outdoor stage.]

Musical performances included Singers of the Street, with Jasmine Gee on clarinet. Drag queens Sheena Rose and Donna Personna also performed.

Felicia "Flames" Elizondo with cake[Image: Felicia “Flames” Elizondo smiles while holding a cake with a “Screaming Queens” logo and picture.]

Gwen Park and Dani Castro with proclamation[Image: Organizers Gwen Park and Dani Castro hold a framed certificate from state senator Mark Leno.]

This community event was mercifully free of political speeches. Politicians were represented only in the form of a resolution honoring the event from state senator Mark Leno, a brief appearance by mayoral advisor Theresa Sparks, and commendations given to trans elders from the board of supervisors.

My full set of photos is available on Flickr. Please credit me as Pax Ahimsa Gethen if you use any of them, thanks!

Spread the money, spread the word

[Image: Pax Ahimsa Gethen | queer * black * trans * vegan * atheist | blogger * photographer | gender & animal liberation | pronouns: they * them * their]

I’m posting today with a special request. tl;dr: If you like my work, please give me some money. If you can’t afford to give or already have, please post a link to my blog on social media and ask your friends to give me some money.

I have not been taking many photos lately, partly because depression and dysphoria have kept me mostly housebound, but also because I’ve been discouraged by the lack of support for my work. And for me, photography is work, as is writing for this blog, particularly when I discuss sensitive issues like racism and trans-antagonism that affect marginalized people like myself.

I am grateful to those who have sponsored me on Patreon and sent tips, but after more than a year of requesting funds for my work, I have only six monthly patrons and less than $50/month in funding. This is not even enough to get to the second of the fundraising goals I set—upgrading the hard disks that house my images—much less approach my stretch goals of getting a new lens and replacing my aging camera. In between those goals is a funding level that would allow me to publish a new edition of my Walls to Walls photo book with my new name, which would be a lovely (belated) gift for my third nameday.

I recognize that many photographers pay for their expenses from a second job, but I can’t work a day job right now. My partner Ziggy’s income allows us to live comfortably, but only because I am frugal with my own expenses. Regardless, if my work is valuable to people, it is not unreasonable to expect compensation for it; this applies to my writing as well as my photography.

Unlike many fundraisers, I do not offer tiered incentives for contributions. I do appreciate those who give more, but I don’t want to privilege or be beholden to folks with higher incomes, and I don’t have any products or services to offer other than what you see on your screen. I would rather folks who have ten dollars a month to contribute spread those dollars out to multiple worthy causes than give it all to me. That’s how I’m distributing my own Patreon contributions; I’m currently supporting four people at levels for one to three dollars per month, and occasionally making one-time contributions to campaigns on other fundraising sites.

I know that the money is out there, and I also know that people find a lot of value my work. I just need your help to connect the dots. If you agree that my work is valuable and worthy of funding, please post a link to my Patreon page on your social media platform of choice, and ask your friends to support me. Optionally, please let folks know I also accept Paypal tips for those who don’t want to make a monthly pledge. If you are posting on Facebook, please tag my page Pax Ahimsa Gethen aka funcrunch, not my personal profile. If you’re posting on Twitter, I’m @funcrunch on there.

Thanks again to those who have supported my work, and thanks in advance to those who will support me in the future.

Naming and deadnaming

[Image: Self-portrait of Pax wearing glasses with red and black frames.]

Three years ago today, I announced my new name, Pax Ahimsa Gethen, to the world. While my legal name and gender change didn’t take place until nearly a year later, that was just a formality as far as I’m concerned. Pax has been my real name since August 23, 2013.

While it took awhile for friends and acquaintances to get used to the change, anyone who still deliberately refers to me by my previous name at this point is basically being an asshole, and should be treated accordingly. I have no tolerance for intentional deadnaming, which is not only disrespectful but an attack on the trans community. It doesn’t matter what politics, privileges, or personal qualities the individual being deadnamed has, and it doesn’t matter if they laugh or shrug it off. Not all trans people can laugh in the face of verbal violence, and asking marginalized people to ignore oppression is itself oppressive.

I’ve been fighting this battle on Wikipedia, where some editors complain that avoiding deadnaming is historical revisionism, even if the trans person did not become notable before their gender transition. They complain of political correctness, social justice warriors, and attacks on “free speech“, when I’m just arguing for trans people to be treated with respect and dignity.

While I’m not currently notable enough to have a Wikipedia article, my deadname is all over the Internet, as I’ve been active online for over 20 years and have never made an effort to conceal my identity. I could never hope to go stealth, but I do expect people who learn of my previous name to respect my wishes to avoid using it. Seeing it is triggering, and people who deliberately deadname me to cause emotional distress are, again, being assholes.

Even though my deadname is easily findable online, nearly all of my official documents have been updated with my current legal name and gender for over a year now. One of the few exceptions is my birth certificate. Part of the reason is that the state I was born in, Pennsylviania, required proof of surgery for a change in gender until very recently. That requirement was lifted just this month, which is great news.

But I’m still not sure if I want or need to update my birth certificate. I almost never see this document, so it’s not triggering to me, and I haven’t needed it to change any of my other IDs, including my passport. I don’t blame my parents for choosing the name they did, and I don’t blame the hospital for assigning a female sex to me based on the available evidence. Ideally, however, I would prefer that newborns not be gendered at all. A notation of their genital arrangement—which is normally the only criteria for saying “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!”—could be part of a sealed medical record.

Updating my birth sex wouldn’t be “historical revisionism”; it would be a correction to an arbitrary and incorrect assumption about my gender. My current name, on the other hand, is not one that I had until three years ago. That doesn’t mean it’s OK to deadname me, but it would be just as inaccurate to say that I was “born” Pax Ahimsa Gethen as it is to say that I was “born” female. If I were trying to go stealth or needed to update my birth record in order to get other official documents changed, this would be a much easier decision, but as of now I’m not really sure it’s necessary. I’m just glad that at least it’s an option now, for those of us who have not had surgery.

In any case, happy nameday to me! I’m not doing anything special to celebrate, though Ziggy, who is working long hours today, did make my traditional birthday breakfast of champurrado (Mexican chocolate porridge) yesterday. As my transition progresses, I expect to de-emphasize my birthday, which has a number of unpleasant memories attached to it, in favor of recognizing this nameday, and celebrating my authentic self.

Running while trans

[Image: Pax runs while smiling and making a “V” sign with their fingers. Photo by Ziggy.]

Content note: Exercise and fitness discussion.

Watching the Summer Olympics inspired me to make another attempt at recommitting to a regular exercise schedule. As I miss racing, I’ve decided to run a minimum of three miles, six days a week. I’m doing a brief warmup in the morning and some yoga stretches in the evening, but otherwise not committing to any other fitness activities at this time. I’ve registered to run the Bridge to Bridge 12K in October and the Kaiser Half Marathon in February.

So far I’ve stuck to this schedule for a week, usually rising before 6 a.m. so that I can get out and back before too many people are out and about. These early run times will also be helpful as daytime temperatures rise in September and October; sweating under layers while cis men run bare-chested makes me seriously resentful and dysphoric. Even this morning, overcast and 55 degrees, I was sweating in a light windbreaker, but didn’t dare take it off to reveal my white T-shirt with nothing hiding my breasts underneath. While I hope to lose some of the fat I’ve accumulated on my chest and midsection, I will likely never be able to run topless safely, as I’ve written about before.

Reading the debate over South African runner Caster Semenya made me think about my own experience of running before and after starting testosterone therapy. While the gender policing of elite athletes is highly problematic and based on dubious or nonexistent scientific evidence, I have no hope or desire to compete at that level, and am no longer competing against women in any case. I noticed a marked improvement in my running times after starting my physical transition, but I’m now wondering how much of that was psychological as opposed to physical, as I didn’t come close to realizing my athletic potential when I had an estrogen-dominant body.

Regardless of my finishing times, one of my main motivations for running, aside from improving my physical health, is to make sure I get out of the house at least a few hours a week. I’ve sunk so far into depression and introversion that it’s been unusual for me to leave the apartment more than a couple of times a week. Spending most of my days sitting in front of the computer or TV hasn’t made me feel good. I remember a quote from ultramarathon runner Dean Karnazes: “Somewhere along the way we confused comfort with happiness.” Getting up at 5:30 a.m. and dealing with fatigue and aching, atrophied muscles is uncomfortable, but it’s just what I need right now.

Of course, this “pain is good” philosophy can be taken too far. When I was in marathon training back in 2012-2013, I read the autobiographies of Karnazes and several other ultrarunners: Scott Jurek, Marshall Ulrich, Rich Roll, and Christopher Bergland. As this was not only before my transition, but also before I was “woke”, it didn’t dawn on me at the time that all of these books were written by white cis men. Most of them had faced personal losses of some kind—divorce, death of a spouse or family member—which had motivated  their efforts. But aside from Bergland, who is openly gay and was assaulted for it, none have faced the kind of daily microaggressions that come with being judged for your very existence, as those of us who have brown skin and/or trans bodies know all too well.

The challenge of just surviving in this body is enough that I don’t want to burden myself with unrealistic athletic goals. My long runs got less and less rewarding the further I went beyond 13.1 miles (half marathon distance). I don’t relish the idea of spending hours and hours training for a full marathon again just to see if I can beat my pre-transition finishing time. The 26.2 mile distance is arbitrary and totally unnecessary for fitness purposes, which I knew well before I accepted the challenge from Karnazes to complete it. It’s great for Karnazes that he ran 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days, and that he, Jurek, and Ulrich have all completed the 135 mile Badwater Ultramarathon in Death Valley multiple times, but I don’t need to attempt anything like that to prove myself.

Truthfully, I have no idea what I’m capable of, mentally or physically. I have a transsexual male body, which is a configuration relatively few people have experienced. I use the term “transsexual” deliberately despite it falling out of favor, and will continue to defend its use by trans people who chose that identifier for themselves. Regardless, I can’t just look at charts that presume a male/female binary to assess or predict my performance. I’m charting new territory with each step. I can only hope to find some enjoyment and fulfillment in the process.

Black Vegans Rock and effective activism

[Image: Black Vegans Rock poster, designed by EastRand Studios.]

As I mentioned in a recent entry, I’ve been managing the Instagram page for Black Vegans Rock for the last month. Since Aph Ko launched the BVR web site in January, I’ve enjoyed reading the diverse stories and experiences of black vegans from all over the world. To date, we’ve featured over 130 individuals from all walks of life: Students, doctors, musicians, scholars, athletes, chefs, and more.

Working with Aph on Black Vegans Rock (I’m on the advisory board) has changed my thoughts about animal rights activism. I see a common theme in many of the stories we feature: The individual adopts a vegan diet initially for health reasons, and then later comes to appreciate the inherent worth of our fellow animals for their own sake. Not all follow this path, of course; some go vegan for ethical reasons from the start. But many black folks do adopt a vegan diet to address health problems.

While a vegan diet is definitely not a cure-all and no one should be  shamed for illness, I believe we do need to acknowledge and address health issues in a non-oppressive way as part of our activism. Dairy products, for example, are particularly damaging to the health of black folks, the vast majority of whom are lactose intolerant. This is one of the many reasons why I will not promote vegetarian, “flexitarian”, or “reducetarian” diets. We only feature vegans on Black Vegans Rock.

Proper education about nutrition is so important and so lacking in a society dominated by advertising and lobbying groups from the animal slaughter industries. I recently watched a TV show that featured black vegan weightlifter Kendrick Farris, the only male weightlifter representing the USA in the 2016 Olympics. He and the interviewer went to a restaurant in Rio de Janeiro, and the interviewer, having apparently never been to a salad bar, said “So this is like ‘Build-A-Bear’ with vegetables!” After the segment, the host marveled that Farris could get enough protein without eating “beef and chicken”, also saying “You learn something new every day.”

Most of the episodes of this show about the Olympics have featured restaurants that serve copious amounts of animal flesh. Of course, there’s been no mention of the decimation of the Brazilian rainforest by animal agriculture, nor of the 1000+ activists killed in that country over the issue.* Veganism as decolonialism is another approach relevant to blacks and other people of color, and has also been a part of the story of several of those featured on Black Vegans Rock.

Discussing the health or environmental benefits of veganism does not preclude talking about ethics, or engaging in demonstrations or (in some cases) direct action. Many different types of non-oppressive activism have a rightful place in the animal rights movement. But no vegan should feel pressured or shamed into compromising their health or safety “for the animals”.

My own philosophy remains that animals are people, not property, and I approach animal rights activism primarily from that perspective. But Black Vegans Rock has helped me understand that other approaches still have a lot of value, particularly when it comes to marginalized communities.

* See the Cowspiracy facts page for more information.

filed by Pax Ahimsa Gethen

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