Category Archives: Ableism

Discrimination against people based on physical and/or mental abilities.

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!

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.

Donald Trump literally wants to beat up little guys

[Image: Screenshot from NBC News of Donald Trump speaking in Iowa, with the caption “What did Donald Trump think of the third night of the DNC?” and the headline, “Trump on DNC: ‘I Wanted to Hit Those Speakers So Hard'”]

Note/reminder: I am affiliated with no political party and endorse no presidential candidate at this time.

While watching Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech last night, I was browsing social media and came across a clip of Donald Trump saying what he thought of the speakers at the DNC. He said that he wished he could hit them. In particular, he wanted to hit a “very little guy… so hard that his head would spin and he wouldn’t know what the hell happened.”

These were Trump’s actual, exact words. Watch the clip for yourself.

As bombastic as Trump has been throughout his career and campaign, I was incredulous that he would speak these words as a serious presidential candidate. Though the clip appeared to be genuine, I actually contacted the fact-checking site Snopes, whose “What’s New” page I’ve had opened in a tab in my browser for months now. They replied that NBC News is a reliable source, so it was legit.

This is toxic masculinity at its baldest, echoed throughout social media from bullies who cry that “social justice warriors” are trying to take away their “free speech“. Trump is expressing, unfiltered, the desires of the “silent majority” he claims as his supporters.

And sadly, this is why I agree with Michael Moore that Trump will likely win. This is a nation of bullies. Little guys like me don’t stand a chance.

ETA: I’ve published an open letter on Medium in response to Donald Trump’s statements.

Dear marginalized vegans: You are enough

[Image: Section from a panel of a Robot Hugs comic. Words at the top read “No one benefits from being told that their pain is unimportant, or non existant [sic]!” Below the words is a scale with a lighter weight reading “Not Harm” and a heavier weight reading “Harm.”]

This post is addressed to vegans who are marginalized due to their race, gender, class, sexual orientation, physical or mental abilities, or other factors. This post primarily concerns vegans currently living in the USA.

In light of certain animal rights disruptions in the news, you might be feeling pressured to “do something” for the animals. You might be reading that having vegan potlucks and the like without committing to activism is being selfish and ineffective. You might be reading that our fellow animals suffer more than any humans do, so whatever your personal situation, you have a responsibility to fight for animal rights.

You might be hearing this from any or all of the following:

The list goes on and on, but you get the picture.

As a queer black trans vegan who suffers from significant depression and dysphoria, I am here to tell you this:

You are enough.

You are enough if all you can do is have a vegan potluck.

You are enough if all you can do is buy prepared vegan meals from a non-vegan restaurant or supermarket.

You are enough if all you can do is share photos of farmed animals on social media.

You are enough if all you can do  is cuddle with your companion animals.

You are enough if all you can do is get out of bed in the morning.

If you can do more than this, great. But the fact that some marginalized vegans are able to be activists for the animals does not obligate you to do so.

It’s a violent world out there. Let’s take care of each other.

California voters: Check your affiliations

[Image: Rainbow and American flags.]

This election season is too much. The other day I got a robo-call from Donald Trump. As soon as I heard that man’s voice on my answering machine (I screen all calls), I ran to pick up the receiver and hang up, wondering how in the hell I ended up on his call list. Just before hanging up, I heard him say something about  the deadline for registering to vote in California.

As the Republicans have a closed primary here this year, that answered my question: I’m registered with no political party preference. His campaign wants to make sure that no one who wants to vote for him is locked out. Two of his own kids missed the registration deadline to vote for him in New York, after all.  And though I have no love for any of the mainstream presidential candidates, yes, our election registration system is overly complicated.

Californians wanting to vote Democratic, on the other hand, can do so in this year’s primary if they are registered either as a Democrat or with no political party preference. Hence the reason for this post: Apparently many Californians who want to vote without an affiliation have been mistakenly registering with the American Independent Party. Doing so locks them out of voting for anyone but candidates from that party in the primary. And the far-right positions of those candidates would make some Republicans blush. Here’s a sampling of their party platform (emphasis added by me):

  • We insist that marriage is between a man and a woman and assert the role of the law in establishing and reinforcing the mutual rights and obligations of that God-ordained contract.
  • We support secure borders and immigration policies inviting the best of the world to join us in freedom. We emphatically demand that our borders be protected against intrusions by that most straight-forward and practical means, a fence, reinforced by all the necessary manpower and electronic surveillance.
  • The Fourteenth amendment requires all States to apply all the protections they provide for life equally to all visitors or citizens, and to all born or unborn persons within the territories governed by their laws.
  • We believe that all those who govern are the servants of God for the good of citizens. Therefore all governments are under God whether they like it or not!

If the above positions sound abhorrent to you, you might want to double-check your registration status to make sure you haven’t accidentally signed up with this party. (If, on the other hand, those positions sound good to you, please stay very far away from me for the rest of your life.)

The reason that I’ve tagged this entry with “ableism” is because of the inevitable comments that people who accidentally checked the wrong box on an election form are stupid or lazy. The name of this party is simply misleading, and confusing to people who want to be truly independent voters. As the LA Times piece points out, all sorts of voters have made this mistake, including prominent celebrities and relatives of politicians. There’s no shame in being confused. The American Independent Party might not be obligated to change their name, but the confusion and subsequent disenfranchisement does bolster the case for election reform.

So spread the word, Californians. Whether or not you intend to vote in this primary, make sure you aren’t propping up a party you don’t actually support.

Spring renewal

[Image: Pax stands in a park with a finishing ribbon and their fingers in a “V” sign. Several people in colorful running clothes and the Golden Gate Bridge are in the background. Photo by Ziggy.]

Content note: Discussion of health, fitness, and medical issues.

Happy Vernal Equinox! Today, when the hours of light overtake the hours of darkness, is my personal New Year. Normally I like to take a few minutes starting at the exact moment of the equinox to bear witness to the change of season, but this year’s came unusually early (March 19 at 9:30 p.m. PDT) and I missed it. I used to try to have a short observance of each of the quarters, a holdover from my brief exploration of neopaganism, but in recent years I’m satisfied if I can just remember the Spring time.

I celebrated by running a 10K race with my running club, which I was very much inclined to skip, as I’ve done very little running this year, and none at all in the past two weeks. But Ziggy (who can’t run for a few weeks due to injury) cajoled me with the promise of pancakes served with the huckleberry syrup he brought back from his recent trip to Montana. (I usually prefer oatmeal – I’ve really been getting into steel-cut oats made on the porridge setting of our new rice cooker – but if someone else does the cooking and cleanup, I’m not normally going to refuse a pancake brunch.)

I’m really frustrated with my continued inability to do something that is not only good for me, but (usually) feels good while I’m doing it. Dysphoria plays a significant part, as I’ve mentioned frequently, especially at races like this where I’m very likely to be misgendered at the registration table. But today, fortunately, I was handed the correct (“male”) race tag. I didn’t talk with anyone else at the event (other than Ziggy, who arrived shortly after I finished and snapped the photo at the top of this post), so I managed to get through the race and home again without being triggered.

I’m aware that depression is also a major part of my inability to maintain a regular exercise schedule, or in fact leave the apartment on a regular basis at all at this point. Despite my holistically-oriented doctor and (now-former) therapist both recommending drugs or other medical interventions, I’m still not willing to go that route again. I’m dismayed enough to be dependent on this country’s health care system for my testosterone injections, which I’ll (likely) need for the rest of my life; I don’t want to add another prescription to that if I can possibly avoid it, especially since the last psychiatric drug I tried face-planted me on the sidewalk with a tonic-clonic (“grand mal”) seizure.

Part of coping with depression and dysphoria requires separating the things I can control from those I can’t. Therapy was helping with this somewhat, but ultimately – after a period of years, not weeks or months – my therapist felt he really couldn’t help me any further with talk sessions alone. I respected this, but felt frustrated that I could not adequately convey the impact of the cissexism, racism, and other oppression in the world that has made me feel more and more vulnerable and helpless the more I become aware of it. I don’t want to just take a drug that will lull me into complacency.

I spent many years being complacent, largely due to ignorance; now that I’ve seen more of the world for what it is, I don’t feel I can ever go back to that state. My activism might be limited mostly to blogging right now, but at least it’s something. Speaking at the Intersectional Justice Conference this coming weekend will also be worthwhile. I just wish I had a way to spread my messages more effectively without compromising my values or mental health.

As I prepared to head out to the race this morning, Ziggy said he was proud of me. I said, “Don’t be.” I meant that because I don’t consider running 6.2 miles at a non-competitive pace to be an accomplishment for someone at my fitness level. But I should have accepted the compliment, because what was significant was not that I was running a race of this distance – regardless of my finishing time – but that I was leaving the apartment voluntarily, for an event I didn’t have to sign up for in advance, and where no one would be there waiting for me. I’ve made very, very few commitments lately because I don’t like letting people down, but I seem to have no problem letting myself down, over and over again.

I know I’m capable of doing more, or should be. Yesterday I watched a movie that I’d had in my Netflix queue for some time, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, based on the book of the same name by a man with locked-in syndrome who communicated solely by blinking his left eyelid. Through my growing awareness of ableism I know that disabled people resent being “inspiration porn,” so I’m not going to say that this movie gave me renewed faith in the indomitable human spirit and that I have no excuse not to live life to its fullest and yadda yadda yadda. But it did make me feel grateful that I (currently) have the full use of my limbs, even if my brain makes it difficult for me to get motivated enough to get out of my chair.

Will I be able to renew myself this year? I can’t see going on like this. I’m only 46 years old, but I feel each day like I just want to hurry up and get my life over with. That’s no way to live.

Weight, fitness, and body acceptance

Content note: Discussion of fitness and health issues. (Which, for the record, have nothing to do with veganism.)

Due to depression and dysphoria, I’ve spent increasingly less time in public over the last few months, canceling all of my regular commitments (volunteer work, voice lessons, etc.), and even putting off needed medical appointments like dental and vision exams. Sitting in front of the computer and TV most of the day, and often eating whatever junk food Ziggy brings home because I’m too tired to cook, have gradually expanded my waistline without me noticing, since I’ve been spending most of my time in my underwear or sweat pants.

This is not the first time I’ve gained a noticeable amount of weight. In my adult life my weight has varied over a 60 pound range. Because of this variation, I would always keep pants in several different sizes around. But when I transitioned I was near the lowest end of that range, so I have no larger pants to return into. (I gave away nearly all of my “women’s” pants and won’t return to them, as I much prefer men’s styles.)

Shopping for clothes is something I hated even before transitioning, and I hate it even more now. I could order new pants online and hope they fit, but I’d rather reduce my waist size. I did buy one larger pair of jeans at Out of the Closet recently, but for the umpteenth time was misgendered when they were rung up as “WMNS BTMS” (see previous link), so I really don’t want to go there again.

Reducing to a slimmer size for me isn’t about meeting standard recommendations for how much someone of my height, age, and sex (which is not a simple question due to my trans status) should weigh. In fact, I’ve decided the number on the scale is basically irrelevant; what I’m most interested in is the amount of fat around my waist, chest, and hips. Some say that body fat is irrelevant also, and I do agree that there are many other factors that contribute to health and disease. I had blood tests done recently, so I have a good general idea of my overall health and risk factors.

When it comes down to it, I just feel better when I have less fat on my body. I feel more energetic, more positive, and happier that I have one less thing to stress out about. Eating a healthy diet – which, for me, means high in starch and low in fat – and getting regular exercise are important parts of my self-care that I’ve been neglecting, and minimizing the amount of fat on my body is – for me – a reliable consequence of those actions.

But even independent of any health concerns, I cannot see fat on my body as irrelevant. Not as long as curves are associated with being female. I would love to live in a world where body shape and parts were not correlated with gender, but we are nowhere near that utopia right now. And while I can lobby for more diverse representation of trans men and non-binary transmasculine people – who are often depicted as overwhelmingly thin, white, and able-bodied – displaying a curvy body can put me in unsafe situations, especially in gendered spaces.

As I’m not willing to bind or get top surgery, having heavier, more obvious breasts is a liability. Even if I were rail-thin my breasts would not disappear entirely, and due to my large, dark areolae and nipples I likely still couldn’t go out topless in public safely. But I can keep their size down to minimize the amount of layering I need to do to hide them. I know from talking with and reading about other transmasculine people that even having top surgery is not enough to get gendered properly, but having a flatter chest appearance can’t hurt, especially as I’m frustrated with the pace of my hormonal changes.

I’m talking about all this because before writing this post I read a couple of articles by Melissa A. Fabello for Everyday Feminism: “5 Ways to Share Your Fitness Life on Social Media More Thoughtfully” and “What If Body Acceptance Doesn’t Work? How About Body Neutrality?” The former made some good points, in particular challenging the need to share specific fitness-related numbers in public posts, which I’d not considered an issue before. I also think it’s reasonable to give content warnings about fitness-related issues for my audience, and have done so accordingly.

But the second article bothered me because it seemed to assume a cisgender audience. Everyday Feminism is a very trans-positive magazine, so it surprised me that there was no mention or acknowledgment of the challenges faced by people who do need to modify their bodies because of dysphoria. I cannot and will not accept that the female-assigned body I grew up with is the one that I was meant to have. I don’t actually hate my curves (it’s my genitals and reproductive system that I have a serious problem with), but they are the manifestation of body dominated by estrogen, which is the result of a miswired brain. This is part of why I continue to refer to myself specifically as transsexual, though per this recent article on sex and gender I am realizing more and more how much the sex binary is also socially constructed.

Even in a genderless, completely body-positive world, I would prefer being slimmer, because, as mentioned, I feel better with less fat on my frame. But the realities of living as a trans person in a cissexist society give me additional incentives to minimize my curves.

Regardless, while eating junk food and watching TV give me pleasure in the moment, eating unrefined starches and vegetables and going for a run give me longer-lasting satisfaction. I don’t have to completely eliminate the former, I just need to put more emphasis on the latter. Getting outside at sunrise today and being under the blue sky, rather than glimpsing it through my window, reminded me what a privilege it is to live in this beautiful city, and to have the ability to walk and run on its many hills. I hope to keep up the momentum, for the sake of my well-being.

Depression, work, and self-worth

Whenever I meet someone new, one of the questions I dread answering is “What do you do for a living?” It’s been over seven years since I could give a confident answer to that question.

In the weeks leading up to leaving full-time employment in October 2008, I was literally breaking down in tears at my desk. I had been paying into supplemental disability for the entire 15 years I’d worked at the University of California, but I was too proud to take it. Surely my depression didn’t count as as an “illness”; I was just weak and lazy. Maybe I just needed a change after doing M-F, 8-5 office work for so long, having taken no more than two consecutive weeks off that whole time. (Though thanks to UC’s generous – by USA standards – benefits, I was earning 14 hours vacation leave per month by the time I left.)

I quit my web development job, and formally launched my event photography business. I never expected to make a good living at it, but I hoped to at least pay my living expenses. It turned out that I was utterly unprepared for dealing with the competitiveness of the industry and the demands of self-employment, while coping with my own mental health issues. Without support from my family I wouldn’t have even been able to pay my rent.

I was frustrated and defeated. I’d been in the role of provider for so long that it was humiliating to be supported by others. Having internalized respectability politics, I’d prided myself on being a black woman (pre-transition) who made more money than either her first or second (current) white husbands. Now my white husband (Ziggy) was paying most of my living expenses. At one point when we had a financial crisis, I came very close to making a suicide attempt. I felt worthless and trapped.

I gave up on the business in 2012; I continued to license and shoot photos occasionally, but stopped taking on new gigs. I asked Ziggy if I could just do volunteer work, as by this time he had a high enough salary to support us both comfortably (as long as we retained our rent-controlled apartment). I’d already been volunteering for some time with Food Not Bombs, an organization that was right in line with my ethics, and started growing and distributing free produce with the Free Farm, Free Farm Stand , and Alemany Farm as well after my local FNB serving went on hiatus. Ziggy was concerned that I’d have a lack of self-esteem if I didn’t have a paying job, but agreed that I could try increasing my volunteer work for awhile.

So I volunteered with these organizations, up to around 15 hours a week on-site plus various web and social media duties. I felt good about doing work that helped the community and was in line with my values, but I also felt incompetent. I’ve never had a “green thumb”, and after months of gardening still required guidance to do even the simplest tasks.

Then in 2013 I began experiencing significant gender dysphoria, resulting in a name and gender change and, soon after, hormone therapy. It became increasingly difficult to work in public when I was constantly being misgendered. I was often working outdoors in the sun and heat, but was constantly self-conscious about my breasts showing, which hampered my ability to wear comfortable clothing. I also had to deal with fear every time I wanted to use a public restroom.

I ultimately stopped doing the volunteer work, and again felt worthless and defeated. Meanwhile my photography business name registration had come up for renewal, and since I needed to update my own name on the license, I had to decide whether or not to just shut the business down completely. I’d been funding a few independent artists on Patreon, and thought that maybe if I could make a little money that way, I could keep the business going. The idea of being supported directly by patrons rather than by ad revenue or affiliate links appealed to me.

So I relaunched Funcrunch Photo with my new funding model in the summer of 2015. I explained that supporters of my Patreon account would be funding me as both a writer and a photographer, though the money would go to covering my photography expenses. I wanted to emphasize that I cannot separate my work from my life and values; I’m not just a photographer, I’m a queer black trans vegan atheist, and unapologetic about it.

So here’s where I am now. I’m spending most of my time at home because the depression and dysphoria have worsened to the point that I really don’t want to be around anyone most of the time. My therapist and I amicably parted ways a few months ago, as he felt he could not help me any further unless I were willing to take medication or try other interventions that were not appealing to me. The last of three anti-depressants I tried face-planted me on the sidewalk with a grand mal seizure, so I’m not willing to get on that merry-go-round again. I am looking at non-pharmaceutical alternatives.

My therapist did convince me that I have a real illness and am not just lazy, but I still have feelings of worthlessness every single day. I know that my words have helped people, but I also know that many people don’t take blogging seriously. I feel that I can make a difference with my words and photos, but in the back of my mind I still can’t help feeling that if I’m not financially self-sufficient, I’m a failure.

I try to remember my own work situation when I meet someone. Instead of asking what they do for a living, I might ask “What do you do when you’re not [doing whatever we’re here doing at the moment]?” I’m not “funemployed” and I’m not on disability (though maybe I should be). I’m just trying to get through each day at this point.

Downplaying human oppression: Excuses and responses

I’ve written frequently in this blog about the necessity for vegans and animal rights activists to pay attention to human oppression, including (but not limited to) racism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, classism, and ableism. Unfortunately, whenever the topic of intersectionality* is raised, some activists fire back with excuses. I’ve collected some of those excuses here, with responses. (Please note that this article is focused on animal rights activism in the USA, and may not apply to other countries.)

“Non-human animals suffer more than any humans, so their needs must come first.”

Stop ranking oppression. It does not save any more animals to tell oppressed humans that their problems must take a backseat, especially when that message is coming from people who are not mindful of their own privileges. Acknowledging the struggles of oppressed humans does not take anything away from non-human animals.

“Non-human animals suffer more than any humans, so talking about human oppression is speciesist.”

(Variation on the above.) Every human – vegan or otherwise – is speciesist to some degree. Calling out speciesism can be helpful in cases such as dog and cat adoption events that serve food made from the flesh of other animals, as this points out the hypocrisy of valuing the lives of some animals above others. The same goes for other single-issue events where animals are already the focus.

Calling out speciesism when vegan activists want to promote, for example, Black Lives Matter events is not helpful, especially when coming from white people or non-black people of color. The same goes for feminist events, especially when the criticism is coming from men. These events are focused on humans, and the awareness that animals are people, not property, is not yet widespread in anti-racist and anti-sexist organizations. To raise that awareness requires work from within.

“Animal rights groups shouldn’t have to talk about human oppression since human rights groups don’t talk about the oppression of animals.”

See above. To most humans at this point in time, most animals aren’t much different from pencils or paper clips; objects to be owned and used at will. Thus, the idea that a piece of property is being oppressed is nonsensical and offensive to them. Changing this mindset must come from within. Showing solidarity with oppressed groups can help bring more activists to the animal rights movement.

“Addressing human oppression takes time and resources away from the animals.

No activist can be expected to devote an equal amount of time to every cause. But when news headlines and social media feature humans being targeted and killed for their skin color or gender presentation, vegans should join the chorus of condemnation against these acts. Silence is complicity.

“All this talk about human oppression is just political correctness.”

The charge of “political correctness” is to my ears a synonym for “I want to be free to use whatever language I see fit and not suffer any consequences for it.” The same applies to most people talking about free speech and echo chambers. Oppressive language, whether read on a computer screen or heard in person, causes real harm to marginalized people, and drives us away from the animal rights movement.

“Calling out oppression divides the movement. We need to all work together for the animals.”

Silencing concerns about oppressive language or tactics does not save more animals. It simply drives marginalized humans away from animal rights activism.

Some say that rather than “calling out” we should “call in,” and give offenders a chance to reflect on the harm they’ve caused rather than immediately shunning them. I agree only up to a point. If an activist has repeatedly harmed marginalized people through their statements and/or actions, they need to be publicly called out, and removed from any leadership position if applicable. This applies to micro-aggressions (such as gaslighting and tone policing) as well as overt acts like sexual harassment. To do otherwise puts the safety of vulnerable people in jeopardy.

“Talking about race is racist.”

Racism is the oppression of people of color by whites. Talking about racism is how white supremacy gets dismantled. Ignoring or downplaying racism ensures its continuance.

“I don’t see color.”

Not true or possible. I said the same myself once. I know better now.

“All lives matter.”

Appropriating a slogan created by queer black women to highlight violence against black people does nothing to save more animals. It only drives black people away from the animal rights movement. For more of what’s wrong with saying “All Lives Matter” in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, see this video (text transcript included).

“There is no (racism/sexism/other human oppression) in the animal rights movement.”

According to whom? Anyone stating this seriously needs to examine their own privileges.

“There is no (racism/sexism/heterosexism/ableism) in the animal rights movement, according to (this one black/gay/female/disabled activist I know).”

Variation on the above. Folks of all backgrounds have different opinions. But if anyone speaks out about being oppressed, they should be taken seriously, and not dismissed just because another member of their gender or ethnic group had a different experience.

“There is no (racism/sexism/other human oppression) in my particular vegan/animal rights group.”

Again, according to whom? Every group in the USA, regardless of size, is operating under a patriarchal, hetero- and cissexist, white supremacist culture. To counteract this requires deliberate work, which includes having marginalized people in active leadership roles. Simply stating that a group is intersectional is an empty promise.

“No true vegan is (racist/sexist/otherwise oppressive).”

Who gets to decide what a “true” vegan is, or who can rightfully display that label? Veganism is currently seen as merely a dietary choice by the majority of US-Americans, who know nothing about the internal debates in the animal rights movement. Focusing on the “vegan” label as a badge of anti-oppression does not help save more animals or humans.

For more essays on human oppression in the animal rights movement (and what to do about it), I recommend the following sites: Aphro-ism, Sistah Vegan Project, Striving with Systems, and Vegan Feminist Network. More sites about related topics are on my links page.

* As I’ve written previously, intersectionality has become something of a buzzword. Putting anti-oppression into practice is more important than using that specific term.

My identity is not up for debate

Content warning: Cissexist, trans-antagonistic, and ableist language ahead.

  • PLEASE NOTE: THIS IS A FICTION ARTICLE
  • NONE OF THIS IS TRUE!!
  • Genderqueer=Tomboy
  • also termed “autism”
  • a fake Tumblr made category for gender identities that are not real and stupid beyond belief
  • “genderqueer” can be seen as a synonym for the term “freak of nature”
  • Other people refer to this behaviour as “fuckery”, and this behaviour is symptomatic of dementia and mental disorders
  • mental illness
  • these definitions were [c]reated by pissy teenage girls who want attention and are by no means legitimate

These are some of the edits that have been made to the Genderqueer page on Wikipedia just over the last three months. All of them were reverted, but I read each one of these attempts at bullying, belittling, and erasing non-binary people.* After enduring this continued vandalism for many months, I finally reported the page to the the administrator noticeboard, and got it placed under protection (at least for now).

As a Wikipedia editor on the LGBT Studies task force, I monitor a number of gender-related pages, and am thus exposed to this kind of language on a daily basis. Occasionally I need to take a break from it, but I do feel a responsibility, especially since I’m rarely leaving home nowadays, to do something to help the queer community.

The most disturbing thing about this kind of vandalism is that it isn’t simply use of crude and obvious slurs (though one vandal about four months ago replaced the entire page’s content with “Trannies suck lol”). A fair amount of this pushback coming from within the community. As trans blogger and activist Sam Dylan Finch wrote recently, transmedicalists or “truscum” harass non-binary people quite a bit, as they don’t consider us to be legitimately trans.

The other troubling issue is the amount that non-binary identities are conflated with autism, mental illness, or other neurodivergence. Some non-binary people do have these conditions, of course, just as some binary trans and cis people do. But there’s no indication that being non-binary is itself an indication of autism or any other mental state, nor that being autistic or otherwise neurodivergent is a negative or shameful thing. As I posted previously, many non-binary people may feel safer speaking out online than in public, and this is likely true of autistic people as well. This can lead to the false impression that all or most non-binary people are autistic.

What it comes down to is that my identity is not up for debate. The only person who can define my gender is me. People can have their opinions on it, but that’s all they are: Opinions. And “free speech” does not guarantee the right to state one’s opinion anywhere one chooses. Wikipedia has rules for a reason.

For oppressed people, wanting to avoid triggering language isn’t a matter of wanting to be in an echo chamber; it’s a matter of survival. Words trigger action; words have impact. Choose your words carefully.

* I prefer non-binary as an umbrella term rather than genderqueer. This is an ongoing discussion I’m having with other Wikipedia editors on the Genderqueer talk page.