Category Archives: Photography

Posts featuring my photography

One million views

[Image: Screenshot from Pax’s Flickr account, with the current total number of views, 1,000,045, circled.]

Today, my Flickr account reached a milestone: One million views of my photos. While I’ve been on Flickr for nearly ten years and some celebrities probably have millions of views every day, it’s still a fun number to celebrate, so in this post I’ll tell the story behind each of my ten most popular photos on Flickr.

Now, my Flickr account, unlike my photography web site and professional galleries on Zenfolio, contains a mishmash of casual snapshots, screenshots, and photos taken of me by other people, in addition to some of my professional photos. (I began posting all of my photos to Flickr last summer; before that, I kept my professional work primarily on Zenfolio, and posted some personal photos only on Facebook or Google+.) So as it turns out, two of my top ten viewed photos were not taken by me, and five of them are not photos at all. As a skilled photographer I find this irritating, but also amusing, given the nature of the content.

Flickr top ten views[Image: Screenshot from Pax’s Flickr account, heading “All Time views”, with columns showing photo thumbnails and the number of views, favorites, and comments.]

1, 2, 3, 8, 9: FarmVille levels 22, 20, 29, 36, 28

Numbers one, two, three, eight, and nine on my top ten list are screenshots from the Zynga game, FarmVille, which I played from 2009-2010. For those of you who were fortunate enough to miss this phenomenon, the original version of FarmVille was a crudely animated but extremely popular Facebook game, where players grew and harvested crops in “real” time. Animal farming was also involved, which I’m now firmly against even though no animals were killed in this typical pastoral fantasy.

I started playing FarmVille solely because my friend and music teacher Steve Kirk, a very talented musician and video game composer, wrote the original theme song for it. Here’s a video I shot of him performing the complete song live:

I’m guessing that my screenshots were popular because I put some effort into making my farm look attractive and realistic, rather than just planting the highest-value crops to level up quickly. I was also fairly active on the game’s forum for a time. Regardless, I grew sick of it after a few months and ultimately blocked all Zynga games on Facebook, as that company relies on players spamming their friends to gain popularity.

4: Stradivarius cello, detail

Stradivarius cello, detail[Image: Side view of a cello, showing ornate detail.]

I photographed this Stradivarius cello at the Museum of American History on the first day of 2009, during a trip to Washington, D.C. with Ziggy. From a technical standpoint, I really don’t think this is a good photo; in contrast, the photo I took of the violin in the same display case is much better (and, to be fair, just missed the top 10 list, at number 11). But people seem to like the cello, so there you go.

5: Mayan Palace pool

Mayan Palace pool[Image: Pax relaxing in a large outdoor swimming pool.]

Ziggy snapped this swimsuit photo of me during our honeymoon in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico, October 2004. I’m not surprised at this photo’s popularity given that I tagged it with “cleavage,” for reasons that should be obvious. As I’ve posted previously, unlike the vast majority of transmasculine people I’ve encountered, I’ve never had a problem with my breasts. When I was heavier, I showed them off frequently. I only hide them in public now because most people assume that anyone with visible breasts must be female.

I’m not ashamed of this or any other photo that shows off my body. I’m only sad that I haven’t been in a pool or any other body of water since I started my hormonal transition two years ago. Though I can’t swim, I do miss hot-tubbing. But I can’t bathe topless or fully nude safely unless I’m in a private space with a group of trusted friends.

6. Sculpture at UCSF Mission Bay

Sculpture at UCSF Mission Bay[Image: A large green geometric sculpture inside an office building.]

I shot this sculpture in 2005 while I was working for UCSF Public Affairs and taking video footage of the then-new UCSF Mission Bay campus. This photo was shot with the still mode of the video camera I was using, and the graininess is evident even to the untrained eye. The white balance is also off. Regardless, this photo has more “favorites” than any other I’ve posted to Flickr. I’ll give the sculptor, Liz Larner, all due credit for this.

7. Ziggy and [Pax] at Swingers

Ziggy and Pax at Swingers[Image: Ziggy and Pax sitting together in a restaurant, smiling.]

My friend Amy shot this photo of Ziggy and me while we were visiting her in Los Angeles in 2007. (The original title, as with many of my Flickr photos, contains my birth-assigned name; please do not mention it here.) The restaurant we were visiting is named Swingers. Most of the people searching for that term must have been disappointed to find this photo in the results. As a consolation prize, Ziggy and I are, in fact, polyamorous. Though swinging is normally associated with heterosexual couples swapping partners, the distinction between swinging and polyamory is a matter for endless debate.

10. Short shorts

Short shorts[Image: Pax standing in front of vertical blinds, looking to the side, wearing shorts and a deep-necked T-shirt.]

At last, a photo I’m actually proud of! I took this self-portrait in 2009, when I was in the process of losing weight, and pleased with my figure. I liked this photo so much that I included it on an early version of my business cards, but others convinced me that it wasn’t really appropriate for the kind of photography services I was advertising.

Here again, I’m not ashamed of my body, including the prominent nipples visible in this photo. I never liked wearing bras, though I usually did so in public before my transition, reluctantly. I would still wear low-cut shirts like this if they didn’t guarantee that I’d be misgendered as female.

So there’s my top 10. If you’d like to see more Flickr photos that I’m personally proud of, rather than screenshots of video games, check out my Best of 2011 and Best of 2012 sets. And if you like my work and want to support my efforts, please consider sponsoring me on Patreon or leaving me a tip. Thanks!

Black and brown unity against police impunity

[Image: Activist Benjamin Bac Sierra speaks at a podium on the steps of San Francisco City Hall. Next to him, another activist wears a shirt reading “Justice for Alex Nieto – Strike Out Police Brutality.” Another holds a banner partially reading “Justice 4 All”,  with an image of the police chief crossed out in red.]

Yesterday I went to San Francisco City Hall to attend a rally against police violence. Hosted by the Justice 4 Mario Woods Coalition, Justice for Alex Nieto, and Justice for Amilcar Perez Lopez, this press conference was called in the wake of the jury verdict exonerating the police officers who killed Alex Nieto in 2014. To literally add insult to injury, one of the cleared officers made a callous post on Facebook in response to the verdict.

Rally at SF City Hall[Image: An activist sits on the steps of San Francisco City Hall, holding a sign reading “Children what do you want to be when you grow-up – Alive!”]

Rally at SF City Hall[Image: An activist sits in front of the steps at San Francisco City Hall, holding a sign reading “Justice for Mario Woods Coalition.”]

Rally against police violence[Image: Activists hold signs and banners on the steps of San Francisco City Hall, with the images and names of Amilcar Perez Lopez, Alex Nieto, and Mario Woods.]

The rally was well-attended, with a diverse crowd of people holding signs protesting police killings. Banners called for the firing or resignation of San Francisco Police Chief Gregory Suhr, an independent investigation, and murder charges for all involved officers.

Rally against police violence[Image: Minister Christopher Muhammad speaks at a podium on the steps of San Francisco City Hall.]

Among the speakers were several ministers. Minister Christopher Muhammad pointed out that these racist killings are taking place in a Democratic city; “that’s not Mayor Trump.” He repeatedly called on “Mister and Miss Democrat” to hold our elected officials responsible. Both Muhammed and Archibishop King (who I’d met previously at the Reclaim MLK rally at Coltrane Church) called on black elected officials to speak out against police impunity. (Latino supervisors John Avalos and David Campos both spoke at the rally.)

Rally against police violence[Image: Elvira Nieto, mother of Alex Nieto, speaks at a podium on the steps of San Francisco City Hall.]

Elvira and Refugio Nieto, the parents of Alex Nieto, both attended the rally. Elvira spoke in Spanish, with another activist providing translation. Her words and determination provided a moving reminder of the real impact of police killings. After the press conference, many of the activists headed inside City Hall, but I did not attend that portion of the event.

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

Julia Serano and trans activism

[Image: Julia Serano speaks at the GLBT History Museum, San Francisco.]

Last night I attended a talk by Julia Serano at the GLBT History Museum for the launch of the second edition of her classic book, Whipping Girl. I’ve written previously about this book, and how grateful I am to Serano for introducing me to the concept of “subconscious sex,” which finally explained the feelings I have about my own identity. Her book is an excellent read for anyone interested in gender theory, but of particular relevance to trans women, as the subtitle, “A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity,” indicates.

Serano read from the preface to the new edition, the main text of which is largely unchanged from the first. A lot has changed for trans people since she first published the book in 2007, however, as she pointed out. She’s kept her web site updated with a number of essays, one of which I linked to in my post celebrating International Women’s Day earlier this week.

Part of my motivation for attending this talk was to take a photo to replace the old, not-particularly-good one on Serano’s Wikipedia page. As a Wikipedia editor I’m always trying to improve trans and non-binary coverage on that platform, and frequently running into frustrations dealing with cis-privileged editors and vandalism. Taking newer and (hopefully) better photos is one way I can improve trans pages without (hopefully) inciting controversy.

Besides Serano, so far I’ve added photos of Ryan Cassata (musician and activist),  Monica Helms (designer of the transgender pride flag), Willy Wilkinson (writer and health care activist), CeCe McDonald (public speaker and activist), S. Bear Bergman (writer and performer), and, though she already had good photos on Wikipedia, actress Laverne Cox. I’ll continue to be on the lookout for local trans-focused events to shoot, as my energy levels and health allow.

The full set of my photos from last night is available on Flickr. As always, please credit me as Pax Ahimsa Gethen if you use any of them, thanks!

Music, food, and love at Omni Commons

[Image: Ayr sings and plays acoustic guitar on stage at Omni Commons. A drummer plays in the background.]

On Saturday I attended a fundraiser for Omni Commons, a community center in Oakland that hosts numerous Bay Area collectives, including Food Not Bombs. My friend Saryta, whose book about animal liberation I wrote about recently, volunteers for FNB, and helped organize this event.

Saryta and Arthur at Omni Commons[Image: Saryta and Arthur, two of the organizers of the Omni Commons Love Party.]

The event featured an open mic and several musical performances. I would have loved to stay and watch all of them, but my partner Ziggy and I had to get up early the next morning for a race, so I only caught the open mic and the first three acts: Ayr (pictured at the top of this post), Beet the System, and The Bogues.

Beet the System at Omni Commons[Image: A guitarist, keyboard player, and drummer from Beet the System perform on an indoor stage.]

Beet the System at Omni Commons[Image: A member of Beet the System sings and plays ukelele on an indoor stage.]

The Bogues featured a particularly eclectic group of instruments, including accordion, violin, and autoharp. They really got the crowd dancing.

The Bogues at Omni Commons[Image: Members of The Bogues play banjo and percussion on an indoor stage.]

Food Not Bombs provided an impressive vegan buffet. When I mentioned that I was running a half marathon the next morning, they loaded up my plate with an embarrassing amount of food.

Vegan food plate[Image: A plate overloaded with beans, grains, vegetables, and fruit.]

Between that meal, Saryta’s home-baked cookies and cupcakes, and the sumptuous Valentine’s Day dinner I had at my friend Phil Gelb’s underground vegan restaurant the following evening, I probably ate two full marathons’ worth of calories. I have no regrets.

I’ve posted my full set of photos from Omni Commons to Flickr. Please credit me as Pax Ahimsa Gethen if you use any of them, thanks!

Sharing concert photography

[Image: George Porter Jr. singing and playing electric bass on an indoor stage.]

As anyone visiting my Funcrunch Photo web site might guess, concert photography is my specialty. I haven’t done much of it lately, but from 2008-2012 I photographed a large number of musicians. Now that I’ve given up trying to make an actual living at photography, I’m making more of my older photos available to Wikimedia under a Creative Commons license, for free sharing with attribution.

Rather than just uploading my files indiscriminately, I’m looking for artists I have good photos of who have Wikipedia pages that need (more) images. I took the top photo of George Porter, Jr. (performing with the Funky Meters) at the Blue Bear School of Music’s annual benefit concert in San Francisco. I was the (semi-)official photographer for Blue Bear for several years, and got to see a number of great acts.

Booker T. Jones[Image: Booker T. Jones playing keyboard on an outdoor stage.]

Joe Louis Walker[Image: Joe Louis Walker playing electric guitar on an outdoor stage.]

I shot the above two images, of Booker T. (performing with the MG’s) and Joe Louis Walker, at the Petaluma Wine, Jazz, and Blues Festival in 2009. I was just an audience member for this concert, not there in any official capacity, and it was literally 100 degrees out, but I still had a good time watching and photographing the musicians.

You might notice that all of the images in this post are of black folks; that’s no accident. I’ve taken plenty of photos of white musicians, several of which I’ve uploaded to Wikipedia as well. But I’d like to increase quality coverage of people of color on that platform, as well as everywhere else.

Speaking of black musicians, I’m aware of the current hubbub surrounding Beyoncé, but for self-care reasons I’m choosing not to contribute to the discussion right now. For one black activist’s perspective on her video and Super Bowl performance, I recommend checking out today’s Maris Jones essay in Black Girl Dangerous.

So back to photography: I’d like to shoot more concerts and other events, but my equipment is aging and needs replacement. I could really use more funds to support my work. If you have the financial means, please consider supporting me on Patreon or leaving me a tip.  Any amount is greatly appreciated!

Saryta Rodriguez: Until Every Animal Is Free

[Image: Left: Saryta at Souley Vegan restaurant, standing in front of a poster of Louis Armstrong while holding her book, Until Every Animal is Free. Right: Saryta pets Brahma, a bull at PreetiRang Sanctuary.]

Black and white headshot of Saryta, by Sophie Jane Stafford.[Image: Black and white headshot of Saryta, by Sophie Jane Stafford.]

Recently I had the pleasure of reading a wonderful book about animal liberation, Until Every Animal Is Free, written by my friend Saryta Rodriguez. Saryta and I met when we were both active with Direct Action Everywhere (though neither of us is currently) and their affinity group, Animal Liberationists of Color. During that time, she edited the three blog posts I wrote for The Liberationist.

Through both personal stories and well-cited research, Saryta’s book makes a solid case for veganism and animal rights activism. While I needed no convincing on those fronts, I learned new facts and perspectives that will be helpful in my own activist work. Her web site contains additional helpful resources and information that didn’t make it into the book.

I asked Saryta if I could send her some interview questions over e-mail, focusing on topics that were not directly covered in her book. For example, Saryta is agender; like me, she doesn’t associate that identity with a stereotypical “androgynous” gender expression. Saryta answered my questions with great enthusiasm; I’ve included her full responses below, interspersed with photos from our recent visit (along with my partner Ziggy) to PreetiRang Sanctuary. (The full set of photos is available on Flickr.)

As a fellow agender person, does having a non-binary gender identity give you any insights into the human/non-human binary that is often used to justify the exploitation of animals?

Ever since I was a child, long before I understood my gender identity and even longer before I went vegan, I always thought it was strange for us to draw such a divide between humans and nonhumans. I’ve often been accused of being overly literal— of zeroing in on the slightest nuance of a given word or phrase, of insisting on precision in language and communication. (My partner finds this very annoying.) I remember learning when I was maybe eight or nine years old of the classical scientific kingdoms: Animalia, Plantae, Fungi, Protista, Archaea and Bacteria. Humans, like pigs, cows, and chickens, exist squarely in the Animalia kingdom. We do not have our own kingdom. Period.

So in a very literal sense, leaving aside the spiritual and the emotional for a moment, humans are animals. To me, it really is that simple.

Geeta and Ziggy at PreetiRang Sanctuary[Image: Close-up of Ziggy smiling at Geeta, a goat at PreetiRang Sanctuary.]

With respect to binary systems in general, I feel that they are all alike in that they serve to otherize those who are in some way deviant from the norm, so as to make their exploitation more palatable. One thing I also remember learning around 8 or 9 years of age is that “Women have XX chromosomes” and “Men have XY chromosomes.” This was how sex, with which many conflate gender, was first defined to me. Two options—XX or XY. Nothing in between.

I later learned, of course, that this is far from the case. For starters, many individuals have genetic makeups that are neither XX nor XY. Furthermore, even among those with XX or XY, there are other differences that affect their sex and in some cases, their gender identity. Exposure to hormones such as androgen in the womb is one example, but there are others. Even with respect to genitalia, to summarize that “Men have penises” and “Women have vaginas” is misleading, because it suggests that every human being on the planet was born with either a penis or a vagina, when some are born with parts of both.

I do see a clear parallel between this and the many ways in which humans otherize nonhumans— everything from “We have thumbs and they don’t,” which is immediately disproven by nonhuman primates, to “We have art and culture and all these high-brow elements to our society that nonhumans don’t,” which is challenged by the bowerbird, among others.

(The males in this species erect bowers, not to live in or for any other practical purpose, but strictly to appeal to the aesthetic sense of females. Possession of an aesthetic sense— the ability to discern between what is “beautiful” and what is “ugly”— has long been heralded as a distinctly human characteristic.)

Bertha at PreetiRang Sanctuary[Image: Bertha, a colorful rooster at PreetiRang Sanctuary. White hens are in the background.]

Ultimately, such distinctions serve the purpose of legitimizing violence and exploitation, as if we can convince ourselves that someone is “not like us” in ways that we find meaningful— such as our cognitive abilities and our abilities to experience pain and fear—then we needn’t concern ourselves with their wellbeing in the same manner as we concern ourselves with our own wellbeing. We can tell ourselves that the suffering we cause others is not really suffering, because no one else is capable of truly suffering— because that is unique to us.

While the connection to violence and exploitation may not seem immediately apparent between nonhuman animals and agendered persons (I admit I have been very fortunate to have never faced either due to my gender identity), a more obvious connection perhaps is with respect to invisibility. Just as many contend that the perspective of nonhumans need not be considered because they don’t exist precisely as we do, so too are agendered individuals often told— either directly (by an individual in our lives) or systemically (by the media, our employers, and so forth)— that we “do not exist.” That there’s “no such thing” as the very thing that we are. This I have been told, many times, as well as when I first admitted to a friend that I was pansexual. She insisted that I was either a straight person going through a phase or a lesbian in denial. She was incapable of acknowledging any in-between, and while at the time I felt differently, today I can hardly blame her. I’m probably the first and may still be the only pansexual she’s ever met, and this wasn’t something people talked about back then, like they do now. When I was in high school kids rarely even came out as gay or lesbian, and no one that I’m aware of ever came out as anything else.

By rendering members of our society invisible, be they outside of the gender binary or simply one of the many forms of animal that is not human, we do them and ourselves a disservice. We not only commit injustice upon injustice against them, but we also shortchange ourselves from the benefit of their experiences. We miss out on an opportunity to learn from those with whom we share the planet. We stunt our own evolutionary development— remain mired in archaic modes of thinking and acting.

As a pansexual person, have you experienced or witnessed heterosexist oppression or micro-aggressions from other animal rights activists?

Have I ever! Although I have to say, I have more experience witnessing sexism more generally— cis-male domination— than heterosexism specifically, which I understand to refer to domination by straight people. But one form of microaggression I have witnessed as a pansexual, agender person of color over and over again is tokenization. I have seen, over and over again, animal rights organizations herald this or that activist as a tremendous asset to their work…When it’s convenient to do so. But should the same activist voice concern that racism, sexism, heterosexism or any other nasty –ism is slowly infecting the network, that activist is hung out to dry. If not kicked out directly, they may be given fewer tasks to complete. They may find that initiatives they spearheaded— including ones they conceived of themselves, without which they would not be happening at all— are handed over, without any explanation, to someone who in some way better fits societal norms (i.e. taking something from a POC and giving it to a white person, taking something from an agender person and giving it to a man or a woman). They are featured less and less in videos, blogs or other forms of media after speaking up about these behaviors.

Saryta and Chester at PreetiRang Sanctuary[Image: Saryta feeds carrots to Chester, a bull at PreetiRang Sanctuary.]

A common response in AR circles to problems of this type can be summed up as: “Animals, though.” This is the notion that we vegans must promptly sweep aside any issue that might sow division in our ranks— including various oppressions that affect humans— in order to keep fighting the good fight for our nonhuman brethren. This is not only unjust towards human activists but also ultimately hurts nonhuman animals as people outside of the movement peek in and think, “Wow, AR folk have some serious issues; I wouldn’t want to touch that with a ten-foot pole!”

Imagine how a person of color who is thinking about going vegan feels when they hear that some of the most outspoken, well-known animal rights groups in the country have developed a reputation for ignoring the concerns of their POC members, and/or have unapologetically run campaigns that are culturally insensitive. How likely are they to make this oh-so-difficult lifelong commitment when they suspect that this will be the company they’re keeping?

Have you felt pressure to hide or downplay your gender identity or sexual orientation when doing activism?

Only as much as I do in any other setting (haha). The truth is I don’t know if it’s fair to say I felt pressured, as this implies that the pressure was coming from outside of myself— like I was afraid something bad would happen to me if I mentioned who I was. It’s really more like, I pressure myself to avoid talking about myself when I do activism (and in most other scenarios, interviews obviously notwithstanding), and keep the focus on the issue I’m trying to address. I don’t want to get roped into conversations about myself when I’m trying to shed light on the oppression of someone else. I only really talk about being agender when involved in some sort of gender-related activism, and I don’t do as much of that as I should.

With respect to my sexuality, I only ever tell people who ask. This might be a result of what happened that first time I told someone about it, and perhaps that is society’s stigma leaking into my consciousness— a latent fear of being told yet again that I “do not exist,” that there’s “no such thing” as me. But moreso than any subconscious wounds I may be hauling around, I think at bottom, the whole notion that anyone should have to “come out” to anyone else as anything sexual is offensive. Straight men, for instance, are never expected to sit down with their parents and say, “Mom, Dad, I think I’m going to have sex with women for the rest of my life.” So why should a gay man have to declare to his parents that he will sleep with men, and why should I have to tell my parents that I sleep with folks independent of their gender? It’s just none of their business. If either of them were to ever ask me, I’d tell them the truth; but, knowing my parents, I sincerely doubt that will ever happen.

As a person who has also dealt with serious depression, how do you balance activism with self-care?

It took me a long time to get the hang of this, and I still struggle with it from time to time. One thing I’ve come to accept and embrace about myself is that the form or style of activism that comes most naturally to me is writing— which, luckily for me, can be done from the comfort of my own home. I do occasionally force myself to step outside of the box, but now I’m more careful than I used to be about over-committing, and I’m always honest with the people I work with about what my availability is. I’ve come to see “self-care” as being “unavailable,” whereas before it seemed selfish to turn down an opportunity to change minds and save lives to read a book or watch TV. I know that I am only human, and my brain and body need time to rest. So I now put “needing time to rest (mentally, physically and/or emotionally)” in the same category as I always have “having another commitment at that time” or “being really, really sick.” I’ve learned to say so, too; I used to be too embarrassed to admit when I had these needs, and would use those other examples— prior commitment, illness— as excuses when they weren’t really true. I’ve always felt guilty about that, being patently and unequivocally anti-lying. I’d lie awake at night, tossing and turning, wracked with guilt over having told someone I had the flu when really I was just exhausted, or had had a big fight with a lover or relative and was too sad to go anywhere.

I also firmly believe that part of being a good social justice advocate, whatever your cause or causes of choice may be, is being well-rounded and having a broad understanding of society. This means keeping up with things like theater, visual art, movies and, yes, even TV. You can’t expect to reach people if you exist in a vacuum, surrounding yourself only with people exactly like you, who behave as you do and think as you do already. You won’t make any significant changes that way. So I’ve come to appreciate that even when I’m doing things that might appear selfish or insignificant, like going to see a musical, it still has the potential to positively inform my activism. Often, much to my surprise, I’ve even found my causes of choice represented directly in the play or musical or movie I’ve gone to see, and it has inspired me directly to write or talk about the issue, rather than just passively informing my understanding of humanity.

Chester at PreetiRang Sanctuary[Image: Chester, a bull at PreetiRang Sanctuary.]

Finally, I’ve learned not to draw a connection between my position within a particular group or organization and my sense of self-worth. As a kid, I was super competitive. I got ridiculously good grades, so much so that once, I’m embarrassed to admit, I actually cried because I got a 98 on a test on which I thought I’d received 100. I was also a concert violinist, and even though I got a later start than the other kids in my orchestra (most of them started around age four; I didn’t start until I was ten), and despite not having my own private instructor (as many of the others did; I had one for a couple of weeks, but couldn’t afford to keep seeing her), I quickly rose to first chair. Throughout middle school and high school, I only lost that position once— when I had the flu on Audition Day. (You really don’t want to know how hard I cried when that happened.) So for a long time I associated my worth with how highly I appeared to be valued by whatever institution I was a part of at that time. If the institution didn’t value me, didn’t praise me, didn’t award me anything, then I must be a failure, a nobody.

I can’t tell you what a tremendous relief it has been to me to no longer live under such strain— to be able to objectively evaluate my own individual actions, achievements, talents, etc., without formal acknowledgement from any institution or individual.

As a Hispanic person, are there any misconceptions about your ethnicity that you’d particularly like to dispel?

Well, I guess there’s one that’s actually so widespread that, even as a Hispanic myself, I believed it until just a couple of years ago— the notion that all Hispanic people eat tons of meat. While my own family is very carnivorous, and I ate an absurd amount of meat growing up, this is not universally true of the Hispanic and/or Latinx communities. My friend Chema Hernandez Gil gave a great talk at the premiere People’s Harvest Forum in San Francisco, which I helped to organize with Millahcayotl, about how his family in Mexico ate a vegetarian diet throughout his youth (the Seventies, I believe). I have also learned more through him and others about the Three Sisters Diet— squash, corn, and beans— and how even gluten, which I thought people avoided mostly for health reasons, is actually a result of imperialism, as Mexico and other countries used primarily corn to make tortillas and other bread-like products until white settlers brought wheat over from Europe. Not to get too sidetracked here, but I was surprised to learn that there were ethical or political reasons not to eat gluten, in addition to health reasons like Celiac Disease.

So to think that Hispanic people just won’t ever go vegan really doesn’t make any sense. If Americans, who consume on average about 270 lbs. of meat per year— more meat per person than almost any other country in the world— can still be persuaded to go vegan, so can Hispanic people. And beyond merely going vegan, there are even organizations run by Hispanic and Latinx people promoting veganism, providing resources for everything from “Why Vegan?” to tips on vegan Mexican cooking, such as Food Empowerment Project. So my people do not merely form a minority of members within the Animal Liberation Movement— some of them are leading it.

On your web site you’ve posted a bonus chapter and other essays since the publication of your book. Are there any other recent developments or upcoming projects you’d like to talk about?

Yes, I’d be happy to! So aside from still trying to conceptualize and book events around my first book, I’ve also started a second, which will be a compilation of essays regarding food sovereignty, through a vegan praxis. I can’t share too much about it now except that I’ve got some really great contributors on board already (and I’m hoping you, Pax, can be counted among them!), and that to the best of my knowledge nothing quite like this has been done yet. I’ve enjoyed working on my contributions so far and am really excited to gather the perspectives and insights of the many talented people who have agreed to work with me on this. I expect to learn a lot!

Saryta, Pax, and Brahma at PreetiRang Sanctuary[Image: Saryta and Pax pet Brahma, a bull at PreetiRang Sanctuary. Photo by Ziggy.]

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.

Squirrel appreciation day

I was all set to write a post about the latest oppressive tactics employed by a so-called animal rights organization, when I learned of very important news that must take precedence:

Today is Squirrel Appreciation Day!

Central Park squirrel[Image: A cute gray squirrel.]

The above photo – taken in New York City’s Central Park during a 2004 vacation – is the only squirrel photo I could find in my collection. I must rectify this by taking more photos of squirrels immediately. They are one of my favorite animals.

Related fun fact: I went to high school in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, PA.

It’s good to be reminded that our fellow animals share the Earth with us. No matter what species they are or what they look like, all animals want to live.

Wikipedia 15

[Image: Lila Tretikov, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, speaks into a microphone in front of a screen displaying the words “Share. Inspire.”]

This January 15 marked the 15th birthday of Wikipedia, one of the most popular web sites on the Internet. I’ve been a volunteer editor on that site for over seven years, and have been increasingly active lately, especially on the LGBT Studies project. I’ve also donated a small amount of money to their annual fundraising drive in recent years, as I read Wikipedia pages on a daily basis. So when I saw a banner on my list of watched pages announcing a birthday celebration here in San Francisco, I signed up to attend.

Rosie Stephenson-Goodknight at Wikipedia 15[Image: Event emcee Rosie Stephenson-Goodknight, presenting on the content gender gap, holds a microphone while standing in front of a laptop.]

One of the presentations was on the “content gender gap“: The lack of Wikipedia articles on women and issues of concern to them. I’ve been dealing with similar frustrations regarding accurate coverage of trans people and non-binary gender identities, as non-binary erasure* is a significant concern of mine. One of the presenters, Emily Temple-Wood, mentioned that coverage of trans health issues on Wikipedia is a disaster, which I agree with.

Britta Gustafson and Stuart Geiger at Wikipedia 15[Image: Britta Gustafson and Stuart Geiger share a laugh while presenting in front of a projection screen.]

The event had more lighthearted moments, including a nostalgic and humorous look at the early days of Wikipedia, 2001-2003. While I wasn’t an editor on Wikipedia at that time, I’ve been active on the Internet since the days of Gopher and I launched my first web site in 1994, so I could appreciate the humor.

Panel of speakers at Wikipedia 15[Image: Five panelists sit on chairs; one speaks into a microphone.]

Uncle Bobby at Wikipedia 15[Image: Cephus “Uncle Bobby” Johnson speaks into a microphone.]

The event concluded with a panel of speakers, moderated by Pete Forsyth, discussing the impact of 15 years of Wikipedia. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post about the MLK march, one of the panelists was Cephus “Uncle Bobby” Johnson, uncle of Oscar Grant, who was killed by the BART police in 2009. He urged Wikipedia editors to consider the impact of their words on people reading their articles, as while reading the article about his nephew, he felt like Oscar was murdered all over again.

I spoke with Uncle Bobby after the event, and shared my frustrations on dealing with cisgender editors who don’t understand how to write about trans people accurately, which I felt was analogous to white editors dominating coverage of events concerning anti-black racism. I explained that Wikipedia’s policy of requiring reliable sources to be cited is in place for good reasons, but has the effect of shutting out marginalized people who don’t have equal access to be featured in such publications.

Our lived experiences often do not reflect what is published in mainstream sources, but lived experience is considered “original research”, and not allowed on Wikipedia. Again, there are good reasons for this policy, but it makes it harder to convey our truths when we share our own experiences and are accused of having an “agenda”. Wikipedia requires editors to write from a neutral point of view, but in the USA, what is currently considered “neutral” is unavoidably skewed toward a white, male, heterosexual, cisgender perspective.

Attending this event made me want to learn more about the inner workings of Wikipedia, which led me to several articles in the most recent Signpost that expressed serious concerns about the Wikimedia Foundation. I’ll be keeping a closer eye on these developments. Despite the flaws, I find Wikipedia to be an invaluable resource, and am glad I have the time and ability to help make it better.

I’ve posted my full set of photos from Wikipedia 15 to Flickr, as well as to the Wikimedia Commons (the commons gallery contains photos and videos from other attendees as well).

* As noted in my year-end gender post, I was pleased that after I sent feedback, both the MTV account creation page and the most recent Wikipedia annual survey added an “Other” option to their gender question.

Marching in Oakland to ReclaimMLK

[Image: Marchers hold a banner with an image of Martin Luther King Jr. and the words “Reclaim King’s Radical Legacy.”]

Yesterday I joined hundreds of Bay Area activists in a march from downtown Oakland to Emeryville, for the conclusion of 96 hours of direct action to reclaim the radical legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. As with Friday’s action in San Francisco, I witnessed many inspiring sights and speeches, and once again helped hold space while activists shut down a major intersection.

Queers for black resistance[Image: A crowd of people, two holding signs reading “Iranian queers for black resistance” and “White queers for black resistance”.]

Lao queers for black resistance[Image: A marcher holds a sign reading “Lao queers for black resistance”.]

Queers overthrowing white supremacy[Image: Marchers hold a banner reading “We’re here we’re queer we’re overthrowing white supremacy – Quagmire”. ]

BlackTransLives Matter[Image: Two marchers share a laugh. One wears a shirt reading #BlackTransLivesMatter on the back.]

I was impressed and empowered by the turnout of queer and trans people of all backgrounds. The message was clear: Black Lives Matter is for all black people, not just straight cisgender men.

Pancho practicing silence[Image: Pancho smiles at children, showing them a message reading “On Mondays I practice silence, but I’d like you to know that I love you.”]

I saw a few familiar faces at the event, including Pancho who I volunteered with at the (now closed, sadly) Free Farm. My friend and fellow animal liberation activist Saryta marched with me the whole way; I’ll be blogging soon about her great book, Until Every Animal is Free.

Marchers singing and clapping[Image: Two marchers sing and clap their hands.]

Dancing at the march[Image: A crowd cheers on a dancer at a stop during the march.]

While the theme of black resistance was serious, the mood along the march route was often festive, with singing and dancing on multiple occasions.

Mothers speaking out against police violence[Image: A woman looks distraught as she speaks into a microphone. Another consoles her, while a third holds a photo of the speaker’s son, reading “James Rivera, Jr – Killed by Stockton, CA Police Dept July 22, 2010 – #RiseUpOctober”]

The march ended in Emeryville, a city of concrete and shopping malls. The truck stopped near the Shellmound, where marchers blocked traffic and held space at this sacred burial site for the Ohlone people. Here, mothers who had lost their children and husbands to police violence spoke out. One of them pointed to members of the crowd, saying “You could be next.”

Cephus "Uncle Bobby" Johnson speaks[Image: Cephus “Uncle Bobby” Johnson speaks out about the police killing of Oscar Grant.]

One of the final speakers was Cephus “Uncle Bobby” Johnson, uncle of Oscar Grant, whose 2009 killing by the BART police was the subject of the movie Fruitvale Station. I’d just met Uncle Bobby two days earlier at the celebration of Wikipedia’s 15th birthday, where he stated that the initial Wikipedia coverage of his nephew’s shooting “murdered him all over again.” (I’ll write more about the Wikipedia event later this week.)

While we were gathered at the Shellmound, we learned that the black queer liberation collective Black.Seed had successfully shut down the Bay Bridge. When I saw photos posted on Facebook, I realized that I’d met one of their activists, Thea, at Black Queer Voices Rising last year; I was happy to hear of more queer black people speaking truth to power.

I’ve posted my full set of photos from the march to Flickr. Please credit Pax Ahimsa Gethen if you use any of them. Glad to witness and document some of this weekend’s efforts to dismantle white supremacy.