Category Archives: Speciesism

Discrimination based on species; animal rights and animal liberation issues

Animals are not “meats”

[Image: Pax with Hari, a young steer at PreetiRang Sanctuary, February 2016. Photo by Ziggy.]

Today’s post on Medium, “Animals are not ‘meats’“, expresses some of my frustrations about the humane farming myth and about animals being treated as products for human consumption. This story is unlocked, so everyone can read it; please share if you like it.

Reminder to readers: Please follow me on Medium if you aren’t doing so already, thanks!

Dairy: White Lies

[Image: Harvey, a calf at Preetirang Sanctuary.]

Today’s post on Medium, “Dairy: White Lies“, is an updated version of an article I wrote criticizing the promotion of cow’s milk to people of color, most of whom are lactose intolerant – or as the Food Empowerment Project correctly puts it, “lactose normal”. This story is unlocked, so everyone can read it; please share if it resonates with you.

Reminder to readers: Please follow me on Medium if you aren’t doing so already, thanks!

So you’re going vegan for New Year’s

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

Today’s post on Medium, “So you’re going vegan for New Year’s“,  addresses those who are making New Year’s resolutions to go vegan. (Even if you’re already vegan or have no intention of going vegan, it’s worth a read.) This story is unlocked, so everyone can read it; please share if you like it.

Reminder to readers: Please follow me on Medium if you aren’t doing so already, thanks!

Conflicted thoughts on Thanksgiving

[Image: An activist at a Stand with Standing Rock rally in San Francisco holds a sign reading “Protect the Sacred”.]

Today’s post on Medium, “Conflicted thoughts on Thanksgiving“, is about reconciling the celebration of the holiday with the continued oppression of marginalized humans and the killing of animals. Please follow me on Medium if you aren’t doing so already, thanks.

Presenting at Inclusivity Conference

[Image: Headshot of Pax (by Ziggy Tomcich) with the words “San Francisco Bay Area Inclusivity Conference – Prioritizing Harm Free(dom) For Our Future”.]

Update, October 15: This conference has been postponed; see explanation on Facebook.


Next weekend, I will be presenting at the Inclusivity Conference, hosted by Vegan Leadership in Oakland, California. In my presentation, I will discuss gender diversity, giving basic education on transgender, non-binary, and intersex terminology, and suggestions on how cisgender people can demonstrate allyship with the community.

I’ll also show photos I’ve taken at events in the San Francisco Bay Area, highlighting the role of queer and trans people of color in social justice movements, and discussing how vegan ethics have informed my activism and political outlook.

The conference is on October 21 and 22, 2017, and will be catered by S+M Vegan. Other featured speakers include A. Breeze Harper of the Sistah Vegan Project and lauren Ornelas of the Food Empowerment Project. My talk is scheduled for October 22 at 1:30 p.m. You can get tickets to the event (sliding scale), or donate to help with expenses, at the conference web site.

Bigoted vegans piss on Pride month

[Image: Pax pets Shiva, a steer at PreetiRang Sanctuary. Photo by Ziggy.]

This week, Mercy for Animals featured me in their article, 13 LGBTQ Vegans You Need to Follow. I had already found and shared the article to my Facebook page before MFA posted it on Facebook themselves. Very shortly afterward, the negative comments came flooding in.

We had your garden-variety bigotry:

[Image: Screenshot of a comment reading “Animal rights have nothing to do with the filth and immorality that is homosexuality, this ends my association with you.”]

"Sick people"[Image: Screenshot of a comment reading “Vegans not have connection with sick people (LGBTQ etc.)”]

"Degeneracy"[Image: Screenshot of a comment reading “Leftists glorify promiscuity, abortion, radical feminism, and welfare. Pair-bonded monogamy became edgy when leftists normalised degeneracy.”]

"Against the gay pride"[Image: Screenshot of a comment reading “I am totally for mercy for animals! But against the gay pride!”]

And we had your bigotry using  religion as a rationale :

"Be fruitful and multiply"[Image: Screenshot of a comment reading “Ummm No I will decide who I follow- not this- agenda- very disappointed – I run a biblical page and share your info- will NOT share this- you need to propagate your species – the first positive command, be fruitful and multiply !”]

"Jesus Christ"[Image: Screenshot of a comment reading “No thank you. I follow Jesus Christ!”]

And we had the predictable questioning why marginalized humans should get any attention on a page devoted to animal rights:

"Gay agenda"[Image: Screenshot of a comment reading “You know, it’s really a shame when animal groups get political. The only ones that suffer are the animals. Because of this, I am now unfriending your face book page. This message has nothing to do with animals. Also, I don’t agree with the gay agenda.”]

"Lost focus"[Image: Screenshot of a comment reading “Lost focus! This page should not raise politics, religion …! One should only comment on such a scandal if it involves animal welfare! This way there will be disagreements! The focus here are the animals! Try to use love and respect for animals to raise other flags is wrong it’s just the animals that will lose!”]

"Sexual preference"[Image: Screenshot of a comment reading “Why does sexual preference always get mixed into everything these days? Doesn’t this takes away from the sole purpose of this facebook cause and mission? Im fine with what ever a person’s preference is but let’s put the focus back where it needs to be. Please, let’s work together to save the ones without a voice.”]

"Irrelevant"[Image: Screenshot of a comment reading “Being gay or straight is irrelevant to having an interest in animal welfare.”]

"Ruined the main purpose"[Image: Screenshot of a comment reading “By this post you’ve just ruined the main purpose of the group, why so many people were following you. You better be fair now and rename the group to something like “LGBT VEGANS”, so all can understand what exactly they deal with.”]

"WTF"[Image: Screenshot of a comment reading “Wtf does this have to do with mercy for animals???”]

Note that roughly half of the comments above were made within 45 minutes of the article’s posting, overwhelming any positive feedback. The moderators later removed the worst of them.

This kind of pushback is sadly familiar to those of us who are working against human oppression in the animal rights community. I’ve already addressed many of the common excuses for this behavior, including the expected replies that the above commenters aren’t “real” vegans or aren’t typical of all animal rights activists or of activists from a particular organization. This bigotry and oppression exists, period, and it’s one reason I’ve significantly decreased my involvement in animal rights and vegan activism lately. Activists who would shame me, or others, for taking care of myself need to read this response as well.

My friend Aph Ko has faced similar backlash for her work to promote black vegans, which she talks about in her new book, Aphro-ism. Helping Aph out with Black Vegans Rock is about the extent of my vegan/AR work currently. I’ve prioritized transgender advocacy and documenting the resistance to the Trump administration. Speciesism is still very bothersome to me, but fighting it is not my primary focus right now.

Allies can help by amplifying the voices of vegans in the LGBT+ community; there are many more besides those in the MFA post. Note that I have not shared my interview that was linked in that post because of concerns that some others featured on that “Queer Vegans” site are not actually vegan. I’m not splitting hairs here; the researcher intentionally included ex-vegans and ex-vegetarians in her interviews, but the title and intro do not state this explicitly. (Update, June 19: The researcher, Leah Kirts, has edited her Queer Vegans site in response to my feedback.)

Regardless, people in the LGBT+ community need help whether they’re vegan or not. Pride month should be a time to recognize and celebrate sexual and gender diversity, not just with rainbow icons and profile frames on Facebook (which are fine), but with specific acts of allyship, and financial contributions for those who have the means. Many queer writers (including me) have links to PayPal accounts, Patreon pages, or other ways you can do more than just show appreciation, but actually help us survive. Helping marginalized humans does not take away from the animals; it helps make more allies for them in the fight against all oppression.

On restrooms and allyship

[Image: lauren Ornelas, Pax, and Aph Ko at the Food Empowerment Project 10th anniversary party, April 2017. Photo by Deborah Svoboda.]

Yesterday my friend lauren Ornelas, founder and executive director of the Food Empowerment Project (a vegan food justice organization), posted a blog entry about a simple but important act of allyship; please read her post before continuing. I want to express my gratitude and explain the significance of this action, especially in an era of trans-antagonistic “bathroom bills”.

As a transgender person of color who attended the Food Empowerment Project 10th anniversary celebration, I wanted to highlight the importance of labeling the restrooms as gender-neutral. I last visited the Mission Cultural Center in April 2014, when I was performing there with the Lesbian/Gay Chorus of San Francisco. At that time I had only been on hormone therapy for a short time, and was very frequently misgendered as female. (While I identify as agender, I have transitioned from female to male for legal and medical purposes.) This caused me a great deal of stress whenever I needed to use a restroom.

Once I began my hormonal transition, I decided to use mens restrooms exclusively in places where no gender-neutral facilities were available, such as the Mission Cultural Center. So I stood outside the mens room there, literally shaking with nervousness, waiting until no one was coming in or out before entering. I stood there for a good ten minutes before finally working up the nerve to enter that restroom. I finished my business without incident, fortunately.

To this day, three years later, I am still nervous when using a gendered restroom, especially in an unfamiliar place, even in San Francisco, where people are legally entitled to use restrooms matching their gender identities. (As of March 2017, California law mandates that all single-occupancy restrooms be gender-neutral, but this venue had only multiple-stall restrooms available to the public.) So I was delighted when I attended the F.E.P. party to see the gender-neutral signs on both restrooms. I still used the one that was ordinarily designated for men, but I felt safer knowing that whichever one I chose, I belonged there.

Ally is a verb, as lauren and her staff at F.E.P. demonstrated at this event. I am grateful for their act of allyship.

March for Science San Francisco

[Image: March for Science San Francisco attendees hold up a large banner for the event.]

On Saturday, I attended the March for Science San Francisco, one of many March for Science rallies held on Earth Day throughout the world. Unlike some recent political protests I’ve attended, this event appeared to be very well-funded, with a professional sound system for once. Between the multiple speaker arrays, giant video screen, coordinated T-shirts, and laminated passes for the speakers and volunteers, it almost felt more like an industry trade show or rock concert than a rally.

Crowd at Justin Herman Plaza[Image: The crowd at the March for Science rally fills Justin Herman Plaza.]

Crowded plaza[Image: The crowd moves through Justin Herman Plaza for the start of the march.]

The pre-march rally was held at Justin Herman Plaza, which was already filled with people when I arrived half an hour before the 11 a.m. start time. By the end of the rally, the plaza was so packed that it took me 45 minutes to get from the far side of the stage out to Market Street for the actual march.

Kishore Hari and Adam Savage[Image: Rally emcee Kishore Hari shares a moment backstage with Adam Savage.]

Dr. Leticia Márquez-Magaña[Image: Dr. Leticia Márquez-Magaña speaks at the rally.]

Baratunde Thurston at March for Science[Image: Baratunde Thurston speaks at the rally.]

Science has no borders[Image: Two children hold a sign reading “Science has no borders”.]

The lineup of speakers was diverse, and support for immigrants was a recurring theme. ASL interpretation was provided, and a pre-recorded talk by a scientist paralyzed with ALS, Eric Valor, was shown . While I appreciated that scientists were in the spotlight, the speaker I was personally most excited to see was Adam Savage from Mythbusters, who billed himself as an inventor, not a scientist. I also enjoyed the talk by comedian and futurist Baratunde Thurston, who was a last-minute addition.

March for Science rally signs[Image: Rally attendees sit and stand on the steps, holding various signs and banners.]

While advertised as non-partisan, many considered this to be another anti-Trump rally, and brought signs accordingly. Speakers did not call out the current administration exclusively, however. Many emphasized the need for funding and for assertions based on evidence rather than opinion, needs which transcend political parties. The rallying cry, as seen on several signs, was “What do we want? Evidence-based science! When do we want it? After peer review!”

I’ll be the first to admit that science is not a strong area of aptitude or interest for me. Science and math were the subjects I had the most difficulty with in middle and high school, though I still took Advanced Placement courses (in order to look good on my college applications) and managed to get passing grades. I’ve done computer programming, but have little formal computer science training, and struggled greatly in this area even when employed as a full-time web developer.

Resist[Image: A rally attendee wears a jacket with the badges of various science and nature organizations, and the word RESIST.]

So my motivation for going to this rally was mostly to continue my documentation of the resistance. Resistance to willful ignorance is part of this effort, and ignorance comes from people of all political persuasions. While science and religion are not necessarily incompatible, science is absolutely not itself a religion, a claim I’ve heard made not only by fundamentalists, but also some very left-wing, “new age” people. (It’s ironic that just the night before the rally I’d attended a sing-along benefit showing of Jesus Christ Superstar, a movie I’ve always greatly enjoyed despite being an atheist.)

Regardless, ethics also plays a large role, especially from my stance as a vegan animal rights activist. I can’t simply ignore vivisection and animal testing, no matter how much these practices might benefit humans. Though I do look for products that are not tested on animals, my reliance on some medications and medical procedures is beyond my reasonable ability to control at this time.

Ethics applies to the hot-button issue of GMOs as well, concerns about which one of the rally speakers dismissed in the same breath as vaccines causing autism. While I agree that the latter has been thoroughly debunked, I am still not convinced GMOs are a great idea. This is not primarily because of concerns about the safety of the humans consuming them, but concerns about capitalism and patenting. I also believe that ending animal agriculture, not engineering more higher-yield or pest-resistant crops, is the ultimate solution to world hunger. But again, I am not a scientist.

Marching with cat[Image: A woman with long braided hair and glasses walks while holding a cat with jaguar-like markings.]

During the short time I was on the march, I encountered someone marching while holding a cat, an unusual sight. We spoke briefly, and she commented that the cat would not exist without science, because domestic cats have been specially bred. This raised another animal rights issue, but I didn’t want to get into that discussion at the time, so I just snapped photos, thanked her and moved on.

Folk singers at March for Science[Image: Musicians sing and play instruments alongside the march route.]

Shortly afterward, I saw some people on the sidewalk playing live music, so I headed over and joined in the singing. By the time we finished the song, the end of the march had caught up to us, and I was peopled-out, so I headed home. Science-related activities continued for the rest of the afternoon at Civic Center.

My full set of photos from the rally is available on Flickr. I’ve also uploaded the photos to Wikimedia Commons, alongside those from other contributors. Please credit me as Pax Ahimsa Gethen if you use any of my photos, thanks!

Stardew Valley: Fun and food for thought

[Image: Screenshot of Pax’s Stardew Valley farm in fall of year 4, featuring a giant pumpkin.]

I mentioned in a recent post that I had been thoroughly engrossed in the game Stardew Valley. After five weeks and five virtual years in the valley, I put my current save file on hold, as I felt 201 hours of gameplay was a bit too much escapism. In some respects though, this experience has helped me reconnect with other real-life human beings, as forming relationships—both platonic and romantic—is a core feature of the game.

Stardew Valley greenhouse[Image: A screenshot of Pax’s greenhouse in Stardew Valley, year 5, featuring starfruit and ancient fruit.]

Farming crops is the feature that drew me to Stardew Valley, however. I had previously enjoyed playing Farmville, for reasons I explained in my post about my most popular Flickr photos, and I’ve done lots of gardening in The Sims as well. I’ve tried my hand at real-life gardening, but after three years of volunteer work I concluded that I have neither aptitude for nor enjoyment of this hobby, sadly.

Stardew Valley cellar[Image: Screenshot of Pax’s wine cellar.]

In this game, after struggling through learning the mechanics (which were quite different from other games I played), I turned to amassing a virtual fortune by making wine and jelly from the two highest-grossing crops, starfruit and ancient fruit. Having a shed full of kegs and a cellar full of casks is pretty amusing for a teetotaler like myself, but unlike animal products, I have no moral objection to alcohol.

Stardew Valley chicken coop[Image: Screenshot of Pax’s Stardew Valley coop, with Quackers, Snackers, Bella, Midnight, and Galla.]

Raising animals is a featured part of Stardew Valley. Like most activities in this open-ended game, raising animals is optional, but one most players indulge in to acquire animal products such as eggs and milk, for cooking and for achieving collection goals. The sole developer, Eric Barone (also known by his handle “ConcernedApe”), is a vegetarian, and decided not to allow slaughtering of farmed animals in the game, offering this explanation in an interview with Vulture:

Beta testers had asked Barone to include a feature that enabled users to butcher their animals and harvest the meat, and he listened to them at first, but in the end he couldn’t bring himself to include the mechanic. “I didn’t want to have that sort of violence. You give the animals names, pet them, and a little heart goes above their head and stuff, and then you butcher them?” he said. “It just felt wrong. It didn’t jibe with the feeling I was going for with the game, so I cut that, and I don’t regret it.”

Stardew Valley newborn pig[Image: A screenshot of Pax’s barn in Stardew Valley, featuring information about newborn pig Sorpresa. (So-named because she was a surprise birth; I thought I had disabled pregnancy on her parents.)]

As a vegan playing a version of myself in this save file, I did not prepare or consume any dishes containing animal products. Even though it’s just a game, since becoming an activist (for human as well as animal rights), my pacifism has influenced my virtual activities. I did decide to share my farm with some animals as if i were running a sanctuary. In a real vegan animal sanctuary, however, the chickens’ eggs would be fed back to them, and the goats and cows would not produce milk unless they were pregnant.

More importantly, on real farms, even free-range and backyard operations, the overwhelming majority of male chicks are killed shortly after hatching, and the overwhelming majority of egg- and milk-producing animals are killed once they are “spent”. Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary has more detailed information on the “Humane Myth” which leads many (if not most) US-Americans to believe that idyllic settings like Stardew Valley, where farmed animals can live out their natural lifespans in comfort and happiness, could actually exist. I’m not blaming Barone for reinforcing these myths, I just want more people to be aware of them.

Although farmed animals are not slaughtered in the valley, fishing is another key feature of the game. To me, fishing is merely aquatic hunting; fishes are sentient like land animals, and octopuses, one of the sea animals that can be caught, are particularly intelligent. I avoided fishing completely in the game until I realized that I might not be able to finish one of the key goals (repairing and re-opening the Community Center) without it. I ended up turning all of the fish that I didn’t need for that purpose into fertilizer, which is in line with how most crops, even those consumed by vegans, are grown. (Veganic farming is a viable option, but not widely practiced at this time.)

Combat is another feature of the game, which is difficult to avoid if one is to make any progress in the mines, a rich source of gems and ores for crafting and upgrading equipment. I justified fighting with the rationalization that the enemies in the mines are hostile imaginary monsters, unlike the fishes who are just peacefully going about their lives when they are yanked out of the water. If and when I start a new game, I will likely choose the farm map that comes with a small mining area, so I can start that activity immediately without so much killing.

Getting back to human relationships: This game is surprisingly deep in that regard. Dialogue with the villagers explores themes including alcoholism, post-traumatic stress disorder, and even suicide. I remember one moment in the game where I was elated that I acquired a needed item for the community center and was rushing to deposit it, when I suddenly got a cutscene with a character who was had passed out drunk and was seriously contemplating jumping off the edge of a cliff. This was a good wake-up call and reminder that the developer intended players to focus on issues beyond earning money and completing game milestones.

Stardew Valley - Elliott[Image: A screenshot of dialogue from Elliott, Pax’s spouse in Stardew Valley.]

Stardew Valley is home to a dozen eligible bachelor/ettes, all of whom are open to same-sex as well as opposite-sex relationships (there are no non-binary characters, unsurprisingly). Elliott, a long-haired artistic type, was my natural choice for marriage, as he reminded me of my real-life spouse Ziggy (though Ziggy doesn’t use so much flowery language). They even both play the piano, though sadly Elliott did not bring his along when he moved into my farmhouse. Romance and marriage, like most other game activities, are not required for advancement, and neither is having children, which I didn’t see a point to as they don’t grow beyond the toddler stage. (Same-sex couples can adopt.)

Stardew Valley farm in winter[Image: A screenshot of Pax’s Stardew Valley farm on the final day of winter, year 5.]

Overall, I’m very happy with the Stardew Valley experience. It’s an incredibly detailed world, and particularly impressive considering one man, Eric Barone, created all of the art, music, dialogue, and every other aspect of the game. The animal farming and fishing aspects raise important ethical questions, but I would still not hesitate to recommend this game to others, including vegans. While I am now, slowly, attempting to spend more time outside of my apartment, socializing with others (I just rejoined the Lesbian/Gay Chorus of San Francisco after a three-year absence), I’m sure I will return to Stardew Valley for further adventures.

ETA: You can now see more detailed information on my farm here.

My 2016 in review

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

This has been a difficult year for me emotionally. I know that applies to many, many others, considering the particular horrors of the election season. But my struggle with depression started decades earlier, and was only worsened by a growing awareness of the scope of violence in the world.

Still, I want to focus on the positive in this post. So here are some personal accomplishments that I can look back on with pride.

Public speaking

Pax at Vegan Soul Wellness Fest[Image: Pax speaks at a podium at the Vegan Soul Wellness Festival. Photo by Wayne Calhoon.]

I gave formal presentations at three events this year: The Intersectional Justice Conference in March, the Vegan Soul Wellness Festival in September, and WikiConference North America in October. I also spoke on a panel at the inaugural Bay Area WikiSalon, and on panels of trans and non-binary people on three occasions to graduate therapy students.

Photography

Bonfire Madigan at Rock Against the TPP[Image: Madigan Shive of Bonfire Madigan plays cello at Rock Against The TPP.]

I took photos at over 30 events this year, and contributed hundreds of images to Wikimedia Commons.  I reached one million views of my photos on Flickr. I continued to get new sponsors on Patreon to support my photography and writing.

Writing/editing

HuffPost - Journey Beyond Binary[Image: Headshot of Pax next to the words “Journey Beyond Binary – Huff Post”. Photo by Ziggy Tomcich, text by the Huffington Post.]

I posted 119 blog entries (including this one) this year. I cross-posted a few of them to Medium, and wrote a few original posts on that platform as well. One of my blog entries was featured in The Huffington Post.

I greatly increased my activity on Wikipedia, creating 16 new articles and making over 100 edits a month since May (putting me into the category of “highly active” editors). Speaking at the North American conference and getting my user page protection initiative implemented mean far more to me than my edit count, however.

Activism

Rally against racist police[Image: An attendee at a rally against racist police stands with fist raised in the air.]

BLACK VEGANS ROCK POSTER-cropped[Image: Black Vegans Rock poster, designed by EastRand Studios.]

I attended a number of rallies and protests, in support of Black Lives Matter and the LGBT+ community, and in condemnation of police brutality and white supremacy. I photographed them all, so you can find them through my photography tag.

My animal rights activism this year has been focused primarily on helping my friend Aph Ko out with Black Vegans Rock, which is about to celebrate its one year anniversary. I’ve been updating the Instagram page daily since July, and have helped out with the web site a bit as well.

Music

I attended Eli Conley‘s LGBT-focused class Singing with Instruments, and performed in October for the first time since my voice began noticeably changing, over two years ago. (No video or high-quality photos available, but I sang and played piano to Where’s the Orchestra? by Billy Joel.)

Running

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

I competed in six races this year: Two 5Ks, two 10Ks, a 12K, and a half-marathon.

Miscellaneous

DuoLingo Spanish trophy[Image: Screenshot of trophy for completing the DuoLingo Spanish “skill tree”.]

I continued my nearly three-year streak (1094 days as of today) on DuoLingo.  (I set the minimum daily number of “points” to 20, so maintaining this streak has required more effort than just checking in for a few seconds a day.) I also finished the Spanish “skill tree”.

Well, that’s about it for 2016. Here’s to a Happy New Year!