Shedding blood

[Image: Pax (pre-transition) stands in semi-darkness in their underwear, in front of closed vertical blinds.]

Menstruation is a taboo topic in much of modern US-American society. It’s a subject I feel uncomfortable reading about or discussing myself, given the serious dysphoria I have over my female-assigned reproductive system. But even though I no longer bleed every month (thanks to testosterone therapy), the hundreds of millions of women, trans men, nonbinary, and intersex people who still do are stigmatized by misinformation and prejudices over this routine bodily function.

A recent Everyday Feminism article debunks many of the myths about menstruation. I greatly appreciate that the author points out that not only and not all women have periods (a point the TERFs constantly misstate to deny that trans women are female). Yet menstruation is primarily a women’s issue, and I speak in this article primarily as an ally to women and girls.

I was somewhat alarmed to read in the above article that the average age for menarche in North America is now between eight and thirteen years old. An eight-year-old is still a young child. As people reach sexual maturity at younger and younger ages, it is imperative that children receive timely and accurate sex education. This education must not put the burden solely on girls and women to prevent pregnancy or defend themselves against unwanted sexual advances.

Our patriarchal society dominates women not only through abstinence-focused sex education and denial of reproductive rights, but also controlling access to sanitary products. This article by a woman who was imprisoned shows how jailers deny basic human rights and decency by not providing adequate tampons and sanitary pads.

Another article by a woman who ran a marathon while on her period, without using tampons or pads, brings more attention to misconceptions and shame regarding menstruation. Having run a full marathon and several half-marathons myself, I can relate to the concerns about cramping, changing pads or tampons, and worrying about stained clothes.

Shedding menstrual blood is a fact of life, and should not be a source of shame. People of all genders should educate themselves about menstruation.

Sugarcoating supremacy

[Image: The face of Brahma, a steer with dark and reddish-brown hair.]

Sometimes I feel that my entire adult life has been a process of unlearning all the lies that I was taught as a child. As I wrote yesterday, I was ignorant of the pervasiveness of racism for a long time, despite being black myself. There are powerful systems in place in the USA to ensure continued white supremacy, and part of that is convincing everyone, including black folks like myself, that we live in a post-racial society, where everyone can be happy and equal regardless of skin color.

This is a lie. We do not live in a color-blind society. Never have, and never will. Having white skin is a privilege, independent of any other factors. Denying it by saying “Not all white people” is an attempt to bury the reality that yes, all white people benefit from white supremacy.

The defensive response of “not all white people” also gives the person responding an “out” to assure that the charge of racism isn’t being levied against them. Society’s protection of white fragility ensures that the supremacy continues.

In parallel, there are powerful systems in place to ensure people that we need to eat animal products for good health, and that farmed animals are happy, well-treated, and willing to give their eggs, milk, and their very bodies up for human consumption.

These are also lies. The American Dietetic Association stated over ten years ago that a vegan diet can provide appropriate nutrition for humans of all ages. But even though many now accept this nutritional wisdom, most continue to believe that eating meat, dairy, or eggs is simply a personal dietary choice. Even calling an animal’s flesh “meat” sugarcoats the reality that it is someone’s body that is being eaten.

For those who do claim to care about animal welfare, the defensive response of “not all farmed animals” when confronted with the horrors of animal agriculture buries the reality that yes, all farmed animals suffer, and no, none of them consent to having their milk, eggs, or bodies taken from them. This is true whether on a “factory”, “organic”, or “free-range” farm, or even in a backyard. The Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary exposes this humane myth.

A. Breeze Harper of Sistah Vegan Project illustrated these parallels in her blog yesterday, also emphasizing that, as I’ve also written, white vegans need to pay attention to racism. Most black folks are insulted at being compared to animals, and this is totally understandable, as we have been treated as less than human by white people for centuries. As Christopher-Sebastian McJetters has written, we need to compare like systems of oppression without appropriating the struggles of oppressed humans. And always keep in mind who has the power. A black person describing animal agriculture as slavery has a very different impact from a white person doing so, especially when addressing a black audience.

Dismantling the lies we’ve been taught can be painful, but also empowering, because now we can do something about it and educate others. Just as you can fight racism without attending BlackLivesMatter rallies, by calling attention to racist language and oppression whenever you hear it, you can fight speciesism without participating in an organized disruption. You can start by speaking out – to your friends, to your family, in person, on social media – when you see animals being exploited for food, clothing, entertainment, or other purposes.

Going vegan is a powerful rejection of speciesism, but is not currently possible for everyone, and not the only way to help achieve animal liberation. Those who genuinely cannot commit to a plant-based diet due to homelessness, incarceration, or other circumstances can still speak out against the system of oppression, in situations where it is reasonably safe for them to do so. An article by DxE activist Zach Groff tells the story of a homeless man who spoke out at a disruption, despite the fact that he still ate animals.

Many will read this and similar essays, shrug, and continue on as before. This is exactly what the oppressors want. The status quo is rewarded. But the harm is real and will continue, with or without sugarcoating, until we stop believing the lies and take action.

Performing whiteness

[Image: Pax’s Northwestern University student ID,  circa 1990.]

There’s a meme going around on social media that’s pissing a lot of white people off. It reads:

Things white people consider to be racism

1. direct, open involvement with the KKK

2. poc saying something about white people

3. literally nothing else

The reactions are predictable.

“Is that what you think of me? I’m so hurt!”

“Not all white people are like that! Stop generalizing!”

“This is reverse racism! What if I posted something like that about black people?”

“How do you expect to get allies if you’re being so divisive? Why not speak with love and bring people together?”

I recognize these reactions because I used to say these things myself. As I posted yesterday, I come from a mixed race family (black mother, white father), and my formative years were spent surrounded by white people in a small town in West Virginia. When we moved back to the city of my birth, Pittsburgh, I was harassed by the black kids in middle school for “talking white” and not fitting in. I pushed back against that, and made mostly white friends in middle and high school.

I didn’t want to think about race. I said I was “color blind.”

When I was accepted to Northwestern University in 1988, I was excited and also hopeful that we would all be there to learn, and put race divisions behind us. I had also recently become a devotee of Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophy, primarily because it resonated with me as a fellow atheist. As her followers hated the Democratic Party (which I had registered to vote with for the primaries as soon as I turned 18), but also hated the Libertarians, I felt I had no choice to re-register as Republican and vote for George H. W. Bush.

Yes, you read that correctly. I was a registered Republican and voted for George H. W. Bush in the 1988 presidential election.

So it was with this mindset that I entered college, applauding capitalism and decrying affirmative action. (Nevermind that I was a beneficiary of the latter. I reasoned that I’d earned the scholarship money thanks to my good grades, not my skin color.)  Again, I made mostly white friends. I didn’t understand why black students all sat together at a table in the cafeteria, all hung out in what they informally dubbed the “black lounge,” or had a “black house” to gather in. Why all the division?

I got a position with the conservative alternate campus newspaper. I had been disturbed seeing black students with T-shirts with Malcolm X on them, holding a gun and reading “By Any Means Necessary,” and also seeing the slogan “It’s a black thing, you wouldn’t understand.” I wrote an editorial entitled “I’m black, and I still don’t understand,” spewing my vision of color-blind race unity.

In response, I was sent anonymous threatening letters, including anti-Semitic statements about my father and then-boyfriend. One envelope included an honorary membership in the KKK. Copies of these letters were sent to my mother at our home address. She was livid, and called the university to complain.

I didn’t understand the source of this anger at the time. I was truly ignorant. I doubled down even further, ignoring attempts from other black students to explain to me why my writing was so hurtful. I retreated to my studies and my supportive white friends.

By graduation, I realized that objectivism did not accurately reflect the world we live in. I moved to California for grad school at UC Berkeley – again thanks to affirmative action, this time granting me a full fellowship – and returned to my previous liberal politics. But I still made mostly white friends, and married a white man, and then another (Ziggy, my current spouse) after our divorce.

It wasn’t until many years later that I began to understand the pervasiveness of anti-black oppression and racism in this country, and the source of the anger and desire to be in spaces free from white people. Ironically, becoming an animal rights activist is what really opened my eyes to all of the oppression – against blacks and other people of color, women, LGBTQIA+, the disabled, and on and on. One book that helped me make these connections was The World Peace Diet  by Will Tuttle. Given my background, it’s not surprising, though still depressing, that it took a book by a white man to clue me into these intersections.

Another turning point was reading an essay by a Chinese friend, Wayne Hsiung of Direct Action Everywhere. (Edit, Sep 2017: I left DxE in September 2015.)  His essay on Performing Whiteness helped me realize why I distanced myself from other black people. Raised in a white environment with respectability politics, I really thought that it was the content of my character, not the color of my skin, that would define me to the world.

Now thanks to social media – which was not available in my younger years – I saw one black person after another beaten and killed by the police who are supposedly sworn to protect us. I saw one black trans woman after another murdered, mocked, and misgendered. I saw how the mainstream media used different words and imagery when covering blacks versus whites. And I saw black folks who spoke out against the violence being shushed, being told they were always “playing the race card” (another odious phrase I used to use myself).

I saw every cry of frustration, born of centuries of oppression at the hands of white people, met with the response of “Not all white people.”

I no longer believe in the myth of a color-blind society. I no longer believe that your skin color doesn’t matter as long as you “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” I no longer believe all the lies and self-hatred I internalized about being black in the United States of America.

As I quoted previously from Mikael Owunna, I have gotten off the Kool-Aid of white supremacy.

So when I see a meme like the one at the top of this post, and the predictable responses, I don’t rush to reassure white people that no, of course we’re not talking about you, you’re one of the good ones. No, of course we don’t mean literally all white people. No, of course I don’t want to be divisive, we need all the allies we can get. I’ll just go back to the kitchen and be a good quiet house nigga, massa.

Fuck respectability politics.

My black hairstory

[Image: Pax with natural, unstyled hair.]

As anyone reading this blog can probably see, I’m a big fan of Everyday Feminism. I read most of their articles and share many of them. But when I saw an article this week on white people with dreadlocks, I avoided reading it, until a fellow black animal liberationist asked what I thought of it. I read it and thought the author did an excellent job of explaining all of the problematic things about white people wearing this hairstyle, and addressing all of the common retorts that black folks have been putting up with for years. I have basically nothing add to her arguments.

But one of the reasons I avoided reading this article is that hair has been a sore topic – literally – for most of my life. White folks with straight or loose curly hair just can’t relate to what black folks, women in particular, go through to meet society’s standards (aka performing whiteness).  I’m mixed (black/white) and have what many consider to be “good hair,” a term which is all kinds of problematic itself. Yet I too suffered through the burning hot combs, the painful detangling, the damaging relaxers (“creamy crack”), tedious roller sets, and all kinds of stress related to the dead cells on top of my head, growing up as a black girl (pre-transition) in the USA.

Pax in Cape Cod with baby goats
[Image: Pax at age 10, in pigtails with baby goats in their lap.]

When I was a baby, it took awhile for my hair to appear; strangers often thought I was a boy. (Foreshadowing?) But when it finally came in, it grew with abundance. My mother usually styled it in braids. When she decided to style me with lots of little braids, they took hours to put in. My (white) father would joke and complain about my screaming and crying from the pain of having my hair done.

Pax sixth grade class picture
[Image: Pax posing for a class picture in a green jumpsuit, with lots of braids.]

Did I mention that I was the only black and only Jewish student in my elementary school in a WASP West Virginia town? I remember being sad that I couldn’t just take out a comb and run it through my hair like I saw the other girls doing. I insisted on going to school without braids one day, combing my hair throughout the day, and a frizzy nightmare ensued. When I got home, I headed directly to the closet and closed the door behind me, frustrated and humiliated.

At age 12 we moved from West Virginia back to Pittsburgh (where I was born), and I went from a majority-white school with 180 students to a majority-black school with over 1600. I was teased relentlessly by my fellow black students. I didn’t look right, didn’t talk right, didn’t listen to the right kind of music.

But I was told by these students that I had “good hair” and should take care of it better. I was also told this by an adult black man working the cash register at a record store where I went to buy an album as a teenager. I just stared at him in silence.

Pax tuning their bass
[Image: Pax tunes their electric bass. They have straight black shoulder-length hair.]

By high school my mother (still taking charge of my hair) started putting relaxers in my hair, and taught me to put it in foam rollers. This was a tedious process, but if I didn’t do it every night I felt my hair did not look presentable. I only washed my hair once a week because it looked better after not being washed for a couple of days. But this meant more dandruff and itchy scalp. My white friends didn’t understand how or why I could go a whole week without washing my hair.

I was not sexually active until midway through college, and then only sporadically, so I didn’t think about the implications of having someone sleep next to me while I had my hair up in rollers. Not until later in adulthood, when a (white) man asked me how I expected him to get hard when I had curlers in my hair.

By senior year of college, I’d had enough of the relaxers and rollers. I accidentally discovered that if I let my hair air-dry, it sprung into natural curls. But it was difficult for me to manage long curly hair. So I had it cut short, and kept it short and curly for about twelve years.

Honeymoon with Ziggy
[Image: Pax with their spouse Ziggy on their honeymoon. Pax has short curly black hair and is wearing a black bathing suit.]

During these years I gained a lot of weight, and felt bad about it. I was also starting to go gray, prematurely, or so I thought (not realizing how common it is for people in their 30s to get gray hair). I decided to grow my hair out again, and start going to a higher-end salon for color and highlights, as I had a decent income at that time. I read about the Curly Girl method, and finally learned how to care for my locks properly.

Pax with curly highlighted hair
[Image: Pax looks over their shoulder. Their hair is curly dark brown with light brown highlights. Photo by davidhanddotnet]

Pax with windswept hair[Image: Pax wearing a low-cut black tank top and curly highlighted hair. Photo by davidhanddotnet]

While I now got lots of compliments on my hair, it still took a lot of work. If I didn’t put any product in it, it looked like the photo at the top of this post. I had to use a lot of gel, and still never left the house without a scrunchy in my pocket. I considered myself lucky if I could get through an entire day without pulling my hair back into a ponytail.

During this time (my mid-30s), I took a band workshop where we were doing an R&B set, and I was the only black student. We were working on Stevie Wonder’s classic song, I Wish. One of the lyrics refers to him being a “nappy-headed boy.” I joked to the other singer, a white woman, that we’d have to change the lyrics. She laughed and agreed, saying that while I was nappy-headed I was never a boy. I pointed out that my hair was curly, not nappy. I was hurt as I had worked really hard to make it presentable. (The bit about never being a boy is ironic in retrospect.)

Pax with camera
[Image: Pax poses holding a camera with “funcrunchphoto.com” on the strap. They are wearing curly black hair and glasses. Photo by Ziggy.]

By my early 40s, I’d lost weight and felt better about my body. I decided I didn’t want to spend any more time and money on coloring and styling my hair. At age 42, I went into the salon and got “The Big Chop.”

Pax self-portrait with short hair
[Image: Pax self-portrait with short graying hair.]

I soon realized that paying salon prices for this kind of haircut was ridiculous, so I found a barbershop. I showed the barber a photo of Samira Wiley from Orange is the New Black and said “make me look like this.”

Pax with buzzcut
[Image: Pax with a buzzcut.]

A few months later, I bought a hair clipper set from a drugstore for the same price as I was paying for a single haircut at the barbershop. I now cut my own hair each month. I usually keep it slightly longer than the above (#2 blade guard). I’m growing out my sideburns, and impatiently waiting for my beard to fill in.

My hairline is also now receding, which is actually a welcome development. After decades of hair struggles, I’ll be happy to go bald and forget about my hair entirely. But shaving my head now would be more work than just cutting every few weeks.

The irony is that I love long hair on men.* It’s practically a fetish. But the amount of work it takes is just not worth it for my own head. I’ll just enjoy long hair on other people, vicariously.

This post was very emotional for me to write. Every photo above was taken before I began my gender transition (the last one, from August 2013, was just a week before I announced my new name). Many trans people do not like to look at their pre-transition photos, and for some such photos can threaten their safety or livelihood. I don’t think I can ever completely eliminate all traces of my past and go stealth, even if I wanted to, considering the volume of photos and writing I’ve posted online.

I hope this post will give white people some insight of why it’s a privilege to have hair that is considered socially acceptable without going to great lengths (pun intended) to keep it so. If you read all this, and the Everyday Feminism article on dreadlocks and links from that page, and still want to talk about Vikings or personal freedom or reverse racism, just do me a favor and keep your comments off of my space.

* To be precise, my primary attraction is to people with conventionally-male-appearing bodies and a slightly masculine or androgynous presentation. I myself am male, but not a man.

Animal rights, not vegan rights

[Image: Buster, a steer with curly dark brown hair, stands in a field surrounded by smiling human friends.]

Update, July 2016: Since publishing this post I have left Direct Action Everywhere (DxE). My points about animal rights still remain.

Direct Action Everywhere, the animal liberation group I’m currently involved with, has come under fire for (amongst other things) not promoting veganism. This charge is misleading. As my friend and DxE co-founder Wayne Hsiung explains, we do not condone the use of non-human animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose. However, the mainstream conception of veganism puts the focus on humans and our desires and vanity, not on the primary victims of animal agriculture.

Harvey at Preetirang Sanctuary[Image: The face of Harvey, a calf with brown and white hair. A human with long blonde hair is holding his chin and looking into his eyes.]

The original definition of “vegan,” a word coined by Donald Watson and his wife Dorothy, encompassed more than a plant-based diet; it was an ethical objection to violence. Unfortunately, that meaning has been almost entirely lost, and veganism is now largely seen as merely a dietary choice for privileged people. I respect those activists who are trying to reclaim the word, and simultaneously speak out against human oppression, such as Sarah K. Woodcock of The Abolitionist Vegan Society and Corey Wrenn of Vegan Feminist Network and The Academic Abolitionist Vegan. However, I have chosen to focus instead on the phrase “animal liberation,” while fighting for the same goal as the abolitionists: Ending the property status of non-human animals. I believe DxE’s increasing press coverage has shown it is possible to spread this message effectively without using or emphasizing the word “vegan.”

Kush at Preetirang Sanctuary
[Image: The face of Kush, a goat with brown and white hair.]

We activists are allies to our fellow animals, and we should be amplifying their voices, not just promoting the nondairy cheeses and faux flesh products that many see as somehow intrinsic to a vegan diet. There’s nothing inherently wrong with these products (in my opinion), but companies like Whole Foods and Chipotle market them to keep vegans quiet about the bodies, eggs, and milk of murdered animals that they market to humans with healthy incomes. Instead of promoting their humane-washing, activists might consider volunteering with organizations like Food Not Bombs and the Food Empowerment Project, to make plant-based meals more accessible to people who are poor, homeless, or living in food deserts.

Shiva at Preetirang Sanctuary
[Image: The face of Shiva, a steer with curly white hair.]

Regardless, our fellow animals should the focus in animal liberation messaging. Human activists should not be held up as the heroes of the movement. That would be like featuring white allies in promotional materials for #BlackLivesMatter, or cis allies in promotional materials for trans rights. Not that this hasn’t been done before…

Mahalakshmi at Preetirang Sanctuary
[Image: Mahalakshmi, a cow with brown hair, stands in a field chewing hay.]

The photos in this post were taken last November at PreetiRang Sanctuary. (Originally published on Facebook, I have now made the full set available on Flickr as well.) At PreetiRang, I had the pleasure of meeting Buster, the sixteen-year-old steer pictured at the top of this post. He would never have lived that long in the dairy industry, where he was destined to be killed mere weeks or months after being torn from his mother’s side. Buster died last week, sadly, but he was surrounded by loving human and non-human friends. Every animal rights activist should make it a priority to visit a sanctuary if they can, to connect personally with the faces we fight for.

Disclosure and erasure

[Image: A person stands on a street in a parade, holding a large circular red sign reading “I’m Bi!” in white letters.]

The other day I was listening to a work by the late great Leonard Bernstein (Mass, for the record*), and I started perusing his Wikipedia page. I learned that there is debate over his sexual orientation. It’s pretty clear he wasn’t straight, but some, including his ex-wife and a friend, have said he was gay, while others claim he was bisexual.

As a Wikipedia editor on the LGBT Studies task force, I know the importance of self-identification for sexual orientation (as well as gender identity). For living people, the standards are clear: We do not label them as being anything other than straight unless there is documented evidence in reliable publications that they self-identify otherwise. For historical figures, it can be a bit more difficult.

Wikipedia currently categorizes Bernstein under bisexual men and bisexual musicians. I admit that this makes me happy as a former bisexual (I now identify as queer) who is very mindful of bi erasure. I’ve known a lot of bisexuals in opposite-sex marriages and long-term relationships who were presumed to be straight, myself included (before my transition), and some in same-sex relationships who were presumed to be gay. Some did not mind this, as they were not publicly out as bi, which is their right of course.

But for myself, I felt I had to make a point that I was bi, or have my identity erased. This was even more challenging for monogamous bisexuals, who also did not like the assumption that bisexuals all sleep with “anything that moves.” While I and many of my bi friends are polyamorous, being poly is no more inherent to bisexuality than to monosexuality.

So when I was active in the bisexual community, I encouraged people who I thought were bi to come out as such. I didn’t think there was anything weird or shameful about being bi, since so many of my friends were. I thought it was just obvious that most people were somewhere in the middle of the Kinsey scale rather than completely hetero or homosexual, and that we should all embrace our bisexual potential instead of being forced to choose sides.

Since learning more about gender and sex in the course of my transition, I’ve realized the error of my ways. Sexuality is much more complicated than the Kinsey scale implies. I cannot and should not assume anyone’s sexual identity from their behavior or even stated preferences, nor should I pressure anyone to “come out” or identify with any particular label. How a person labels their sexual orientation is for them and them alone to determine. No one else.

I still feel that bi erasure is a big problem, however. I was literally yelling at the screen while watching the first season of Orange is the New Black, as it seemed obvious to me that the central character was bi, yet the writers refused to use the word. The woman whose memoir the series was based on, Piper Kerman, has clearly self-identified as bisexual, so the description of her as an “ex-lesbian” without acknowledging her bisexuality was infuriating to me. (Of course, the series is hardly a realistic depiction of prison life either, as many critics have noted.)

I’ll close by re-iterating that we shouldn’t just throw out all the labels. Labels are useful to help us understand our sexualities better, and find mutual support. But they must be self-chosen.

* Despite being an atheist, or perhaps because of it, I find myself drawn to musicals with Judeo-Christian religious themes. Jesus Christ Superstar, Godspell, and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat are some of my favorites.

Sometimes you’re just a jelly donut

[Image: Frosted donuts in an open box.]

Today’s Everyday Feminism article by Sam Dylan Finch on coming out as non-binary reminded me of a story I wrote shortly after my own coming out, two years ago. It’s a political allegory that expresses my frustration at being non-binary in a binary world. I was hoping the story would get more attention so that someone might illustrate it; I released it under a free Creative Commons license for that purpose. I’m re-posting it here; hopefully it will now reach more people and at least be entertaining!

Sometimes you’re just a jelly donut: A nonbinary gender political allegory

by Pax Ahimsa Gethen

Happy birthday! You just turned 18 years old, and are happily walking to the city hall of your small town to register to vote for the first time. You have have done a lot of research and thought a lot about your values and beliefs, and have decided that you want to join the Jelly Donut party, dedicated to providing free delicious jelly donuts for everyone to enjoy.

You arrive at the registration office and are greeted by an officer. They smile and say “Hello, citizen! I see you are here to register to vote. As you are wearing a red shirt, clearly you are in the Strawberry Shortcake party. Here is your registration form.”

You frown. “I’m wearing a red shirt because I like the color red,” you explain. “But I do not want to join the Strawberry Shortcake party. I want to join the Jelly Donut party.”

Now the elections official frowns. “Citizen, I’ve known your parents since you were in diapers. You were raised to be a Strawberry Shortcake. You haven’t shown any evidence of wanting to be in the Peach Cobbler party.”

“I said Jelly Donut, not Peach Cobbler,” you say with some exasperation. “I have nothing against either Strawberry Shortcake or Peach Cobbler, and it’s true I like the color red and have eaten plenty of strawberry shortcake in my time. But I have been reading about the Jelly Donut party and decided I really like what they have to say and want to identify myself as one of them, for the promotion and consumption of delicious jelly donuts.”

“Citizen,” the officer says sternly, “The Jelly Donut party is on the fringe, it is illegitimate. Registering with them would be throwing your vote away. In this town we do not offer a registration form for third parties. You must choose to be in either the Strawberry Shortcake or the Peach Cobbler party. Though for the life of me I cannot understand why you would want to be a Peach Cobbler when you are so clearly a Strawberry Shortcake.”

“Look,” you yell, now really angry, “I don’t care what you think I look like, I don’t want to be a Strawberry Shortcake OR a Peach Cobbler. If you won’t let me register as a Jelly Donut, then I don’t want to pick a political party at all. But I still want to register to vote. Can I just register as nonpartisan?”

“No,” says the officer, “You must choose. Everyone in this town is either a Shortcake or a Cobbler. We are a tolerant town and are split pretty evenly between the two, and many folks don’t insist that one choice is inherently better than the other. But you can’t be in-between or something else. If you insist that despite your appearance and upbringing you are really a Cobbler, not a Shortcake, then I can change your registration, but first you’ll have to put on a yellow shirt.”

“What?!?” you cry. “I have no problem with peach cobbler, in fact I get along quite well with Cobblers, but I really hate the color yellow. What does that color have to do with Peach Cobbler anyway? Even if I wanted to register as a Cobbler, couldn’t I do that and still wear red?”

“That would be highly unusual and improper,” says the officer. “You would have difficulty attending Cobbler meetings wearing red, and would always have to explain yourself. Why can’t you just accept that you are a Shortcake?”

“I’m not a Shortcake. I’m not a Cobbler,” you insist. “I’m a Jelly Donut. And I know there are others out there like me. Some are Chocolate Chip Cookies, some are Gingerbread, and yes, some do not belong to any party at all. But we should ALL have the right to vote, and wear what we please.”

“Then citizen,” sighs the officer, “This is not the town for you. I suggest you move somewhere where you think these fringe people and parties you speak of actually exist. Good luck.”

You stare at the officer, pull your shirt over your head and throw it to the floor, then walk out of the building.

We just need to pee

[Image: A restroom sign showing the stick figure of a person wearing a skirt and the word MEN underneath.]

This morning I jammed a one inch long needle into my thigh. I’ve done this every other week for over a year now, to inject the testosterone I need to stay healthy and sane. As many times as I’ve done this procedure, I still get nervous and my heart races, every time.

But that nervousness is nothing compared to how I often feel when entering a men’s restroom. I made the decision that when I began testosterone therapy last January, I would no longer use women’s restrooms. Since last July I’ve had identification that shows I’m legally male, but that’s not enough for conservatives and TERFs who would still bar me from men’s facilities on the grounds that I’m “biologically female.”

The bathroom police are calling for bounties on trans people for using restrooms that do not correspond with our birth-assigned sexes. In some cases they are actually resorting to chromosomes as the test of one’s “true” sex, which, as I’ve pointed out, is patently ridiculous and discriminatory, however they plan to verify this information.

While the primary targets of this bathroom policing are trans women and girls, trans men and boys are also hurt by these arbitrary policies. This high school student is being told he can’t use the boy’s restroom because he was “born female.” What exactly is the school administration afraid of? Do they really think the cis boys using the restroom are at risk from this child? Do they not recognize the harm of forcing him to use the girl’s room, where he does not belong, or a unisex restroom, where he suffers the stigma of being separated out from his peers?

A bathroom selfie campaign that went viral, #WeJustNeedToPee, showed the ridiculousness of forcing a bearded trans man to use a woman’s restroom. But the important thing is that there’s no particular way a trans man, woman, or nonbinary person should look to “confirm” their gender, and our outward presentation should not dictate which facilities we are allowed to use. Trans women in particular are often policed for looking “too femme” if they wear makeup, dresses, and heels, but if they wear a T-shirt and jeans like many cis women do, they often aren’t seen as womanly enough to be granted access to women’s spaces.

I was especially nervous using a public restroom yesterday because of the way I was dressed. It was over 80 degrees out, so I wore a light gray V-neck T-shirt with nothing underneath. It was a fairly loose shirt (and a “men’s” style), but my breasts were still visible underneath. I decided that I would rather put up with potential stares and misgendering than suffer from heatstroke.

As I approached the restroom, another person headed in, making eye contact with me before doing so. I pretended to check my phone while waiting for him to come out, hoping he wouldn’t take long. After he exited, I waited another minute and then went in, did my business and got out as fast as possible.

I don’t like having to think every day about what I’m wearing, where I’m going, how long I’ll be out, what kinds of people will be in the space, whether there will be a unisex restroom, and if not, whether the men’s room will have a stall with a functional door lock. I didn’t have to think about these things before my transition, and I shouldn’t have to now. I’m not in there to spy on anyone, I’m there to pee and get out. Neither my breasts, nor my vulva and vagina, nor my uterus and ovaries, nor my chromosomes are relevant when I’m in a restroom. The only body part that’s relevant is my bladder, and my need to empty it.

If you want to help stop the bathroom policing, please speak out against it whenever you read or hear about these policies. Consider signing this pledge by the Transgender Law Center. Some other things you can do in your school or workplace:

  • Ensure that everyone can use men’s and women’s restrooms without being asked for identification or otherwise harassed.
  • If you have no unisex restrooms, lobby to create one. (But don’t force trans people to use it instead of gendered facilities.)
  • If you have single-occupancy restrooms that are gendered, lobby to make them unisex.

And for the love of whatever you believe in, please stop referring to “biological sex.”

Please help stop bathroom policing. We all just need to pee.

The Art of Survival

[Image: Four women in creative, colorful outfits sing and dance on a stage.]

This Sunday I attended The Art of Survival, a vegan arts, music, and food festival held in San Francisco. I found out about this event only a week ago, and thought it would be a great opportunity to photograph some bands in a non-violent setting. The organizer, Andreas Knüttel, is also a photographer; I’d met him previously at a Direct Action Everywhere gathering. I knew it would be my kind of party when his invitation asked attendees to please “not wear animal products i.e. leather, wool, fur and silk.

Coley 'n Mikki performing at The Art of Survival
[Image: A man and a woman sing into microphones on a stage. The man plays guitar and wears blue-rimmed glasses and a black shirt. The woman wears a black hat and a black shirt with a large black and white design.]

Coley 'n Mikki performing at The Art of Survival
[Image: A man and a woman smile at each other on a stage. The man plays guitar and wears blue-rimmed glasses, a black shirt, and blue jeans. The woman wears a black hat, a black shirt with a large black and white design, black skirt and leggings.]

The opening act, Acoustic Love with Coley ‘n Mikki (aka The Cole Tate Band), turned out to be my favorite set. This was a newlywed couple, and you could see their love for each other in their performance. I especially liked their cover of Come Together, a song I’ve enjoyed singing while playing on the bass (though my voice has dropped too much to sing the lead part well anymore, as I discovered!)

Oinga Boinga performing at The Art of Survival
[Image: A woman with bright red hair, dramatic makeup, and a black outfit with sparkly trim plays bass on a stage.]

Oinga Boinga performing at The Art of Survival
[Image:Two women posing on a stage. One is wearing a black bodice, skirt, and tights, turquoise sleeves and eyepatch, and a very long braid. The other is looking at her, wearing a gray curly wig with pink rollers, black-rimmed eyeglasses, long black bushy beard, sparkly top, and black fishnet stockings with red garters.]

The next act, Oinga Boinga, was an all-female cover band of Oingo Boingo. I could not possibly do justice to describing their fabulous outfits in my extended image descriptions, though I made an effort for the sake of those using screen readers! In the above image and the one at the top of this post, they were doing a performance of Minnie the Moocher, a call-and-response classic.

The Moonsaults performing at The Art of Survival
[Image: A woman with a colorful crop top and full sleeve tattoos sings into a microphone, one hand on her hip. A guitarist plays behind her.]

The Moonsaults performing at The Art of Survival
[Image: A woman with a colorful crop top and full sleeve tattoos sings into a microphone. A guitarist plays behind her.]

Next up was The Moonsaults, in their debut performance. Their name apparently comes from a pro wrestling move.

Secret Cat performing at The Art of Survival
[Image: A four-person band performs on a stage. A guitarist with bright red hair is singing into a microphone.]

Secret Cat performing at The Art of Survival
[Image: A guitarist with bright red hair performs on a stage.]

Secret Cat was a very high-energy, very loud band. Really would have been great to get video of their stage antics.

Cello Joe performing at The Art of Survival
[Image: A man with rectangular glasses sings into a microphone while playing the cello.]

Cello Joe performing at The Art of Survival
[Image: A man with rectangular glasses sings into a microphone while playing the cello.]

Cello Joe, aka Joey Chang, was an artist I had already seen and enjoyed twice previously. He was lucky to be alive and well to perform at this event, as his house burned down last week and he and his girlfriend lost everything (he was able to grab his best cello). Their friends started a fundraiser to help them recover.

Earth Amplified performing at The Art of Survival
[Image: Two men wearing colorful shirts , one with long dreadlocks and one with a cap, sing on a stage.]

Earth Amplified performing at The Art of Survival
[Image: A man wearing a cap and colorful shirt sings into a microphone.]

Earth Amplified performing at The Art of Survival
[Image: A man with long dreadlocks, lit by red stage light, sings into a microphone.]

Earth Amplified closed out the show, with plenty of audience participation. After shooting some last pictures, I finally cut loose and danced. It had been a long time.

It had been years since I’d shot an indoor concert, and it felt good to make use of my special skill at low-light concert photography again. I’ve made the full set of photos available on Flickr under a Creative Commons license for free sharing, with attribution. If you like my work, please consider sponsoring me on Patreon or leaving me a tip so I can continue to do free shoots like this.

Light the path to liberation

[Image: A large group of people wearing blue shirts and holding candles stands outside Macy’s at night. Two people are holding signs reading UNTIL EVERY ANIMAL IS FREE, and one person is speaking into a megaphone.]

Edit, July 2016: Since publishing this post I have left Direct Action Everywhere (DxE)I still remain committed to ending the oppression of all animals, human and non-human.

Last night I attended and photographed my second Direct Action Everywhere event this month, Light the Path to Liberation. This action was part of a worldwide animal rights event, with participation from several dozen organizations and hundreds of individuals. Here in San Francisco, we marched to places where the bodies of animals are sold, lit candles, and spoke out against the violence.

At our rehearsal gathering before the action, I saw faces both familiar and new, including human and nonhuman friends.

DxE Light the Path rehearsal
[Image: Several people stand outdoors holding candles.]

DxE Light the Path rehearsal
[Image: A woman stands outdoors holding a candle. Two people stand behind her.]

Dog at DxE Light the Path rehearsal
[Image: A dog with brown and white fur looks into the camera.]

Our first stop was Whole Foods Market, as part of our ongoing campaign against their humane-washing. As with our previous action, I chose to stay outside the store, but nearly everyone else went inside for the disruption.

DxE Light the Path protest at Whole Foods Market
[Image: People holding candles and wearing blue Direct Action Everywhere T-shirts chant outdoors.]

Leafletters offered information and conversed with passersby about our mission.

DxE Light the Path protest at Whole Foods Market
[Image: A woman wearing a blue Direct Action Everywhere T-shirt offers a pamphlet to a passerby.]

Our next stop was Bluestem Brasserie, a high-end restaurant that was the target of a disruption that went viral, featuring my friend Kelly Atlas talking about her little girl, Snow. I again stayed outside, but the remaining activists filled the restaurant.

DxE Light the Path protest at Bluestem Brasserie
[Image: A large group of people wearing blue shirts and holding candles stand outside Bluestem Brasserie at night. Two people are holding signs reading UNTIL EVERY ANIMAL IS FREE, and one person is holding a megaphone.]

Finally, we stood outside Macy’s at Union Square. My friend Wayne Hsiung, one of DxE’s core organizers, gave a passionate speech about the recent passing of Mei Hua, a hen he helped rescue from a so-called “humane” farm.

DxE Light the Path protest at Macy's
[Image: DxE core organizer Wayne Hsiung speaks into a megaphone, in front of a crowd of people wearing blue shirts and holding candles.]

Friendship is what got me out to this protest, after not leaving my house for a week. Building strong communities is absolutely essential to the success of the animal rights movement. As I posted previously, when I began speaking out about animal rights I lost some friends, but I’ve gained many more. Philosophers like Gary Francione (who is debating Wayne Hsiung on Go Vegan Radio with Bob Linden today at 5 p.m. PDT) say that we don’t need groups, but I need a group. Even though I’m an introvert, and anti-social much of the time, knowing that I’m not alone in this struggle gives me the strength to continue.

My friends at DxE are not people who only care about non-human animals. They’ve helped with my volunteer community gardening, stood with me at a Black Lives Matter vigil, and walked beside me at the Trans March. They are not perfect, but they acknowledge and respond to criticism and make good-faith efforts to resolve differences.

I look forward to continuing to speak out for all oppressed animals – human and non-human – with my friends. I’ve made the full set of photos from last night’s action available on Flickr.

Pax with candle
[Image: Pax, the author, holds a saucer with a lit candle and looks directly into the camera.]

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