The city for the pay

[Image: The San Francisco skyline lit up at night, featuring the Bay Bridge and the Transamerica Pyramid.]

Last night I attended a talk by Alicia Garza, co-creator of BlackLivesMatter, on gentrification in San Francisco and the impact on queer* and trans communities of color. I didn’t take photos or take notes, wanting to fully concentrate on her words (and those of her interviewer, professor Nancy Raquel Mirabal, and the audience questions). So I only jotted down some notes from memory afterward.

Garza noted that San Francisco is now the – not one of, but the – most expensive city in the United States. You could literally buy a castle in France for the price of a San Francisco apartment. As I said in my earlier post about gentrification, I have no trouble believing this, having seen the astronomical rise in rents and real estate prices in the 12 years I’ve lived here. She explained that queer and trans people come to live here to be our authentic selves, but we’re now being priced out, as we cannot compete economically with our hetero and cis counterparts.

Queer and trans people face job discrimination, even here in San Francisco. Only those who conform to cisheteronormative standards have a chance of competing. Being a person of color on top of being queer and/or trans just doubles or triples the challenge.

Garza, a native resident of the area, described the changes gentrification has brought to the city, including the loss of black residents, especially black families in the Hunters Point area. She said the black population of San Francisco is now down close to three percent. Blacks are encouraged with respectability politics to cooperate with these city planning strategies, which have been in motion for quite some time.

On this anniversary of 9/11, Garza said that it’s no coincidence that Fox News pundits have been referring to BlackLivesMatter activists as “terrorists.” “Hate group,” “criminal organization,” and “murder movement” are other phrases I’ve found Fox using to describe the BLM movement. It speaks volumes about the entrenchment of white supremacy that disenfranchised people speaking out for their rights and lives can be branded in this fashion.

One observation Garza made that stuck with me is that under capitalism, everything and everyone is a product. Like myself, she believes that we cannot have true reform under a capitalist system. “Shinier, nicer” capitalism is still a tool of exploitation. I’ve been exploring socialism and anarchism and trying to determine what system is the most likely to bring lasting peace to all beings. I’ll write a  longer entry on this subject in the near future.

I’m glad I attended this talk, even though it made me angry, even more than I already was. I’m very fortunate and privileged to live in this city, but I’m really uneasy about it. I don’t like living in a place where only rich people are welcomed or wanted. I’m dependent on my spouse’s income and on our rent-controlled apartment so I don’t have the option to move right now, but I can at least bring more awareness to the inequality, racism, and cissexism in this supposedly ultra-progressive place.

* In her talk, Garza used “queer” as an umbrella term roughly synonymous with  LGBTQIA+. I recognize that not everyone under that acronym has reclaimed the word “queer” from its roots as a slur. Normally in my blog I use the word “queer” only to describe my own sexual orientation or to describe other individuals who explicitly identify with that term.

Pushing and shoving

[Image: Activists holding signs and wearing T-shirts with chickens on them protest at the Golden Gate Meat Company in San Francisco.]

Edit, July 2016: Since publishing this post I have left Direct Action Everywhere (DxE). My point that it is necessary to openly challenge speciesism remains.

Non-vegans, and even some vegans, often complain that those of us who speak out for the animals are pushing or shoving our opinions down people’s throats. This accusation is levied even against those who simply share information on social media, not just those who attend protests like the one pictured above (a joint UPC/DxE action for International Respect for Chickens Day).*

It’s not surprising that people think this if they see veganism as merely a dietary choice, as it is usually framed. No one likes to be told what to eat. What’s not generally recognized is an animal is a “who,” not a “what;” a person, not a thing. And that person was not given a choice of whether or not to be bred and raised for food for humans to eat.

The opinion that killing and eating animals is normal and natural is so mainstream that most people don’t even acknowledge that it is a belief. The bodies, milk, and eggs of our fellow animals are literally shoved down our throats from infancy. The indoctrination begins in childhood and continues unabated because so few dare to challenge it publicly.

We are surrounded 24/7 by images of the body parts of animals: In advertisements, on social media, at restaurants, and in the homes of our friends and families. We are offered “vegan options” as if veganism is just another dietary choice, like “gluten-free” or “low-carb.” And then we’re told to shut up and stop pushing our opinions, while others smile and laugh and eat body parts all around us.

As horrible as it is to live in a culture that normalizes killing, our fellow animals are the ones that actually suffer for it. Vegans are not an oppressed class. People who call us “selfish” for asking others to stop killing are not respecting that we have an ethical objection to violence. It’s difficult to remain quiet in the face of relentless, unnecessary bloodshed.

Non-vegans who try to give us advice on how to advocate our cause are especially unhelpful. They don’t actually want to help us, they just don’t want their unacknowledged beliefs to be challenged. To paraphrase Vegan Sidekick, I want to reply, “OK, tell me what I should say to convince people to stop killing animals, then I’ll repeat that back to you, and then you’ll go vegan, right?”

It’s really tiring to fight for a cause that is so widely mocked, but I still feel a responsibility to speak out, as an ally to my fellow animals. I don’t care if people think I’m being pushy for calling for an end to the violence. The culture of killing will never change if it is not openly challenged.

* This action, like all of those sponsored by DxE, was peaceful. That hasn’t stopped security guards and customers from pushing, shoving, and kicking nonviolent activists who speak out in their stores and restaurants, as happened at a recent protest.

Language and transgender activism

[Image: A transgender symbol with word endings “-ed,” “-er,” and “-ism” arranged around it.]

I love language. Reading and writing have always been among my strongest skills and interests. I’m fascinated by the richness and evolution of the English language, and how it differs from the other languages I’ve studied.

But I’m aware that not everyone has the knowledge and education level that I do, especially when it comes to language about transgender issues. So while I make efforts to educate people about the questionable accuracy and potential harm of certain word choices, I am concerned when people – including some within the trans community – take an overly narrow stance on acceptable terminology.

Trans activist Julia Serano, author of Whipping Girl, talked about this in a recent post about the terms “trans*” and “transgenderism.” She explained the history of these terms, and how they were not always looked upon as negative or exclusionary in the way that many see them as now.  She especially questions the recent notion that “trans*” is inherently transmisogynistic. As she laments, “the trans community seems to have a historical memory permanently limited to only 2-4 years back.”

Another trans author and activist, the late Matt Kailey, also discussed this issue regarding the term “transgendered.” He insisted that this construction is grammatically correct, and said that it did not begin to be seen as negative or offensive until relatively recently. He ultimately gave up the battle, but said he would never change his mind on this issue.

A commenter on Serano’s blog linked to another post about the term “trans*” that talked about “inclusion theater,” which the author, Natalie Reed, described as follows:

“Inclusion Theater” is a term I use to refer to any instance where exceptional energy is being put into presenting an outward PERFORMANCE or APPEARANCE of inclusion or “progressiveness”, while neglecting (or at the expense of), actual meaningful ACTIONS and MANIFESTATIONS of inclusivity or intersectionality.

She went on to elaborate:

Putting an asterisk on the end of “trans” is INCREDIBLY EASY. A lot easier than actually working towards making spaces, events, projects, organizations or instutions [sic] GENUINELY trans / genderqueer inclusive.

I feel this way about correcting people on using words like “transgendered” or “transgenderism.” I will correct this usage in Wikipedia articles and the like, but especially when educating cis people, I’m much more interested in them putting in the work to make trans and nonbinary people safe, welcome, and fairly represented. Restroom use, access to gendered spaces, recognition of trans people of color, and many other issues besides respectful language need to be addressed.

Words have power; words are important. But so is action. Trans and nonbinary people need to take the lead both on the words used to describe us and the actions necessary to allow us to lead safe, authentic lives. In doing so, we need to understand the history of our language, and recognize the intent behind the words.

“Folk you” to gentrification

[Image: The band Sugar in the Salt performs on an indoor stage. Maia Papaya plays upright bass while Eli Conley plays acoustic guitar and sings into a microphone.]

Last night I attended a fundraiser concert at El Rio by the folk group Sugar in the Salt, hosted by Causa Justa :: Just Cause to support San Francisco Proposition I in the upcoming election. This initiative would put an 18-month moratorium on new market-rate housing in the Mission District.

I’ve lived in San Francisco for over twelve years, and have seen the rents rise from merely expensive to totally out of reach for all but the wealthy. I’ve also spent a lot of time in the Mission, and met many of the residents during the three years I did food justice volunteer work at the Free Farm Stand. This city desperately needs more truly affordable housing.

I’ve given up on political parties, but I’m still registered to vote specifically so that I can vote on ballot measures like this.  Hear about gentrification in the Mission from someone who lives there, Kai OD, in this video:

Aside from the good cause, the main reason I attended this concert was to watch the performance of my voice teacher, Eli Conley, and his bandmate Maia Papaya. Eli has personal experience with voice changes on testosterone, and is helping me adjust to my new singing range. It’s been an emotionally difficult experience, even though I knew to anticipate it, and it’s great to have the guidance of someone who has gone through it himself.

Eli Conley
[Image: Eli Conley sings into a microphone while playing acoustic guitar.]

Eli Conley
[Image: Eli Conley playing acoustic guitar.]

Maia Papaya is a fun cheerful person and talented multi-instrumentalist. Maia and Eli were both great to listen to as well as photograph.

Maia Papaya
[Image: Maia Papaya playing upright bass and singing into a microphone.]

Maia Papaya
[Image: Maia Papaya playing acoustic guitar.]

As usual I’ve uploaded the full set of photos to Flickr. If you have the financial means, please help me continue to do free shoots like this by sponsoring me on Patreon or leaving me a tip.

Culture of killing

[Image: Assorted kitchen knives on a magnetic strip.]

Since getting involved in animal rights activism last year, I’ve become familiar with all of the usual arguments people make for eating animal products. I’ve also become much more aware of the intersecting systems of oppression that make it oversimplified to say that “anyone can go vegan.” I’ve tried to tailor and fine-tune my arguments to reflect my awareness of human oppression while still not compromising my message that animals are people, not property.

But one kind of person that I still don’t know how to reach is a person who says that they eat animal flesh because they enjoy it, and considers palate pleasure alone to be sufficient justification. I’m speaking of people who have no financial or practical impediments to going vegan, and acknowledge that they don’t need to eat animals to be healthy. These people might express concern for animal welfare, but ultimately they see no problem with the act of killing an animal and eating their body simply for the pleasure of it.

And unfortunately, these people are the rule rather than the exception. If anything, they are on the rise thanks to “humane-washing” that convinces people that killing is OK as long as the animal lived a pleasant life and had a quick, painless death (even though that’s almost never the case, including in dairy and egg production). Farmers who claim they love their animals like family members, and then kill and eat them, further contribute to this fantasy world of humane slaughter.

But I’ve come to realize there’s much more to it than this. Fundamentally, our entire civilization is based on domination and killing. As Will Tuttle explored in The World Peace Diet, the advent of herding culture led to the domination not only of animals but of women, people of color, and LGBTQIA people. All oppression is interconnected.

Many would counter that humans have always been killers. This is true. But I don’t believe we have always glorified killing. Deliberate killing for survival was necessary at some point in human history, and may still be in some cultures. But I’m speaking of killing solely for pleasure. We have laws in place to dissuade us from killing other humans, but we indulge in murder fantasies through violent movies, video games, and other pastimes.

I am not suggesting that we ban or censor violent video games or imagery. What troubles me is that we have so much desire for them in the first place. I’ve changed dramatically in that regard myself over the last year. I’ve always had a specific aversion to gun violence, as a person being healthy in one moment and dead from a bullet in the next is utterly terrifying to me. So I never got into first-person shooters or action films, but I did still participate in more subtle forms of violent entertainment.

For many years I played the game Nethack, a single-player dungeon adventure. Although all the violence in this game is conveyed in text form, killing is an integral part of the game. (It is possible to play as a pacifist, but extremely difficult, and normally involves having several pets do the killing for you.) I’ve stopped playing Nethack*, and I’ve stopped watching TV shows that focus on murder and death, including cooking shows. I also stopped taking photos at my partner’s lasertag events. I just can’t get any pleasure out of deadly violence, even in simulated form.

I’m well aware that it is impossible to live without causing the death of sentient beings, which is why I never say “no animal had to die for my meals.”  Even the most strictly observant Jain accidentally kills some insects and other small animals. But that just makes it more imperative for me to avoid killing that is within my control. I can’t just shrug off deliberate, unnecessary killing as an inevitable fact of human civilization.

I have to believe that we humans can evolve beyond this culture of killing. If I believed that large-scale murder and war would always be with us, I simply could not go on. We must break the cycle of violence.

* December 2015 update: When a new version of Nethack came out this month after a twelve-year hiatus, I couldn’t resist checking out the changes. Playing that game again is a guilty pleasure, literally.

Stop ranking oppression

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

Today’s Robot Hugs comic in Everyday Feminism is one of the best I’ve seen all year. Please read it now before continuing.

Done? OK. This is what I’ve been dealing with in the year and a half or so that I’ve been involved in animal rights activism. I’ve written here numerous times about the racism, sexism, cissexism, and other human oppression that is either ignored or exacerbated by animal rights activists in the U.S. It’s driving people like me away from activism, and this is not OK.

Often the micro-aggressions faced by activists from oppressed groups (or by those speaking for other oppressed groups) are far more subtle than being told to “shut up.” It frequently takes the form of being told that non-human animals suffer far more than any human. Whether this is true or not, it is still a silencing tactic.

Silencing people who speak up for oppressed humans does not save more animals. It simply strengthens the perception that animal rights activists don’t care about humans. Some activists indeed proudly admit that they don’t care about humans, as they are misanthropists and hate everyone. Many of them deny their own privileges while saying this. Gary Yourofsky comes to mind.

Part of why I have not committed to taking on a more active or formal role with any animal rights group is that I’ve been continually disappointed by the ongoing oppressive language and tactics of other activists. (Coping with depression and fearing the police are my other reasons for being less active.) I do want to be a voice for the animals, and voices are stronger when raised together than alone. But I don’t like being associated with people whose views I find abhorrent, even if they don’t reflect the sentiments of others in the group.

So I will take this opportunity to remind people that while I occasionally participate in animal rights actions and share the writings of various activists, I am independent and speak only for myself. I do not support or condone any views or activities that are oppressive to other humans. I acknowledge my own privileges and mistakes, and ask to be called out if I make statements that are harmful to those in marginalized groups.

This does not mean that I pledge to never say anything that offends anyone. As a queer black trans person, my very existence is offensive to many. I make no apologies for moderating my own spaces as I see fit. Do not confuse calling out oppression with tone policing. I am a pacifist, but I am not passive.

As I’ve written before, a “vegan world” that continues to elevate the voices and needs of able-bodied cishet white men above all others is not a world I want to be a part of. While I will never go back to eating or otherwise exploiting animals – as to me they are people, not property – I will not continue with organized animal rights activism if that means setting aside the concerns of marginalized humans. I am not abandoning the animals, I am abandoning humans with toxic mindsets.

Everyday transmisogyny

Every time I read another story about anti-trans discrimination, what infuriates me the most is seeing cis people make excuses for their oppressive behavior. In this case, a teenage trans girl, Lila Perry, was bullied for using the girl’s restroom at her school. Quotes include:

“I’m not trying to be ignorant, but [the transgender student] is bringing it out in public for everybody else to deal with.”

“The way I was raised, I have no problem with a transgender, but he shouldn’t be in the women’s locker room until he has the surgery.”

“The girls have rights, and they shouldn’t have to share a bathroom with a boy.”

“As a parent, it’s my right to educate my child, to make decisions on when it’s appropriate for my child to understand things about the opposite sex.”

These statements are ignorant, literally. Trans girls are girls, not boys, males, or the “opposite sex.” Whether they have had surgery or not is entirely irrelevant. Anatomy does not define gender or sex.

If you have a problem with trans people using restrooms matching our gender identities, regardless of our body configurations, then you have a problem with trans people, period. Don’t claim you have “no problem” with us and then misgender us and tell us to have “the surgery” before using the same facilities as cis people.

This bullying has to stop. We just need to pee.

Vegan food

[Image: A pile of fresh fruits and vegetables.]

Today marks the beginning of VeganMoFo, which I participated in last year and in 2012. After giving it some thought, I’ve decided not to join in this year, for the reasons I stated in last year’s concluding post:

I haven’t been as enthused about participating this year because I think my goals, diet, and attitude are too different from those of the organizers and the majority of the participants. The daily round-up posts and giveaways have focused largely on vegan versions of animal-based foods, especially cheeses, and packaged products.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I don’t think there’s anything inherently unethical about eating plant-based substitutes for dairy and flesh, but they are not my focus. Many are expensive, not widely available, and not particularly healthy. And even some “naturally” vegan products, like dark chocolate and palm oil, may be produced in ways that are particularly damaging to farm workers, animals, and the environment.

The idea that “vegan food” is a special class of cuisine contributes to the utterly false notion that plant-based diets are more expensive than those containing animal products. Potatoes and yams are vegan foods. Grains, beans, and lentils are vegan foods. Frozen vegetables are vegan foods. These are inexpensive and can be prepared in quantity, with minimal time commitment.

Fresh fruits and vegetables are, of course, also vegan foods. These can be more expensive and difficult to obtain for some people. This is the main reason I did volunteer work in food justice, growing and distributing fresh produce to the needy. I’ve had to put that work on hold, but I encourage others to explore similar opportunities in their areas, and seek political change to make these foods more accessible.

What about food deserts? What about those who are homeless, have no kitchen access, or work so hard that they have no time to cook? These are legitimate concerns. But they are not going to be solved by funneling more time and money into creating the best-tasting vegan cheese, or vat-grown meat. We should be dismantling the intersecting systems of oppression that create poverty, homelessness, and food deserts in the first place.

As my depression has worsened, I’ve had less energy to devote to cooking, and have been more reliant on prepared foods. So I’m sympathetic to those who value convenience. But I’m not sympathetic to human convenience taking priority over an animal’s life.

Until humans recognize non-human animals as people, not property, veganism will continue to be seen as merely a fad diet for privileged people. And I’m not interested in promoting specialty “vegan foods” for the benefit of humans. Vegans are not an oppressed class. Making healthy plant-based meals more accessible to humans who actually are oppressed is a worthwhile endeavor. But we should never forget that every meal containing flesh, milk, or eggs cost a sentient being their life.

Nonbinary erasure – quick follow-up

In my blog entry on nonbinary erasure a couple weeks back, I mentioned that when I tried to comment on an article on MTV.com,  I found that they only had “female” and “male” gender options on their account creation form. I sent a quick note to customer support, asking that they add a fill-in-the-blank or “Other” option for nonbinary people.

Today, they replied!

In reply to your inquiry “Gender options for accounts”:

Thank you for your note regarding our sign-up process. We have made changes to include additional sign-up options.

Thank you,

MTV.com

I went back to the site to confirm:

MTV account creation form

[Image: A  web form with the heading “Create an Account to Comment.” Circled in red is the Gender section with the options Female, Male, and Other.]

Hooray for small victories! Also, check out this new Everyday Feminism article on nonbinary erasure and what you can do about it.

Victims and survivors

[Image: The spires of a wrought iron gate, with golden light in the background.]

Content warning: Rape, sexual assault, sexual violence.

When oppressed people speak out about the suffering we’ve endured, some like to accuse us of “playing the victim.” I thought about this when reading an article about sexual violence posted today in Everyday Feminism. In it, the author notes the trend of referring to people who have been raped or otherwise sexually violated as “survivors” rather than “victims.” She acknowledges the good intentions behind this language, but urges that “survival” status should not be forced upon others, as it can invalidate those who do see themselves as the victims of a crime.

I immediately connected with this sentiment. I’d been referring to myself and others who have endured sexual assault as survivors rather than victims, but I do feel strongly that I was a victim of a crime for which I can never receive justice. The man who sexually molested me for years when I was a young child never had to answer to his crime, and died a respected member of his community. The impact of this experience has been devastating, ultimately resulting in me cutting off all contact with my blood family (with the support of my therapist).

I am a survivor only in the literal sense that I am still alive. The cumulative impact of depression, gender dysphoria, and the daily micro-aggressions I experience as a queer black trans person make it difficult enough to get through each day. Being told that I’m “playing the victim” when speaking about my experiences, and being told that I need to forgive my abuser, just add insult to injury.

I’ve seen troubling examples of this attitude in the animal rights community (though I’m sure it exists in all activist communities, that’s the one I’m most involved with currently). Women who have been sexually harassed by other activists have been silenced, accused of exaggerating or outright lying, told they are being “divisive,” and otherwise shamed for bringing attention to abusive members of the community. Women have been told that their suffering is trivial compared to the oppression of non-human animals. Sexist messaging only amplifies the message that women’s bodies are more important than their words.

While I’m not a woman, I was living as a girl at the time I was molested, and many young boys are molested as well. Adult men are also sexually assaulted, of course, and their reports need to be taken seriously. Sexual violence is wrong regardless of the gender the victim – or survivor, if they choose that language – and that includes trans and nonbinary people. The Everyday Feminism infographic on “How Do I Know If I’ve Been Raped?” is informative. (The abuse I experienced did not meet the current legal definition of rape, as there was no penetration, but it was still sexual abuse.)

Telling people to “stop playing the victim” does nothing to abolish the rape culture that results in so many people becoming victims in the first place. Stop derailing and diminishing when people speak out about sexual assault. Thank them for trusting you with their stories, and ask if there’s anything you can do to help.

What people can do to help me is respect that I need a lot of solitude and personal space right now. Writing is my primary form of activism currently. Deriding people who post on social media as “armchair activists” is ableist and often unfair. I’m doing what I need to do to survive.

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