In the pocket

For years before my transition, I complained about women’s clothes, pants in particular. The sizing was ridiculously inconsistent, and the pockets were miniscule-to-nonexistent. But I also hated purses, so for a good twenty years I strapped a fanny pack to my waist.

Switching to men’s pants, with ample pockets and sizing by waist and inseam, was a relief. I can easily fit my wallet, keys, cell phone, and miscellaneous small items in the pockets of my jeans, cargo pants, and even dress pants. On days that I’m not going shopping and not planning to be out long, I love the freedom of walking unencumbered by bags, wearing nothing but the clothes on my back.

Recently I read an article on the gendered nature of encumbrance, which made me think more about why women are expected to carry their possessions in bags and men are not. I rarely see a man carrying a tote bag (which is part of why I switched back to wearing a backpack after my transition). Women are expected to do more of the childcare, grocery shopping (sometimes with young children in tow), and the like, so would be more likely to have diaper bags and other things for children.

In addition to the other issues the author points out (being expected to carry items for others), cosmetics may also play a factor. I remember when I was still being sent women’s clothing catalogs, I’d read descriptions of tiny purses having “just enough room for the summer essentials: A lipstick and compact.” I haven’t worn makeup in over fifteen years, so I can’t really relate to this, but I feel strongly that people of any gender should be able to wear makeup without being judged for it. And for some trans women, a careful makeup application can make the difference between having a peaceful day and being outed and violently assaulted.

The sturdiness of men’s versus women’s clothes isn’t something I had thought of much, but makes sense, sadly. I currently buy most of  my clothes from secondhand and discount stores. When I first started shopping for men’s pants, I was surprised to see a whole line of sturdy work clothes I had never seen in a women’s clothing section. People of all genders do manual labor, of course, but it isn’t considered  a “woman’s job.”

Ultimately, when it comes to gender, clothes are just clothes, and ideally shouldn’t be gendered in the first place. Three times now I’ve bought secondhand pants from the men’s section of Out of the Closet (I prefer to support them rather than Goodwill), and had them rung up as “WMNS BTMS, ” presumably because I looked like a “WMN.” The third time this happened I pointed it out, and the clerk made some excuse like “Oh it’s just whatever the cash register rings it up as.” Well, no, there was no bar code to swipe so the clerk actually did make an assumption based on my apparent gender and not the clothes. If my male spouse had approached the counter with a skirt to buy, I guarantee it wouldn’t have been rung up as “MNS BTMS,” even though my spouse is a MN (who happens to wear skirts).

In closing, because I need some comic relief nowadays, here’s a lighthearted tune from the always entertaining Jonathan Coulton, Mr. Fancy Pants. (I think I was actually at the concert where this video was recorded.)

 

On echo chambers

[Image: Black and white vanishing perspective of a wooden pier.]

Some people wonder why folks like me are so intolerant of comments questioning the impact of racism, cissexism, and other oppression, and our tactics to fight it. Why do we want to be in an “echo chamber” of people who think just like we do? Why can’t we be open to a variety of opinions? What about free speech?

First of all, freedom of speech does not apply to my personal blog, Facebook page, or any other space I control. As atheist feminist blogger Greta Christina has written, “If you don’t respect my basic right to moderate my own online spaces — don’t bother to comment in any of them.”

But more importantly, these questions, however well-intentioned, overlook the fact that I already live inside an echo chamber 24/7. I am queer, black, agender, and transsexual, and am constantly bombarded with messages that people like me are thugs, freaks, perverts, special snowflakes, and dangerous. I don’t need people to come into my space to tell me what the mainstream already wants me to hear. Nor do I need to subject myself to this dialog in group discussions.

When I post about racism, heterosexism, or cissexism,  I want to hear a resounding echo of people shouting “We’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it anymore.” I am not just venting, I am urging people to take action.

As someone who suffers from depression to the point that some days updating this blog is the only thing I manage to do, I do not have the energy to educate every person about these issues. Nor am I obligated to do so. That’s where true allies come in, who have the knowledge and patience to amplify the voices of the oppressed, and educate their peers from a place of privilege.

If you don’t like what I write, no one’s forcing you to read it. Post in your own space about “all lives matter” if you like. No one’s going to arrest you or beat you or murder you for doing so.

But I will not tolerate any more unsolicited opinions from my oppressors on how to be an effective activist or a “nice” person. Get out of my chamber.

Black Lives Matter is not about white people

[Image: The sun sets over the water in Seattle, with a lone sailboat visible.]

The latest thing white self-appointed allies are upset about is that some uppity black people dared to interrupt a rally for their pet presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, in Seattle. The group put out a press release on Facebook and on their blog. A video of the protest is below.

Horrified whites are now saying, amongst other less tactfully stated things,  that they are no longer going to support Black Lives Matter because of this “disrespectful behavior,” that they can’t believe black people would turn against our “natural ally,” and that we should interrupt the speeches of conservative candidates instead.

Here’s the thing. If you’re white, you have no business telling black people who or how to protest, which candidates to support, or who our allies are. This is not about whether these protesters were “right” or not, or whether or not it’s permissible to criticize black people in general. This is about white people asserting and imposing their unasked-for opinions about what’s best for us, again and again and again.

White people, Black Lives Matter is not about you. Black Lives Matter was created by queer black women to bring attention to systemic oppression and violence against black people in the USA. It is not for you to decide for us whether Bernie Sanders or any other political candidate is the best person to fix this oppression. We can and will decide that for ourselves.

It is also not your place to tell black people how to protest. A lot of us are tired of quietly asking for our rights to be respected whenever it’s convenient for you all to get around to it. As I’ve learned from my participation in animal rights activism, direct action is necessary for social change.  If you only support black people when we speak quietly and deferentially, you are no ally at all. You are merely a tool of white supremacy.

For the record, I support no political candidates, and am currently registered with no political party. I vote on local ballot measures and nonpartisan offices only. This post is not about whether or not you should support Bernie Sanders, it’s about my disgust with white supremacy and my own role in it during my years of performing whiteness. I am fed up with respectability politics and with white people imposing themselves on black people (and likewise with cis and trans people).

White people, not everything needs to be about you. Take a damn seat.

Pistahan Festival

[Image: Dancers and musicians in brightly colored outfits perform on an outdoor stage. A banner above reads “Pistahan Parade + Festival.”]

Yesterday I attended the Pistahan Festival, an annual celebration of Filipino culture in San Francisco. This two-day event included a parade and a number of performances and exhibits. I stayed for only a small portion of the festivities; my primary interest was taking photos of the performers on the main stage at Yerba Buena Gardens.

The Reflex at the Pistahan Festival[Image: A singer with a black and white checkered shirt and white rimmed sunglasses sings into a microphone on an outdoor stage.]

The Reflex at the Pistahan Festival[Image: A six-piece rock band performs on an outdoor stage. Square multicolored flags hang above them.]

First up was a cover band, The Reflex, who played basically a “greatest hits of the 80s” set. (Including, as you might guess from their name, Duran Duran.) I could tell it was an 80s band as I recognized every song in their 45-minute set; I was glued to MTV and Casey Kasem’s Top 40 for a good part of that decade.

Tip to singers and other rock musicians: If you need a music stand, but also want good photos/video, consider lowering it to half-height. (I speak from experience on both sides of the camera, here.)

Little Manila Dance Collective at the Pistahan Festival[Image: Barefoot dancers in matching maroon shirts and black knee-length pants perform on an outdoor stage.]

Little Manila Dance Collective at the Pistahan Festival[Image: Dancers in matching multicolored sarongs and brightly colored blouses perform on an outdoor stage, holding yellow fans.]

Little Manila Dance Collective at the Pistahan Festival[Image: Barefoot dancers in matching blue and white dresses smile and perform on an outdoor stage. Behind them smiling barefoot dancers wear stripped blue and black shirts and knee-length orange pants.]

Little Manila Dance Collective at the Pistahan Festival[Image: Young barefoot dancers in white and yellow outfits perform on an outdoor stage.]

Next up were several groups from the Little Manila Dance Collective. As with last month’s Chinatown dance festival, I loved all the brightly-colored outfits; my image descriptions don’t do them justice. Getting decent photos of all the white costumes at high noon was also quite a challenge. (As was finding a good spot to shoot from without getting in the way of the audience or the official photographers. I really need a long lens for my primary camera…)

Nuff Kidz at the Pistahan Festival[Image: Dancers in matching long-sleeved maroon T-shirts, black pants/leggings, and white shoes perform on an outdoor stage.]

Nuff Kidz at the Pistahan Festival[Image: Dancers in matching long-sleeved maroon T-shirts, black pants/leggings, and white shoes perform on an outdoor stage.]

Aftermath at the Pistahan Festival[Image: Dancers in matching black T-shirts, leggings, and shoes perform on an outdoor stage.]

Two high-energy  dance troupes, Nuff Kidz and Aftermath, followed on the stage. I took a lot of photos of Nuff Kidz. They had an audio glitch and ended up restarting their performance, then the sound glitched in the same place. But they finished the dance without music, to wild applause.

Mika Gorospe at the Pistahan Festival
[Image: A young singer wearing a white off-shoulder crop top and peach skirt sings into a microphone on an outdoor stage.]

Mika Gorospe at the Pistahan Festival
[Image: A young singer and three backup dancers perform on an outdoor stage.]

The next performer was thirteen-year-old singer, Mika Gorospe. Complete with backup dancers, she’s already set for stardom.

Crywolffs at the Pistahan Festival
[Image: A violinist wearing a black jacket, light brown hat, and black-rimmed glasses performs on an outdoor stage.]

Crywolffs entertained the crowd with an electric violin and live looping.

Shelby Miguel at the Pistahan Festival
[Image: A singer wearing a gray and black sleeveless top and black leggings sings into a microphone on an outdoor stage.]

Singer Shelby Miguel gave a rousing performance, the final set I watched for the day.

Happy to have attended this festival, which, like the one in Chinatown, I found out about through Funcheap SF. I’ve put the full set of photos on Flickr. If you like my photos and want to help me continue doing free shoots like this (and maybe get that long lens I’ve been coveting), please consider supporting me on Patreon or leaving me a tip.

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.

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