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,  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,

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.

Clynton Oliver Cox

[Image: A five-piece band plays on an outdoor stage. A large banner reads Yerba Buena Gardens Festival.]

Today I once again braved hot, sunny weather and lunchtime crowds to shoot another free outdoor concert: Clynton Oliver Cox at Yerba Buena Gardens.

Clynton Oliver Cox at Yerba Buena Gardens
[Image: Clynton Oliver Cox  sings into a microphone on an outdoor stage. Bass and keyboard players play behind him.]

Clynton Oliver Cox at Yerba Buena Gardens
[Image: Clynton Oliver Cox  plays guitar and sings into a microphone on an outdoor stage. Bass and keyboard players play behind him.]

Clynton Oliver Cox band at Yerba Buena Gardens
[Image: A keyboard player and a drummer perform on an outdoor stage.]

I found the set very entertaining. The arrangements were keyboard-heavy; three keyboards were on the stage, with only one guitar, which Clynton frequently stopped playing when he sang.

Clynton Oliver Cox band at Yerba Buena Gardens
[Image: An electric bass player performs on an outdoor stage.]

Clynton Oliver Cox band at Yerba Buena Gardens
[Image: A drummer and keyboard player perform on an outdoor stage.]

The rhythm section was in the pocket. A bunch of folks got up to dance.

Clynton Oliver Cox at Yerba Buena Gardens
[Image: Clynton Oliver Cox plays guitar on an outdoor stage. A keyboard player plays behind him.]

As with the previous concert, I enjoyed the music enough to stay the whole time (only an hour in this case, as it was a weekday lunch hour performance). Toward the end I was asked to fill out a survey. The gender options listed on it were “Female,” “Male,” and “Transgender/Other.” While this inclusion was well-intentioned, it wasn’t really accurate, as most binary trans people wish to be recognized simply as female or male, without qualifiers. But since I’m agender as well as transsexual and want to increase trans visibility, I did choose the third option. I probably won’t bother to contact Yerba Buena about this; it’s a much higher priority for me to educate people who list only two gender options.

As usual, I’ve uploaded the full set of photos to Flickr. If you’re enjoying my photography and writing, please consider sponsoring me on Patreon or leaving me a tip.

Animals are people, not property

[Image: Lisa, a pit bull with tan and white fur, relaxes on a sofa.]

Edit, June 2016: Since publishing this post I have left Direct Action Everywhere (DxE). My points about animal personhood still stand.

An insightful article about what it means to be human published yesterday on the Aphro-ism site got me thinking about how we define what a “person” is. Since I got involved in animal rights activism a year ago, the core of my philosophy has been that animals are people, not property. I’ve had this slogan as my profile photo on Facebook since soon after it was taken at this year’s DxE Forum (as part of The Faces We Fight With photo directory):

Pax: Animals are people, not property.
[Image: Pax holds a sign reading “Animal Liberation because… Animals are people, not property.”]

But what do I actually mean when I say “animals are people, not property?” Entire books have been written on this subject, with lots of academic jargon that many find inaccessible. I’m a grad school dropout and have no credentials in philosophy or any other academic subject, so I’ll try to keep it simple.

First of all, I’m an atheist, and I reject any notion that humans have a soul or other spiritual characteristics that set us apart from other animals. Anything written in a religious text that states or suggests that animals were created for humans to use is completely irrelevant to me. (I’m aware that many religions have a different conception of human-nonhuman relations, and that many believe that all living beings have souls, but I don’t want to stray into a discussion of comparative religion; I’m speaking from my own perspective, here.)

Second, there is no universal characteristic that humans have that other animals do not. Non-human animals have language (even if we humans can’t fully understand it). They make friends. They have families. Some of them use tools. Many modify their environments. The fact that humans have modified our environment to the point that we’ve taken over the Earth like a cancer does not, to me, merit granting us the exclusive title of “people.”

Many seem to confuse “person” with “citizen,” or at least “civilized person” (which, as the article I linked to at the top points out, is a white European conception of personhood). Some people make ridiculous, derailing statements about animal rights activists wanting to grant nonhumans the right to vote or to marry. The legal right to vote or marry does not define whether a human is a person or not. Societies that have these human rights defined must grant them to all regardless of race, gender, or other irrelevant characteristics, but species is not an irrelevant characteristic here.

A free-living animal has no use for voting or marriage. These are human concepts useful in a human society. Our votes do affect the lives of nonhuman animals, but this is because we insist on treating them as property, and on displacing “wild” animals from their homes for our own human developments.

Justice and equity are the goal of animal rights, not a false “equality” that pretends there’s no difference between a human, dog, pig, fish, or chicken. The most important things all of these animals have in common are the ability to feel and the desire to live, and none of them can consent to be used as the property of another. Until animals are viewed as individual persons, they will never receive justice, no matter how many welfare reforms are put into place to make them more comfortable while they are exploited and killed by humans. A person who is the property of another can never truly be free.

I’m well aware that my view is controversial, and outright offensive to many. Women, people of color, and LGBTQIA+ people who have been viewed as sub-human for centuries often do not take kindly to being lumped in with other animals. As a queer black agender trans male, I am a member of several of those oppressed groups, and speak out frequently against sexism, racism, heterosexism, and cissexism. I hope this might convince others that the argument that nonhuman animals are people, too, is not merely a tool of privileged white veganism. I am an animal, and I am a person, and I seek to liberate all animals from property status.

Black trans liberation

[Image: Banner reading #BlackTransLivesMatter Day of Action 8/25/15. Behind the words are black and white photos of trans women of color who have been murdered.]

Today is #BlackTransLiberationTuesday, a day of action to call for an end to the epidemic of violence facing black trans women. I’ve written previously about this state of emergency, and the importance of trans people telling our own stories to dispel the ignorance and myths that lead to anti-trans discrimination and aggression.

Black trans women are particularly vulnerable to violence as they face multiple axes of oppression. Even those who “pass” – i.e., meet society’s cisnormative assumptions of what a woman should look like – have to deal with everyday racism and sexism, which impacts their access to education, employment, health care, and housing. They are affected by the same media bias and police profiling as black cis women. Some turn to sex work to survive, with all the inherent risk and stigma that entails. Many end up as victims of the prison-industrial complex.

Repeating the names of our fallen sisters is one way to emphasize the urgency of the situation. But we must not merely pathologize black trans women. We need to celebrate them. We need to celebrate those who can transition, and those who cannot. Those who live as openly trans, and those who do not. Those who are disabled, and those who are not. Those who are straight, lesbian, bisexual, queer, pansexual, asexual, or any other orientation.

Here are the stories of two living black trans women who don’t have the celebrity profile of Laverne Cox:

Alena Bradford is a woman living in Georgia. Economic circumstances forced her to move back in with her mother and live as a man.

Kat Blaque is an animator and vlogger, who speaks frequently about racism and sexism. She illustrated the story of her life and gender transition.

Get to know black trans women. Don’t solely mourn their deaths. Celebrate their lives.

Son jarocho

[Image: Musicians perform on an outdoor stage. An adult dances on the stage with a child while another child watches.]

Yesterday I returned to the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival to take photos of two son jarocho bands, Cambalache and Tarimba. This performance also marked the close of the fourth annual San Francisco Son Jarocho Festival. As that page notes, this folk music comes from the Mexican state of Veracruz, and has indigenous and African elements.

Tarimba at Yerba Buena Gardens Festival
[Image: A musician sings into a microphone while playing a harp on an outdoor stage.]

Tarimba at Yerba Buena Gardens Festival
[Image: A dancer and musicians perform on an outdoor stage. A large banner reads Yerba Buena Gardens Festival.]

Tarimba at Yerba Buena Gardens Festival
[Image: A dancer and a harp player perform on an outdoor stage.]

Tarimba opened the set. They sang and played a variety of instruments, both traditional and modern. Two of the musicians danced as well.

At intermission, I really enjoyed the music played over the PA system, and was happy when the MC announced the name of the artist: Meklit. She’ll be performing at the festival in October.

Cambalache at Yerba Buena Music Festival
[Image: Two musicians play jaranas and sing into microphones on an outdoor stage.]

Cambalache at the Yerba Buena Music Festival
[Image: An upright electric bass player and a jarana player perform on an outdoor stage.]

Cambalache at Yerba Buena Gardens Festival
[Image: A four-piece band performs on an outdoor stage, one smiling with upraised arms.]

Cambalache took the stage next. I greatly enjoyed their performance, especially the beautiful singing voice of César Castro. The band encouraged the audience to join in on the chorus of “La Iguana.” I tried to understand as many of the Spanish words as I could. (I’m nearing a 600-day streak on DuoLingo, but my listening comprehension of native speech is still very weak.)

As an aside – for those like myself who ever wondered about the difference between Hispanic and Latino, check out this handy comic. I love that it’s written by a gay biracial ex-Mormon.

Cambalache at Yerba Buena Gardens Festival
[Image: Children sit and lean on the edge of an outdoor stage, watching musicians perform.]

Children dancing at Yerba Buena Gardens Festival
[Image: Children dance on an outdoor stage, an adult clapping behind them.]

While I normally don’t take photos of audience members at concerts, a lot of adorable children crowded the stage at this performance, some of them throwing rose petals. At one point the band invited the kids (and adults) to come dance on the stage.

The set closed with both bands joining forces for a rousing rendition of La Bamba, with more dancing (pictured at the top of this post). I’m glad I stayed for the entire show.

As usual I’ve posted the full set of photos on Flickr. I want to keep doing these concert shoots on a regular basis, but I really need a long lens to work more effectively. I’ve added this goal to my Patreon page. Please consider sponsoring me there or leaving me a tip. Thanks!

Stripping “for the animals”

There’s a new post going around about a study claiming that sex, in fact, does not sell, and neither does violence. While, if true, this is interesting to know, it doesn’t affect my attitude toward using sexually provocative imagery in animal rights campaigns. I am opposed to using sex appeal to “sell” animal rights or veganism because I find this tactic to be demeaning to human women.

The usual response to this criticism is that a woman has the right to display her body however she wishes. I absolutely agree. I posed fully nude on numerous occasions myself, before my transition, and I have no regrets about doing so. In fact, at this time most of my nude photos are still available online in various places.

What I am asking is for people to recognize power dynamics, as this comic about empowerment versus objectification shows. When PETA features nude and semi-nude people in their campaigns, they are almost invariably thin, conventionally attractive, able-bodied, white or light-skinned cisgender women. Occasionally male and dark-skinned models are also featured, but white women’s bodies are the primary attention-grabbers. Though in this 2009 Craigslist ad they sought to hire a black model – for no pay – to strip completely nude while reading their annual “State of the Undress.” They wanted a black or mixed-race model to “have her ethnicity resemble Barack Obama’s as closely as possible.”

Anyone who doesn’t see a problem with that Craigslist ad seriously needs to check their privileges. In addition to being racist, this solicitation is emblematic of how women are treated in the mainstream animal rights movement. In this male-dominated movement, a woman’s physical appearance is more important than her voice. And it’s no surprise that when vegan messaging constantly touts health and weight loss benefits to humans – as opposed to elevating the voices of the victims – only slim, conventionally-attractive people are desired to promote veganism.

This criticism isn’t about telling women what they can or can’t do. Nor is it an attempt to be “divisive.” I will work with people from various animal rights organizations even if I don’t completely agree with their philosophies or tactics. But I will not ignore, excuse, or condone campaigns that are sexist, racist, or otherwise oppressive, whether or not people think they are effective “for the animals.” Humans are animals too, and my activism is not limited to liberating non-humans. A vegan world that continues to elevate the needs and voices of cishet white males above all other humans is no world I want to be a part of.

Celebrating black vegans

Yesterday, Aph Ko of the black vegan feminist web site Aphro-ism shared a post about reactions to her list of 100 Black Vegans. In a typical display of white fragility, commenters on the Vegan Society Facebook page denounced a list that dared to celebrate blackness as “racist.” They really couldn’t see how a movement that has repeatedly ignored and excluded black people needed a list like this, that was, as Aph Ko put it, “highlighting black people who were doing amazing work.” (In that vein, I’ve added both Aphro-ism and Sistah Vegan Project to my new Links page.)

Veganism is not a “white thing.” Black folks care about animals, the environment, and human health just as much as whites do. The media’s portrayal of black people as violent thugs who live on junk food is racist and ignorant, and contributes to the idea many whites have that blacks just aren’t interested in veganism. This sentiment also ignores the intersections of race and poverty that can make it difficult for many black people to access healthy plant-based food.

Not all of the vegans on Aph Ko’s list are animal rights supporters or activists, and some activists say that going vegan for health reasons is selfish or invalid, as veganism encompasses much more than a plant-based diet. While I advocate for total animal liberation from the perspective that non-human animals are people, not property, I also recognize that many people who initially come to veganism for health reasons go on to recognize the inherent moral worth of animals. So while I don’t normally share stories about health benefits of veganism or news about the latest vegan celebrities – regardless of race – I do not actively oppose others doing so.

Veganism is not just a rejection of violence; it is a celebration of life. And as the Ko sisters posted in another blog entry, we need to celebrate black Life, not solely focus on black deaths. And one way to celebrate black life is to tuck into some delicious vegan soul food. If you aren’t lucky enough to have a vegan soul food restaurant in your city, check out Bryant Terry‘s cookbooks and whip up some of your own!

Visibility and violence

[Image: Orange banner with “U.S. Trans Survey” in white letters, and “Available to Complete Now” in a blue box.]

This morning I completed the U.S. Trans Survey, from the National Center for Transgender Equality. This survey for trans and nonbinary people living in the U.S. had an impressive amount of detail. As today is the first day the survey is available, server response time is slow; I recommend giving yourself plenty of time to complete it. Also be aware that many of the questions are potentially triggering.

Near the end of the survey, one of the questions presented a list of issues of concern to trans people, including violence, health care, homelessness, identification documents, and so forth. The question asked to assign importance (Very/Somewhat/Not) to each of these, and then to rank the three most important from the list. As my top priorities, I chose violence, police violence, and school bullying and discrimination.

While I have been fortunate not to experience any trans-specific physical violence or overt bullying myself – yet – these issues are critical to address. Trans women of color are particularly targeted for violence. Seventeen trans women – that we know about – have been murdered in 2015, and fifteen of them were women of color. Trans actress and activist Laverne Cox has described this as a “state of emergency.” Even the mainstream Time Magazine has taken notice.

As noted by those quoted in the Time article, increased visibility of trans people has not halted the continuing problems that disproportionately affect us, including poverty, bullying, unemployment, and violence. Most of the general public still doesn’t understand trans and nonbinary people, and that ignorance can lead to overt acts of hate and fear, as well as more subtle discrimination that still has devastating and lasting effects.

Education led by trans and nonbinary people – telling our own stories – is part of what will help dispel the ignorance. That’s a large part of why I started this blog, and why I urge people to stop focusing on our body parts when talking about gender identity. Performing cisnormativity – “passing” as a cis person – should not be the determiner of acceptance for a trans person. Whether a person has a beard or breasts, whether they wear a skirt or pants, their gender identity should be accepted without question.

We cannot continue to allow cis people to define who we are, what we can have access to, and what rights we are allowed to have. Cis allies can help by honoring our names and pronouns, sharing our stories, and speaking out against cissexist language, wherever it occurs.

We must put a stop to this epidemic of violence against trans people, women in particular. Visibility is not enough.

The lives at stake

[Image: A human and a calf look into each others’ eyes.]

While I normally advocate in terms of anti-speciesism – disrupting the idea that human animals are inherently superior to non-human ones – I recognize that some people will never accept that message. They may accept welfare reform, or “cutting down on meat,” but will not accept the fundamental idea that all sentient beings are persons and should not be held as property.

Here’s the thing. No matter how you feel about non-human animals morally, if animal agriculture continues, we are not going to have a livable planet left.

Animal agriculture is the leading cause of environmental destruction. Animal farming is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than all transportation exhaust combined. It also uses a tremendous amount of water, far more than needed for growing plants. But the environmental damage does not come just from intensive, “factory” farming. So-called “free-range” farming also takes a great toll on the ecosystem, and there literally isn’t enough land to convert all animal farming operations to free-range; it’s inherently unsustainable. The documentary film Cowspiracy lays out the facts.

It frustrates me greatly whenever anyone says that in a vegan world, there wouldn’t be enough land to grow crops for everyone, and people would starve. The exact opposite is true. People who say this seem to think that eating animals somehow does not involve growing crops, but most of the animals whose flesh we eat (as well as those raised primarily for their milk and eggs before they, too, are killed) are fed crops that were grown especially for them. Unless you are a hunter or fisher and eat only the animals you’ve killed yourself, you are almost certainly eating plant crops secondhand when you eat animal products.

Whenever you hear from “official” sources that veganism is bad for the planet or for human health, my advice is to follow the money. Capitalism provides enormous incentives for animal agriculture to continue, and not only in the USA. Hundreds of environmental activists in Brazil have been murdered for speaking out against the destruction of the rainforest by ranchers. And in the USA, environmental contamination from animal farming disproportionately affects low-income communities and people of color.

The idea that we can just “cut down on meat” to reverse this damage is too little and much too late. Would you be satisfied with a single ounce of flesh, milk, or eggs each week? The answer is not to cut down, but to cut it out entirely.

It’s far easier and less risky to tell people to take shorter showers  than to stop eating animal flesh, milk, and eggs, but this advice buries the truth. This cover-up is going to kill us all if it doesn’t stop. The lives of everyone on Earth are at stake. If you care about the future of this planet, please learn the facts and stop the killing.