What not to wear for Halloween

[Image: Drummers wearing face paint march in a Dia de los Muertos parade.]

Halloween is not one of my favorite holidays. I’m really not into the occult, I don’t much enjoy playing dress-up, and most mass-marketed candy is not vegan (and, in the case of much vegan chocolate, possibly unethical). Lots of people do enjoy this holiday, however, and will be celebrating this weekend. Some are likely still deciding what costumes to wear.

Unfortunately, many will choose to wear a costume that is insensitive or downright offensive. Such people will often decry concerns for cultural appropriation and oppression as “political correctness.” But asking people to be aware of the impact of their clothing choices is simply asking them to treat others with respect.

Here’s a primer from Kat Blaque on why cultures are not costumes:

And a spoken word performance by Raven McGill about white people who thought it was funny to put on blackface and dress up like Trayvon Martin:

Finally,  some more thoughts by Kat Blaque on what’s wrong with the costume based on Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover:

With infinite choices of what to wear on Halloween, there’s no reason to parody someone else’s culture, ethnicity, or gender identity. “Free speech” does not mean freedom from the consequences of that speech. For those who live every day with oppression, the negative impact of converting their lives to costumes is very real.

ETA: Also see this article with suggestions on how to talk to someone who is wearing a Native American costume.

Healthy Hermit conclusion, diet and sex thoughts

I’ve decided to formally conclude my Healthy Hermit diet, and reintroduce other whole plant foods besides fruits and vegetables. This is not because of my recent illness, but for practical reasons. My partner doesn’t share this way of eating, and it’s inefficient for us to eat separate meals all of the time. As he hasn’t had time to cook he’s been buying more packaged products, which negates much of the environmental benefit of me shopping from farmers markets. While I have made a few dishes we can both eat, we’d have a wider variety if I could use beans, whole grains, nuts, and seeds, which I can do without compromising my nutritional goals.

During the 24 days of this diet I lost ten pounds and about two inches of fat off of my waist. That’s quite rapid weight loss for someone who wasn’t heavy to begin with, though having a lower appetite due to the flu was also a factor. I currently weigh 120 lbs and have a 28 inch waist, which on a 5′ 4″ body is considered by many to be downright scrawny for a male, but would be considered chunky for a female in many circles, which just goes to show how arbitrary beauty standards are in our society.

I don’t, however, feel that body measurements are entirely useless. Rather than arbitrary height-weight charts or body mass index, I believe waist-to-height ratio is a better indicator of health risk, but that too is only one factor among many that must be considered. And regardless, as I’ve written before, no one’s size besides my own is any of my business.

An issue I have with all of these health charts is that they normally ask for a binary sex to be specified. Unlike with some web forms where sex and gender are clearly irrelevant, there are legitimate differences in height and weight for cistypical male and female bodies. I, however, do not have a cistypical body; I have a transsexual male body. I’ve been on testosterone for enough time that my body has “masculinized” to a certain extent, but it could be several more years before the changes are complete. My height is fixed, but my muscle mass and many other characteristics are not.

So when I filled out my nutrient profile, I specified male. But had I specified female, different target numbers would have come up for calories and various nutrients. These differences aren’t completely arbitrary; a menstruating woman will have a higher need for iron, for example. But not all cis women menstruate, and some cis men may have higher iron requirements for various reasons.

Even in the medical realm, when it comes to sex differences, lifestyle choices cannot be ignored.  When I elected to begin testosterone therapy, I needed to sign a consent form that said, among other things, that by taking this hormone I might be taking five years off of my life expectancy. I asked the nurse practitioner how much of this discrepancy might be due to men engaging in more high-risk behavior (smoking, drinking, violence) than women, rather than internal physical differences brought on by hormones. She said she honestly didn’t know because there hadn’t been studies on FTM patients in this area.

Regardless, I intend to keep my body as healthy as reasonably possible. Avoiding smoking, drinking, recreational drugs, and junk food isn’t a matter of personal purity for me; it’s a matter of finding pleasure without resorting to artificial, short-lived highs. Whole plant foods, clean air and water, exercise, and sunshine can provide what I need to be fulfilled.

Vegans and health shaming

I’ve been quiet for the last week because I came down with the flu. This one hit me hard enough to keep me offline almost entirely for two days, which is very unusual for me. My temperature got above 103 before my fever broke. (I do have a history of high fevers.) I don’t get flu shots anymore because I’m not in a high-risk category, and two of the three times I did get a shot (when I worked at a health sciences university that strongly encouraged them and provided them for free) I got the flu anyway.

Some vegans are afraid to admit when they get sick because of the false idea spread by many health-oriented vegans that eating a plant-based diet prevents illness. I’ve frequently read people bragging that they haven’t had the slightest sniffle since giving up animal products. If others get sick, they must not be “pure” enough. They need to eat a whole-foods diet, or better yet, a raw diet, or have a juice cleanse, or otherwise purge their system of all pollutants, and then they’ll never get sick again.

Illness doesn’t work that way. It can strike anyone without warning, even those of us who lead very healthy lifestyles. The creator of the FatFree Vegan Kitchen web site wrote a moving piece about being diagnosed with cancer despite following a lowfat, whole-foods plant-based diet. Sometimes these kinds of confessionals end in the author tearfully saying goodbye to their vegan diet, but this was not one of those cases; she wrote, “So if you’re reading this and worrying that I’m going to be another vegan blogger who goes back to eating animals for her own health, don’t. No diagnosis in the world could convince me to eat another animal or animal product.” (Emphasis in original.)

Some vegans get very sick, and some non-vegans live long, robust, illness-free lives. This is why I do not use human health benefits to promote veganism. The only person whose health is guaranteed to be harmed by a non-vegan diet is the animal whose flesh, milk, or eggs are on the plate. When we realize that their desire to live is as strong as ours, we will stop eating them for their sake, not for ours.

Another form of vegan health shaming is criticizing those who use pharmaceuticals containing animal products or tested on animals. I am opposed to all forms of animal use, but I recognize that in a deeply speciesist world, animal products are so ubiquitous that in some cases their use is unavoidable. If a person can avoid death or serious health consequences by using animal-derived or tested products, I will not condemn them for it. It would be better for them to live and become activists for animal liberation, working toward a time when no animals are used as ingredients or imprisoned in laboratories. This is consistent with my stance on those who “fail to thrive” on a pure vegan diet.

Regardless of diet or philosophy, the number one thing that people who do get ill need is rest, and in the USA that commodity is in short supply. Employers don’t give adequate sick leave, and advertisements abound for over-the-counter medications to allow people to mask their symptoms and keep working, thus spreading their germs to everyone else in the office. Whether self-employed or working for an employer, working while sick is considered a virtue, and for many, unfortunately, is a financial necessity.

I’m fortunate that I always had enough sick leave during my fifteen years of full-time employment. Part of why doing hired photo gigs didn’t work out for me was that if I became ill I either had to work sick, find a replacement, or lose the gig. Replacements don’t work out so well when you’re doing a job that relies on your unique creative vision and process. I ended up shooting my first wedding with a stomach bug (which I’d determined was non-contagious, but did make for a miserable day.)

Our health is the most important asset we have. We should work to make nutritious food available and affordable to everyone, but recognize that even with the healthiest possible diet and exercise program, some will fall ill. Those who do need the time and support for true recovery. There’s no shame in being sick.

Spirit Day – Stop the bullying

[Image: Pax wearing a purple Trans March hoodie. Photo by Chris]

Today is Spirit Day, a day to speak out against the bullying of LGBTQ youth. Supporters are encouraged to wear purple.

I was prompted about this day when I received a message from the White House in response to a petition against conversion therapy I signed in January. The petition met the minimum number of signatures needed for an official response, which was supportive and encouraging. Today’s message announced the release of a report on conversion therapy, making the case for eliminating this practice. The White House will also be holding a Q&A on their Tumblr this afternoon.

Let’s work to create a world where children are given the freedom to identity and express themselves without conforming to arbitrary gender expectations.

Healthy Hermit two week follow-up

[Image: A strawberry patch.]

I’ve now been eating a diet of fruits and vegetables exclusively for over two weeks. While I felt some ill symptoms the first few days (as I was also detoxing from caffeine), I’ve now fully adjusted to this way of eating. I look forward each day to the baked sweet potatoes and fruits that have become my new staple foods. And if the traditional Okinawan diet is any indication, I’m in good company with the sweet potatoes:

While weight loss was not the primary goal of this diet, I have lost five pounds, and expect to lose several more before my weight settles out. I haven’t been very physically active, so increased exercise will likely affect this (especially if I put on more muscle weight). I’m more interested in my waist size than my weight, though as testosterone therapy is shifting my fat stores to my middle, I expect more fluctuations there too.

I kept track of everything I ate for the first two weeks, and plugged it into the CRON-O-Meter to get a detailed nutritional breakdown. (Though I’m always wary of the accuracy of these tools outside of a clinical environment; I did not weigh any of my food, I only provided estimates.) For the final seven days I tracked my food intake, I averaged 1266 calories per day, with a carbohydrate/protein/fat percentage breakdown of 91/6/4.  I consumed more than adequate amounts of fiber, iron, vitamins A and C, and folate. Vitamin E was a bit low, as were calcium, selenium, and zinc. I’m taking care of B12 with a weekly supplement.

I’m not concerned about calcium as I think the USDA recommendations for that mineral are unnecessarily high. Vitamin E I can get adequate amounts of by eating more leafy greens. As for the other minerals, if I experience deficiency problems I’ll consider adding other whole foods such as beans, nuts, or seeds.

In any case, I’m not interested in tracking calories or nutrients going forward; this was just a snapshot. I’m glad to be escaping the “pleasure trap” of salt, sugar, oil, and caffeine, and glad to be walking to the farmers market regularly again.

Happy Indigenous People’s Day

[Image: Dancers wearing masks and colorful dresses perform at a Dia de los Muertos event.]

I no longer recognize Columbus Day. I haven’t since I moved to Berkeley in 1992, the same year that city declared October 12 to be a Day of Solidarity with Indigenous People. For some cold reality about Columbus and his legacy, check out this Everyday Feminism comic about European colonizers, and this article about Indian boarding schools.

As I posted the day before Independence Day, this country was founded by and for the benefit of  white heterosexual cisgender theistic men, on lands stolen from indigenous people, with the forced labor of black slaves. To right the wrongs, we need a revolution. ETA: In the meantime, here’s a guide from Black Girl Dangerous on how to celebrate and take action on this day.

Happy National Coming Out Day

[Image: A person marches in the San Francisco Pride Parade with a T-shirt reading “I Love People Not Their Plumbing.”]

Happy National Coming Out Day! I’ve posted previously about coming out as bisexual, which was back in ’91, as a direct result of National Coming Out Day activities at Northwestern University. So I didn’t want to miss making a quick note.

I now identify as queer rather than bi. But however you identity – including straight – is OK with me. What’s important is that we all work to grant everyone the freedom and safety to live authentic lives.


[Image: Meklit performs with other musicians on an outdoor stage. The canopy reads Yerba Buena Gardens Festival.]

Yesterday I returned to Yerba Buena Gardens for the final concert of the season: Ethiopian-American singer-songwriter Meklit. I’d been looking forward to seeing her ever since hearing her music played during the intermission of a previous concert.

Meklit at Yerba Buena Gardens Festival
[Image: Meklit sings and plays guitar on an outdoor stage. Trombone and trumpet players play in the background.]

Meklit at Yerba Buena Gardens Festival
[Image: Meklit dances on an outdoor stage, with other musicians playing in the background.]

The performance was wonderful, as I expected. The weather was also beautiful, though warm enough that a canopy was erected to shade the musicians, making photography a challenge with the contrasting light.

Meklit band at Yerba Buena Gardens Festival
[Image: A trombone player plays while a trumpet player next to him smiles and laughs.]

The band was excellent and fun to watch.

Meklit band at Yerba Buena Gardens Festival
[Image: A drummer plays on an outdoor stage, with an upright bass player in the background.]

Meklit band at Yerba Buena Gardens Festival
[Image: An electric bass player performs on an outdoor stage.]

The rhythm section was in the pocket. I especially enjoyed watching the bass player, though unfortunately I didn’t get many shots of him playing upright. I had to put down the camera and just watch and listen for awhile.

Really glad I had a chance to see this wonderful artist, who was performing here exactly ten years after her professional debut at the same location. For an encore, the band performed the song “Kemekem (I Like Your Afro)”, as seen in this great video:

I’ve enjoyed this Yerba Buena concert series, and look forward to next year’s. As usual, I’ve uploaded all of the photos to Flickr. If you like my work, please consider supporting me on Patreon or leaving me a tip.

The “natural” human diet

[Image: Luv, a goat at PreetiRang Sanctuary, munches on hay.]

Whenever the subject of veganism comes up, discussion of what the “natural” diet is for humans inevitably follows. Words such as omnivore, carnivore, herbivore, and frugivore are thrown around without much understanding of what they actually mean. Here are some handy definitions from Wikipedia:

Omnivore: An animal whose species normally derives its energy and nutrients from a diet consisting of a variety of food sources that may include plants, animals, algae, fungi and bacteria.

Carnivore: An organism that derives its energy and nutrient requirements from a diet consisting mainly or exclusively of animal tissue, whether through predation or scavenging.

Herbivore: An animal anatomically and physiologically adapted to eating plant material, for example foliage, for the main component of its diet.

Frugivore: A fruit eater. It can be any type of herbivore or omnivore where fruit is a preferred food type.

I believe it’s clear that we are not carnivores, which is part of why I do not refer to humans who eat animal flesh as such. As for whether we are omnivores, herbivores, or frugivores, I’ve seen good evidence that we likely fall into the last category, keeping in mind that frugivores do not eat fruit exclusively, and that the botanical definition of fruit is much broader than the culinary term.

Regardless, I believe all this focus on dietary terms is a distraction. None of us in modern society live or eat the way that our primitive ancestors did. Humans are able to derive all nutrients except for Vitamin B12 from plant sources exclusively. As long as we have access to adequate sources of calories from whole plant foods, we can live healthily without eating animal products.

What about B12? It is made neither by animals nor plants, but by bacteria. The amount we humans need is minuscule, and supplements are inexpensive. Some vegans try to get enough B12 without supplementing by eating slightly dirty produce, but I prefer to take a pill once a week rather than eat plants covered with feces.

What about those who cannot access or afford supplements, or encounter serious health problems on a vegan diet? My position is that if your life or health literally depends on eating animal products, then do so, but only as much as you actually need to. Vegan physician Michael Klaper discusses a possible reason some may fail to thrive on a vegan diet here:

Being surrounded by friends, family, and advertisements constantly encouraging us to eat animal products makes it very easy to revert to eating them upon experiencing any ill symptoms from starting a vegan diet. I believe that in a post-speciesist world, true cases of people who have full access to plant foods but get very sick without eating animal products would be exceedingly rare.

While I could imagine various strategies to help those who fail to thrive in such a world, I would like to focus on getting to that world first. When every promotion of veganism is countered with reasons why “not everyone can go vegan,” the voices of those harmed – our fellow animals – are lost. When society comes to realize that animals are people, not property, we can focus on their needs and wants, not just those of humans.

When health gurus promote rape culture

I mentioned in my post earlier today that many health-oriented vegans and others promoting plant-based diets engage in fat-shaming. Fat-shaming is one reason I stopped participating in the forums for Dr. John McDougall*, whose starch-centered, low-fat dietary philosophy I generally follow. I didn’t like some forum members blaming anyone who had a BMI above 22 for any health problems they might have, and I didn’t like the concern-trolling of other people’s weight.

I regret that I engaged in fat-shaming myself at that time, which I’m trying not to do now. Hence I’m noticing more disturbing things about McDougall’s message that I previously missed. In the “Best Of” section of his latest newsletter, he reposts an April 2012 report where he actually blames precocious puberty for inciting sexual abuse of children. He notes that the average onset of puberty was once 16-19 years of age and is now 8-12, due to the rich Western diet. He writes, “The development of female breasts and buttocks activate natural male reproductive behaviors, causing some men to prey on girls.”

This is a sentence straight out of rape culture. Men have no excuse for preying on anyone, regardless of their age or figure. Excusing this as a “natural male reproductive behavior” is nothing short of disgusting, especially when McDougall writes in the same newsletter “Civilized people, however, protect their children.”

Note that I am not disputing McDougall’s argument about what causes precocious puberty. As a child I ate a fairly standard American diet, and entered female puberty** in 1981 at the age of 11, for what it’s worth. But the sexual abuse I endured started well before that time. Sexual abuse and rape are about power, not desire.

In case any McDougallers are reading this and tempted to accuse me of libel, I am not accusing McDougall of actually promoting rape or being a rapist. I am simply pointing out that saying that the abuse of a young girl (or person of any age or gender) is due in any part to “natural reproductive behaviors” is promoting the idea that abusers are not responsible for their actions. As a victim of childhood sexual abuse, I am nauseated by this attitude.

I really hate to see people whose ideas I respect say things that I abhor, but it happens, a fair amount as it turns out. Hence the need for me to be independent.

* McDougall himself is not vegan, but his diet is 100% plant-based other than honey.

** My male puberty began in January 2014, when I started testosterone therapy.