Abolitionist exodus

This week, two vegan feminist activists – Corey Lee Wrenn and Sarah K. Woodcock – announced that they would be abandoning the “abolitionist” name from their respective web sites and organizations, henceforward to be known as The Academic Activist Vegan and The Advocacy of Veganism Society. The stated reasons included concerns about pervasive sexism in the abolitionist movement, and appropriation of the term “abolitionist” by vegans who don’t take anti-black oppression seriously.

I welcome this change, and have updated my links page accordingly. I’ve posted before that I personally prefer the term “liberationist” to “abolitionist,” not only for the above reasons but because it is more positive-sounding. Some have stated that “liberationist” does not imply a moral imperative to be vegan and to not use non-human animals for any purpose. I’d counter that “abolitionist” doesn’t immediately convey that philosophy either.

Regardless, Gary Francione has been desperately trying to protect his brand as “The” Abolitionist Approach, so these name changes should make him and his followers happy. They can keep their white boys club for themselves.

In more positive news: Black Vegans Rock will be launching on January 4. See this post for details on how black vegans can submit their work to be featured on this new site.

Time for mourning, time for action

Yesterday when I heard the news that another white police officer has gotten away with murdering a black person – a child in this case, Tamir Rice – I wanted to see if any local protests were planned. Despite having just posted about avoiding Facebook, I knew that’s where many people would be announcing action plans, so I started there.

I don’t know how to explain the psychological impact of being in mourning and seeing comments that black activists are racists and terrorists, that all lives matter and blue lives matter, and that those murdered were thugs who were asking for it and deserved their fates.

I don’t want to hear any opinions from white people right now, even those who consider themselves to be allies. Black Lives Matter is not about white people. It also isn’t about other people of color. Not all issues of racism are about “PoC,” even though anyone who doesn’t look white is a potential police target.

Black Lives Matter is about black people. All black people: Queer and straight. Trans and cis. Young and old. Disabled and able-bodied.

We need time for mourning and healing, but we also need action and celebration. We need Black Lives Matter protests, and we need Black Vegans Rock. White supremacy must be challenged and dismantled.

Facebook status

A couple of months ago I posted that I was unplugging from Facebook. At the time I was somewhat concerned that no one was visiting this blog if I didn’t post links to it from Facebook, but decided that was a fair trade-off for staying away from a seriously problematic platform (for all the reasons I mentioned in that post). But eventually I decided to compromise, and created a page for the sole purpose of linking to this blog, while ceasing to post to or from my personal page altogether.

Trying to stay away from Facebook wasn’t easy when I was constantly bombarded with e-mail notifications. While I chose to keep getting a select few, I had to unsubscribe from over twenty separate notifications of everything from upcoming birthdays to page maintenance “suggestions,” and I’ve had to turn some of these notifications off more than once:

Checkbook list of Facebook notifications[Image: Screenshot with the header of “Notifications you’ve turned off” and a list of 21 separate notifications, with a “Turn On” button next to each one.]

I’ve also removed myself as co-admin of several pages and groups, notifying the other admins that I’m restricting my Facebook moderation duties to pages where I’m solely responsible for the content. I don’t want anyone to assume I’ve endorsed a post or action taken by another admin.

I also really don’t like the limited moderation options for discussion threads. Holding comments for moderation, closing threads, and disabling comments altogether are really basic features, and the fact that Facebook refuses to support them is worrisome. The best one can do on a personal page is limit comments to people on one’s friendslist:Facebook comment settings for public posts[Image: Screenshot from Facebook showing a drop-down menu of who can comment on public posts: Everybody, Friends of Friends, or Friends.]

And on a public page, you can only choose to block people from posting altogether, or block specific words from appearing in comments:

Facebook page moderation - blocking keywords[Image: Screenshot from Facebook page moderation screen explaining how to add blocked keywords to “cut down on inappropriate content.”]

Some people have employed a workaround by entering a number of really common words into the filter, but this is kludgy and shouldn’t be required. Ironically, Facebook’s own Help Center has moderation features that are lacking on user-run pages:

Facebook Help Center discussion on group moderation[Image: Screenshot of a Facebook Help Center discussion thread on “How can I close a thread on a group page ?”]

I’m guessing that allowing more comments to remain publicly visible is in Facebook’s best interest, as that means more eyeballs on their ads. They might spin this policy decision as in the best interest of their users, to be more “engaged” with their friends and followers, but really it’s an economic decision. Fair enough; I don’t pay anything for using Facebook, and they aren’t obligated to include whatever features I demand.

But I’m not obligated to use Facebook either. And frankly, I’m probably contributing to the problem by not taking a firm stand and leaving that network altogether, permanently. I’ve seen a number of people announce, sometimes with great fanfare, that they are leaving Facebook, only to come back a few weeks or months later, which is awkward. This is why I said in my original post that I fully expected to return eventually.

Regardless, I realize that for some people, Facebook is a lifeline, and deleting their account isn’t a reasonable option. The same goes for people who are required to use Facebook for their jobs. This is one of the many reasons why the “real names” policy that’s gotten people unjustly locked out of their accounts is so harmful. Violet Blue has a good post on that subject.

Independent of all the Facebook policy problems, another reason I’m reluctant to post anything besides links to this blog is that I’ve seen a blatant disregard for privacy, with screenshots and extended quotes from private messages and closed and “secret” groups posted publicly on numerous occasions. This is not a Facebook-specific issue, and in some cases the publication was arguably justified. But at this point I honestly don’t know who to trust.

So for now, I’ll continue, reluctantly, with my limited use of Facebook to promote this blog. It’s an imperfect compromise, but that’s social networking for you.

Best of funcrunch 2015 – animal rights

[Image: The face of a steer, Brahma, partly superimposed over the face of the author, Pax.]

Following up on yesterday’s roundup of gender-related posts, here are this year’s entries that I consider to be the most important on the topics of speciesism, veganism, and animal rights. If you read nothing else, please read “Animals are people, not property,” which is the most significant explanation of my philosophy.

Note: Several of these posts mention my prior participation in Direct Action Everywhere events. Please see my statement on where I stand on DxE, which still holds true today. As stated in that post, I still do not wish to get involved in any pro- or anti-DxE discussions either on this blog or on social media.

Sistah Vegan Black Lives Matter conference posterWhite vegans need to check their privileges

On racism, particularly anti-black racism, in the “animal whites movement.”


Buster surrounded by friends at Preetirang SanctuaryAnimal rights, not vegan rights

On activism focusing on the needs of non-human animals, not vegans.



Brahma at PreetirangSugarcoating supremacy

On parallels between the lies taught about oppression of humans and oppression of animals.


Lisa loungingAnimals are people, not property

Important explanation of my animal rights philosophy.



Robot Hugs - Scale of harmStop ranking oppression

On racism, sexism, and other human oppression in the animal rights movement.



Kitchen knivesCulture of killing

Thoughts on pervasive, ongoing violence, from kitchens to battlefields.



Luv at PreetirangThe “natural” human diet

On why debating what is “natural” for humans to eat is a distraction.



Thanks to my readers for learning about animal rights with me this year. Here’s to a new year filled with more peace and life.

Best of funcrunch 2015 – gender

[Image: The left side of Pax’s face next to the words: Pax Ahimsa Gethen | queer • black • trans • vegan • atheist | blogger • photographer | gender & animal liberation | pronouns: they • them • their]

Since launching this web site six months ago, I have composed 103 blog entries. Here are the entries I consider to be most important on the topic of gender, regardless of how many hits or comments they received. For new visitors, reading these entries should give you good insights into my lived experience and philosophy.

If you read nothing else, please read “Don’t know much biology,” which I consider to be my single most important statement to date.

Kat Blaque shirt and mugAgender fashion, or lack thereof

Explaining why gender expression is not the same thing as gender identity or sexual orientation.


Bisexual contingent at San Francisco Pride ParadeBi, pan, queer, ?

On the bisexual vs pansexual debate, and  defining my own sexual orientation.



Pax - 18 month transitionTransgender vs transsexual

Explaining my distinction between gender identity and sex identity (which I later came to understand as “subconscious sex“).


Pax at Beat the Blerch half marathon. Photo by comerphotos.comAre we male yet?

On breasts, nipples, and what constitutes a “male body.”



Bee on flowerDon’t know much biology

On biological essentialism in dialogue about gender and sex. My most important blog entry to date.


Laverne Cox at Trans March San FranciscoWomen’s spaces are for women

On transmisogyny, trans-exclusionary radical feminism, and transmasculine intrusion into women’s spaces.


Restroom sign, alteredWe just need to pee

On the necessity of safe and equal restroom access for trans people. (Currently one of my most popular stories on Medium.)


Facebook signnup pageNonbinary erasure

On the need to include non-binary gender identities on forms. See also: Follow-up articles on MTV and Wikipedia. Wikimedia has also now added an “Other” gender option to their annual survey.

Thanks to my readers for learning about gender with me this year. Next up, I’ll post about my most important entries on the topics of veganism and animal rights.

The vegan white boys club continues

My foray into animal rights activism has really opened my eyes to the amount of injustice in the world. Rather than ranking the needs of non-human animals over those of humans, I have been as vocal about racism and sexism (including cissexism) as about speciesism. Unfortunately, many in the animal rights community don’t see the predominance of white male leaders as a problem, whether or not those leaders give lip service to intersectionality.

Recently, Ruby Hamad wrote about racist and sexist messaging by white male vegans, citing as examples Durian Rider, Gary Yourofsky, and Gary Francione. Francione responded with a lengthy, ego-ridden display of white fragility in which he was “astonished” to be lumped in with people like Rider and Yourofsky, and accused the writer of “lumping all men in the same group.” Francione accused Hamad of criticizing his views simply “because some white guy promotes [them].” He also discredited the work of black vegan feminist scholar Dr. A. Breeze Harper based on selected comments from one of her talks.

Here’s the thing. All men benefit from the patriarchy. All white people benefit from white supremacy. As I’ve written previously, saying “not all men” or “not all white people” assures the reader that the charge of racism or sexism is not being levied against them. But dismantling oppression is more important than protecting fragile white male egos. Rather than defensively respond to accusations with “I am not a racist/sexist,” the person accused ought to reflect on their privileges and carefully examine why their statements might be harmful to a member of an oppressed group. What is racist is not up to a white person to decide, and likewise with sexism and men.

Normally I would just ignore Francione (I wrote up a detailed account of my troubles with him previously), but I cannot ignore the deliberate suppression of vegan women of color like Dr. Harper who have done so much work to promote both animal and human liberation. And now Francione’s influence has extended to getting another vegan woman of color, Sarah K. Woodcock of The Abolitionist Vegan Society, removed from VegFest UK. Apparently Tim Barford, who battled publicly with Francione in the past, has now bought into “Frabolitionism,” and didn’t like that Woodcock has been critical of Francione. Nevermind her unwavering dedication to abolitionist vegan advocacy; the crime of being “rude” to a white man is apparently unforgivable.

White men aren’t going to let go of their power and influence in the vegan and animal rights movements without a fight. Choosing which battles are worth fighting is necessary to prevent burnout. I’m realizing the wisdom in Aph Ko’s plan for Black Vegans Rock: “Stop deconstructing white uncritical spaces, and start (re)constructing more black progressive spaces.” As this article promoting Black Vegans Rock states, veganism has a serious race problem. And white men are not the ones who are going to fix it.

Tag, you’re male

[Image: Pax, smiling and making a “V” sign with their fingers, approaches the finish line of a race on a rainy day at the San Francisco waterfront. Photo by Ziggy]

After spending much of the last two months sitting in front of the computer or TV in my apartment, I knew that I needed to move my body for the sake of my well-being. Several months ago my doctor actually wrote me a prescription, with my encouragement, to run at least twice a week, as running is the one activity that has consistently improved my physical and mental health. But I simply haven’t had the motivation to go outside and face the world.

I decided that signing up for a race would be a good incentive to run. I had my eye on the Kaiser Permanente Half Marathon that I’d run twice previously. This race features a flat, scenic course, and was normally held around the time of my birthday in early February. Due to the Super Bowl, this coming year it would be held a bit later, on Valentine’s Day. This would give me enough time to train up to the 13.1 mile distance.

Before committing to that race, however, I decided to run a 10K (6.2 miles) with the DSE Runners club, as the course was familiar to me and the starting line was only a mile from home. I didn’t get much sleep the night before, thanks to a rare night of socializing in honor of my partner Ziggy’s birthday, but I still managed to head out the door in plenty of time to sign up for the Sunday morning event.

And here came the awkward bit I’ve faced ever since beginning my transition. As with virtually all athletic events, competitors in DSE club races are separated into male and female. I actually have no problem identifying as male for this purpose, especially at this point in my transition; I’ve been on testosterone for nearly two years. It’s the assumptions that male is equivalent to “being a man” that I have an issue with.

Regardless, I’m still not consistently read as male, and yesterday was no exception. As I approached the registration desk, the volunteer had a white tag – indicating a male runner – in hand. But as I began signing the waiver and getting my cash for the race out, he switched to an orange tag – indicating a female runner. I said, in as even a tone as possible, “No, white tag.” He put the orange one down and handed me a white one. I thanked him, grabbed a safety pin to attach the tag to my clothing, and headed off to get ready for the race.

As misgenderings go, this went about as smoothly as I could hope for. No awkward, stammering apologies, just a swift correction. Wouldn’t it be great, I mused, if we could handle gender this way, with a colored tag that each person requests to identify themselves. No assumptions, no guessing, just a strip of paper that immediately shows the world who you are.

Pax race November 2013
[Image: Pax, early in transition, stands at the waterfront holding a green tag. Photo by Ziggy.]

Of course, male and female are not the only genders. My club does have a green tag for those who choose the “self-timer” option. I tried opting for this early in my transition so that I could run without specifying a gender, but found out that I could not cross the finish line or get an official finishing time that way. As the adrenaline rush from accelerating toward the finish line is the highlight of racing for me, I decided to stick with the white, “male” tag for future club races.

Despite getting the proper tag with minimal fuss, I couldn’t help but take an assessment of my presentation, as I do whenever I’m misgendered. I know it’s not my fault if I’m read incorrectly, but I’m curious what visual cues I’ve given off that cause people to assume I’m female. As seen in the photo at the top of this post, I was wearing an oversized purplish-blue rain jacket, white cap, long black pants, and a fanny pack. While not obvious in the photo, I hadn’t shaved that morning, so had a bit of stubble. My sideburns also came down below my ears.

Surveying the other runners, most of the men were wearing shorts, and most of the women were wearing leggings. (It was about 45 degrees and overcast outside at the start, for the record, with rain on the way.) Almost no one else was wearing a fanny pack, but I like to carry water with me even for a short race, and I don’t have a car to stash my keys and cell phone. (Some runners leave these in boxes at the registration desk, but I’m not that trusting.)

In any case, I crossed the finish line with my slowest time in three years for this race distance, thanks to my months of inactivity, but at least I finished the race. (I set a PR on this course exactly one year ago, so my fitness has taken a nosedive since then.) I’ve signed up for the half-marathon, and look forward to running it with Ziggy as a Valentine’s Day date.

Pax and Ziggy at Kaiser Half Marathon
[Image: Ziggy and Pax pose with their finishing medals at the 2015 Kaiser Permanente Half Marathon in San Francisco.]

Flying while trans

[Image: An egret, partially reflected in water, glides in for a landing.]

This time of year, many people travel by air to go on vacation and visit their families. I’ve never enjoyed traveling myself, and dislike flying in particular. My gender transition only exacerbated the nervousness I experience whenever I go to an airport. I’ve only flown once so far since changing my identification documents, and fortunately was not harassed or selected for additional screening.

But as today’s article in Everyday Feminism illustrates, many trans people are not so lucky. I’ve read countless stories about trans people setting off alarms for wearing binders or prostheses, and being outed and humiliated by TSA employees.

This situation is simply unacceptable. The burden should not be on trans people to disclose the configuration of our bodies and educate staffers who should already be receiving training on trans issues. This isn’t just a matter of “sensitivity” (as such training is often termed); outing trans people can put our health, jobs, and very lives at risk.

If we’re to reach a “transgender tipping point” that actually makes a difference in the lives of all trans people, as opposed to just celebrities on magazine covers, we need to address discrimination in all facets of life. That includes our transportation system.

Vegan resolutions and retention

[Image: Yam pudding dessert, served in orange halves.]

Two weeks from now, many people will resolve to begin a diet for the new year. Some will choose a plant-based diet, which they might refer to as vegan. While I’ve stressed continually that veganism is an ethical stance against violence, not a diet, the fact is that many see it as solely the latter.  Sadly, very few people at this point in history agree with the concept that animals are people, not property, a paradigm shift which I believe is the best way to ensure widespread adoption of veganism.

Regardless, some people who adopt a plant-based diet for health or weight loss reasons do go on to become ethical vegans. Additionally, eating a plant-based diet (for those who have the access to do so) is a necessary component of avoiding violence to animals. So I feel that anyone adopting a plant-based diet should be encouraged and supported, regardless of their motives.

Maintaining a plant-based diet is a greater challenge than starting one, but this is true of any significant lifestyle change. The Food Empowerment Project has a vegan retention project that includes sending out a monthly newsletter to keep new vegans on track. They’re not currently accepting new subscribers, but I have some insights of my own to share.

I believe one of the greatest obstacles to retention is ignorance:

  • Nutrition ignorance – Fueled by industry lobbyists who convince consumers that they need to eat animal products for good health.
  • Cooking ignorance – Fueled by fast-food companies and a capitalist economy that encourages everyone to eat on the go, so they can work more and buy more stuff.
  • Economic ignorance – Fueled by foodie companies that convince people they need to spend a lot of money on specialty products to maintain a plant-based lifestyle.

If we can address these concerns, we can move people beyond seeing a plant-based diet as a temporary, faddish, or elitist undertaking, and move toward making it a mainstream option. Repeatedly explaining to people that vegan and “gluten-free” are not equivalent or interchangeable concepts may make me want to bash my head into the wall, but it’s even more important for me to dispel the misconceptions and outright lies that hold people back from taking animal bodies and secretions off of their menus.

While I have no health credentials and cannot give advice for anyone’s specific nutritional needs, I can recommend some web sites that offer the kind of plant-based meals I prefer myself: Starch-centered, low-fat, oil-free. Many of these recipes are low-cost and contain relatively easy-to-find ingredients as well:

Here’s to a new year filled with life.

Cisgender definitions

Living as a trans person for the last two and a half years, I sometimes forget that much of society does not have any clue about the definitions I take for granted. I’ve been assuming that most regular readers of this blog understand that “cisgender” is a term that simply means “non-transgender.” It comes from the Latin prefix cis, meaning “on this side of,” as opposed to trans, meaning “on the other side of.” Cis people agree with the gender identification they were assigned at birth; trans people do not.

Cis is not a slur, though some trans people have used it as such, just as some people of color have used “whitey” as a slur. When an oppressed person uses such language, it is “punching up,” not “punching down,” and use of such language should be policed within the community, not by outsiders.

Some cis people have pushed back that they are simply “normal,” and that the term cisgender is politically correct. Some ask how we can expect our own identities to be respected when we force a label on them.

Here’s the thing: Cisgender is not a gender. When I say that someone is cisgender, I am not defining or labeling their gender identity. I am simply stating that they agree with the gender identity they were assigned at birth. They might not consider being a man/boy/male or being a woman/girl/female to be an identity because they’ve always lived with one of those labels without question, but cis people “self-identify” just as much as trans people do. They just aren’t questioned, mocked, or attacked for it. The same is true of preferred pronouns.

As far as cisgender people who consider themselves to be simply “normal” while transgender people are “abnormal,” the hope is that being trans will come to be considered just another human variation. More people are coming to accept varieties in sexual orientation, and you don’t hear a lot of pushback from folks being labeled “straight” or “heterosexual” nowadays (though I’m sure there are some who reject those terms). Acceptance of variation in gender identity is the next step.

There are, of course, other complications. Some people that Westerners often label as “third gender” do not use either transgender or cisgender as terms in their societies. Some non-binary people consider themselves to be neither cis nor trans. Some people are cissexual but transgender, or vice versa. Many trans people do not openly identify as trans, either for personal or safety reasons, or may reject the trans/cis dichotomy for other reasons. And some intersex people may also reject the cis label; activist Cary Gabriel Costello has suggested adopting the term “ipso gender” for certain cases.*

Regardless, I hope that the term “cisgender” (which was added to the Oxford English Dictionary this year) will come to be widely understood and part of everyday usage. Acknowledging gender diversity shouldn’t be seen as political correctness or oppressive. It’s simply treating people with respect.

* In the article Dr. Costello also writes, “I urge people to define someone as cis gender if they have a binary gender identity that matches the one expected for people born with the primary sex characteristics they had at birth (genitals, gonads, chromosomes).” I agree that this definition is more complete and accurate than the summary version I presented in this article (agreeing with the gender identification one was assigned at birth), but it needs to be understood in the context Costello was writing about (intersex discrimination and erasure).