Honor us in life and death

[Image: Montage featuring trans activist CeCe McDonald, ReclaimMLK marchers with a BlackTransLivesMatter slogan, and a poster for BlackTransLivesMatter Day of Action.]

I’m finalizing my presentation on “Welcoming gender diversity” for next month’s Intersectional Justice Conference, and a sad but necessary component of my talk is highlighting trans lives lost to violence. (The image at the top of this post shows a preview of the relevant slide from my presentation.) With over 20 murders of trans people – primarily women of color – in 2015, and at least four so far in 2016 (one just announced this weekend), staying safe amidst trans-antagonistic hostility is an ongoing challenge and priority.

While trans women and transfeminine people are the primary targets of trans-antagonism, transmasculine people like myself are also affected. This recent article by Mitch Kellaway explores the murders of trans men in the U.S. and abroad, and the cissexist news coverage that frequently misgenders the victims based on their body parts and/or legal status.

Intentionally misgendering a murder victim is an unforgivable insult. The affected person cannot even speak up for themselves as the press and unsympathetic friends and family members strip their authentic identity, referring to them by their birth-assigned name and gender, and even dressing them in clothes and hairstyles more appropriate to that mistaken gender for their funeral. This ongoing farce constitutes the ultimate erasure and statement of cisgender privilege.

What  are some things that cis allies can do to help?

  • Always refer to us with our stated names and pronouns. Unless otherwise stated, these are mandatory, not “preferred”.
  • Correct others who misgender and “deadname” us, even out of our earshot.
  • Call out people who make trans-antagonistic jokes about our bodies or appearances.
  • Support trans-focused organizations like the Transgender Law Center in working to simplify legal name and gender changes and counter discrimination against trans people in public facilities, the healthcare system, schools, and workplaces.

Don’t allow trans-antagonistic violence to continue unabated. Speak out against cissexism, and celebrate gender diversity.

Feminists, vegans, and vegetarians

[Image: Geeta, a goat at Preetirang Sanctuary.]

Last week, Everyday Feminism (a site I visit frequently and highly recommend) published a video by Celia Edell entitled “Does Feminism Require Vegetarianism or Veganism?” (A text transcript is included; I read the text rather than watching the video.) Based on the title and premise I wanted to respond immediately, but I waited for an important reason: I am not a woman, and it’s not up to me to decide who can call themselves a feminist.

Feminism strives for equality for all genders, but came about specifically to address women’s rights. It is inappropriate for members of the oppressing class – in this case, men – to tell the oppressed how they should behave or identify. Some would make allowances for trans men and transmasculine people like myself*, based on our lived experiences as women. But that same argument is used by TERFs to exclude trans women and transfeminine people from women’s spaces.

So I will not answer the direct question posed in the title, of whether feminism requires vegetarianism or veganism. I will instead point to vegan women who have addressed that question. Aph Ko wrote two essays for Everyday Feminism previously on vegan feminism and black veganism, and just today published an essay on understanding oppression which provides additional context. Charlotte Eure of Striving With Systems (another site I highly recommend) wrote a direct response to the EF piece this week. And yesterday, Vegan Feminist Network republished an essay on vegan feminism, with specific references to the work of Carol J. Adams, by Anna Varga. (Note: Aph Ko, Carol J. Adams, and I will all be speaking at the Intersectional Justice Conference, which starts one month from tomorrow.)

What I do want to address is the lumping together of vegetarianism and veganism. Seeing those two words together really irritates me because the writer is almost always implying two misconceptions:

  • Veganism and vegetarianism are both diets
  • The issue of harm boils down to “eating meat”

To the first misconception: Veganism is an ethical stance against violence. Eating a plant-based diet is a large and important part of veganism, but not the whole of it. I’ve watched with dismay as the word “vegan” has increasingly gone the way of the word “vegetarian”, the latter of which is sometimes used even by people who eat the flesh of fishes and birds. Sometimes I think fighting for the original, fuller meaning of “vegan” is a lost cause, but I feel compelled to point out misuse of the term regardless.

To the second: Consuming the milk and eggs of animals causes just as much harm as consuming their flesh, if not more so. Dairy cows are forcibly impregnated year after year, have their children taken away from them, and are slaughtered at a young age. Male chicks are routinely killed shortly after birth – by grinding, crushing, or gassing – in the course of egg production, and laying hens are also slaughtered at a young age. Dehorning, debeaking, and castration, all without anesthesia, are also standard procedures on so-called “humane” and organic farms, not just “factory” farms; Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary has the details.

Self-described ethical vegetarians really don’t like to hear these facts about their diets. I count myself among them, having wavered between a vegan and vegetarian diet for over 19 years before finally committing to living vegan. I’m going to keep telling the truth about farmed animals to stop people from claiming ignorance of the impact of their food choices, and I encourage other vegans to do the same.

If folks really don’t have a choice of what to eat – due to poverty or other circumstances – I won’t judge them for eating animal products. But too often the dire circumstances of others are used to excuse the personal habits of those who do have the privilege to choose plant-based meals. People who are truly concerned about increasing access to “vegan food” should consider supporting groups like Food Not Bombs and the Food Empowerment Project.

In conclusion: It’s not up to me to define feminism, but I do have a say when it comes to veganism. Veganism and vegetarianism are not interchangeable. From the perspective of the victims – our fellow animals who are exploited and slaughtered by the billions year after year – consuming dairy, eggs, or “meat” all cause avoidable harm. Even veganism is not “cruelty-free”, but living vegan is a significant and important step toward ending oppression.

* While I am agender, I transitioned to male for legal and medical purposes, so I also accept the label of transmasculine.

Trans storytelling with Bear and Scott

[Image: S. Bear Bergman speaks into a microphone.]

Last night I went to the Center for Sex and Culture in San Francisco to hear stories told by two trans men, S. Bear Bergman and Scott Turner Schofield. I’d been a fan of Bear’s since reading his book The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You when I was just starting my gender transition three years ago. I wasn’t familiar with Scott, but soon learned that last year he became the first openly trans actor to play a major role on daytime television (on The Bold and the Beautiful).

Bear and Scott speak[Image: S. Bear Bergman and Scott Turner Schofield perform on an indoor stage.]

S. Bear Bergman[Image: S. Bear Bergman speaks into a microphone.]

Reading Bear’s book really appealed to me because of his non-binary gender identity, though his current lived experience is that of a trans man, and he now uses he/him/his pronouns. He also wrote a great essay on raising a son with his husband, another trans man, and dealing with the overwhelmingly gendered nature of children’s products. Bear’s humor about Jewish family traditions, which was included in his stories last night, is also very appealing to me.

Scott Turner Schofield[Image: Scott Turner Schofield speaks into a microphone.]

Scott’s stories were also very funny and engaging, as well as poignant and personal. He was sweet and friendly when I asked him if it was OK for me to take photos. And now I can say that I’ve hugged a soap opera star 😉

Here’s a TED Talk Scott gave about sex, gender, and sexuality. I love where he points out that cisgender people aren’t “normal”, just “common”.

I was glad that this performance benefited the Center for Sex and Culture, which was in danger of closing and is dealing with a rent increase. I’ve been there several times for Perverts Put Out erotic readings; while nowadays I prefer my erotica in private, the next reading is this Saturday for any locals who are interested. I’ve met Dr. Carol Queen and Greta Christina there (Greta is on my links page); they are both highly talented writers and speakers. horehound stillpoint is another amazing performer who will be at the reading; worth checking out.

I’ve posted my full set of photos from last night to Flickr. Please credit me as Pax Ahimsa Gethen if you use any of them, thanks!

South Dakota’s fixation with children’s penises

Yesterday, a bill discriminating against transgender children passed the South Dakota state senate. Of course, the bill didn’t mention trans people specifically. It simply stated that use of school restrooms and locker rooms is limited to people of the same “biological sex… as determined by a person’s chromosomes and anatomy as identified at birth.”

As I’ve pointed out before, chromosomes are not routinely tested at birth, and the appearance of our “anatomy” when we are born has little to do with our appearance later in life. Regardless, what this bill comes down to is what I stated in the title. The people supporting this bill really don’t want anyone with a penis to be in a girls’ restroom. The idea that these adults are even thinking about children’s penises should be seriously disturbing to anyone who cares about safety, privacy, and autonomy.

The bill is awaiting the signature of the governor, who has apparently claimed he’s never met a trans person and doesn’t want to, in order to not influence his decision. Because of course, the people who are actually negatively impacted by this legislation – the girls and women who are bullied, beaten, and killed for attempting to live their authentic lives – don’t count.

Transmasculine people like myself are harmed  by trans-antagonistic legislation too, of course. I still fear using men’s rooms, over two years into my transition, and seek out gender-neutral accommodations whenever possible. But I am not generally seen as a threat.

It’s trans women who conservatives and TERFs are convinced are men posing as women in order to spy on, sexually harass, and rape cis women. They have presented no actual evidence of this harassment happening, but continue to promote these hateful lies, which they are projecting onto children as well as adults.

Cis allies sometimes ask what they can do to help trans people. Here’s something you can do. Speak out against trans-antagonistic restroom bills, loudly. If your school or workplace has gendered single-occupancy restrooms, lobby to make them gender-neutral. Call out anyone making jokes about  a trans person’s appearance or “anatomy”.

We need to stop this fixation on the genitals of strangers. We just need to pee.

Music, food, and love at Omni Commons

[Image: Ayr sings and plays acoustic guitar on stage at Omni Commons. A drummer plays in the background.]

On Saturday I attended a fundraiser for Omni Commons, a community center in Oakland that hosts numerous Bay Area collectives, including Food Not Bombs. My friend Saryta, whose book about animal liberation I wrote about recently, volunteers for FNB, and helped organize this event.

Saryta and Arthur at Omni Commons[Image: Saryta and Arthur, two of the organizers of the Omni Commons Love Party.]

The event featured an open mic and several musical performances. I would have loved to stay and watch all of them, but my partner Ziggy and I had to get up early the next morning for a race, so I only caught the open mic and the first three acts: Ayr (pictured at the top of this post), Beet the System, and The Bogues.

Beet the System at Omni Commons[Image: A guitarist, keyboard player, and drummer from Beet the System perform on an indoor stage.]

Beet the System at Omni Commons[Image: A member of Beet the System sings and plays ukelele on an indoor stage.]

The Bogues featured a particularly eclectic group of instruments, including accordion, violin, and autoharp. They really got the crowd dancing.

The Bogues at Omni Commons[Image: Members of The Bogues play banjo and percussion on an indoor stage.]

Food Not Bombs provided an impressive vegan buffet. When I mentioned that I was running a half marathon the next morning, they loaded up my plate with an embarrassing amount of food.

Vegan food plate[Image: A plate overloaded with beans, grains, vegetables, and fruit.]

Between that meal, Saryta’s home-baked cookies and cupcakes, and the sumptuous Valentine’s Day dinner I had at my friend Phil Gelb’s underground vegan restaurant the following evening, I probably ate two full marathons’ worth of calories. I have no regrets.

I’ve posted my full set of photos from Omni Commons to Flickr. Please credit me as Pax Ahimsa Gethen if you use any of them, thanks!

Sharing concert photography

[Image: George Porter Jr. singing and playing electric bass on an indoor stage.]

As anyone visiting my Funcrunch Photo web site might guess, concert photography is my specialty. I haven’t done much of it lately, but from 2008-2012 I photographed a large number of musicians. Now that I’ve given up trying to make an actual living at photography, I’m making more of my older photos available to Wikimedia under a Creative Commons license, for free sharing with attribution.

Rather than just uploading my files indiscriminately, I’m looking for artists I have good photos of who have Wikipedia pages that need (more) images. I took the top photo of George Porter, Jr. (performing with the Funky Meters) at the Blue Bear School of Music’s annual benefit concert in San Francisco. I was the (semi-)official photographer for Blue Bear for several years, and got to see a number of great acts.

Booker T. Jones[Image: Booker T. Jones playing keyboard on an outdoor stage.]

Joe Louis Walker[Image: Joe Louis Walker playing electric guitar on an outdoor stage.]

I shot the above two images, of Booker T. (performing with the MG’s) and Joe Louis Walker, at the Petaluma Wine, Jazz, and Blues Festival in 2009. I was just an audience member for this concert, not there in any official capacity, and it was literally 100 degrees out, but I still had a good time watching and photographing the musicians.

You might notice that all of the images in this post are of black folks; that’s no accident. I’ve taken plenty of photos of white musicians, several of which I’ve uploaded to Wikipedia as well. But I’d like to increase quality coverage of people of color on that platform, as well as everywhere else.

Speaking of black musicians, I’m aware of the current hubbub surrounding Beyoncé, but for self-care reasons I’m choosing not to contribute to the discussion right now. For one black activist’s perspective on her video and Super Bowl performance, I recommend checking out today’s Maris Jones essay in Black Girl Dangerous.

So back to photography: I’d like to shoot more concerts and other events, but my equipment is aging and needs replacement. I could really use more funds to support my work. If you have the financial means, please consider supporting me on Patreon or leaving me a tip.  Any amount is greatly appreciated!

Chocolate: No labor of love

[Image: A chocolate rhinoceros from Chocolate Decadence, currently a recommended company on the FEP Chocolate List.]

This Valentine’s Day, many vegans will enjoy what they might think is “cruelty-free” chocolate: Made without milk or other animal products. Unfortunately, much of the cocoa used to make chocolate treats is the product of child labor, and, in some cases, slavery. This applies even to some chocolate that is labeled “Fair Trade.”  The Food Empowerment Project has detailed information on this tragic situation.

The FEP has created a chocolate list that recommends companies whose cocoa does not come from slave labor. The list includes only vegan chocolates (containing no animal products). The research on these companies is ongoing, and the list is continually updated. It is available for iOS and Android as well as on the web. I highly encourage everyone to review it before your next shopping trip.

Some vegans might be resistant to adding one more product to the “not allowed” list. Here’s the thing: Chocolate is a treat. Avoiding chocolate does not put an unfair economic or health burden on anyone. Turning down a treat is, at most, a social inconvenience.

The question here shouldn’t be whether slavery-made chocolate should be considered “vegan” or not. Lots of products we use in our daily lives, including cell phones, come from oppressive working conditions. If we were to only grant the title of “vegan” to those who lived a truly cruelty-free lifestyle, likely none of us would earn that designation.

We should strive to cause the least possible harm simply because that’s the right thing to do, not because we’re vegans. What does it say to young African children if we are willing to enjoy momentary taste pleasure from their involuntary servitude, but balk at eating the same treats if they were made from the forced labor of cows? For US-Americans, does our distance from the African continent – or, dare I say it, difference in skin color – influence our choices here?

The Food Empowerment Project has a saying: “Eat Your Ethics.” No amount of taste pleasure can justify child slavery. Please review the chocolate list before your next shopping trip.

Saryta Rodriguez: Until Every Animal Is Free

[Image: Left: Saryta at Souley Vegan restaurant, standing in front of a poster of Louis Armstrong while holding her book, Until Every Animal is Free. Right: Saryta pets Brahma, a bull at PreetiRang Sanctuary.]

Black and white headshot of Saryta, by Sophie Jane Stafford.[Image: Black and white headshot of Saryta, by Sophie Jane Stafford.]

Recently I had the pleasure of reading a wonderful book about animal liberation, Until Every Animal Is Free, written by my friend Saryta Rodriguez. Saryta and I met when we were both active with Direct Action Everywhere (though neither of us is currently) and their affinity group, Animal Liberationists of Color. During that time, she edited the three blog posts I wrote for The Liberationist.

Through both personal stories and well-cited research, Saryta’s book makes a solid case for veganism and animal rights activism. While I needed no convincing on those fronts, I learned new facts and perspectives that will be helpful in my own activist work. Her web site contains additional helpful resources and information that didn’t make it into the book.

I asked Saryta if I could send her some interview questions over e-mail, focusing on topics that were not directly covered in her book. For example, Saryta is agender; like me, she doesn’t associate that identity with a stereotypical “androgynous” gender expression. Saryta answered my questions with great enthusiasm; I’ve included her full responses below, interspersed with photos from our recent visit (along with my partner Ziggy) to PreetiRang Sanctuary. (The full set of photos is available on Flickr.)

As a fellow agender person, does having a non-binary gender identity give you any insights into the human/non-human binary that is often used to justify the exploitation of animals?

Ever since I was a child, long before I understood my gender identity and even longer before I went vegan, I always thought it was strange for us to draw such a divide between humans and nonhumans. I’ve often been accused of being overly literal— of zeroing in on the slightest nuance of a given word or phrase, of insisting on precision in language and communication. (My partner finds this very annoying.) I remember learning when I was maybe eight or nine years old of the classical scientific kingdoms: Animalia, Plantae, Fungi, Protista, Archaea and Bacteria. Humans, like pigs, cows, and chickens, exist squarely in the Animalia kingdom. We do not have our own kingdom. Period.

So in a very literal sense, leaving aside the spiritual and the emotional for a moment, humans are animals. To me, it really is that simple.

Geeta and Ziggy at PreetiRang Sanctuary[Image: Close-up of Ziggy smiling at Geeta, a goat at PreetiRang Sanctuary.]

With respect to binary systems in general, I feel that they are all alike in that they serve to otherize those who are in some way deviant from the norm, so as to make their exploitation more palatable. One thing I also remember learning around 8 or 9 years of age is that “Women have XX chromosomes” and “Men have XY chromosomes.” This was how sex, with which many conflate gender, was first defined to me. Two options—XX or XY. Nothing in between.

I later learned, of course, that this is far from the case. For starters, many individuals have genetic makeups that are neither XX nor XY. Furthermore, even among those with XX or XY, there are other differences that affect their sex and in some cases, their gender identity. Exposure to hormones such as androgen in the womb is one example, but there are others. Even with respect to genitalia, to summarize that “Men have penises” and “Women have vaginas” is misleading, because it suggests that every human being on the planet was born with either a penis or a vagina, when some are born with parts of both.

I do see a clear parallel between this and the many ways in which humans otherize nonhumans— everything from “We have thumbs and they don’t,” which is immediately disproven by nonhuman primates, to “We have art and culture and all these high-brow elements to our society that nonhumans don’t,” which is challenged by the bowerbird, among others.

(The males in this species erect bowers, not to live in or for any other practical purpose, but strictly to appeal to the aesthetic sense of females. Possession of an aesthetic sense— the ability to discern between what is “beautiful” and what is “ugly”— has long been heralded as a distinctly human characteristic.)

Bertha at PreetiRang Sanctuary[Image: Bertha, a colorful rooster at PreetiRang Sanctuary. White hens are in the background.]

Ultimately, such distinctions serve the purpose of legitimizing violence and exploitation, as if we can convince ourselves that someone is “not like us” in ways that we find meaningful— such as our cognitive abilities and our abilities to experience pain and fear—then we needn’t concern ourselves with their wellbeing in the same manner as we concern ourselves with our own wellbeing. We can tell ourselves that the suffering we cause others is not really suffering, because no one else is capable of truly suffering— because that is unique to us.

While the connection to violence and exploitation may not seem immediately apparent between nonhuman animals and agendered persons (I admit I have been very fortunate to have never faced either due to my gender identity), a more obvious connection perhaps is with respect to invisibility. Just as many contend that the perspective of nonhumans need not be considered because they don’t exist precisely as we do, so too are agendered individuals often told— either directly (by an individual in our lives) or systemically (by the media, our employers, and so forth)— that we “do not exist.” That there’s “no such thing” as the very thing that we are. This I have been told, many times, as well as when I first admitted to a friend that I was pansexual. She insisted that I was either a straight person going through a phase or a lesbian in denial. She was incapable of acknowledging any in-between, and while at the time I felt differently, today I can hardly blame her. I’m probably the first and may still be the only pansexual she’s ever met, and this wasn’t something people talked about back then, like they do now. When I was in high school kids rarely even came out as gay or lesbian, and no one that I’m aware of ever came out as anything else.

By rendering members of our society invisible, be they outside of the gender binary or simply one of the many forms of animal that is not human, we do them and ourselves a disservice. We not only commit injustice upon injustice against them, but we also shortchange ourselves from the benefit of their experiences. We miss out on an opportunity to learn from those with whom we share the planet. We stunt our own evolutionary development— remain mired in archaic modes of thinking and acting.

As a pansexual person, have you experienced or witnessed heterosexist oppression or micro-aggressions from other animal rights activists?

Have I ever! Although I have to say, I have more experience witnessing sexism more generally— cis-male domination— than heterosexism specifically, which I understand to refer to domination by straight people. But one form of microaggression I have witnessed as a pansexual, agender person of color over and over again is tokenization. I have seen, over and over again, animal rights organizations herald this or that activist as a tremendous asset to their work…When it’s convenient to do so. But should the same activist voice concern that racism, sexism, heterosexism or any other nasty –ism is slowly infecting the network, that activist is hung out to dry. If not kicked out directly, they may be given fewer tasks to complete. They may find that initiatives they spearheaded— including ones they conceived of themselves, without which they would not be happening at all— are handed over, without any explanation, to someone who in some way better fits societal norms (i.e. taking something from a POC and giving it to a white person, taking something from an agender person and giving it to a man or a woman). They are featured less and less in videos, blogs or other forms of media after speaking up about these behaviors.

Saryta and Chester at PreetiRang Sanctuary[Image: Saryta feeds carrots to Chester, a bull at PreetiRang Sanctuary.]

A common response in AR circles to problems of this type can be summed up as: “Animals, though.” This is the notion that we vegans must promptly sweep aside any issue that might sow division in our ranks— including various oppressions that affect humans— in order to keep fighting the good fight for our nonhuman brethren. This is not only unjust towards human activists but also ultimately hurts nonhuman animals as people outside of the movement peek in and think, “Wow, AR folk have some serious issues; I wouldn’t want to touch that with a ten-foot pole!”

Imagine how a person of color who is thinking about going vegan feels when they hear that some of the most outspoken, well-known animal rights groups in the country have developed a reputation for ignoring the concerns of their POC members, and/or have unapologetically run campaigns that are culturally insensitive. How likely are they to make this oh-so-difficult lifelong commitment when they suspect that this will be the company they’re keeping?

Have you felt pressure to hide or downplay your gender identity or sexual orientation when doing activism?

Only as much as I do in any other setting (haha). The truth is I don’t know if it’s fair to say I felt pressured, as this implies that the pressure was coming from outside of myself— like I was afraid something bad would happen to me if I mentioned who I was. It’s really more like, I pressure myself to avoid talking about myself when I do activism (and in most other scenarios, interviews obviously notwithstanding), and keep the focus on the issue I’m trying to address. I don’t want to get roped into conversations about myself when I’m trying to shed light on the oppression of someone else. I only really talk about being agender when involved in some sort of gender-related activism, and I don’t do as much of that as I should.

With respect to my sexuality, I only ever tell people who ask. This might be a result of what happened that first time I told someone about it, and perhaps that is society’s stigma leaking into my consciousness— a latent fear of being told yet again that I “do not exist,” that there’s “no such thing” as me. But moreso than any subconscious wounds I may be hauling around, I think at bottom, the whole notion that anyone should have to “come out” to anyone else as anything sexual is offensive. Straight men, for instance, are never expected to sit down with their parents and say, “Mom, Dad, I think I’m going to have sex with women for the rest of my life.” So why should a gay man have to declare to his parents that he will sleep with men, and why should I have to tell my parents that I sleep with folks independent of their gender? It’s just none of their business. If either of them were to ever ask me, I’d tell them the truth; but, knowing my parents, I sincerely doubt that will ever happen.

As a person who has also dealt with serious depression, how do you balance activism with self-care?

It took me a long time to get the hang of this, and I still struggle with it from time to time. One thing I’ve come to accept and embrace about myself is that the form or style of activism that comes most naturally to me is writing— which, luckily for me, can be done from the comfort of my own home. I do occasionally force myself to step outside of the box, but now I’m more careful than I used to be about over-committing, and I’m always honest with the people I work with about what my availability is. I’ve come to see “self-care” as being “unavailable,” whereas before it seemed selfish to turn down an opportunity to change minds and save lives to read a book or watch TV. I know that I am only human, and my brain and body need time to rest. So I now put “needing time to rest (mentally, physically and/or emotionally)” in the same category as I always have “having another commitment at that time” or “being really, really sick.” I’ve learned to say so, too; I used to be too embarrassed to admit when I had these needs, and would use those other examples— prior commitment, illness— as excuses when they weren’t really true. I’ve always felt guilty about that, being patently and unequivocally anti-lying. I’d lie awake at night, tossing and turning, wracked with guilt over having told someone I had the flu when really I was just exhausted, or had had a big fight with a lover or relative and was too sad to go anywhere.

I also firmly believe that part of being a good social justice advocate, whatever your cause or causes of choice may be, is being well-rounded and having a broad understanding of society. This means keeping up with things like theater, visual art, movies and, yes, even TV. You can’t expect to reach people if you exist in a vacuum, surrounding yourself only with people exactly like you, who behave as you do and think as you do already. You won’t make any significant changes that way. So I’ve come to appreciate that even when I’m doing things that might appear selfish or insignificant, like going to see a musical, it still has the potential to positively inform my activism. Often, much to my surprise, I’ve even found my causes of choice represented directly in the play or musical or movie I’ve gone to see, and it has inspired me directly to write or talk about the issue, rather than just passively informing my understanding of humanity.

Chester at PreetiRang Sanctuary[Image: Chester, a bull at PreetiRang Sanctuary.]

Finally, I’ve learned not to draw a connection between my position within a particular group or organization and my sense of self-worth. As a kid, I was super competitive. I got ridiculously good grades, so much so that once, I’m embarrassed to admit, I actually cried because I got a 98 on a test on which I thought I’d received 100. I was also a concert violinist, and even though I got a later start than the other kids in my orchestra (most of them started around age four; I didn’t start until I was ten), and despite not having my own private instructor (as many of the others did; I had one for a couple of weeks, but couldn’t afford to keep seeing her), I quickly rose to first chair. Throughout middle school and high school, I only lost that position once— when I had the flu on Audition Day. (You really don’t want to know how hard I cried when that happened.) So for a long time I associated my worth with how highly I appeared to be valued by whatever institution I was a part of at that time. If the institution didn’t value me, didn’t praise me, didn’t award me anything, then I must be a failure, a nobody.

I can’t tell you what a tremendous relief it has been to me to no longer live under such strain— to be able to objectively evaluate my own individual actions, achievements, talents, etc., without formal acknowledgement from any institution or individual.

As a Hispanic person, are there any misconceptions about your ethnicity that you’d particularly like to dispel?

Well, I guess there’s one that’s actually so widespread that, even as a Hispanic myself, I believed it until just a couple of years ago— the notion that all Hispanic people eat tons of meat. While my own family is very carnivorous, and I ate an absurd amount of meat growing up, this is not universally true of the Hispanic and/or Latinx communities. My friend Chema Hernandez Gil gave a great talk at the premiere People’s Harvest Forum in San Francisco, which I helped to organize with Millahcayotl, about how his family in Mexico ate a vegetarian diet throughout his youth (the Seventies, I believe). I have also learned more through him and others about the Three Sisters Diet— squash, corn, and beans— and how even gluten, which I thought people avoided mostly for health reasons, is actually a result of imperialism, as Mexico and other countries used primarily corn to make tortillas and other bread-like products until white settlers brought wheat over from Europe. Not to get too sidetracked here, but I was surprised to learn that there were ethical or political reasons not to eat gluten, in addition to health reasons like Celiac Disease.

So to think that Hispanic people just won’t ever go vegan really doesn’t make any sense. If Americans, who consume on average about 270 lbs. of meat per year— more meat per person than almost any other country in the world— can still be persuaded to go vegan, so can Hispanic people. And beyond merely going vegan, there are even organizations run by Hispanic and Latinx people promoting veganism, providing resources for everything from “Why Vegan?” to tips on vegan Mexican cooking, such as Food Empowerment Project. So my people do not merely form a minority of members within the Animal Liberation Movement— some of them are leading it.

On your web site you’ve posted a bonus chapter and other essays since the publication of your book. Are there any other recent developments or upcoming projects you’d like to talk about?

Yes, I’d be happy to! So aside from still trying to conceptualize and book events around my first book, I’ve also started a second, which will be a compilation of essays regarding food sovereignty, through a vegan praxis. I can’t share too much about it now except that I’ve got some really great contributors on board already (and I’m hoping you, Pax, can be counted among them!), and that to the best of my knowledge nothing quite like this has been done yet. I’ve enjoyed working on my contributions so far and am really excited to gather the perspectives and insights of the many talented people who have agreed to work with me on this. I expect to learn a lot!

Saryta, Pax, and Brahma at PreetiRang Sanctuary[Image: Saryta and Pax pet Brahma, a bull at PreetiRang Sanctuary. Photo by Ziggy.]

My birthday wish (with bonus recipe)

[Image: A smiling stuffed toy banana slug wearing a button reading “100% SLUG”, next to a muffin on a plate.]

I turn 46 years old this month. I’ve removed the exact date from social media, not for privacy reasons, but because I’m not interested in getting a bunch of messages from people I only hear from once a year at Facebook’s prompting.* I understand that other people really enjoy those birthday messages, but it’s not for me, though I do appreciate sincere birthday wishes from friends.

I have special plans for the day (which I’ll write about afterward), but I also have a request to make of my readers. My primary audiences appear to be 1) vegans and animal rights activists, and 2) members of the LGBTQIA+ community and our allies. As a queer vegan, I would like to see more overlap between these groups.

If you are vegan, please take some time this month to educate yourself about trans, non-binary, and intersex people, using materials produced by people in those communities. My links page has a number of resources where you can get started.** Even if you yourself are trans, non-binary, and/or intersex, I guarantee you have more to learn from others who don’t share your specific identity or life experience. I know I’m always learning myself.

If you are a member or ally of the LGBTQIA+ community and not vegan, please take some time this month to educate yourself about farmed animals. While my links page has a number of resources, the one I specifically want to point to is Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary. The caretakers there treat animals as the individual persons that they are, and do a great job of debunking “humane” farming myths.

I would be remiss not to mention that this is also Black History Month. I can’t help but be a wee bit cynical about that given all the negative reactions to Black Lives Matter protests, and “colorblind” tone policing on social media lately. If you want to help black folks like me make some history of our own, check out Black Vegans Rock.

So that you’ll have something to munch on while you’re reading, here’s an original muffin recipe, as pictured at the top of this post. In addition to being vegan, it contains no sugar, salt, oil, or gluten.***

PB Banana Slugmuffins
(no slugs were intentionally harmed to make these muffins)

3 large ripe bananas
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
6 tablespoons water
1/2 cup peanut butter (peanuts only; no added salt or other ingredients)
1 3/4 cup oat flour (old-fashioned rolled oats ground in a blender)
6 Medjool dates, pitted and chopped
1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk (or other nondairy milk)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Put the dates and almond milk in a blender, and set aside to soak for a few minutes.
3. Whisk the flaxseed and the water, and set aside to stand for a few minutes to thicken.
4. In a large mixing bowl, mash bananas, then add peanut butter and flaxseed mixture and mix thoroughly.
5. Puree dates and almond milk in blender, then add date puree and vanilla to bowl and mix thoroughly.
6. In a medium bowl, whisk oat flour, baking soda, and baking powder.
7. Add flour mixture to other ingredients and stir until just combined.
8. Fill nonstick muffin cups (I use silicone) with batter, 3/4 full.
9. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

* I no longer post, comment, or “like” from my personal Facebook profile anyway, for reasons I’ve mentioned previously.

** The only cisgender authors currently in my “Trans/non-binary” and “Sexism / Racism / LGBTQIA / General” links sections are Ursula K. Le Guin, Greta Christina, and some of the contributors to Everyday Feminism.

*** While this recipe uses oat flour, gluten-free has nothing to do with veganism; I eat wheat and other glutenous grains all the time. Make sure to use certified gluten-free oats if you have celiac disease.