Embracing our legacy at the Trans March

[Image: The musical group Caveta Envinada and a sign language interpreter perform on stage at the San Francisco Trans March, June 2016.]

On Friday, I attended the San Francisco Trans March for the third consecutive year. I’ve come to prefer this volunteer-run, safe and sober event to other activities on Pride Weekend, which here in SF have become opportunities for corporate pinkwashing and for straight tourists to drink copious amounts of alcohol while gawking at us.

As I did last year, I decided to concentrate my photography solely on the stage performances before the actual march. I visited the information booth upon arrival at Dolores Park to ask for a list of speakers and performers. They responded by offering me a press pass! I said I was an independent blogger, not really a member of the press, but accepted. (They mostly wanted to make sure journalists didn’t take photos of any attendees without their consent; this reminder was printed on the reverse of the press pass itself.)

Pax with press pass[Image: Pax shows off their Trans March press pass. Photo by Ziggy.]

The MCs from the event were familiar to me, as I had photographed two of them before at the Transgender Day of Visibility: Shawn Demmons of the Transgender Law Center, and Nya of the reality show Transcendent. Karlyn “Fairy Butch” Lotney rounded out the trio.

Trans March MCs[Image: Shawn Demmons, Nya, and Karlyn Lotney MC the Trans March.]

The program included a number of musicians,including two young trans girls: Emmie, who also sang last year, and Alicia N.G., who also read a poem she wrote. I teared up while she sang “Where Is Love?” from Oliver, mostly because I was sad that such a young child has to deal with so much hate against people like her, as she expressed in her poetry.

Alicia N.G. at the Trans March[Image: Alicia N.G. sings at the Trans March.]

Other musical performers included Agatha Varshenka, only the lonely, Nick Lawrence, Cajeta Envinada (pictured at the top of this post), Akira Jackson, and AH MER AH SU, aka Star Amerasu (who I had also photographed at Black Queer Voices Rising).

only the lonely at Trans March[Image: A singer/guitarist from only the lonely performs at the Trans March.]

Nick Lawrence at the Trans March[Image: Nick Lawrence sings at the Trans March, accompanied by guitar and harmonica players.]

AH MER AH SU at the Trans March[Image: AH MER AH SU sings at the Trans March.]

Speakers included Mia “Tu Mutch” Satya, who I had also photographed at the Trans Day of Visibility, and Janetta Johnson of the TGI Justice Project. Johnson made headlines by pulling out of today’s Pride Parade as a protest against the increased police presence, which is threatening to black and brown folks. She was accompanied on stage by members of El/La Para TransLatinas, who I’d also photographed at the Transform California launch event and the LGBTQ/Latinx memorial for Orlando.

Janetta Johnson at Trans March[Image: Janetta Johnson speaks at the Trans March, accompanied by members of El/La Para TransLatinas.]

Theresa Sparks at the Trans March[Image: Theresa Sparks speaks at the Trans March.]

As happened at the vigil for Orlando in the Castro, controversy erupted when elected officials attempted to speak. Theresa Sparks, Mayor Ed Lee’s newly-appointed advisor on transgender initiatives, spoke (uninterrupted) and then introduced state senator Mark Leno. But attendees spotted Lee and Supervisor Scott Wiener on the side of the stage, and began booing loudly. Leno soon realized that the crowd didn’t want any of them there, and made a reasonably classy exit, saying “Though this has not been a warm welcome or one of respect, I will continue to fight for transgender rights, equality, and the respect that you’re not giving us today.” The politicians then exited to a chant of “House keys, not handcuffs,” referring to gentrification and police harassment of homeless and other marginalized folks in San Francisco.

From my reading of the various news articles* and comments on the event, the ire was directed almost entirely at Lee and Wiener, not Leno. However, though Leno is gay (as is Wiener) and has indeed fought for trans rights, he, like Wiener, is a cisgender white man, and cis white gay men are much more well-represented than others in the LGBT community, especially here in San Francisco. Rubbing elbows with disliked local politicians was not looked upon kindly by this crowd.

As an aside, the amount of vitriol I’ve seen expressed at Mayor Lee and Supervisor Wiener makes me wonder how they got elected in the first place, similar to how Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump could have become the presumptive nominees of their respective parties if they are so greatly disliked. Money-influenced corruption is part of why though I do still vote, I do not support the Democratic Party at either the local or national level.

As explained in the Trans March press release, this year’s theme, “Embracing Our Legacy: We Are Still Here,” honors our black and brown ancestors in the movement. The march ended at Turk and Taylor in the Tenderloin district, at the site of the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot. There, a new street sign was unveiled, renaming the 100 block of Taylor Street to Gene Compton’s Cafeteria Way. (I was too tired to take any more photos at that point, unfortunately.)

I was glad to attend this event, and especially happy that Ziggy was able to take a long dinner break to join me for part of it. I also met up with several other trans and non-binary folks for the march and dinner afterward. There were some problems—the sound quality was terrible, and my official Trans March tank top didn’t arrive in time—but overall, it was a positive experience.

My full set of photos from the Trans March is available on Flickr. I also uploaded a number of photos to Wikimedia Commons, to support the annual Wiki Loves Pride campaign to improve LGBT coverage on Wikipedia. Please credit me as Pax Ahimsa Gethen if you use any of them, thanks!

* News coverage included KRON, KTVU, Mission Local, and SFist.

Animal liberation begins at home

[Image: Side-by-side close-ups of the faces of a chicken and a dog. Underneath is the phrase “People, not property.”]

Content note: Violent anti-Chinese racism.

Every year during the Lychee and Dog Meat Festival in Yulin, Guangxi, China, the same predictable racist and speciesist comments flourish on social media. This year is no exception:

Chinese so barbaric[Image: Screenshot of a comment reading “What makes the Chinese so barbaric. Why can’t they eat chicken and rice. They are miserable bastards that should rot in hell. I would love to see those people tortured and killed and then feed their flesh to all those starving dogs.”]

Barbaric dog meat trade[Image: Screenshot of a comment reading “This Yulin barbaric dog meat trade is beyond a nigthmare, horrific. I hope all those responsible die.”]

Scumbag goblins[Image: Screenshot of a comment reading “I loathe those scumbags, they’re not even “people” but forevermore goblins.”]

Chinese eating themselves[Image: Screenshot of a comment reading “The Chinese should start eating themself……..many problems solved!!”]

I’ll keep my responses brief.

Non-vegans who are criticizing this festival: What Western farmers do to chickens, cows, pigs, and other animals is absolutely no different from what some Chinese people do to dogs. Even on so-called “humane” and free-range farms, our fellow animals are separated from their families, subjected to painful procedures, suffer from numerous ailments as a result of being bred for rapid growth, and are slaughtered at a young age. This includes laying hens and dairy cows, so lacto-ovo vegetarians are not exempt from participation in this violent system. The Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary has literature exposing the truth about animal agriculture in the USA.

Western vegans who are criticizing this festival: Stick to your own backyard. There are many vegans and animal rights activists in China who can protest dog slaughter without colonialist intervention. Call out racism and speciesism if you see comments like the ones in the above screenshots. Emphasize that all of our fellow animals—not just cute, cuddly, or “intelligent” individuals—are people, not property.

Animal liberation begins—and belongs—at home. Please go vegan, and do your part to help end speciesism, racism, and xenophobia.

LGBTQ vegans on the Orlando massacre

[Image: Activists in the Castro, San Francisco, hold three rainbow flags aloft. One includes the stars of the United States flag, and another includes the words “We Have One Pulse.”]

Last week I was contacted by Richard Bowie of VegNews magazine for my thoughts, as a queer vegan, on the Orlando massacre. Today, the magazine published the responses from myself and several other LGBTQ vegans, including my friend and fellow Black Vegans Rock advisory board member Christopher Sebastian, and my friend Saryta Rodriguez who I interviewed earlier this year.

I was aware my remarks would be edited, and I am glad they included what I said about erasure of the Latinx community, which I also posted about this weekend. I said a lot more though, so I’m including my full responses below (the questions themselves are paraphrased). I’ve added links to relevant blog posts and articles. Thanks to Richard Bowie and VegNews for reaching out to queer vegans, and particularly to queer vegans of color, on this issue.

On my initial reaction to the news

My initial reaction was muted, because, sadly, I’d become so accustomed to reports of gun violence that I was somewhat jaded and numb. It took a few hours of reading and absorbing what had happened for the horror to really sink in. I’ve had feelings of anger, fear, and hopelessness; feelings I experience daily as a queer black trans person who suffers from depression, but now even more magnified. These feelings have been tempered only by the privilege of living in a very LGBTQ-friendly community; thousands of San Franciscans came out to hold space at Harvey Milk Plaza in a vigil for the dead.

On drawing a connection between the queer community and ethical veganism

As a person who identifies as agender, I have seen and been personally affected by the false binaries humans have erected of gay and straight, male and female, masculine and feminine. Anyone who strays outside of the charmed circle of cisgender heteronormativity loses the privilege of being treated as a full human being. Gay or trans “panic” is still a legal defense for murder in 49 out of 50 U.S. states.

The human/animal divide is another false binary. We needlessly exploit and kill billions of our fellow animals every year for no reason other than that they are members of different species. We cite arbitrary traits like intelligence or the ability to speak a recognizable language as justification for deciding who is a person and who is food. But just as straight-passing and cis-passing queer people who practice “respectability politics” enjoy greater privileges, animals who remind us more of ourselves – apes, dogs, elephants – are afforded greater protections and recognition as individuals in society.

Regardless of intelligence or abilities, every animal, human or otherwise, wants to live. Until animals are treated as people instead of property, we will never have a fair and just society for all.

On the media diminishing or ignoring the queer context of the tragedy

It’s grossly irresponsible, though not at all surprising, of the mainstream news outlets to erase queer and Latinx people and focus solely or primarily on terrorism (which also breeds Islamophobia). This shooting took place in a gay nightclub on Latin night. Latina and black trans women were featured performers that evening. The vast majority of the victims were Latinx. This was not a mere coincidence.

As a queer person of color, I am tired of our communities being erased and tokenized. The hashtag “#WeAreOrlando” is wrong. We are not all Orlando, and cishet white people should be amplifying the voices of the queer and Latinx people whose communities were specifically targeted by this attack.

Anything else to add?

Going through a gender transition has made me even more sensitive to speciesism and the vast scope of unnecessary, avoidable harm we inflict upon others. We live in a culture of sanctioned, accepted violence, in the streets, in our homes, and on our plates. To achieve true peace we need to stop treating our fellow beings as inferior or disposable, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, race, or even species. We should recognize and celebrate our differences, not erase them or use them as excuses for violence.

Addendum, June 22: Saryta Rodriguez has now also posted her full responses to the interview questions.

Love and solidarity

[Image: A group of marchers carry flags and signs. Several wear T-shirts reading “Love Has No Borders”.]

Yesterday I returned to the Castro for a march to the Mission in solidarity with the LGBTQ Latinx community, who were the primary victims of the Orlando massacre. After last Sunday’s vigil, many complained that the event was marred by the inclusion of politicians and initial exclusion of Latinx speakers. This community-driven effort was a response to that.

Soon after I arrived at Harvey Milk Plaza, a number of shirtless white men arrived and began dancing, twirling flags, and blowing soap bubbles for an unrelated fundraiser. Though these activities were hardly out of place during Pride Month (or really, at any other time in the Castro), I began to wonder whether I was in the right place. Since becoming more woke about white supremacy, I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable in white-dominated spaces, whether online or off. I know I’m not alone in this discomfort, especially with the continued erasure of queer people of color in mainstream coverage of the shooting.

Unite Here! Love has no borders[Image: Two people smile and pose for a photo, holding signs reading “Unite Here!” and “Love Has No Borders.”]

End oppression it is killing us[Image: A marcher holds a sign reading “End Homophobia Transphobia Sexism Racism It is Killing Us!”]

Writing the names[Image: People kneel on the sidewalk, writing the names of the Orlando victims on signs. Others hold signs and rainbow flags in the background.]

I was relieved when some brown and black folks showed up carrying signs. Then LGBTQ rights activist and event co-organizer Cleve Jones called into a megaphone for volunteers to help write the names of all 49 murder victims on large sheets of paper. These signs would be carried during our march to Galería de la Raza for the Latinx-led memorial, Pulso del Amor Continúa (The Pulse of Love Continues).

March in the Castro[Image: Marchers carrying signs and flags head down Castro Street, past the Castro Theatre.]

Remembering the victims[Image: A marcher holds a sign bearing the name and age of a victim: “Simon Adrian Carillo Fernández 31 years old.” Other marchers hold signs reading “Love Has No Borders.”]

Pulso del Amor Continúa[Image: A person with mirrored sunglasses stands in a crowd, holding a sign reading “Pulso del Amor Continúa.”]

Ani Rivera and Lito Sandoval[Image: Ani Rivera and Lito Sandoval speak on stage at Galería de la Raza.]

We marched two miles to Galería de la Raza, where an outdoor stage was set up. The program began with a blessing by Estela Garcia and a drumming performance by Bay Area American Indian Two Spirits. Ani Rivera and Lito Sandoval served as MCs. Speakers included representatives from AGUILAS, the Chicana/Latina Foundation, El/La Para TransLatinas, the Arab Resource and Organizing Center, the Bayard Rustin LGBT Coalition, Community United Against Violence, and Somos Familia, as well as perfomances by Yosimar Reyes, Maria Medina, and Per Sia. ASL interpretation and Spanish-to-English translation were provided.

Yosimar Reyes[Image: Yosimar Reyes performs spoken word.]

Stage altar[Image: An altar on the edge of a stage contains a number of items atop a colorful blanket. A sign reads “TU ERES MI OTRO YO.” In the background are the feet of Ani Rivera, wearing purple high-heeled shoes and white polka-dot stockings.]

Maria Medina[Image: Maria Medina plays a drum while singing into a microphone.]

Per Sia[Image: Per Sia performs a drag act on stage.]

Per Sia and Estela[Image: Per Sia dances with Estela Garcia in front of the stage.]

Reading the names[Image: Seven people on a stage take turns reading the names of the victims.]

At the conclusion of the program, the names of all 49 victims were read, followed by a release of butterflies. A DJ provided music for people to dance to after the formal event.

My full set of photos from the march and memorial is available on Flickr. Please credit me as Pax Ahimsa Gethen if you use any of them, thanks!

We will not be silenced

[Image: Members of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus hold candles in paper cups at the vigil for Orlando in the Castro.]

When I first heard the news of yesterday’s mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, I didn’t have a strong reaction. I’d become so accustomed to reports of gun violence in the USA that I was somewhat numb. I knew what would follow would be more Islamophobic calls to ban Muslims, and more calls from the NRA to counter “bad guys with guns” by arming even more citizens. I didn’t want to participate in those conversations.

But slowly, the horror of the massacre sunk in. While the murder of even one person is a terrible act, this was being called the worst mass shooting in US-American history. Some have argued that that dubious honor belongs to the Wounded Knee Massacre, but the impact of last night’s 50 deaths and 53 injuries is hugely significant regardless.

Regardless of the gunman’s background and specific motives, what cannot be ignored is that this attack took place in a gathering place for queer people, during a celebration of Latinx culture. Latina and black trans women were featured performers that night. This was our space; a space to celebrate and be ourselves. A space that, since the Stonewall and Compton’s Cafeteria riots, our community had sought to make a refuge from homophobia. The freedom and safety we seek has never felt more fleeting and remote.

I learned that a candlelight vigil was taking place in the Castro that evening. I texted my partner Ziggy (who was at work at the San Francisco Opera, as he often is on weekends), asking if he wanted to join me there. He immediately asked if I knew who was in charge, as he wanted to volunteer to run sound for the event. Which he did, despite being at the end of a very busy work week. Ziggy is awesome.

Ziggy at Castro vigil for Orlando[Image: Ziggy, wearing a purple and black jacket, purple and black headscarf, and sunglasses, stands in front of a sound mixer on a stage in the Castro.]

I walked three miles to Harvey Milk Plaza, knowing that the metro would be jammed with people. I arrived half an hour before the scheduled 8 p.m. start, and quickly realized that I could not get anywhere near the front of the stage (a flatbed truck); hundreds of people crowded the street. I ended up staying behind the truck with Ziggy, taking photos of the people gathered there, watching or waiting to speak.

Sister Merry Peter at Castro vigil for Orlando[Image: Sister of Perpetual Indulgence Merry Peter smiles while speaking with Reverend Megan Rohrer at the vigil for Orlando in the Castro.]

Vigil with dog in the Castro[Image: A vigil attendee wearing yellow-rimmed glasses and a pink jacket holds a candle. A small dog peeks out from under the jacket.]

Alex U Inn at the vigil for Orlando in the Castro[Image: Alex U Inn of Momma’s Boyz stands with others at the vigil.]

While I couldn’t see much of what was happening on stage, thanks to Ziggy’s excellent sound production I could hear everything crystal clearly. The event opened with a stirring vocal performance by the drag king duo Momma’s Boyz. One of them, Alex U Inn, later asked me where I got my purple Trans March hoodie. (It’s a limited edition; you can order this year’s now.)

Suzanne Barakat at vigil for Orlando in the Castro[Image: Dr. Suzanne Barakat, wearing a hijab and white lab coat, watches the vigil. On her coat is a verse from the Qur’an: “Verily, with every hardship comes ease” (94:6).]

It was made clear at this event that Islamophobia would not be tolerated. San Francisco General Hospital physician Suzanne Barakat gave moving testimony about losing her brother and members of his family to a hate crime. Clergy members, including the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence (a real order of queer nuns), also called for not only prayers, but action.

Supervisor David Campos at vigil for Orlando in the Castro[Image: San Francisco Supervisor David Campos waits to speak at the vigil.]

Some elected officials attended, to mixed reaction. Latino supervisor David Campos was generally well-received. (A group of Latinx speakers complained that they were not initially invited to speak at the rally, and had to ask to be included.) Castro supervisor Scott Wiener got a more lukewarm reception. Then at one point, the audience began chanting “WHERE’S THE MAYOR? WHERE’S THE MAYOR??” Mayor Ed Lee (along with a few other officials) took the stage shortly after, and when he attempted to speak, the audience booed him very loudly. Although our mayor certainly has a lot to answer for, I couldn’t help feeling that the booing was a bit harsh, given the solemnity of this occasion.

A highlight of the event for me was hearing former Supervisor and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, who I’d photographed (along with several others present) previously at marriage equality rallies. Ammiano described himself as an “old queer,” and he clearly gave no fucks about respectability. The first words out of his mouth were “Fuck the NRA.” Then, referring to the allegation that the Orlando shooter was motivated by seeing two men kissing, he launched into a spontaneous kiss-in with the (all male) officials gathered on stage. I really wish I could have gotten photos of this moment, but I couldn’t even see what was going on; hopefully someone has it on video.

SFGMC group at vigil for Orlando in the Castro[Image: Members of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus pose for a group picture at the vigil for Orlando in the Castro.]

March to City Hall for Orlando[Image: Marchers walk to San Francisco City Hall, which is lit up in the colors of the rainbow.]

Members of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus closed the vigil with several beautiful songs, including a sing-along and a rendition of We Shall Overcome. We then marched to San Francisco City Hall, which was appropriately lit up in rainbow colors. I didn’t know that there would be a march, but was not entirely surprised, just not sure I was prepared to walk six (total) miles. But it was on my way home anyway, and probably faster than waiting for a bus, given the street closures.

I’d walked to the Castro many times before, to attend rehearsals with the Lesbian/Gay Chorus of San Francisco. As I walked last night, I thought about our 2013 performance of Harvey Milk: A Cantata. There’s a line in that piece where a soloist sings while the rest of us whisper his words:

If a bullet should enter my brain

Let that bullet destroy every closet door.

We will not be silenced.

My full set of photos from the vigil is on Flickr. Please credit me as Pax Ahimsa Gethen if you use any of them, thanks.

Black vegans rock the White House: A. Breeze Harper for Vice President

[Image: A. Breeze Harper speaks at the Intersectional Justice Conference.]

Some exciting news: Dr. A. Breeze Harper, my fellow Black Vegans Rock advisory board member, is now the official nominee for vice president of the Humane Party, the only political party in the USA to have veganism and animal liberation in its platform. The announcement was made yesterday:

I’ve written about Dr. Harper numerous times in this blog, most recently for International Women’s Day and the Intersectional Justice Conference. She’s one of the people I’m supporting on Patreon. Harper is not only a vegan and anti-speciesist, but also an anti-racism activist, critical race theorist, and diversity trainer. Her candidacy alongside presidential nominee Clifton Roberts makes it clear that the Humane Party is not running a single-issue campaign.

While I remain politically unaffiliated at this time, I am excited by this news, and will be following the Humane Party with great interest.

Dysphoria, depression, and decisions

[Image: Pax (pre-transition) stands in semi-darkness in their underwear, in front of closed vertical blinds.]

Content note: Discussion of medical issues and suicidal ideation.

This morning, I took a hot shower for the first time in five days. The aging water heater in our apartment building had broken down on Sunday, and maintenance staff weren’t able to replace it until last night. Hot running water on demand is a luxury many people do not enjoy, to be sure; but when you are paying San Francisco rent prices, you come to expect certain amenities. So our building management arranged for free passes to a nearby gym, so that all tenants could have access to hot showers until the repairs were complete.

Unfortunately, I was not able to take advantage of this offer. My visible breasts make it unsafe for me to undress in a men’s locker room, and I simply do not belong in a facility for women. Though I generally avoided gyms and public pools for years even before my transition, I knew that this problem would come up eventually. Since I had no specific plans this week and tend to stay home a lot anyway, I simply went without showering (or exercising, so that I wouldn’t get too sweaty). But if I’d had to go to a workplace without access to a private shower, this solution would not have been possible.

I’ve written before about my thoughts on breasts and my reluctance to have top surgery. I am still resentful that I feel pressured to remove parts of my body that I don’t personally have a problem with, simply to fit in better with members of my transitioned sex. This resentment, coupled with discomfort and fear whenever I’m out in public and worried about being misgendered due to my appearance, is really wearing on my mental health. I don’t know if I can realistically live the rest of my life feeling this way, wearing extra layers even in hot weather, and unable to take off my shirt in public.

Knowing that some transmasculine people who have had top surgery still get misgendered as female makes me feel even more hopeless. I am reluctant to commit to the cost, risk, and pain of an operation that won’t even guarantee the results I’m seeking, which is simply to be accepted as male. I don’t need top surgery to feel more comfortable in my own skin; hormone therapy has taken care of that, affordably (thanks to my partner’s health insurance) and with much less risk. The operations that would further alleviate my physical dysphoria would be a hysterectomy/oophorectomy, which despite being considered by some as “routine” is not without potential complications; and genital reconstruction, which has serious risks and limitations in its current state for FtM patients.

Physical risk is something I think about a lot, and part of why my heart still races and my hand still shakes every time I prepare to inject myself with testosterone, even 2 1/2 years into my physical transition. I’ve felt for a long time that I will die young, either due to illness, accident, or violence, including suicide. Suicidal ideation is sadly common among trans people, and I experienced it for years even before I knew I was trans, with one near-attempt in 2009. Therapy helped me through the worst of it, but for reasons I explained previously, I’m not seeing a therapist or taking anti-depressants right now.

I’m not writing this to seek sympathy or advice. I’m simply trying to explain to cisgender people what it’s like for a trans person to exist in a cissexist society. I didn’t choose to be trans. I did choose the label of “agender” as the most appropriate way to convey my rejection of the gender binary, but I am a transsexual male by nature, regardless of what modifications I make to my body. I’m not a trend or a special snowflake. There’s a real live human being with real feelings behind these typed words. Please remember that, and think before you speak.

Journey Beyond the Binary: Pax on Huffington Post

[Image: Headshot of Pax next to the words “Journey Beyond Binary—Huff Post”. Photo by Ziggy Tomcich, text and layout by Alyssa Spatola.]

I’m pleased to announce that my essay “Men in Skirts“—featuring a photo of my partner Ziggy—has been selected for a new blog series in the Huffington Post: “Journey Beyond the Binary.” An editor for HuffPost’s “Queer Voices” section contacted me after seeing the story on Medium (though it was originally posted here on this blog), and I agreed to contribute.

huffpost-queervoices-20160609[Image: A screenshot of the Huffington Post “Queer Voices” section for June 9, 2016. A headline reading “Journey Beyond the Binary” appears above a photo of a rainbow; the text below reads “Introducing HuffPost’s Brand New Blog Series!”]

The series is featured right now on the Queer Voices section, and linked from the front page of the Huffington Post web site. I am glad to contribute my voice to trans and non-binary visibility.

Ziggy in Seattle[Image: Ziggy reclines on a sculpture, wearing a purple shirt and colorful tie-dyed skirt.]

Congratulations Ziggy, you and your skirt are now famous! 😉

Respecting sea life for World Oceans Day

[Image: Head-on view of a large fish swimming in an aquarium.]

Thanks to a post from the Food Empowerment Project, I learned that today, June 8, is World Oceans Day. Respecting our oceans— sometimes referred to as the “lungs” of the Earth— is crucial, but often centers on a “sustainability” that is entirely human-focused. Our planet’s oceans, rivers, and other bodies of water are home to trillions of animals, but most humans consider them mere “seafood,” or living art pieces to be imprisoned and admired from the outside of a glass aquarium.

I’m not speaking here of subsistence fishing by indigenous people. Although I do not condone the unnecessary and avoidable killing of any animal, in some communities survival on plants alone is very difficult. It is for this reason, and not out of respect for “traditions,” that I confine my comments here to the killing of fishes and other sea animals by humans who have plentiful access to plant-based foods.

Even before I went vegan, it always bothered me that many people considered the eating of fishes to be appropriate for vegetarians. Fishes and other sea animals are sentient beings who feel pain and experience fear. Fish Feel* has more information on these misunderstood animals. There are perpetual arguments even among vegans about whether certain animals such as oysters should be considered sentient, but the vast majority of the animals we kill for food certainly are.

I eventually realized that part of why many self-described vegetarians eat fishes is not because they don’t consider them to be animals, but because they are vegetarian for health reasons. Many consider the flesh of sea animals to be healthier for humans than the flesh of land animals. I could cite many resources to the contrary, but I would rather focus on the ethical arguments here, because veganism is not a diet.

I use the word “flesh” deliberately, because referring to our fellow animals with such terms as “meat,” “poultry,” and “seafood” reduces them to objects. Objects are exactly how most humans view members of other species; property to be owned, used, and discarded as we see fit. This mindset is especially prominent in Western cultures, but exists worldwide. Regardless, “respecting” animals—whether from the land or sea—means nothing to them if they are dead.

I recall several times when my desire to speak up for fishes was suppressed by social expectations. About twenty years ago, when I was gathering quotes from caterers for my first wedding, I made it clear we wanted the food to be all vegetarian. One of the caterers offered a menu that included the bodies of sea animals. I explained to her that this food was not appropriate for vegetarians. She responded, “So the others will have nothing, then?” (As if a flesh-eating human could not go four hours without eating the body of another animal.) I didn’t argue; I simply went with another caterer, even though her quoted price was higher.

Another incident around that time: I was at a restaurant with my grandparents and my then-partner. The restaurant had fish bodies lying on ice in a display case. My grandmother expressed how beautiful one of the fishes was. All I could think was how much more beautiful that animal would be if they were still alive and swimming freely in the ocean. But I was sitting at a table with three non-vegetarians, so I said nothing.

In a more recent incident, after I had gone vegan, I was at a party when an acquaintance came up to me and a friend (both of whom knew I was vegan). She excitedly exclaimed how during a recent vacation, a local had killed and prepared a fish especially for her birthday. Shen then paused and said something to the effect that I wouldn’t appreciate this, which was true. But I really didn’t know how or whether to express my disapproval, so I was silent.

I regret that my social awkwardness and other factors have prevented me from speaking out more for my fellow animals, but this blog is one way that I can do that from the relative safety of my home. It really does bother me when humans treat other animals as objects, whether for consumption, clothing, entertainment, or any other purpose. That applies to fishes as much as anyone else.

So on this World Oceans Day, please respect sea life by going vegan. Animals are people, not property, and like us, they just want to live.

* Linking for information only; I do not endorse this organization.

National Animal Rights Day 2016 at PreetiRang Sanctuary

[Image: Close-up of a cow, Mahalakshmi, posing for a photo with a human, Lucia. Lucia wears a T-shirt reading “Our Planet. Theirs Too.”]

This Sunday, Ziggy and I braved a 96 degree air temperature to attend The National Animal Rights Day at PreetiRang Sanctuary. I’d first attended this annual day of mourning and awareness last year in downtown San Francisco, where I took some photos in an unofficial capacity, some of which made it into the video of the event. This year, the event was moved to a private vegan animal sanctuary due to financial and safety concerns. Ziggy agreed to run sound, and I agreed to take photos as long as I was not the sole or “official” photographer.

Mourning a squirrel[Image: A human with long red hair and a T-shirt reading “Our Planet. Theirs Too” holds the body of a dead squirrel.]

Mourning a chicken[Image: A human with short black hair and a T-shirt reading “Our Planet. Theirs Too” holds the body of a dead chicken.]

Mourners with animal photos[Image: Several humans stand in a field, each holding a flower and the photo of an animal.]

The bulk of the ceremony consisted of participants holding the bodies of dead animals while the stories of how they lived and died were read. Other participants held photos of living animals. The dead were then gently wrapped in cloth and placed on the ground, and those holding flowers were invited to place them atop any animal whose story was particularly moving to them.

Funeral procession[Image: Humans holding flowers, photos of animals, and animals wrapped in white cloth, walk through a field.]

Madhulika at grave site[Image: Sanctuary co-owner Madhulika pays respects to the animals just buried.]

Plaque at grave site[Image: A grave marker, dated 5-30-15, is adorned with flowers. The plaque reads in part: “We’re sorry we couldn’t save you. We will never forget you.”]

After the ceremony, the participants buried the dead in a grave, alongside the animals from the 2014 and 2015 ceremonies.

Signing the Declaration of Animal Rights[Image: People write their names and messages on a large scroll of paper.]

Animals are people, not property.[Image: A large piece of paper with a Sharpie pen and messages written in various colors, focused on the message: “Animals are people, not property. – Pax”]

NARD group photo[Image: A large group of people stands behind a banner reading “The National Animal Rights Day”.]

Next, The Declaration of Animal Rights was read, and everyone was invited to sign it. We finished the formal portion of the event with a guided meditation, followed by a group photo.

Gandalf, Ziggy, and Hari[Image: Ziggy, wearing a purple shirt, poses with Gandalf, a goat, and Hari, a bull.]

While I questioned the wisdom of moving the ceremony to a private venue at first, the value of having it at PreetiRang became clear when we got to spend time with the living, rescued animals who reside there. It was lovely seeing how much some of them had grown since my previous visits, particularly the young bulls Harvey and Hari, the latter of whom loved photobombing whenever Ziggy and I tried to get a photo with Gandalf the goat. (Hari also ran off with an audio cable while Ziggy was setting up the speaker before the ceremony.)

Chester and Pax[Image: Pax pets Shiva, a steer. Photo by Ziggy.]

Luv and Kush being loved[Image: Luv, a goat, sniffs one person’s hand while a child kisses Kush, another goat, on the forehead.]

Shiva also looked fetching in his shorter, summer coat. And everyone continues to love Luv and Kush.

My full set of photos from the event is on Flickr. Please credit me as Pax Ahimsa Gethen if you use any of them, thanks!