Jill Stein rally: Observations and opinions

[Image: Jill Stein postcards and Stein/Baraka buttons on a table.]

*Note/reminder*: I am registered with no political party, and have not endorsed any presidential candidates in this year’s election. I’m not voting for Hillary Clinton (nor Donald Trump), and that’s not up for debate.

On Saturday night, I attended a rally for Jill Stein at the Berkeley City Club. While I voted for Stein in 2012 (and for Green candidates Cynthia McKinney and Ralph Nader before her), I left the Green Party when I updated my voter registration after my legal name (and gender) change in 2014. I am currently an independent (not to be confused with the ultra-conservative American Independent Party).

Despite my friend and fellow black vegan Dr. A. Breeze Harper running for vice-president with the Humane Party, I have been strongly leaning toward voting for Stein, partly because the Greens have ballot access in almost every state, and winning 5% of the popular vote would qualify the party for federal matching funds. So I attended the rally not as a supporter, but an observer, hoping to listen and talk with people about why I should support Stein, or any presidential candidate when I have lost virtually all hope in the U.S. government (and humanity in general).

As I arrived at the venue, two people outside were trying to get the attention of those entering, and offering them copies of the Workers Vanguard. I spoke with one of them, asking if, as a socialist, she supported Stein and the Green Party. She said no. I mentioned that I had met some Socialist Alternative people who supported Bernie Sanders, and were now supporting Stein. She said that those weren’t real socialists, and that the Green Party is capitalist (among other things). She asked if I would buy her newspaper for fifty cents, and I happened to have two quarters in my pocket so I agreed. (I got the two most recent quarterly editions for that price.)

I spoke with her about being a pacifist. She asked what I thought about the Civil War. This took me aback, and I responded “Well, it was certainly necessary to end slavery.” By this I didn’t necessarily mean that we had to go to war to do so, though she understandably took it that way. When I explained how important pacifism is to me, she seemed less interested in talking with me; when I offered her my business card, she shoved it in her back pocket without looking at it, and went back to hawking newspapers.

Socialist Alternative at Jill Stein rally[Image: Two people staff a table with a banner reading “Socialist Alternative – Struggle – Solidarity – Socialism”.]

I entered the venue, staked out a seat and took some preliminary photos. I was then approached by a Socialist Alternative representative, offering their newspaper “to convince your friends to vote for Stein”. I explained to him that I was an independent, and told him about the conversation I’d just had outside. He said that those socialists weren’t being practical, and that we had to gain the support of the workers before we “marched on Washington”. I pressed him about their prior support of Sanders, since he was running as a Democrat; he said that they were actually very critical of him, but he had mobilized lots of people, including many independents, and they were harnessing that energy. He mentioned that he and another socialist would be speaking at the rally, and promised that they would “bash the Democrats”. I said that I didn’t want to “bash” anyone necessarily, I just wanted to get shit done.

A.J. Hill at Jill Stein rally[Image: A.J. Hill smiles while introducing speakers on stage.]

So as the rally started, I felt more confused and cynical about politics than ever. The crowd was mostly white, which wasn’t much of a surprise, but more than half of the speakers were people of color.  One of the speakers and event co-organizers, A.J. Hill, is a black vegan and activist with Direct Action Everywhere (DxE); though I left DxE last year, I was glad to hear animal rights mentioned at a Green event.

David Cobb at Jill Stein rally[Image: David Cobb speaks on stage.]

One of the main speakers at the rally was 2004 Green presidential candidate David Cobb, who is now Jill Stein’s campaign manager. (I didn’t vote for Cobb that year, opting to go with Nader instead, who was supported by many other Greens.) Cobb spoke at great length, emphasizing how he was a “mostly-straight” white man but understood the need to be anti-racist and anti-sexist. He said that people of color don’t want “white guilt”, they want action. He told a story about a black woman lovingly but angrily calling him a “cracker” for questioning the organizing tactics of women/of color in the movement.

While Cobb got lots of applause, and I’m sure he meant well, the length of his speech really turned me off. Good allies cede space to marginalized people to speak for themselves. After 45 minutes, I was more than ready for him to get off the stage. The next speaker, who was part Native American (but white-passing to my eyes, at least), also spoke too long; an organizer was repeatedly trying to get his attention and pointing to his watch.

YahNé Ndgo at Jill Stein rally[Image: YahNé Ndgo speaks into a microphone on stage.]

The main person I came to the rally to see was YahNé Ndgo, who I watched give a powerful speech at this year’s Green Party Convention. A “Bernie or Bust”er, she switched to the Green Party after the Democratic National Convention, and has been campaigning for Stein nationwide. I took lots of photos as she’s such a dynamic speaker. I got a chance to chat with YahNé briefly after the rally, and told her I came specifically to see her; she gave me a hug.

Kor Element at Jill Stein convention[Image: Kor Element sings into a microphone on stage.]

Up-and-coming artist Kor Element gave a talk and an energetic hip-hop performance, with plenty of audience participation. Another former Bernie supporter, he wrote a song specifically for Stein’s campaign.

Ajamu Baraka at Jill Stein campaign[Image: Ajamu Baraka speaks into a microphone on stage.]

At 9 p.m., three hours into the rally (and now at the originally scheduled end time), Green vice-presidential candidate Ajamu Baraka finally took the stage. Baraka announced that Jill Stein was recovering from pneumonia, and could not attend. I already knew this, but only because I had been told by the Marxist outside; I knew that Stein had a recent bout of pneumonia, but there was no mention on the web site or either of the Facebook pages for this event (one of which was titled “Jill Stein Visits Berkeley!”) that she would not be at this rally. I certainly agreed that she needed more rest, and I can understand why her absence wasn’t announced at the beginning of the rally as then some people might not have stuck around, but it still seemed disingenuous.

Regardless, I was personally more interested in Baraka than Stein, and was delighted to see him since he wasn’t originally scheduled to speak. I got to chat with him very briefly afterward (after waiting for many people to pose with him for pictures), and thanked him for speaking truth to power. I also mentioned how I tried to find out about him on Wikipedia, and he said that when he looked at that page, he didn’t recognize what he saw. I wish we’d had time to chat more about that, but many people were still waiting to talk with him, and his helpers were trying to get him out of there.

On the way home, I read part of the Workers Vanguard newspaper. I agreed with some of it, but was turned off the dismissal of Green values in one article, saying (in part) that bike paths and vegetable gardens were for rich people in developed countries, not for workers that had to live near industry, and decrying a call to “save the Earth” at the expense of the people living on it. I understood where they were coming from, but to me animals are people, and the Earth is not separate from its living inhabitants, humans included.

In any case, I’m not going to make voting decisions based on one article, one rally, or a couple of conversations. I’m definitely going to the polls on November 8, if only to vote on ballot measures and local, non-partisan offices, as I did in the primaries. Californians, today is the last day to register, so even if you hate every single person who is running for office, please at least vote on propositions that affect those living in our communities.

My full set of photos from the rally is available on Flickr. Some of the photos are available on Wikimedia Commons as well. Please credit me (as Pax Ahimsa Gethen) if you use any of them, thanks!

Vegan definitions and retention

[Image: Pax pets Shiva, a steer at PreetiRang Sanctuary. Photo by Ziggy.]

When I talk with non-vegans about veganism, one of the first questions they often ask me is “How long have you been vegan?” This is a well-meaning question, and some folks can answer it readily. Some went vegan instantly, perhaps after seeing a documentary like Earthlings. They might even celebrate the date on a “veganniversary” every year. A few, like Olympic athlete and activist Seba Johnson, have been vegan since birth.

But this question is somewhat harder for me to answer, and troubles me for a few reasons. Nowadays I often begin my response with, “It depends on your definition of vegan.” With a single, regrettable exception, which I’ll explain shortly, I stopped eating all dairy products and eggs for good in February 2011, having already stopped eating animal flesh in January 1992. I’d been trying to “go vegan” for that entire time, and referred to myself as vegan during the times when I avoided eating animal flesh, eggs, and dairy.  But even after 2011, I continued to occasionally eat honey and wear some clothing containing wool, silk, or leather. I also occasionally visited zoos, and participated in animal exploitation in other ways.

In July 2014, when I read more about animal rights philosophy and decided to become an activist, I stopped using honey and other bee products, stopped wearing my remaining articles of animal-derived clothing, and made a commitment to stop visiting zoos and otherwise reduce my participation in animal exploitation as much as possible. I felt this was consistent with the Vegan Society definition of veganism:

Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.

That “any other purpose” is a very broad area, however, and that’s where some vegans start getting into battles over purity. Some will insist that palm oil isn’t vegan because its production destroys the habitat of orangutans, for example. On the flip side, some others who call themselves vegan see no problem eating the dairy, eggs, or even flesh of so-called “humanely” raised animals, or they consider eating fishes or other aquatic animals to be consistent with veganism.

I will not advocate for vegetarianism, “reduceitarianism”, “humane” or “sustainable” animal products , or any other choice that suggests it is OK to treat animals as property. But I’m much more troubled by people putting cow’s milk in their coffee than by them sweetening their tea with honey. And I’m much more bothered by the consumption of eggs, even from backyard farms, than by the wearing of an old wool jacket or leather shoes that haven’t worn out yet.

It’s important to note that impact matters regardless of intent. I don’t condone even occasional consumption of animal products if doing so is avoidable. The one regrettable exception I mentioned was at a wedding reception in July 2012, when I knowingly and avoidably ate a cupcake and some candy that almost certainly contained dairy products, and possibly eggs as well. I had no excuse; I was just hungry and gave into temptation. My guilt or remorse is irrelevant to the cows whose bodies were violated for my momentary pleasure. That milk was meant for their children—like Shiva, pictured at the top of this post—not for me. I have not knowingly consumed any milk or eggs since that date.

But while I believe the body autonomy and personhood of our fellow animals should be the primary focus of veganism, we cannot completely discount or ignore the human stories of how and why each of us became vegan. It’s just oversimplification to state how long one has been vegan without giving any additional context. In the 24 years since I went vegetarian, I have had no financial, medical, or practical obstacles to going vegan. I’ve lived in the vegan-friendly San Francisco Bay Area for almost that entire time, and have had ready access to grocery stores and a full kitchen, adequate money and cooking skills. These are privileges that should not be taken for granted.

While it is important to acknowledge—and do something about—social inequity, I do believe that the obstacles to veganism are often overstated, especially when it comes to health. Powerful agricultural lobbies have pressured the government to convince US-Americans that we will die or suffer poor health without eating at least some animal products. Cow’s milk is promoted as essential for strong bones, even though the majority of people on Earth cannot digest lactose after infancy. It’s no wonder some ask how long we’ve been vegan, when they’ve been brought up with the expectation that we’ll literally fall apart if we don’t  consume the bodies and secretions of our fellow animals.

The truth is, regardless of how “easy” it may or may not be to live vegan, many people find it extremely tempting to return to non-veganism, especially if they see it as merely a dietary choice. Some say that ex-vegans were never really vegan to begin with, but I don’t think that is an accurate or helpful statement. We need to find more ways to support, encourage, and retain vegans, while still making sure to emphasize the stories of our fellow animals. Once we achieve animal liberation, the word vegan and the concept of “veganniversaries” will be things of the past. But we’re a long way from getting there.

Making connections at WikiConference North America

[Image: A hanging banner with the Wikipedia globe logo and the words “Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia”.]

This past weekend, Ziggy and I attended WikiConference North America 2016 in San Diego. As I wrote previously, my abstract for a presentation on “The Transgender Gap: Trans and non-binary representation on Wikipedia” was approved, and I also received a scholarship to cover part of my travel expenses.

Pax and other presenters at WikiConference[Image: Pax speaks at a podium while fellow presenters Jami Mathewson and Wynnie Lamour look on. Photo by Ziggy.]

Katherine Maher at WikiConference[Image: Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Katherine Maher speaks at a podium.]

While I was nervous about how my talk would be received by this audience, the reception far exceeded my expectations. Numerous attendees came up to me throughout the conference, thanking me for my presentation. Those thanking me included Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Katherine Maher, who posted about my talk on Twitter. Another attendee said that he’d be updating the software of a web site he manages for thousands of people, based on my recommendations for more accurately representing gender diversity.

Pax and Jethro[Image: Pax and Chris “Jethro” Schilling pose for a photo. Photo by Ziggy.]

Lane Rasberry at WikiConference[Image: Lane Rasberry moderates a discussion at the WikiConference.]

In addition to the positive feedback, I also enjoyed meeting a number of Wikipedians I’d only interacted with online, including Chris “Jethro” Schilling, Jake Orlowitz, Jason Moore, and Lane Rasberry. I was far more social than I expected to be, considering the stress of travel and the sleep deprivation from our noisy hotel room.

I attended a number of sessions at the event, and was impressed that the organizers made a sincere effort to represent diversity, at a deep rather than superficial level. “Inclusivity” was the theme of the conference, and several talks addressed gender and racial disparities, not only on Wikipedia but in society at large. Indigenous People’s Day occurred during the conference, and several talks (including a keynote) and an edit-a-thon centered on Native American history and culture.

Pax at San Diego Central Library[Image: Pax stands on a staircase inside the San Diego Central Library, under the words “We read to know we are not alone.” Photo by Ziggy.]

As welcome as I felt at the event, I was still marginalized by my trans status during the trip. The only gender-neutral restroom I saw at the conference facility (the beautiful San Diego Central Public Library) was a locked “family restroom” that required patrons to ask staff for access. (I used the men’s room.) The San Diego airport did have an all-gender restroom right across from my gate, but on the return trip both Ziggy and I were both misgendered and briefly detained by the TSA. The TSA staff at SFO had called me “Sir” and had a male agent pat down my legs, but in San Diego three agents stared at me until one of them pointed to their pink-and-blue monitor and said, right in front of my face, “It’s a female!” I responded, “Actually I’m male, but I don’t care who screens me.” (I just really, really wanted to get home.)

Regardless, I am glad I made this trip, and grateful that my concerns about transgender representation on Wikipedia are being heard and taken seriously. Ziggy is encouraging me to pursue paid public speaking gigs based on this and other talks I’ve given on transgender issues. I’m skeptical about doing these talks on a regular basis, as I dislike travel and strongly prefer writing over speaking. But I do agree that trans folks should be compensated for sharing our stories and expertise. (Here are some other things to keep in mind when booking a trans speaker or performer.)

My Transgender Gap talk is available on Google Slides (with notes) and as a PDF on Wikimedia Commons. A video should be available soon as well. My photos from the trip are available on Flickr; many are also on Wikimedia Commons, along with photos from other attendees. Please credit me (as Pax Ahimsa Gethen), Ziggy, or whatever other photographer is listed if you use any of the photos, thanks!

P.S. The second presidential debate was shown at the conference during a scheduled reception. I only watched part of it; the less said about it, the better. (Obligatory reminder of my independent political status.)


[Image: Self-portrait of Pax wearing glasses with red and black frames.]

Content note: Medical issues, including needles.

When I started on testosterone therapy in January 2014, my partner Ziggy and I were both trained to do the intramuscular injections. You can see the general procedure in this instructional video, created by and for transmasculine people:

I had intended for Ziggy to do my injections, but decided I preferred to do them myself; I felt confident enough in the technique, and had never been afraid of needles. This worked out pretty well… until yesterday.

This failure had been building up for awhile. For the last couple of months I’d grown increasingly anxious, starting the day before my biweekly injections, sometimes even sooner. When the time came, I would fill the syringe and then sit with the needle poised above my thigh, unwilling to pierce my skin and plunge that much-needed solution into my muscle.

I tried various techniques that had worked in the past, such as deep breathing and singing. But whenever I got ready to inject, my heart would pound and a wave of nausea would overtake me. This would go on for up to half an hour before I was finally able to inject, and then during the injection my hand would shake, sometimes violently, causing my thigh muscle to spasm and literally tearing me up inside.

Yesterday morning, I just couldn’t do it. The anxiety and nausea were too much. I threw out the syringe, wasting a dose, and sent Ziggy a text, asking him to help me when he got off work late that night. He readily agreed, and everything went very smoothly. But I felt sick and ashamed the entire day about needing help, as absurd and uncharacteristically “macho” as that might seem.

The nurse practitioner who trained us had warned me about this. She said some trans folks inject for years without a problem, and then find themselves unable to do it. Some won’t even consider injections in the first place; they use hormone creams, which are much more expensive, harder to control the dosage of, and need to be applied daily.

There are a couple of other options for testosterone therapy, which I’ll be asking my doctor about at my next appointment: Longer-lasting implants and injections, which need to be done at a doctor’s office.  I don’t know if either would be covered by my insurance, but it’s worth finding out. Even though I’m already middle-aged, right now I can’t imagine having to keep doing biweekly injections for the rest of my life. I’m growing increasingly resentful that I wasn’t born with the correct hormone profile in the first place.*

Stopping hormones altogether isn’t an option. For one thing, my body hasn’t sufficiently “masculinized” yet; I’ve been on T less than three years. But even more importantly, I’m pre-menopausal, and having my periods return is completely unacceptable. Yes, I still might have my uterus and ovaries removed, but surgery is a risky proposition, no matter how “routine” that procedure is considered. And I would still need to continue hormone therapy anyway, as my body would then be producing no sex hormones at all.

These thoughts are something that I would have shared in a “friends-only” entry before I launched this blog, but all of my blog writing is public now. I feel it’s important for transmasculine people—regardless of whether we are men or non-binary—to know that it’s OK to be vulnerable and ask for help. It’s also important for us to be able to share knowledge, as the field of FTM medicine is still in its infancy, and most doctors are ignorant about our needs. I can only imagine that 50 years from now, trans guys will read about what we went through during this time, and shake their heads or laugh.

For those wanting a more private discussion forum, I’ve found the FTM community on LiveJournal to be helpful, even though it’s not highly active. Hudson’s FTM Resource Guide is very useful as well. Both have advice applicable to non-binary female-assigned people like myself as well as trans men.

I am grateful I have access to the medical help I need to live a more authentic life. I hope that the world comes to accept that gender dysphoria is a legitimate condition that needs to be taken seriously.

* It’s important to note that the “born in the wrong body” trope is not accurate for many trans people. What matters is our self-identification, regardless of our “biology“.

Some good news for non-binary folks

[Image: A sign with multiple gender symbols and the words “Inclusive restroom.”]

Here in the state of California, a couple of positive legal developments emerged recently that are of particular interest to people with non-binary gender identities like myself.

The first bit of good news is about restroom access. On September 29, Governor Jerry Brown signed what is known as the “All Gender” Restroom Bill, requiring single-occupancy restrooms to be accessible to people of all gender identities. This development is long overdue. While I’d personally prefer that all restrooms be gender-neutral, there is no reasonable argument for gendering single-occupancy facilities.

Opening up these restrooms will benefit not only non-binary people, but many others as well. Some examples: Binary trans people who do not “pass” as cisgender; cisgender people who are often misgendered due to their appearance (butch women, for example); and caretakers of people of a different gender (children, elderly, disabled) who require assistance to use a restroom.

While no one should be policed for using facilities that most closely match their gender identity, offering gender-neutral spaces provides an additional measure of safety and comfort. I look forward to a time when people in all states (and countries) realize that we all just need to pee.

The second bit of good news is about legal identification. On September 26, Sara Kelly Keenan became the second U.S. citizen and first California resident to obtain legal non-binary status. Keenan, who uses she/her pronouns and identifies as intersex “both as my medical reality and as my gender identification,” followed a precedent set in Oregon this June by Jamie Shupe, a non-binary transgender person. Keenan was represented by an attorney from the Intersex & Genderqueer Recognition Project, which is working to get non-binary adults the right to self-identify on legal documents.

A couple of things are important to note here. Most intersex people identify as male or female, not non-binary. Including intersex in the LGBTQIA or similar acronyms is controversial. Some intersex people want nothing to do with the trans liberation movement; they simply want to end nonconsensual infant surgeries and other damaging practices. Also, many non-binary people, including Jamie Shupe and myself, do not identify as genderqueer. (Shupe prefers not to be referred to with any pronouns, but will accept singular they.)

For Keenan, Shupe, and other non-binary people, there’s still a long way to go; it is not currently possible to get a non-binary driver’s license or passport in the U.S., for example. For this and other reasons, I will not be seeking to change my own legal identification from male to non-binary anytime soon. Even if I do ultimately gain legal recognition as agender, that won’t stop me from being misgendered constantly on the street. As with my birth certificate, a court order is a government-issued piece of paper that has limited use in an everyday context.

Regardless, these are positive developments, and a nice break from depressing election coverage. I look forward to more progress in non-binary gender recognition. Reminder: I will be speaking about trans and non-binary issues this weekend at WikiConference North America.