Veganism and feminism are inseparable concepts in my life.

This blog is a theoretical interpretation of the lived experiences of a vegan feminist,
and an exploration of what it even means to be one in the first place.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Asexuality is a Feminist Issue

I believe I've always been asexual, but I've only self identified as asexual for the past few years. To be clear, I do not believe I can reproduce on my own. Many people have made that mistake when I have told them that I am asexual. The education system teaches us the medical definition of asexuality and never the sexual definition of asexuality, so it's an easy mistake to make. Medical asexuality and sexuality asexuality are two completely different words with very different meanings.

To describe my asexuality I often go over the same statements; it has begun to feel like a routine. It typically goes generally like this: "An asexual is someone who experiences no sexual attraction. That's it. Asexual people can and sometimes do masturbate and have sex, but that differs widely based on the asexual individual. Some asexuals don't care about sex and treat it as if it's not their favourite activity, some find sex scary, and others find it disgusting. Similarly, some asexuals will kiss, others won't, some will hug, others won't. The boundaries of all asexuals are different and it's best to ask them about their boundaries in a respectful way. There is also a second word that often comes after asexual; romantic. An asexual aromantic would be not sexually or romantically attracted to anyone, whereas an asexual homoromantic would be not sexually but romantically attracted to humans of the same sex, and so forth. Some asexuals choose to not be in relationships, some choose to be in relationships only with asexuals, and some are in relationships with sexuals." I think that's a pretty fair explanation, but maybe I'm wrong because even after I explain this some people still look at me as if I told them I'm secretly a unicorn.

Some of the common responses to my asexuality are: maybe you've never been with a good enough man, are you a virgin, do you have a hymen, does everything work down there, have you ever orgasmed before, you'll change your mind in a few years, maybe you haven't found what you like yet, and I used to know someone like that too and then they got over it. All of these responses follow a similar pattern. They assume that the person telling me these things knows more about my sexuality based on what is normal than I do based on living in the same body for twenty years, which I find pretty ridiculous. I have decided to identify in this way because it means something to me. If I follow your advice, I will have to live through any consequences that come from your advice and your life will not be affected in any way. These kind of statements place an unfair burden on the asexual, undermine their life experience, and challenge their autonomy. They're insulting. I'm just saying no, I'm not interested. Perhaps the question should be - why does that bother you so much? These questions might be less hurtful if they didn't reflect real issues. For example, FSD (female sexual dysfunction) is a "medical disorder" where one of the symptoms is lack of desire to have sex. So whereas I think my asexuality is a perfectly acceptable, but not common, type of sexuality, if I were to go to the doctor I could be diagnosed as sick. Hrm, does this ring an oppressive bell to anyone? Haven't we been through this before with the DSM?

So perhaps the answer could seem like - well if you experience judgement and are deemed ill if you tell anyone you're asexual, why, just not tell people? There's a concept called "passing" which generally means you can pass or are close enough to the dominant group that you can be mistaken for, and pretend to be, one of them without anyone noticing. One of the problems is that asexuals can pass very well. In fact, I've been in a relationship with a man for four years so I automatically pass by accident. To not pass, and have people stop assuming I'm heterosexual, I actually have to tell them that I'm asexual. I, like probably many other people, don't like to pass. Not telling someone what you are, when you know they don't realize what you are, feels like lying, deceiving, and keeping your mouth shut because you'll get in trouble for the truth. It feels like I'm being dishonest about myself. It makes me feel ashamed, when I really have nothing to be ashamed about. I'm asexual - it's not a problem.

To make this crystal clear; I believe asexuality is obviously a feminist issue because asexuals can experience hardship for living their lives in a way that's true to themselves. Asexuals are treated in negative ways that make their lives more difficult than they would be if these people identified as, or were, heterosexual. I think this is the case because of a variety of different factors, many of which are theorized about in feminism. I think it's time to turn a feminist lens on asexuality.

Finding liberation is not as easy as accepting asexuals; we need to find places and spaces where we know we are supported and safe. There are few and far between feminist publications on asexuals, and I even had a professor once think I meant celibacy when I asked if she knew of any (celibacy is a choice, asexuality is not). There is division within the asexual community. Some live their asexuality in isolation and don't think asexuality is a political issue or something worth explaining to other people and some have restrictive and narrow definitions of who can be an asexual that exclude many currently self-identified asexuals (probably even me). Some asexuals want to find liberation in asexual communities alone because they are not like sexuals, whereas some asexuals turn to LGBT and identify as queer themselves. It can also go the other way, and some LGBT groups may think as non-sexual people that asexuals don't belong there, or they may accidentally privilege sexuals over asexuals within their groups (which seems a lot more likely).

Asexuality is a feminist issue; I just don't know what that would look like if more people took up the challenge at incorporating it into feminism. I'd be excited to find out.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Vegan Feminist Claims

Right now I identify vegan feminist theory mainly with Carol J. Adams. I'm sure that there are plenty of other theorists out there (and that I'll love them all!), but wading through vegan feminist literature and actually understanding it seems to always come back to her for me. One of the first "ah ha!" vf moments I had was when I was reading the Tom Tyler interview of Carol J. Adams for Parallax. You can read the original interview here.

The first time I read the article I stopped and focused on Carol J. Adams' 4 vegan feminist claims, because the idea of trying to simplify a small part of vegan feminism really appealed to me as a person who still didn't really understand vegan feminism. I remember thinking how brilliant the concepts were, but only after I spent 5 minutes thinking about each one and putting them in different words that made more sense to me. Then I thought - well maybe I should put these theories in other words so they make sense the first time I read them. These are those other words. Think of the following as a summary, interpretation of, and homage to Carol J. Adams' original theory.

1. Food choice is a relationship with another animal. Vegans choose a relationship where the other animal is acknowledged and thus not eaten or used. Non vegans (she calls them flesh eaters) choose a relationship where the other animal is ignored, forgotten, dominated, and murdered.

2. Vegans want reproductive freedom for all female animals. The "food" industries requires female animals to be kept constantly pregnant to produce children for their flesh, constantly lactating to produce milk, and constantly ovulating to produce eggs. The names of these animals represents their own physical enslavement and are used as insults to enslave female humans.

3. Eating animals literally stops us from questioning the undisturbed category of "farmed animals". The actual act of using a fork on a piece of flesh erases everything.

4. Humans are "one animal among many". In saying this vegan feminists acknowledge we are like other animals and try to eliminate the idea that animals are other and we are the one. Vegan feminists say that because we are like other animals we don't want to force our relationship with other animals to be based on consumption, where those vertically higher on the hierarchy only interact with other animals through consumption. We would like to have different and more positive relationships with other animals.

In reflecting on these claims many things come to mind. 1 and 4 seem to replicate the same concept with a focus on different details; both acknowledge a relationship of dominance inherent to a relationship of consumption. 3 is so theoretical I think I understood it properly, but I could be completely wrong. If I do understand it, it seems to restate 1. This is important because it shows both the complexity and interwoven nature of vegan feminist theory; it constantly refers to itself before moving on in new directions.

Claim 2 stands out for me because it could be the defining reason for vegan feminism. Recently if someone asks me why I am vegan, a differently worded explanation of claim 2 is the reason I give because it speaks to me as both a feminist and a vegan. I think claim 2 could stand alone as its own manifesto.

Rewriting these claims helped me realize how specific and personal they are. These are Carol J. Adams' claims and they illustrate her personal experience of vegan feminism. I'm sure there are dozens of others claims one could write and they wouldn't be more or less right than hers, just different. I think that's one of the most important things I took away from these claims - they are one interpretation and a good place to start, but they are not the end or the only.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What is a Vegan Feminist?

To begin I would like to explain what I mean when I call myself a vegan feminist. At the very least I hope to give a brief temporary definition of the label. In other words, this definition may not suit me in a year and would probably be explained very differently if you asked someone else. The very idea of a definition seems stagnant and restrictive, but I think with that disclaimer it's safe to continue.

Most people understand the words vegan and feminist separately, but they're complex enough that I think it would be beneficial to go over their definitions.

A vegan is a person who does not consume any animal products, sort of. This could be for emotional, ethical, spiritual, religious, disease, health, physical, or a variety of other reasons. Every person comes to veganism for a different reason and lives veganism differently as a result. That makes it very hard to define what veganism really is, because some use more or less animal products than others based on their reasons for being vegan. For example, a person who is vegan because they think animal proteins are a high health risk might buy products made of leather, whereas a person who is vegan for emotional reasons never would. At the very least veganism is a diet where people never consume meat, eggs, or milk. If someone consumes any of those products they are not vegan. If they restrict other products, well that depends on what type of vegan they are and there are dozens of types. Tricky, isn't it?

A feminist is something I have an even harder time defining because within feminism you find different groups that completely disagree with one another. I think I'm safe in saying that all feminists believe patriarchy exists and that sex and gender are not the same thing. Most people believe feminism is about liberating women, but that's only really true of the first and second waves. We are currently in the third wave of feminism, which I understand to be a period of time when feminists look back on their history, critique it, and try to find liberation for all groups of marginalized people that they accidentally ignored before. Some feminists focus on liberating men from culture, some focus on the woman's right to control over her own body, some on what gender we should have, or what pornography should look like, or what jobs we should do, and the list goes on and on. Feminism is an (usually) open space for differing theories of a future society to come together and discuss how we can liberate everyone.

A vegan feminist is a fusion of both of those ideas in a special way that acknowledges the original meaning of both terms. The order of the term is also very important, but I would argue interchangeable in most settings. A feminist vegan is someone who is a vegan, and the type of vegan they are is feminist. To me that means that they eat a vegan diet and use feminist theories like patriarchy, sex, culture, the panopticon prison, power, knowledge, and so forth to explain why they eat a vegan diet. This is where it gets a bit confusing, as technically a feminist vegan could use radical-cultural feminist theory and liberal feminist theory at the same time and still be a feminist vegan (in a super quick probably totally inaccurate but just to make my point summary, the former tells women to be like women to be liberated and the latter tells women to be like men). I guess you could go even further and add a third label to the mix, which would be a type of feminism, but I think feminist vegan is good enough for me.

So let's swap the term around; a vegan feminist is a feminist whose type is vegan. Vegan theory and diet informs their feminism. When I say I am a vegan feminist I really mean I feel like I am living my feminism to the fullest because I am eating a vegan diet. This allows me to live in a way that restricts the suffering and pain I cause to others. This kind of feminism specifically looks at the subject as oppressor and agent in power and questions how we can change this in our daily interaction with the world. Vegan feminists (or at least me) don't get bogged down with questions like: how much do animals really suffer, but don't they kind of look happy, or biologically I am made to eat meat (which is not true). Instead they look at liberation and freedom for all beings that can suffer and say I am an oppressor in this system and I need to stop. There is no justification for the oppression of others.

I mentioned before that vegan feminist and feminist vegan can be used interchangeably, even though I gave them separate definitions. I hope you've noticed that the definitions are different when you explain them theoretically, but I think a vegan feminist and a feminist vegan would experience these labels in a very similar way out in the world. The one I use changes based on who I'm talking to. If I'm talking to vegans I say feminist vegan to point out that feminism is important too, and when talking to feminists I say vegan feminist. Online I am choosing specifically to use the term vegan feminist because, for the most part, more vegans are feminist than feminists are vegan. My order is a political statement and a call for feminists to be self critical and live their theories to the fullest. This is not to say that non-vegan feminists are wrong, but merely that I hope I inspire them to take a second look at their current ideology.

I think what I've explained is a good patchwork quilt definition of a vegan feminist based on experience. In future blogs I hope to get into vegan feminist theory, look closer at many aspects I quickly glossed over, and discuss vegan feminist issues in today's world that just get under my skin and make me want to type and talk. I hope I haven't deceived you into thinking I have explained vegan feminism in just a few paragraphs. Please think of the above as the briefest of introductions into a very complex topic. The short definition of what vegan feminism is? There isn't one, because to pretend there is would be to eliminate a large part of it. Vegan feminism is a lived experience you can theorize about, just like many things. It does not fit neatly into a dictionary and can not be broken down or studied for an exam. My vegan feminism is different than everyone else's, and that's okay because I can learn about it through writing it down and maybe you can learn about yours (if you want it to exist) from reading an interpretation of mine.