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.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

My Coming Out Story: On Being Agender

I rarely talk or think about being agender. Most of the time it feels pointless. I will forever be her, reminding myself to turn around when someone has called out a name that is unfamiliar and doesn't belong to me. I can't change that, but my silence feels complicit. I don't want to be an accomplice with a world that refuses me my own gender identification.


Passing is a term in feminist circles meant to suggest that someone of a minority is assumed to be "normal" or what everyone else is. The minority is typically a stigmatized group and by passing as "normal" they will receive preferential treatment. If you saw me on the street you would immediately think she. I pass as female. For the last year my hair was a bubblegum pink curly bob. Now it's aqua and long ocean hair somehow makes me girly. I wear dresses and purple short shorts with yellow flowers. I even regularly hold hands with a person that passes as male, making us pass for a heterosexual couple. This is how I pass, and I do so knowingly.

As an asexual panromantic agender person, passing has been a point of frustration for me. I am assumed female and heterosexual until I prove otherwise. Proving is dangerous though. Telling every person you meet, "please don't refer to me as she", or "just so you know, there is zero chance I will be sexually attracted to you, thought you might like to know", is a social transgression. I could try and look androgynous so I wouldn't have to say it, and I have done this in the past, but can't I wear a dress, menstruate, and not be a woman?

Passing holds a very precarious place in my heart. I love that I can look in the mirror and see someone very femme. But I don't want to be assumed female. I cringe every time someone reads my name (Talia or Natalie) and then immediately after the pronoun she comes into vogue. I also know by passing as female, I am safe from transphobic violence. I am physically safe, but feel like I don't really belong anywhere. Many trans people are male to female or female to male or look androgynous, but that is not where I stand and that is not my story. I live through the benefits and pain of passing.

Coming Out

My agender coming out story practically never happened, which is perhaps why I find it so intriguing. By this point my mother knew that I was a vegan asexual feminist. Her response to all of these labels was she wished I wasn't, I was making my life harder. My mother was driving me somewhere and I was sitting in the front seat of the car. I was talking to her about agender people because one, I find the topic fascinating, and two, I was dipping my feet in. When she hadn't gotten angry yet I quietly said, "Mom, that's what I am." Then she let out this sigh and said, "Of course you are." And the topic changed and that was the end of it. I asked her about it another day and what she had meant was, Talia, you're already all of these weird identities, of course you're another one. It was like she was sighing and saying, just your bad luck. Or, here we go again. Like I said, not much of a story, but it's stuck with me.

I have not repeated my agender coming out often. None of my other family members know I am agender. I go through life being she. I am her, the female, with the boyfriend.

The only exception is online. Almost all of the cisgender (people who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth) male friends I've met through playing online video games have been supportive. They hear my voice over voice chat programs and assume I am female and I will tell them quickly that while I may seem female, and am called female, I do not identify that way. I don't think any of them get it, but they accept it. At worst they forget it, but in a well meaning way because it just doesn't fit into something they can understand. They tried though, they always do. I think it's the distance that makes it safe to out myself. It's also the masculine atmosphere of World of Warcraft that compels me to identify as agender, pointing out I am not a male buddy, and I am not a female conquest either. I am outside of your boundaries and I want you to make space for me. I think they do, or at least they pretend to.

The Fluidity of My Gender

Although I have said I am agender up until this point, it is not that simple. I am not always this nothing beyond a binary system. If I think about it long and hard there is no word for how I feel. It is an experience of nothing, and yet it doesn't feel empty. It is just what it is, complete in its own ineffability.

Other days I will wake up and there are words for it. I can be femme or feminine. On those days I even giggle at being called a princess or being greeted as miss or lady. I know they are meant as terms of endearment and they amuse me because they are not too far off. Not right, but just outside the boundary of the inexplicable I am. Lesbian almost seems appropriate, but in the way Monique Wittig meant it and not in that I'm sexually attracted to women. I am still asexual. On those days I still don't like she. She is always someone else, someone not me. Like being called the wrong name by someone you don't know very well and you sigh, wondering, should I correct you? What will be least uncomfortable for everyone involved? Because there is no way to avoid the discomfort.

I once had someone tell me I think so much, I thought my gender away. I looked and looked for something, and found nothing, so I decided there was nothing. I'm not sure he's wrong. Sometimes I wonder if gender is as much a discourse as Foucault's sexuality and while it is multiplying while everyone else looks for its secrets, I've looked in a different way and found nothing there and been surprised at it all. To say that though would mean a lot. It would mean something about your gender and I don't think I want to go there right now. I'll just speak for myself, but the feeling remains. If Beauvoir said women are made, not born, maybe I am unmaking myself? I can't help but wonder. Which leads me onto my troubles with feminism.

I am an agender Feminist

In Gender Trouble Judith Butler said one of the problems with feminism is that it assumes a female subject, constricting the very identity it hopes to liberate. Over twenty years later and this hasn't changed much, from what I've seen. Yes we've got trans feminism and intersex feminism and all kinds of fantastic third wave stuff that makes me squeak with delight, but when it comes down to it I am still sitting in feminist classrooms being taught by women to women who are all feeling pretty damn safe because I am a woman. Put one "man" in the class and it throws the whole vibe off. Once he admits he's gay everyone settles down a little (as occurred in my intro to women's studies class), but everyone is still aware he is there. To be a woman in a woman's studies class is to be in the know, to be included. To be spoken for. The foundation of the theory largely relies on the fact that I am a woman, but I'm not.

So I feel this weird backwards pull, the desire to be a woman amidst feminist. Yes, I menstruate! I want to say. Yes, I understand what it's like to be afraid of the dark at night and to pick my shoes based on how likely I am to be raped based on where I'm going! Through these affirmations I realized I do belong, these theories speak for me, whether I am a woman or not. I am, as some feminists have said, in the class of woman. I belong to the social organization called woman, but I am not a woman. I am something else, I only fit neatly into this patriarchal category we all bond together inside. So this is a liberating thought, when I remember it. If I, an agender person, can be in the class of women, what about men? Is there room for them in here too? Sometimes, although they, like me, need a little wiggle room. We need our own theories, but I'm confident we'll get there safe and sound.

I am an agender vegan

I first thought against writing this post because, what does agender have to do with vegan, and isn't this a vegan feminist blog? But I am a vegan feminist and my life is this complex web of intersections. Being agender and vegan do intersect, or, more importantly, they don't. Being trans or agender is a non-issue in the vegan community. By non-issue, I mean it is not spoken about as far as I have seen. I'm not sure if this is a "don't ask don't tell" policy or similar to their feminist policy, which is generally "if we're vegan for political reasons, we almost certainly accept feminism as important. Not the most important, but important." I suspect the latter, so there isn't much to write, aside for this: lately for me I've grown a little disenchanted by animal rights. We vegans say time and time again that we will not save the world or be at peace by putting humans first. Feminists say this too in a slightly different way. We need to find peace for everyone all at once. We can't leave anyone behind. I especially have begun to feel this way after reading Derrida's The Animal That Therefore I am.

Vegans need to be a little bit more open about saying all rights, for all animals, right now. Not because we'll get some humanists or other people who will say, well we think you hate humans, but because we are all equally important. Our campaign posters should simultaneously say we support animal rights, the end of animals as property, being queer, being trans, and all of those other variations humans can be and are. Yes animal rights is important, but we're all here together. We know we can't just save pigs, we've got to save cows, and chickens, and fish too. Dogs while we're at it. Humans as well. We're animals too.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Killing Animals is Environmental Destruction: Why Feminists and Environmentalists Shouldn't Eat Animals

Feminism and the Environment

Feminism and veganism should both be concerned with the environment, but I write should because there are many people who ascribe to these philosophies and do not value or actively participate in environmentalism. An ethic that includes the environment is integral to veganism and feminism.

Feminism, largely focusing on women, has long analyzed the environment because women have been equated with the environment. As far back as Darwin and even much earlier in Aristotle's writing, the female pronoun "she" is used to replace the environment. The environment has been feminized in literature; it has been equated with the female. This is extremely apparent in religions and stories that refer to nature as "mother earth" and bestow life-giving abilities in her. From the womb, the soil, she can make life. Although this is not a trait all women have, women alone have it.

Many feminists, most notably ecofeminists, have embraced this female-nature hybrid. They write that the land, like women, can be raped (read Tong's book Feminist Thought for more on this). Pain is experienced similarly because they are the same, or at the very least have historically been treated by men and patriarchy the same. Women, the land, and nature, have been dominated. This argument says that we should be concerned with the environment, as feminists, because this is a similar oppression to one we already oppose. To some, this is the origins of the oppression of women. Women are oppressed because they, like everything else (including nature) must be subdued. Along with that train of thought comes all sorts of complications (that puts females closest to nature, what about men or trans people?), but my point is only that the environment matters in a feminist discourse. The environment is oppressed in some way that maps onto female oppression and so to oppress the environment is similarly wrong as it is to oppress women.

The Nature/Culture Divide

Western society loves dualisms, especially nature/culture. Nature is set up as everything culture is not and culture as everything nature is not. They are incompatible opposites. There is no gradient and no overlap. The nature/culture dualism means that humans fall under culture (as creators of culture) and are not nature. Humans, and their creations, are not natural. This has led humans to be disconnected from nature. Every time a building is constructed nature is obliterated. Nature is something out there, not here, and our entrance into it often destroys it. One person can enter nature and become a small, insignificant, witness to nature, but if too many people enter it nature is gone. This is a problem because it means humans can never be part of nature, enjoy nature, or want to protect nature just because it is kin (although this is not true for all humans of course).

So we've got this nature/culture divide with humans on the side of culture, and I believe it it this divide that is to blame for our inability to realize that killing animals is environmental destruction. Cows, sheep, pigs, chickens, and other farmed animals are "made" by humans. We breed their parents (forcibly, we rape them with instruments or we arrange for their rape), we raise them, and if we don't like what we have, we selectively breed them so as to produce certain offspring. The farmed animals are part of culture because they are objects made by us, so we think. This ideology extends to all animals we kill eventually. The deer we hunt or the geese we shoot are not nature. We have allowed them to live in a land controlled by humans, their death only the inevitable end. We already owned them in our minds and thus, when they do die, we are merely ending the lives of our property and not nature. If they were their own free agents it would be a crime to kill them... but I get ahead of myself. All animals that humans kill are part of culture because as the creators of culture, we own them because we have the right to kill them. Humans feel as if we govern all animals.

The whole dualism is problematic, but the most troubling part is that animals are placed under culture and human dominion because it allows us to kill them without seeing this as killing a living being (a part of nature).

Killing Animals is Environmental Destruction

It's very interesting to define the environment; the first image I get in my mind is a bunch of trees. Then I remember that there are ecosystems and insects and mice and all sorts of animals that make up this system. Trees, on their own, are not really an environment. They are not a nature... right? Cutting down a forest because it is just trees is environmental destruction because the trees are the environment. It's interesting then that killing a deer is not environmental destruction. Why not? It has memory, sensation, and life... to take those things away is very destructive, and it is just as much part of the environment as the trees. The trees are nature, the environment, because they are out there. So are deer, but they are only dragged down by the illusion that we own them, but property rights is a human invention. It really has nothing to do with deer. Similarly, cows are part of the environment. We only fail to realize this because out contact seems to have contaminated them. They are, at their core, natural beings. If we had a field of cows, not owned by humans, this would be nature. Our sense of ownership is the only thing that gets in the way, but this sense is a human cultural fiction made up to allow us to continue using and killing animals without moral calamity.

When we return animals to the side of nature, it becomes destruction to kill them. Killing a cow is just as much an end to nature as cutting down a tree. No matter how many water bottles you recycle, you still participate in environmental destruction by eating cow flesh for lunch. The cow, an environment in itself, is destroyed. This is the relationship of dead animals with oppressor. A life, so much more active than a tree's, has been ended. It is wrong for feminists and environmentalists to eat animals because to do so is to participate in the oppression, and destruction, of the environment. The environment is not just trees.