Labels

Everyone’s first experience of a label is the one they are given at birth. The one about 99% of us carry with us for our entire lives: our sex and gender. Everything you do and anything you will ever be is determined by that label in a patriarchal society. Those of us who reject the label given to us at birth are shunned by society and subject to systemic discrimination, yet society at large doesn’t seem keen on labels as a whole.

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Fast forward to 1999. I’m 14 years old and I’ve just started a new school. (I had to leave/was expelled from my two previous schools due to being bullied.) I’m into heavy metal and punk, so obviously I gravitated towards that group of people. The other kids called them, “Greebos” or “Greebs” but the most popular of them decided that labels weren’t cool so we never used the term. It was the same with the widespread bisexuality. If we didn’t talk about it or label ourselves we weren’t really different. We were just the same as everyone else, but we wore black and slept with people of multiple genders. (Yes I was having sex at 14.)

This situation didn’t last long for me and I ended up hanging out with the kids in the year below. They embraced labels and were subsequently called losers by the people I used to hang out with in my year group. We were Greebos. We were lesbians, gays and bisexuals and we were proud, even if just within our friendship group. We went through the same struggles together and our bond and our labels kept us together and kept us strong. I fell in love for the first time in 2001 with one of these people. We called ourselves lesbians and that stuck with me for the next nine years, even if the Greebo label faded into metal-head as time went by.

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So what are my labels now at 32 and what do they mean to me?

Autistic

I’ve been using this label since Feb 2017, when I truly accepted that this was who I was. A year later I had an official diagnosis.

I don’t say I am someone with autism. Autism is me. I am autistic.

Realising I was autistic was super validating for me. It explained a lot of my past behaviour and allowed me to find friends who were similar to me.

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Transmasculine Nonbinary

I am transgender. I lean towards masculinity. My transition involves testosterone and masculinising surgeries.

I am however not a man. I’m also not a woman. My gender identity and subsequent presentation fluctuates and sits well out of the norms for binary genders.

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Metal-head

I love all music actually but my focus is definitely focused on metal, punk and hardcore. I often dress in what can be considered as metal-head attire.

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Queer

Truly I am pansexual, but I like queer as an identity.

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Why are labels important?

My labels have brought some of the best people into my life. We have bonded over similar struggles and we have stood strong in the face of transphobia, homophobia and ableism. They give me a blanket of safety I can run and hide under when the allistic, transphobic world gets too much and they understand exactly why I need to do that.

It means when I’m out at the pub with my friends I’m not gonna get misgendered or called aggressive because of my autistic style of communicating. It means I was encouraged to be my authentic self at Trans Pride by being topless . It was the safety of having these people around me which allowed me to work up the courage to medically transition.

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We can also help other marginalised groups. They define who they are and the systemic discrimination they face. We listen to them and lend our privilege to help where it is needed. Without labels, I don’t think we would be able to do this so effectively and this leads on to my next point;

Why doesn’t society like labels as a whole?

In my experience oppressors don’t like labels because for them it means they are not the norm and when we use them, we use them to empower ourselves against their oppression.

For example cis women who reject the use of cis, even though it is literally what they are. They don’t like it because they have always just seen themselves as normal women and that trans women and femme aligned people are deviant in some way. This is often combined with TERf rhetoric. (The F is small deliberately cuz ain’t nothing feminist about their tripe.)

Another example is allistic people. This just basically means you aren’t autistic. Allistic people hate it because they see autistic people as abnormal and they are just normal people. Wrong.

So let’s embrace our labels and the labels of others, banding together to empower one another and bring down systems of oppression.

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Guest Blog: Do Animal Rights Marches Advance or Hinder the Movement.

Do Animal Rights Marches Advance or Hinder the Movement?

 

I am devoted to animal liberation and veganism. It is the mainstream AR movement that white vegans have created that is the embarrassing racist/sexist uncle, for whom I refuse to make excuses.  It is hindering activism for animals—while at the same time also harming oppressed people.

 

While I’ve given up hope that the mainstream AR movement will redeem itself, it is hard to disengage after well over 30 years immersed in it (though I have been disengaging for several years). I watch, in dismay, as thoughtless, counter-productive activism, which does not serve the interests of animals, makes itself as uninviting as possible to black people, other POC, women, disabled people, fat people, gay/trans/non-binary people, immigrants, poor people—and to activists for every other social justice movement.

 

When members of these groups do become vegans, it is usually despite, not because of, the mainstream vegan movement. And many who agree with the ethical arguments for veganism, and are drawn to the ways in which veganism aligns with wider social justice goals, are put off from the message (though they agree with it) by the oppression they experience among white vegans (especially white vegan men).

 

Every social justice movement, especially in the last several years, is making alliances with other social justice movements—every movement, that is, except for the mainstream AR movement. The pro-intersectional AR movement is doing so–but they are not the ones marching down the street, patting themselves on the back as a public display of unearned pride.

 

The obliviousness to the public’s reaction to watching this parade of self-aggrandizement (and worse, the reaction of potential/attainable allies in other social justice movements) is an embarrassment to those who have talked and written endlessly about the house-cleaning that needs to be done by our movement.

 

It is a good thing for the animals, oppressed communities, and veganism, when individuals from groups either intentionally or thoughtlessly made unwelcome by the mainstream, form their own vegan groups, bringing a needed collaboration and alliance between animal rights and broader social justice issues. With any luck, this will become the vanguard, the public face of, veganism. The white mainstream can follow this innovative lead or stay stagnant and moribund. 

 

A parade for and by a group of oppressed humans (accompanied by their allies, marching in solidarity) is not the same as a parade of humans, for animals. Of course, it is the nature of animal rights that the activism is done entirely by one group (humans) for another group (non-human animals). In this latter case, the marchers are not the victims, though AR people sometimes act like they are. Animal activists frequently identify, to a self-deluded degree, with suffering non-human animals, but they are not the suffering animals (as Pattrice Jones has noted). It does not help animals for people to put themselves on display, as the center of attention—that attention belongs to the animals.

 

Animal Rights is every bit as important a cause as any other. There is no hierarchy of worth. But, public perception must be taken into consideration. With all of the preventable suffering going on in every area of the planet (due to capitalism, global warming, racism, lack of empathy, and other human-created symptoms of short sightedness, greed, and depraved indifference to suffering), it comes across as insensitive for a movement that has made it clear that it does not care about any aspect of human suffering to make a spectacle of itself. 

 

What are the stated goals of, and hoped-for gains, from, animal rights marches? Have years of marches, itself, made these goals more attainable? I suggest that they, and the assumptions and practices on which they rest have made them less attainable. What are [some of] these practices and assumptions?

 

·         that in your face activism works

·         lack of concern with how the message is received

·         focus on converting young, able-bodied white people

·         disinterest in anyone but the above

·         anger at the non-white and/or not-young and/or not able-bodied for not getting the message that has not even been thoughtfully conveyed to their communities

·         lack of concern for systemic obstructions that keep people in survival mode, with little energy to consider the plight of animals

·         no concern, let alone help, forthcoming for the above, from the mainstream AR movement

·         that merchandising women’s bodies (and promoting misogynistic standards of beauty for women) goes unchallenged by the mainstream as a major way to sell veganism to the public (when there is data that shows that it is counter-productive: https://moneyish.com/ish/heres-proof-that-sex-doesnt-sell/)

·         not questioning why “the public” to which the above message is aimed (straight, non-feminist men) has become the de facto main focus for a movement that is actually women-driven

·         lack of discussion of the use of women as handmaidens to the “important” activists—the white men in charge

·         little, if any, movement to change the white-male-centric movement, even after documentation of multiple instances of sexual abuse and bullying of women by white males in position of power in AR groups

·         anger at POC and women for starting their own movements, in the face of exclusion of them from the mainstream movement

 

If you want to march, march as vegan allies to other social justice groups. Be out there at BLM rallies, health-care-for-all marches, pro-Palestinian demos, anti-violence to women gatherings. Don’t be there to promote veganism, but be there because you care. Your presence will demonstrate that not all vegans deserve the justifiable stereotype of caring about no other issue except animals. And if you do fit that stereotype, stay home and start reading about other social justice movements, and how intersecting systems of oppression cannot be pried apart.

 

Read Kimberle Crenshaw, who coined the term intersectionality, in order to expose how the intersections of race and gender specifically affect black women (https://www.newstatesman.com/lifestyle/2014/04/kimberl-crenshaw-intersectionality-i-wanted-come-everyday-metaphor-anyone-could ).

 

Read what black vegans have to say about mainstream veganism. Read their more advanced take on animal rights–and amplify their voices. The most original thinking on animal rights and veganism is not coming from the white males who dominate these movements and who have made it inclusive and harmful to so many.

 

It can be challenging to care about other humans, when you see how so many of them treat animals, but by ignoring the suffering of people, you are going to make them far less likely to reconsider their stance on animals. Open your activism to other social justice movements and learn about their issues. And learn about what marginalized vegans experience from a privilege-dominated (dominated by power, not by numbers) movement. Do it because it is the right thing to do and because the animals deserve better than the stale, non-inclusive activism that marks the mainstream movement. 

 

Doing AR work is heart breaking and we need fun and a respite from the human-caused suffering we daily witness.   How about a city-wide picnic (or other fun event) to which the public and other social justice groups are invited, instead of a march that will leave many observers puzzled, angry, or uninterested?

 

This was not meant to chastise individuals holding marches. I assume that they hold marches with the best of intentions, but the animals need more than good intentions and counter-productive spectacles. And so do the people whom we harm with our biases and exclusivity, and with our ignorance of their (frequently life-and-death) issues.

 

Susan Gordon lives in New Jersey, USA and has been vegan for 34 years. She is active in pro-intersectional animal rights, justice for Palestine, feminism, racial justice, anti-ableism, and anti-fat shaming.

Discussion welcome.

My Autism Journey

October 2016

I met my best friend, who also happens to be autistic. She observed autistic traits in me that no one else had in the 31 years previously.

I was sceptical. I was almost 32 and no one had ever even considered I was anything other than neurotypical (outside of depression and anxiety) but what she was saying made sense.

She pointed me in the direction of online Autism Quotient tests. I scored between 39-42 on pretty much every test I took. She scored 39 and had an official diagnosis.

February 2017

On the 22nd February 2017, I accepted that I was autistic. I sat crying into my phone messaging my best friend saying that nothing had ever made so much sense to me in my life.

With research I’d been doing over the last few months I came across some great trans and autistic communities and realised that some 35% of autistic people are also trans or gender nonconforming. (I wish someone would study that link.)

March 2017

I went to my GP and told them that I think I’m autistic and gave them a list of reasons why. They asked me all sorts of intrusive questions that I didn’t like. I left that appointment crying and proceeded to have a meltdown in my car. (I’d also spoken to them about trans issues in this appointment and the questions about that were so uneducated and misinformed. This was also to be my downfall going forward for both issues.)

May 2017

I attend my first appointment at Trealaw Mental Health Unit in South Wales.

Expectations: GIC referral and referral to a consultant psychologist to be assessed for ASD. (Autism Spectrum Disorder.)

Reality: Nonbinary erasure, intrusive questions, disbelief that at 32 I was only just realising I was both trans and autistic.

I went over again all the things I had told my GP using my list I created, breaking down different behaviours in blocks of 5 years up until the present day. The nurse I saw took a photocopy of the list and said that they were unable to refer me me further because they were not a consultant and they didn’t know when a consultant would be available to see me.

June-October 2017

The above situation happened a total of 7 times, including an appointment which had a blood test in it to see if I was able to go on testosterone. (Talk about getting my hopes up!)

It was so draining, intrusive and destroyed my mental health. My drinking increased ten fold in this time. It was the only way I could cope with the constant invalidation and disappointment. I had a meltdown in my car after every appointment.

I also had an autism advocate write two letters of complaint. Each time I got a call from the head of mental health in my county apologising. I kept telling him that I thought someone along the line was gate keeping the pathways and that I wasn’t going to give up. I made it very clear that we could continue wasting NHS time and resources for as long as he wanted.

November 2017

I get two letters in the post.

The first one comes with clear instructions as to what the appointment is for. I’m going to see a consultant to be assessed for ASD. The appointment is in January and they need me to fill out a written autism quotient test and bring it with me.

The second letter has no details on it, just an appointment at the standard mental health place in February. (It was cancelled due to snow so I still don’t know what this was for, but as of Feb 2018 I still don’t have an NHS GIC referral.)

January 2018

The day of my appointment with the consultant is here. I’ve deliberately got myself in a bit of a state by messing with my routine and having lots of appointments on the same day to emphasise my autistic traits. I mask quite well sometimes and that was definitely not needed here.

I rock up at Trealaw Mental Health Unit only to find that my appointment was at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital and not the place I had been attending for the past few months. They took my AQ test and rescheduled the appointment. I went and had a meltdown in my car, which seems pretty standard practise for all my visits there now.

February 2018

The day itself  before my appointment was incredibly stressful for reasons I’m not going to disclose. My best friend met me in Pontypridd and I was in full shut down mode. They had never seen me like this before. They dropped me at the Royal Glam and wished me luck.

The consultant was late. I’m not sure if this was deliberate, but I was basically twitching and trying not to have a meltdown by the time he eventually showed up.

We sat and chatted for about 2 hours. He changed his fountain pen twice with the amount he was writing. He liked my now rather scruffy piece of paper with the age categories and developmental milestones. (He took that otherwise I’d show you a copy now. ) He asked about relationships, social difficulties and all sorts of stuff about my childhood. I told him I live in the world below eye contact and I miss a lot of social cues because of this. I looked at his face twice but not his eyes. I wouldn’t know him in the street.

I’m going to attach an edited version of his report so that you can see the criteria he was looking for. However please be aware that he misgenders me throughout and I have asked him to edit this in the copy he sends to my GP. (It was difficult for me to read because of this.)

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I’ve shared this process with you in the hope that it will help you if you are an adult seeking diagnosis in the NHS or elsewhere. Please feel free to ask any questions.

The search for the illusive GIC referral continues……….

 

 

My Emerging Male Privilege

I finally admitted to myself around a year ago that I needed to medically transition. What this means for me is that I’ll be masculinising myself with the addition of testosterone and eventually having top surgery.

I’m doing this because the dysphoria of being called she/her/woman/girl everyday is destroying me. I’m not a man either and I never will be. I’m non-binary and I’m transmasculine. However in the masculinising process I expect that I’ll get misgendered from the other side with he/him/boy/man. That doesn’t hurt me nearly as much and it comes with it’s own set of privileges that people who are seen as women do not get.

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So what is male privilege?

I took this straight from Wikipedia:

Special privileges and status are granted to men in patriarchal societies. These are societies defined by male supremacy, in which males hold primary power and predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property. With systemic subordination of other genders, men gain economic, political, social, educational, and practical advantages that are more or less unavailable to other genders. The long-standing and unquestioned nature of such patriarchal systems, reinforced over generations, tends to make privilege invisible to holders; it can lead men who benefit from such privilege to ascribe their special status to their owned individual merits and achievements, rather than to unearned advantages.”

(Obviously I edited it slightly to erase their binary nonsense, but you get the standard textbook definition.)

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What this means is that anyone who “passes” as a man in our society gets certain privileges. This includes cis men, trans men and transmasculine nonbinary folks. This manifests in the way people treat you at work, how people value your opinions, opportunities open to you, how people greet you etc etc.

(Please note that passing is cis normative term that many trans people reject and that trans folks have their own set of challenges regardless of any male privilege bestowed on them by society.)

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At this present moment before I start testosterone, I have what I call “fleeting male privilege.” It’s given to me and taken away at a rate of knots when people realise I have boobs or that my voice is too high to be considered masculine.

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Until recently I’ve never had a sustained period of male privilege bestowed on me. My best friend is a nonbinary trans man and happens to do that weird thing the cis defined as “passing.” We were walking with another friend (who’s also trans) through Cardiff city centre and I guess all three of us looked like young white cis men because people got out of our way. People avoided eye contact. No one bothered us at all. This struck me because neither of them noticed and I noticed with every inch of my being. It made me really uncomfortable.

I think everyone deserves a high level of respect, dignity and opportunity but I guess that’s why I’m a feminist. I’ll be documenting my emerging male privilege as I transition.

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