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 thoughts on Vegan Pride.

In June 1969 the movement for LGBTQIA+ equality and liberation began. A series of riots took place centring around the Stonewall Inn in New York. These riots were instigated by transgender women of colour and the next year, the first Pride Parade was held.  (You can read more about the history of Pride HERE.)

In recent years Pride has been the victim of commercialisation, police acceptance and the perpetrator of documented trans and bisexual erasure. We are fighting a battle within our own movement to reclaim our heritage and our purpose. We forget that trans women of colour started our journey to liberation because of police aggression and centre our celebrations around cis gay men.

All is not lost however. Various Pride’s around the world now incorporate political blocs. I was part of one that was removed from Pride by the police in the summer of 2017. Those who are fed up of Pride being taken from us, have splintered and created their own after parade parties, much of them political in nature and centring around queer and trans people especially those of BAME origin.

In the world outside of Pride and our little queer families we tend to make for ourselves, the struggle for LGBTQIA+ rights continues. Transphobia and homophobia are rife in schools, workplaces and the media. There’s a moral panic about trans children in the UK media which is damaging communities already on the edge of society. We’ve already had one trans woman murdered in 2018. How many more are we going to lose?

Then there’s the intersex babies that no one talks about. The babies who’s sex and gender are decided for them at birth and surgery undertaken to change their ambiguous genitals so they match the sex the parents have decided for them. There are many documented of cases of ongoing psychological damage in intersex adults.

So with all of that to contend with, I was surprised to see an event in London calling itself, “Vegan Pride.” It takes after various events around the world, including one in Toronto which after it’s first year had to rename itself due to uproar from the LGBTQIA+ community.

So why “Vegan Pride?” Why not any other number of names it could have been that doesn’t have any LGBTQIA+ association? London Vegan Parade? March for Veganism? Vegans United Parade? Nope. They HAD to appropriate queer culture and use it for themselves.

Some people have mistaken it as a parade for LGBTQIA+ vegans, but it’s anything but. If you go onto the Facebook event you’ll see a big group of privileged cis white vegans claiming they are oppressed for an ethical choice they have chosen to make, “all lives matter” rhetoric and certain people who have known Nazi affiliations. I even saw a cis friend of mine silence queer people’s objections to them stealing our culture. I was shocked and suddenly felt really unsafe. I’ve yet to confront him about it. Maybe he’ll see this and realise what he’s done. 😦 The event organisers are banning any LGBTQIA+ people who comment objecting, thus silencing our objection.

The whole event is really off putting for vegans and non-vegans alike. It waters down everyone’s message. The message for queer liberation, the ongoing struggles of queer POC and it screams of human centricity. What about the animals?

The worst part? It clashes with one of the biggest and most prolific Pride events in theUK: Brighton Pride.

Please remember that vegans are not oppressed. Oppression needs a power structure to uphold it. Your uncle making bacon jokes or you not being able to get a decent sandwich for lunch is not oppression. It’s just difficulties from a life choice that you have made, a choice which so many other people do not have, putting you in a position of privilege not misfortune. Queer and trans people did not choose and cannot unchoose who they are, like you can with your veganism.

In closing I would like to ask you to boycott this event and tell people why you are doing it, especially if you are an ally. We need you more now than ever.