Tori Lion is a committed vegan activist, artist, and academic living in Toronto, where she engages in community organizing with Toronto Pig Save and its sister organizations, Toronto Cow Save and Toronto Chicken Save. She identifies as part of the mad, autistic, and queer communities. She uses her creative works to instill ecological awareness and compassion for other animals.
Most parents of autistic girls hope that their daughters will grow up to be like Temple Grandin. Animals have enchanted me since before I remember anything, and I think that my mother must have imagined me politely shaking her hand one day, perhaps over hors d’oeuvres following a standing ovation in a crowded lecture hall. Among my presents for my twelfth birthday was one of her books, Animals in Translation. That was before I grew into who I am now, a lesbian who goes to slaughterhouses every week to lay my hands on the bodies of Dr. Grandin’s victims. I stroke their curls and watch as they struggle for the water bottles carried by my activist friends and I. My hands have been covered in the filth that coats every inch of their skin. In spite of their terror, they come to know me by running their catlike tongues over my fingers, by nibbling my mittens in the winter. The intimate senses have largely been maligned by Western philosophy, but I know the truth at least partly because of them.
Perhaps Dr. Grandin and I are similar because we both became who we are among the carnage of the stockyards. Traumatized and alienated from myself as a result of years of repression, I was invited to bear witness to cows awaiting the death machines one morning in January some time ago, and I never looked back. However, unlike Dr. Grandin, I knew that my community members and allies were those who looked out at me with bewilderment from behind metal slats, who mirrored my vulnerability and exchanged affectionate touch with me. The stench of their surroundings puts me in mind of skies blackened by ashes of bodies like mine gassed and incinerated as the culmination of eugenics projects; I wonder, do such thoughts ever occur to Dr. Grandin as she arrives at her places of work? She claims that she doesn’t have an unconscious, and she conveniently denies the animals she murders the ability to hear the screams from underground. I imagine that not being afflicted by the turmoil of the mind must make doing her job a lot easier. As someone cohabiting their location at the margins of normalcy and reason, I see my reflection in the wildness of animals; rather than acknowledging this, Dr. Grandin’s work is saturated with the language of eliminating resistance, of rendering her victims docile so that they can better fulfill their role as units of production. From her position on the catwalk, looking down with the gaze of mastery over nature, Dr. Grandin sees her victims blending smoothly into her machines. I am increasingly overcome with a burning desire to let Dr. Grandin know that she is wrong.
When Dr. Grandin makes a visit, I refuse to politely shake her hand. I take the stage with her, carrying a sign reading, “KILLING THE UNWILLING: NEVER HUMANE – GO VEGAN!”, which is promptly pulled from my hands. “Don’t believe the happy lie, animals do not want to die!”, I shout. “It’s not food, it’s violence!” I point at Dr. Grandin, yelling, “I’m autistic and I try to save animals from her every day!” Being dragged away by security, I’ve never felt simultaneously so ecstatic and so overwhelmed. Upon leaving the University of Guelph campus, I repeatedly yell, “I did it! I did it! I did it!”, out of breath. The release of energy is good and necessary.
The protesters occupying the lawn and sidewalk resume chanting, and I join them. Waiting within the walls of an academic institution built upon animal exploitation, the truth could be heard coming in from outside, much to the annoyance of Dr. Grandin, who ran outside to argue with my friends. A powerful feeling of joy had rushed through me. I knew that we were going to invade and crush down the walls of speciesism and crush down the walls of her slaughterhouses; she and her meatpacking audience could no longer be safe in there.
Dr. Grandin, I do not want to resemble you when I am an old woman. I look forward to further embracing my own animality, to use the words of pattrice jones, rather than learning to dispose of the animals who I claim to “love.” I don’t think that you could have predicted who I would become. I don’t think that you have been challenged before. Is that why you seemed so unsure of how to respond to me?