reflections

Guest Post by Chelsea Dub on World Vegan Day/Autistics Speaking Day

Chelsea Dub: I am an art student currently studying animation and painting at Ball State University. Through my art, I attempt to challenge society’s perceptions of marginalized communities—including other animals—as well as explore the intersections between issues such as ableism, sexism, and speciesism. Read more about Chelsea’s work here.

Stairway to Dissonance

“Stairway to Dissonance” by Chelsea Dub

Content warning: animal abuse, autistic abuse

November 1st was World Vegan Day, and also Autistics Speaking Day, so as a vegan who is also autistic, this day holds extra significance to me. In our anthropocentric and ableist society, the voices of other animals and the voices of autistic people are routinely ignored, silenced, and even hijacked. Although certain people are assumed to be “voiceless,” for those paying attention, communication comes in various forms. Animals who are exploited communicate their distress and resistance very plainly: they scream, cry, kick, growl, whimper, howl, hiss, bite, peck, flinch, squirm, try to run, swim, or fly away, pace, or shut down and refuse food and water, withdrawing completely as they attempt to render themselves invisible and therefore untouchable by their oppressors.

Not only are other animals silenced, but their voices are often hijacked in order to promote interests that conflict with their well-being. In blood sports, fake animal calls that either mimic potential mates or distressed baby animals are often used to lure unsuspecting animals to their deaths. Human voices are also dubbed over animals in food commercials so that they appear to be complicit in their own consumption. Grieving mothers become California “happy cows,” and chickens yearn to become Burger King “chicken fries.” Smiles are drawn on animals’ faces in order to depict their exploitation and slaughter as carefree, desirable experiences. Other animals may be robbed of their voices quite literally by being debarked, debeaked, demusked, declawed, or having their tails docked.

Autistic voices are also varied, and we communicate using speech, nonverbal vocalizations, body movements, sign language, text, art, or augmentative and alternative communication. Our voices are repeatedly ignored over the voices of neurotypical parents, teachers, media representatives, antivaxxers, researchers, therapists, psychologists and other autism “experts,” celebrities, and multi-million dollar organizations such as Autism $peaks. The autistic experience has been repeatedly defined by those who observe it by the sidelines, but who have never actually lived it. Oftentimes, these people who observe from the sidelines refuse to even consider our actual experiences, and then have the nerve to say that we are “voiceless.” Those who utilize non-normative forms of communication are often expected to assimilate. Autistic children who flap their hands as either a form of stimming (self-stimulatory behavior), or to communicate their emotional state, are taught to “quiet” their hands so that they do not disturb their neurotypical peers. Even though alternative forms of communication exist, some autistic children are still expected to learn and acquire speech exclusively, which may delay or hinder their ability to effectively communicate their needs. Autism $peaks, which has no autistic people on its board of directors or in positions of leadership, continually ignores autistic voices while giving a sinister voice to autism itself through its horrifically ableist “I am Autism” video.

In neurotypical-led discussions about autism, autistics labeled as “high-functioning” are disqualified for not being autistic enough to talk about autism, while autistics labeled as “low-functioning” are disqualified for being too autistic to talk about autism. In either instance, autistic people are conveniently left out of the discussion. In order to gain publicity and donations in our name, our lives are painted as tragic and destructive. We are either objects of pity, or objects of resentment. Similarly, other animals are damned as either wanted commodities, or unwanted pests.

One of my earliest memories is from when I was nonverbal as a small child. While I can speak reasonably well now, I was speech delayed (a common autism trait). The daycare I was in at the time was abusive (one of the memories that has stuck with me is of the daycare employees giving us adult-sized cups without lids, and then calling us “stupid” for spilling them). I was fully aware of my situation, but was unable to effectively communicate it to my parents through speech. One day, in the daycare parking lot, I burst into tears and desperately tried to tell my parents about the abuse that was going on in the daycare. I remember knowing what I wanted to say, yet being unable to form the words. My parents frantically asked me “What’s wrong?”, yet all I could manage were scrambled syllables and cries. Despite my inability to use speech, I had communicated to my mom that something was wrong, and I never set foot into that daycare again.

Non-speaking does NOT mean unfeeling or unthinking. On this World Vegan Day and Autistics Speaking Day, please consider the voices of both nonhuman beings and autistic people. As Arundhati Roy once said, “There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.”

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guest posts, reflections

Guest Post by Tori Lion: On Disrupting Temple Grandin

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?

A large chalk drawing of Joshua the calf that Tori made on the sidewalk next to a Starbucks franchise in downtown Toronto as part of the International Day of Action Against Starbucks.

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