interviews

Radio Interview: “Love in abundance – on the intersections between queer human and non-human animal liberation”

AV logoA couple months ago, I did an hour-long radio interview on Animal Voices, a weekly animal liberation radio show that is focused on bringing critical perspectives to the animal rights and environmental justice movement. It was such a pleasure to speak with Dan and Vic (the co-hosts that day) and speak on such diverse topics as queer/trans/animal liberation, anti-racist animal rights organizing, prison abolition, and polyamory. I am including the questions they asked below, because I was so impressed by their thoughtfulness. Their questions enabled me to think through some ideas that I hadn’t even considered before.

Can you tell us about how you came into animal and queer activism?

Your direct action everywhere talk is called “trickle-up queer animal liberation” – in it, you refer to how trickle-down principles suggest that one must address the oppression of individuals closest related to the dominating group first, then move on to the next one. Trickle-up is the opposite, and claims that we must care about and help combat all forms of oppression, including/especially those furthest away from the “norm” – could you elaborate for us about why you advocate for trickle-up over trickle-down?

You refer to two types of messaging that is commonly repeated that says that some issues that non-human animals and queer individuals might encounter is that they might be seen as “cute”, which makes it so that only said “cute” animals are the ones that receive attention, and with the queer population, there are certain behaviours/identities that are maybe seen as more “digestible” to the mainstream heteronormative ideal – how does this homogenization harm liberation?

I really like what you said in the talk about not understanding queer and non-human animal lives as “tragic beings”. I’ve had conversations in the past about this, especially about NH animals, because when we see factory farm footage for example, there’s a tendency to perhaps see “the life as a chicken” as one of misery, but in the right conditions, a chicken could be very happy. Would you be able to unpack the idea of the “tragic being” a little more, and how is this view projected in queer individuals?

On a related note, when we do talk about violence, we often do fall into the pitfalls of the above two issues we just discussed about valuing certain lives over others, and/or focusing on the violence rather than the inherent value of the individual experiencing said violence. You are with the Colorado Anti-Violence Program – would you be able to speak on your strategies for addressing/working against violence?

What resources are out there for those who have either experienced, or witnessed violence, and are there ways we can perhaps reach out to those who are either perpetrators, or are hesitant to take a stand if they don’t necessarily feel personally affected (and of course it is possible that people can be on both sides of this issue as well)?

Let’s talk about the idea of bodily autonomy. As “property”, the bodies of non-human animals are owned, exploited, and destroyed by industry, but in human societies there is also a significant policing of women’s/queer/trans bodies. What is your response to policies, perspectives, and practices that attempt to control bodily autonomy, and how do you suggest we subvert that?

Liberationists, who seek empty cages for NH animals, often also advocate for prison reform/abolition – could you elaborate on the intersections here, and what might you advocate for in regards to alternative solutions?

On a lighter note, talking about understanding animal lives not just as “tragic beings”, can you tell us about working at a rooster sanctuary? What have you learned from the animals you work with, what are their lives like outside of factory conditions?

I was wondering if you’d also be interested in commenting on your work with combining anti-racism and anti-speciesism activism. I think it’s important that we all are constantly maintaining and increasing our awareness of words/behaviours/actions that might be oppressive to any individual or group. Last week on the show, we interviewed an activist who addressed fatphobia and thin privilege in the vegan community. Would you be able to speak to some ways that we should be aware of and fighting against xenophobia and white privilege in the vegan community as well?

Although I’ve noticed issues like racism and fatphobia in the vegan community, I feel like discrimination against queer individuals is perhaps not quite as pronounced – don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that vegans, just like anyone else, have internalized transphobia, biphobia, homophobia, polyphobia, etc. Would you be able to comment on how some of these forms of discrimination and oppression might have manifested themselves in vegan communities?

What about in the other direction, I have noticed that there are of course tons of queer individuals and communities that have embraced the speciesism and animal exploitation of the hegemonic class and human supremacy. For example, in Calgary around stampede time, there is what’s known as the “gay rodeo”, which is exactly what it sounds like – obviously a celebration of animal abuse/exploitation for the sake of “entertainment”. So when engaging with those who are potentially/probably involved in struggles for their own liberation, such as those in the queer lib movement, how do you incorporate bringing NH animals into their understanding of sexuality? Likewise for feminists, anti-racism activists, etc?

You mention non-monogamous relationships, I’m curious about how you see these identities and forms of relationships tying into queer and animal liberation. For me it seems like having autonomy is the common ground in liberation struggles, in the sense people can building their own identities and experiences rather than living in fixed ones.

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reflections

Spread the Word: Latina* Vegan Anthology from Lantern Books!

I’m super duper excited about a new book anthology, and I hope you’ll join me in spreading the call for submissions far and wide so that the collection can be a great success. Lantern Books, who produced the Sistah Vegan anthology, is currently selecting non-academic personal essays written by Latina* vegans. The publisher wants to hear about the connections between Latina vegans’ veganism and their culture, as well as conflicts or challenges that have come up. Submissions should be between 2,500 and 5,000 words and be sent to kara@lanternbooks.com.

As I wrote recently, it is essential for us to elevate the voices of vegans of color. (White vegans, I’m talking to you! Be a good ally and be more intentional and proactive about sharing POC vegans’ work.) It’s true that a lot of us, whether white or POC, grew up eating animal products (I loved some cold chicken feet when I was a kid) but POC are targeted by racism in some specific ways by the mainstream animal rights movement. People of color are often demonized as somehow less capable of compassion than white people even though, in my not-so-humble opinion, eating dogs or animals’ feet and heads is no more cruel than eating any other type of animal (a cow, pig, chicken) or body part of an animal. Bull running and dog fighting are no more cruel than the circuses and rodeos that are totally acceptable in white American culture. Hugo Dominguez, of Direct Action Everywhere, reflects (puzzled) on his loved ones’ reactions to him going vegan: 

“I couldn’t quite understand in what way my culture and heritage and my compassion for animals were mutually exclusive? How was it that me being against dog fighting, beating elephants with bull hooks to perform cruel tricks, the slaughter of baby farm animals, the killing of dolphins and whales, driving nails inside a conscious monkey’s skull, force-feeding a duck until their organs give out and die, injecting a bunny’s eye with poison and needlessly killing animals in the trillions every year was considered ‘Un-Mexican.’

We can and should adapt our beloved cultural traditions to fit with our vegan lifestyles. As a Chinese person, I am excited to be getting together with some friends in a few weeks for vegan hotpot. I would love to see a restaurant or recipe book featuring vegan dim sum recipes, which is another favorite dining tradition of mine. Rejecting certain parts of our culture that we disagree with, and adapting other things so that we can hold onto them doesn’t make us any less authentic or committed to our roots, and calling us “more white” because we are trying to be more sustainable and compassionate is undoubtedly racist. Meanwhile white people who are traveling to other countries can stop eating crickets and live sushi and supporting other animal-exploitative industries in their efforts to have a more “authentic (read: exotic)” cultural experience.  

Another point: stop using the word “vegan” as a synonym for “cruelty-free” because they are not the same thing. Trust me, I wish they were. I wish that every single fruit, vegetable, bean, nut, and grain that I ate was harvested by a worker who was properly fed, housed, compensated, and otherwise cared for, but this is not the case. A. Breeze Harper makes the point that plant harvesting is often romanticized as “cruelty-free” when in reality the conditions of harvesting certain crops such as strawberries are very cruel indeed

As vegans of color, I both think it’s important to work on building coalitions across culture and race, but I also think it’s important for vegans within one particular cultural context to build community with one another. In A. Breeze Harper’s book, Sistah Vegan, she was very intentional about exclusively bringing together black female vegans to talk about their unique perspective. Lagusta wrote a great review of Sistah Vegan and excerpted some of her favorite parts, which I hope you read and share. I hope that this new anthology featuring vegan Latinas can serve a similar purpose as Sistah Vegan. I hope also that the contributors will bring in analysis of misogyny and feminism (or however they choose to describe it.) 

*Lantern is using the term Latina to refer to those with Mexican, Central and South American, and Caribbean backgrounds. Even if writers don’t love the term “Latina” they are encouraged to submit to this collection. 

Some favorite links/resources: 

  • Everyone must check out Food Empowerment Project’s work immediately. They are the beneficiary of the book royalties and I can’t imagine a more deserving organization. They are a vegan organization so educate around cruelty to nonhumans in the animal agriculture industry, but they understand and advocate for the human workers in our food industry as well, which I think is absolutely critical. The founder and director, lauren Ornelas is brilliant, and I really hope that I can met her someday! 
  • Animal Liberationists of Color (Facebook page here) in Oakland, CA is tightly associated with the creative and active organization Direct Action Everywhere (DxE). Hugo Dominguez I mentioned above and is doing great work with DxE in Chicago. He wrote this essay, “My Experience as a Mexican Vegan Animal Liberationist of Immigrant Parents.”
  • La Loba Loca is an fierce Peruvian artist and rabblerouser and wrote “D.I.Y & LOCALLY MADE FOOD: What the hipsters din’t tell you” 
  • Vegans of Color is an excellent discussion group on Facebook. @vegansofcolor is also a good account to follow on Twitter, though you’ll have to request to follow because it’s private. 
  • Luz Calvo and Catriona R. Esquibel are the geniuses behind Decolonize Your Diet, which advocates for a MesoAmerican plant-based diet. ¡La comida es medicina! They have some good links to other kindred spirit organizations too. 
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