Am I Still Vegan?

By Michele Kaplan

Image by Claudia Hafner Watercolor

Image by Claudia Hafner Watercolor

There was a period in my life
where I devoted
My heart. My soul. My time.
Passionate. Vegan. To Animal Rights.
I would stand there in the freezing cold, some winter nights.
bundled up like I was going on an arctic expedition
with my activist family by my side
What do we want? Animal Liberation! When do we want it? NOW!
all with my camera, raised fist or a protest sign,
#ForTheAnimals! #ForTheEarth! #ForTheMovement!

and then. my wheelchair. stopped.
working
and no longer was I able to attend,
the many and various AR events.
And because sometimes shit happens consecutively,
my physical health also went sploot.

*sploosh*
It all began to unravel.

I began to share less and less vegan articles on social media
because I just lacked the energy to engage
in the sometimes defensive and hostile conversations, as I tried to explain.
why veganism

I began to share less Animal Liberation events
because I was already feeling isolated from not being able to attend,
because I lacked the heart space required to further face isolation.
backlash. that can occur from advocating
for a cause that goes against the norm.

No more energy to give
to the long draining internet conversations
with the single issue activists
who felt that veganism gave them some sort of free pass!
to discriminate.

No energy for the long draining internet conversations
for the activists who cried out
“vegan apologist!!” “sellout!”, accusing me of distracting from the cause.
for when I told them that it didn’t.

No more energy to write the intersectional articles in response,
desperate to do damage control because what. if. someone
outside of the movement
read this (what they posted) and thought
THIS represents the movement as. a. whole!
That this deters them from going vegan!
Oh no! Quick! We have to do… something!
#ForTheAnimals! #ForTheEarth! #ForTheMovement!
No more energy to spare for the urgency.
No more energy to spare…

No energy to spare for the anger in the movement,
lacking mindfulness, driven by ego rather than the cause.
No energy, not even for the intersectional anger, driven by compassion.
No energy to spare to be angry.
There was no energy to spare…

And when people would turn and say to me (almost demanding)
“Go ahead. Convince me. Why should I go vegan” (as you have done before)
a voice in my heart and head would cry out
“I don’t fucking care if you go vegan!!”
I am overwhelmed. I am drained. Thirsty soul.
I am just trying to survive.
get though this.
I have nothing to give.

And as time went on, and I became
isolated from the community
(which I say without resentment.
For this is the nature of the activist family.
The cause is the glue)
I began to rethink my devotion
Once married to the cause, I had no choice but to now map out:
Just who am I (when I’m not the hardcore animal rights activist, taking photos at the events)?

Quiet and aching from the times,
searching for a sense of community.
I began to rediscover a life beyond the movement.
And because the majority of people who stood by me during this time,
happened to be the folks I knew before I went vegan.
I began to question ideas of compassion
I began to question ideas of priority
Just what is important to me in this life?
And what is worth my devotion?

But if this was in question.
Yes.
I am still vegan.
#ForTheAnimals. #ForTheEarth.

 

Author’s Note:

This poem is in no way putting down or trying to get people to not get involved in the AR movement. Like any activist movement in society, there are problems within the movement. This is not an animal rights thing. There are issues of privilege. But there is also a growing intersectional side to animal rights. This poem wrote was written in regard to my experience. It’s not to say that I will never return to the movement. I probably will. Activism is a part of me. But it talks about defining veganism for yourself. Not in the sense that you occasionally eat vegan food but still call yourself vegan, but in regard to the idea that a “real” or true vegan is out there in the streets, fighting for the animals but sometimes that’s just not an option. And that doesn’t mean one should stop being vegan, because veganism is not about a human run movement. It’s about the animals and the earth.

This is also not to suggest that no one in the AR movement stood by me. While there is a difference between activist friends and friends, I have made good fiends in the movement as well.

 

This essay originally appeared on Rebelwheels’ Soapbox on May 17, 2015.


me in wheelchairMichele Kaplan is a queer (read: bisexual), geek-proud, intersectional activist on wheels (read: motorized wheelchair), who tries to strike a balance between activism, creativity and self care, while trying to change the world.

whyveganism.com

How Farmers are Making Dairies Sexy for Men’s Health

Young white woman naked in a wheel barrow; she is covered in hay and wearing very large pump red heels

Macra na Feirme, a farmer’s association in Ireland, is creating a pornographic calendar to raise awareness about mental health problems and suicide in the farming community, particularly that of young men.

This project is gendered, as pornography predominantly involves the display of women’s bodies, while farming is masculinized. Women are the objects on display, while men are the subjects of concern.

Advertisement for Macra; A pair of legs and the top of a skirt is visible, a woman is sitting on a bail of hay in high heels

Calendar sales will go to the mental health non-profit Walk In My Shoes

What is interesting is that the campaign seeks to challenge unrealistic masculine gender roles (which discourage boys and men with depression from seeking help or admitting weakness), and yet those same roles are protected by framing the campaign in clear scripts of patriarchal dominance.

Importantly, the centering of men’s experiences also makes invisible the multitude of research that shows clear correlations between the sexual objectification of women and women’s higher rates of depression, anxiety, and self-harm, as well as lower rates of self image and self efficacy.

But more is going on in these images–we’re also seeing the romanticization and sexualization of speciesism. In one image, the Rose of Kilkenny (Ireland’s version of Miss America), poses seductively with a milking device. An instrument of torture for the Nonhuman Animals involved, but a very naturalized symbol of power, domination, and the pleasurable consumption of the female body for humans who interpret the image.

Woman in red high heels with legs exposed holds a milking device in the middle of a dairy, with the back ends of cows lined up on the machines visible in the background

What’s also made invisible is the relationship between mental health and participation in systemic violence against the vulnerable. Yes, the campaign seeks to bring attention to the emotional challenges associated with farming, but no connection is being made to the relationship between hurting others and the hurt one experiences themselves. Slaughterhouse workers, for instance, are seriously psychologically impacted by the killing and butchering they must engage. Dairy workers, too, are paying a psychological price for their participation. This isn’t just about “farming” in general, this is about speciesist practices in particular. Speciesism hurts us all: Nonhuman Animals in particular, male farmers as a consequence, and women who are objectified and hurt in a society where the exploitation of feminized vulnerable groups is normalized.

Indeed, I find it interesting that, for women who want to participate in a social movement, the “go to” response is so often to get naked or make pornography. It is a powerful statement about the gender hierarchy in our society and the limited and often disempowering choices available to women. Ultimately, it speaks to a considerable limitation on our social justice imagination.

 

Thank you to our Hungarian contributor Eszter Kalóczkai for bringing attention to this story.


Corey Lee WrennMs. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network and also operates The Academic Abolitionist Vegan. She is a Lecturer of Sociology with Monmouth University, a part-time Instructor of Sociology and Ph.D. candidate with Colorado State University, council member with the Animals & Society Section of the American Sociological Association, and an advisory board member with the International Network for Social Studies on Vegetarianism and Veganism with the University of Vienna. She was awarded the 2016 Exemplary Diversity Scholar by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory (2015, Palgrave Macmillan).

From Domestic Violence in a Homophobic and Meat-Centric Country to Animal Rights Activist: Destroying the Hero Worship

Trigger Warning: Discusses sexual abuse, domestic violence, heterosexism, eating disorders, and suicide.

Destroying-the-Hero-Worship By Raffaella Ciavatta

Before I dive into this article I have to confess that writing it was not an easy decision. I’ve been wanting to write about it for a very long time but undressing myself before the eyes of people I’ve never seen, talked to or interacted with in any way can open the door to a lot of hatred. But it also opens the doors to all of you out there, who can relate to my experiences, and my hope is that you too, can turn violence into activism. This story is for you, brothers and sisters.

Pink flowery sheet set up as a tent with blankets and pillows insideI too have regarded women as prizes. I am no heroine. And for that I am sorry.

I was born and raised in Brazil, a tropical paradise, people say, where everyone is always partying, LGBTQ flags flapping on a hot breezy day, gunshots and pools of blood, a country which has as many steak houses as the U.S has Starbucks’ stores.

Growing up there was far from paradise. I discovered glimpses of my sexuality at a very early age, so young I’m not sure how old exactly I was but I’m going to estimate 5 years old. I remember this girl came to play with me and I took her to my bedroom. I loved to pretend I was camping so I used to make tents with my bed sheets. I invited her in. I kissed her. We touched each other.

About a year later, age 6 a man came to live with us. I’ve always had a talent to read people and I knew something about him was terrifying. I refused to call him father not because I was jealous that my mother was with someone but because I could smell the violence in him. I called him “Big Bee” (if you translate it from Portuguese), probably because I had been stung by bees before and I knew it hurt a lot.

Like most predators, he took some time to unveil his true self. Before that he had to gain our trust and approval, which he tried to get from me by buying me things, taking me to places I wanted to go, and by supposedly making my mother happy. I pretended to give him my trust but inside I was shaking.

Then the days when he would come home somewhat drunk started. At first it was because he had a bad day at work, long hours of art direction call for some whiskey. Those days started to get more frequent, the tone of his voice started to raise, his hands also started to raise. I put myself between him and my mother day and night, I begged him to stop, leave her alone. For some reason I knew I was immune to him. I didn’t fear for my life, I feared for my mother’s.

Every night I knew he was coming home because I could hear the revving sound of his car entering the garage. Sometimes I would hear it for minutes because he was too drunk to drive through it. I would never fall asleep before knowing he had arrived, even when it was very late and I secretly hoped he would die alone in a car crash. But he never did. He always came back.

Car headlights at night

He would come straight to my bedroom since my mom had started sleeping with me. Sometimes she would come out to talk to him. Inevitably I had to go out to stop him from beating her because he always did.

I studied a lot then, from 8am to 4pm. I loved school and I hated home. I never told anyone about what was happening at home. I became so hollow and cold I remember this one time I was looking at myself in the mirror, forcing myself to cry right before I went to school to see if one of my friends would notice so I could tell them what was going on. Not one single drop came out. I grinned and beared. It was almost relieving, to live this double life. In the eyes of the world I was just this kid, innocent and naive.

The drinking then started to happen at home. He would sit in his study, writing his pathetic poetry, pretending to be some kind of artist while quenching his thirst with a Johnny Walker bottle. He would fall asleep with his mouth open, in such deep sleep I imagined myself throwing all sort of disgusting things in it.

I have almost completely erased the 6 years of abuse from my mind without erasing the consequences of it, of course. But I vividly remember one night when I must have fallen asleep and I woke up to sounds heavy suffocation. I jumped out of bed. He was giving my mother a choke hold. My mother, someone who suffered from asthma, a choke hold. I jumped on him, I took him off her. I think this was also the same night when he had almost broken her wrist.

Leonardo Dicaprio, black and white image. He is young with shaggy spikey hair. Holding a large pair of plastic lips that read "kiss me"In anticipation of people saying I became gay because of an abusive male figure in my life, even though it’s a fact I was already attracted to girls before, I started to give boys more of my interest but let me point out, I was obsessed with Leonardo DiCaprio – androgyny anyone? I was reassured not all boys were abusive and violent but I knew I didn’t want to be with them.

Not long then my mother had a brain aneurysm, right in front of me. She told me she covered her face because she felt like her eye was coming out. She was identified with aneurysm pretty quickly. I told her it was going to be okay, but that she was going to look like Sigourney Weaver in the movie Alien – basically saying that she was going to have her head shaved, operated.

She survived. With no neurological damage. A true miracle if you ask me. It would all have been good if we hadn’t gone back home and it had taken another act of violence from him to finally dictate that we were leaving for good. I was in my pajamas.

Not surprisingly my sense of justice and determination to fight against injustices only grew bigger: the same way I felt it was my responsibility to protect my mother, I felt like it was my responsibility to also help others. “Trauma and activism appear to be in contradistinction—the former defined by exclusivity and concealment, being hidden and out-of-sight; and the latter by action, out-in-the-open, in public,” says Outspoken.

I had always been drawn to helping animals, cats and dogs for the most part, but insects, birds and fishes also. At age 15 I also thought I was helping women by getting involved in relationships in which women seemed to need my help with a specific issue: straight rebel girls who wanted to piss off their parents, girls who couldn’t feel anything at all, girls who were taking a break from their current relationship, later in life married women, women who were just as lost as me. I would immerse myself completely in them, ensuring that they were completely in love with me. It was almost like art for me, how they would put me up on a pedestal.

The cycle basically went down like this: get involved into a relationship with a woman who supposedly needed an issue resolved, be the heroine of the day, get bored because the “challenge” was finished, leave. A few things to point it out is that this cycle was very gradual. It was never about the sex, quite the opposite, I despised one night-stands. It was for me a narcissistic need for attention, to feel loved but to anticipate the inevitable destruction of that relationship and so be the one who leaves it first.

I would then start to destruct the relationship, usually by cheating. I have cheated on almost every single girlfriend I had and I had many – I will not get into detail of every individual since I don’t have the consent to share our story publicly. I had given them what I thought they wanted and it was time for them to be on their own. So I abandoned them. “If I could recover from all the atrocities I had gone through, they sure could recover from a breakup,” I told myself over and over again to justify my behaviour.

Those relationships made me feel alive, made me feel like I was in charge. Between my self-destruction spiral with anorexia, a disease in which one disappears to be seen, bulimia nervosa (and very shortly with alcohol), my attempt of suicide, and my struggle with homophobia (Brazil has highest LGBTQ rate of murder in the world), from verbal to physical abuse, those relationships were something I had control of and I didn’t even have to feel guilty about it: it was consensual.

Image of fox that contains quote: "You become responsible forever for what you have tamed"

My favorite character in The Little Prince was the Fox, “People have forgotten this truth,” the fox said. “But you mustn’t forget it. You become responsible forever for what you’ve tamed. You’re responsible for your rose.” My mother, seeing my vicious patterns tried to warn about the consequences. But I did not want to take love advices from her. Not after everything she had put me through.

I left Brazil to come to the US in hopes to leave my demons behind. But they followed me. I became involved in LGBTQ activism, feeding the homeless and became involved again into helping cats and dogs. My good deeds were still taking place while I continued to treat women like trophies, to self-destruct and of course, I continued to eat the flesh and drink the secretions of non-human animals.

It was time to go back to therapy. I was 26 and I was still getting involved in relationships in which I was the heroine, bragging to my friends about my “adventures.”

In parallel I became the board director at a dog and cat rescue. It was then that I came to realize the hypocrisy into saving some animals but not all by watching slaughterhouse videos, today I recommend this one. Long story short, I went vegan overnight, and most importantly I became a vegan activist.

I knew I needed help. To understand why self-destruction was taking over my life and how I could end my relationship patterns. It was because of doctor Laura and over 1 year of intense therapy (this was followed by other years of therapy I had done) that I was able to identify my mechanisms and make sure my patterns were broken. It was not easy. It was painful, humiliating in many ways, but enlightening.

I am a product of a broken home, like Placebo would say. It is true that childhood trauma affects and changes someone forever:

The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study is something that everybody needs to know about. It was done by Dr. Vince Felitti at Kaiser and Dr. Bob Anda at the CDC, and together, they asked 17,500 adults about their history of exposure to what they called “adverse childhood experiences,” or ACEs. Those include physical, emotional, or sexual abuse; physical or emotional neglect; parental mental illness, substance dependence, incarceration; parental separation or divorce; or domestic violence. For every yes, you would get a point on your ACE score. And then what they did was they correlated these ACE scores against health outcomes.

What they found was striking. Two things: Number one, ACEs are incredibly common. Sixty-seven percent of the population had at least one ACE, and 12.6 percent, one in eight, had four or more ACEs. The second thing that they found was that there was a dose-response relationship between ACEs and health outcomes: the higher your ACE score, the worse your health outcomes. For a person with an ACE score of four or more, their relative risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease was two and a half times that of someone with an ACE score of zero. For hepatitis, it was also two and a half times. For depression, it was four and a half times. For suicidality, it was twelve times. A person with an ACE score of seven or more had triple the lifetime risk of lung cancer and three and a half times the risk of ischemic heart disease, the number one killer in the United States of America. (Nadine Burke Harris 2014)

Do my destructive relationships have do with my past? Absolutely. But it does not excuse me or anyone else from seeking help. Multiple times if you have to. Our past cannot be used as an excuse to justify our actions.

Author stands at protest holding a poster of a pig that asks, "Will You Let Me Live?"

I overcame my personal trauma and transformed it into a catalyst for activism. It was most likely because of my trauma that fighting against injustices was so dear to me. However, as you have seen, I am no heroine. Despite my exhaustive dedication to Animal Rights and for that matter, to all forms of oppression, I have treated women like trophies. I have never been a predator, or engaged in any form of nonconsensual act but I have used those relationships as a way to feel empowered and then to self-destruct. I have also never shared anything about the women I was with publicly without their consent but I have disregarded the feelings of countless individuals.

What triggered me to write this article was the return to Facebook of Hugo Dominguez, former Direct Action Everywhere organizer, who has admitted to sex crimes. I see a few parallels between us, this is why I want to bring him into this story.

Hugo may have acknowledged his behaviour but he hasn’t actively and truly sought help. Someone who wants to get better will remove themselves from situations that will trigger the behavior again, and in his case his attention-seeking addiction is being fed by his latest return to Facebook.

I too have regarded women as prizes, so I know exactly where Hugo stands. I too have moved away from my country trying to escape my past, I too have taken a few months to reflect but those were band-aids on a hemorrhage. Overcoming a vicious behaviour takes time and commitment. It also includes giving time and space to the victims.

I have described my upbringing in detail to inspire others who have gone through childhood trauma to seek help. Consciously or unconsciously I have let my past dictate my present but we must use traumatic experiences to push us forward, to help us and others grow. I sincerely hope Hugo can.

We have seen the dangers of hero worship, so please, let’s destroy pedestals and let’s embrace one another on the same level.

 

Raffaella

Co-founder of Collectively Free, Raffaella Ciavatta is vegan animal liberation activist, art director, poet, photographer wanna-be, DJ in some past live and most importantly… a big dreamer who makes things happen.

A Feminist Critique of “Service” Dogs

Vegan Service Dogs
When visiting Ireland last year, I regularly noticed charity pots on the counters of chip shops and pubs asking for donations for Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind. Oftentimes I’d have to avert my eyes and uncomfortably avoid volunteers collecting donations in the mall. I didn’t want to have the difficult discussion with these well-meaning folks about why I didn’t find it ethical to donate to their cause. It is not an easy topic because society rightfully sees aid for disability as an important social service. Any effort towards that value is seen as sacrosanct, and criticizing any of those efforts makes you appear hateful or ableist. This is compounded by the inability for most to think critically about the human relationship with dogs and other companion animals. People with disabilities want to live independently and in relative comfort. Service dogs can provide this. And people love dogs, and dogs “love” to serve people. It seems like a win-win.

Before I continue, I want to clarify that I live with a hearing and balance disability that is known to be progressive. At this point in my life I am independent and live a relatively “normal” life, but this was not always the case and there is also the possibility that I will be nearly or fully deaf later in life. My disability adviser suggested that I learn sign language in preparation. During “attacks,” I cannot drive or walk properly and must lay still for hours at a time. I point this out only because there is a tendency to attack the identity of the messenger in an effort to distract from the theory. I do not currently need a service animal, though at one time I may have benefited from one and in the future I surely may as well. I want to fully recognize that persons living with severe disabilities can and do gain from a working relationship with a service animal. However, I do not think this relationship is one where the interests of all parties are seriously considered. The institution of domestication also makes consent impossible.  It is an unequal relationship built on power and domination. Just because I can benefit from the “services” of someone in a less powerful position who suffers from this exploitation, is it ethical to take advantage just because I can?

The ideology of human supremacy weighs very heavy in the mix. It is difficult to think about our relationship with our companion animals as one of “domination,” but this is inherently the case. Service animals are, for the most part, purpose bred animals who are rigorously trained since puppyhood for one purpose and for one purpose only: to serve their masters. Many dogs live rather lonely lives: they are kenneled for long periods of time and they are denied free expression. People are even discouraged from showing attention and affection to service dogs because they are “working.” It is important for us to recognize that sexually exploiting vulnerable persons to produce offspring so that the offspring can be trained to be servants for life is a relationship of oppression.

While it is unfortunate that some of us live with disabilities that make life more difficult for us, it should not follow that we have a green card to oppress those below us. Even those with disabilities can still wield considerable social privilege. Consider studies of disabled men and women which find that large percentages men had purchased a woman’s body (and many of those who had not had at least considered it). Meanwhile, practically no disabled women in the studies had purchased bodies for sex. Women do not wield the same power as men, and are thus not in the same position to purchase the bodies of others for pleasurable consumption. Furthermore, the singular focus on disability can obscure the injustices experienced by others in the equation. This is why an intersectional framework is so important. Women victimized by prostitution are extremely disadvantaged, with large portions of them entering “sex work” as a result of sex trafficking, pimping, poverty, drug addiction, and severe childhood trauma.

Just as we should question the demonstration of oppression when prostituted women’s bodies are purchased so that disabled men can have sex with them, we should question the purchasing and using of Nonhuman Animal’s bodies and labor for human benefit. This is an institution of inequality. Some are hurt so that others with more power can benefit. Can women sometimes benefit from prostitution as well? Can dogs sometimes benefit from service work? In some ways and in some cases, perhaps they can. However, we should not get lost in musings of “humane” treatment and fringe benefits, as doing so ultimately masks the presence of systemic inequality.

Can we conceive of consent-based relationships in disability services?

Importantly, there are alternatives. I speak to an industry that constantly churns out expensive new canine products for human consumption, and this industry should not be supported. Few humans are financially privileged enough to afford these “products” anyway, and disabled persons are more likely to be living in poverty due to structural inequalities. Consenting and waged humans are viable alternatives, and ideally, their services should be covered by insurance and government assistance (although it should also be acknowledged that poor women of color are disproportionately located within care work and this work is poorly compensated). Community-based volunteers, family, and friends are also alternatives. Technology is regularly providing new tools to support independence. Unfortunately, having a human assistant constantly present is not always possible, and technology has its limitations. In those cases, a canine servant seems unavoidable. Another consideration is that some service dogs are adopted, and thus avoid a cruel death in a “shelter” when they begin their new “career.” If the choice is between death and servitude, which is preferable? And what of “invisible” disabilities like depression and anxiety that can be alleviated by bonding with other animals? In these cases, dogs, cats, horses, etc. are being “used” but are granted much more liberty. There are no simple solutions, of course. What is important is to remain critical of relationships of domination and to be wary of arguments that rationalize domination based on natural history, biological differences, or humane use.

 

From a reader:

As a former animal shelter worker, I know that the “rejects” from service programs are not always re-homed and do end up in shelters. As a sociologist, I wonder why society is so quick to claim that a dog solves every problem from being lonely to depression to blindness to hearing the door chime. The mantra of give someone with a disability a dog and then they can be independent is deeply woven into our culture. We’re quick to deliver the service dog and then back away from the situation so the human can be independent, as if independence is the most important thing in the world. Why do people avoid asking the most obvious question of all: Why don’t humans help humans instead of enslaving dogs or other animals to help humans in need?

Not only do I see dogs being used as way for humans to avoid interacting with each other, I see humans unwilling to consider why we are so quick to shove a dog at a social problem, as if dogs can cure social ills. It’s one thing to want and have a dog as a companion, but it’s something else altogether to use a dog in ways that exploit a dog’s nature and being for human gain, especially when humans are perfectly capable of helping each other with companionship, therapy, running errands and developing technology that will solve many of the problems faced by those with disabilities.

Is it possible that service dogs leave someone with disabilities more socially isolated than they were before getting the dog? What happens when the hoopla of receiving the dog and the training associated with having the dog are over? We know that when a service dog is on duty humans are not supposed to approach the dog or the human, that we are not supposed to do or say anything to distract the dog from the work at hand. The service dog also sends a strong message that the human with the dog values independence, and as such, it is easy for others see a need to honor that independence by just walking way and not initiating friendly contact.

It’s time to question the use of service dogs and other animals in ways that are not ableist, but that give serious consideration to the fate of the dogs.