Nonhuman Consent: On Touching Other Animals


Words and illustration by Vita Sleigh

Understanding other animals as individuals includes respecting their bodily autonomy and rights. Recently, to better understand the experience of the animals I interact with, I have been trying to imagine what it’s like to do what they do, and how they experience it. For example, I watched dogs in a busy street being stroked by passers by – what are they experiencing? Pleasure? Shock and surprise? Irritation? Violation, even? Certainly, this will be different for each individual and probably at different times, too.

It can be useful to frame their rights to what happens to animals’ bodies in terms of (human) consent. This is most often talked about in terms of asking for consent before a sexual act, but it can also be prudent to ask before any physical interaction like hugging, touching the face, or otherwise entering someone else’s personal space. This grants them ultimate control over what happens to them and their body, which not only shows basic respect but is also critically important when taking into account peoples’ histories and the possibility that they have experienced trauma which might make physical contact troubling or difficult.

Although it may not be possible to verbally ask for consent before touching other animals, we are able to read them and the messages they are giving us; in this way, once we begin to look, they are indeed communicating to us what they want to happen. We can offer our hand to smell – for many animals this is the way they greet and assess others. We also recognise for example that a dog coming towards us wagging their tail and looking up at us is a sign of them choosing to interact with us. Their choosing to stay nearby, along with visible signs of pleasure (wagging tail, relaxing) while we stroke them – if they are not on a lead – is presumably a sign that they are enjoying it. So by taking clues from them, we can grant animals more freedom and choice about their bodies. Without this, we risk a one-sided interaction which is only of benefit to the human and possibly distressing for the animal.

A context in which this idea is useful could be at Animal Saves. There is a question amongst activists who attend Slaughterhouse Vigils over touching the animals. For some people, the aim of vigils is to show love to the animals in their final moments; to say sorry for what humans have done to them, and to say goodbye. Whilst this is powerful – it is true that my own attendance at vigils are rarely without deep emotion and pain – it strikes me that the goal of showing the animals love by stroking or touching them is an approach which still centres the human experience. The sight of the traumatised beings inside the trucks backing away from activists as they stick their hands inside the slats to touch them is distressing and seems counter-productive to me. The humans seek a connection with those they fighting to protect the lives of, but forget perhaps that the pigs, cows or other poor soul inside has probably only ever known violation and cruelty at the hands of humans. Though we may know that we are kind and gentle vegans, they do not know this. It does not mean necessarily that they will want to interact with us, and nor should they be obliged to. I have been reflecting on something a fellow activist succinctly pointed out – that when activists touch or stroke the animals in the trucks, they take away the only thing left to them: their personal space.

In Brian Luke’s Brutal, he discusses the erotics value hunters find in stroking the fur and touching the antlers of the deer they have killed. Luke suggests that this thrill comes from touching a wild animal who would never allow someone close enough to touch them when alive. For them, the thrill is in the violation: not only have they succeeded in killing the animal, but now they may do something against what had been their will when alive. The hunter has gained what they sought: complete control. The parallels between forced touching of (dead) wild animals, and the patriarchal culture of violent and dominating sex are evident: both are the (erotic) enjoyment of control and violation.

To a lesser extent than those who hunt animals, nonetheless there is in all of us a socialised, patriarchal desire to be in control of other animals: children like to chase pigeons, dogs are kept on leads as a sign of a well-controlled animal and a skillful animal “owner” who keeps their animals under control is respected. We all live in a culture which maintains that animals are here for us to use and control. In all interactions with other animals, we must bear in mind that our relationships with other animals exist in this context, and as a result we have to be vigilant in ensuring that our interactions with them are mutually desired, and don’t centre us as the only participant. For example, instead of thinking “I want to stroke this cat – I love animals” we could observe them, taking enjoyment instead from being around them. I value the cats I have met who enjoy being in the same room as me, seeing what I’m up to and occasionally coming closer for attention – sharing a space with other animals is an intimacy and a connection in itself. By respecting their distance, we may interact with them on their terms – the relationship formed will based on mutual trust and will no doubt be far more rewarding.


Vita is an illustrator and writer. Her deep interest in gender politics pervades her work, as well as a firm belief in the transformative power of care and compassion.

whyveganism.com

Podcast #3 – Vegan Feminist Travel

vegan-travel

In this podcast, Corey and Brian rant about vegan travel, picky eaters, encounters with forest-dwelling Tofurky bandits, and the sexual politics of vegan food apps.

This episode is not safe for work (contains cursing).

Episode recorded on September 3, 2016.

Vegan Dating: When Men Fake It to Make It

Heart-Beets-Arugula-Salad

I went vegan at 17, about the same time I started dating. Since then, I can probably count on both hands the number of men interested in me (I am straight) who declared themselves vegan as though it were the next level up from flowers and candy.

Many vegans consider themselves what obnoxious news journalists label “vegansexual.” That is, vegans like to date other vegans. For some, it simply comes down to the fact that kissing someone who’s just slurped down a cup full of frozen cow lactation is just gross. For others, dating nonvegans can be an intensely frustrating experience because veganism is such a strongly held political position. If someone able to do so does not care enough about the suffering of others to stop eating and wearing them, vegans will wonder if this is the kind of person they want to commit themselves to.

Of course, very few vegans were born vegans. Many were once those very same politically apathetic milkshake-drinking folks, easily in a position to be vegan but not especially interested in doing so. Of course, some are structurally marginalized from veganism and are never deserving of shame or exclusion; the “choice” to go vegan is not readily available to all. It doesn’t help to be close-minded. People can and do change. Circumstances change, too. “Vegansexuality” ignores the potential.

Another consideration is the inherent limitation of a small dating pool. At around 1% of a given country’s population, there’s just not many folks to pick from. Speciesism is still very much a social norm. I’ve been a country girl for most of my life, and you don’t find many vegans outside major metropolitan areas. This has meant for me that vegansexuality has not always been a realistic lifestyle.

While I have been relegated to dating nonvegan men without much choice, the other side of the coin is that these nonvegan men are probably dealing with a vegan for the first time and they simply don’t know how to act. For someone only loosely aware of what veganism is all about, it might not seem like such an offense to jump on the vegan bandwagon to get the girl.

In some ways, I can appreciate the gesture. Many of these fellas just want to demonstrate that they’re willing to be the man they think I want them to be. They want to show some sort of interest in my interests. Certainly, they’re a step up from the occasional macho-man wastes-of-my-time who felt the need to remind me every so often, “I eat meat, I’ll always eat meat, there’s nothing you can do to change that!” I also enjoy going to a restaurant and not feeling like an alien. The luxury of informing the wait staff that, “We’re both vegan!” when unfurling an order laden with special requests does not go unappreciated. Neither does a home-cooked meal prepared by someone other than myself for a change.

For the most part, however, the gesture backfires. It’s kind of like those movies where the male protagonist borrows a baby or a puppy to impress his lady love. Parenthood is a serious commitment. Much like veganism, it isn’t something you take on lightly. Speaking honestly, becoming vegan is a relatively big life decision—you’re changing most of your eating and purchasing patterns and you’re going to be the sore thumb at family gatherings for a couple of years at least until everyone gets used to it. I would think that most people might actually want to learn about the issues first and try to understand why doing something that’s initially such a pain is actually worth doing.

This lack of sincerity makes a difference. Inevitably, when the relationship fails to materialize or fizzles after a few weeks or months, these men generally return to consuming Nonhuman Animal products. When it’s clear I’m not interested in them, suddenly being vegan is “too hard” or it drops from their radar completely. I can’t help but assume that their putting on a vegan front is a red flag that they would be deceptive in other areas of the relationship as well.

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It is worth noting, however, that three men that I’ve dated went vegan and actually stayed vegan. What was the difference? In getting to know me, they also became familiar with the issues and my passion for social justice. They saw veganism as a political action and went vegan for the animals, not for me. In fact, two were vegan for months before they finally admitted their transition to me. One of them told me outright: “I didn’t want you thinking I was doing this for you.” Our relationship ended in 2007; he’s still vegan.

For me, veganism is an intensely serious commitment. I am vegan because I am a social activist fighting oppression. I am vegan because I believe Nonhuman Animals deserve equal consideration. I am vegan because the consumption of Nonhuman Animal products is also a human rights issue; speciesist industries impose immeasurable suffering on marginalized humans such as immigrants, people of color, and disabled people who labor in their dairies, slaughterhouses, and tanneries. Poor people in Western countries are concentrated in food deserts where toxic processed animal products are forced on them, laying waste to entire communities. They are also most likely to bear the burden of environmental chaos perpetrated by animal agriculture. Veganism is a struggle of life over death, freedom over oppression, and justice over exploitation. I don’t think it’s very cute when men reduce it down to throwing out their frozen pizzas just for a shot with me.

It is also manipulative. Instead of an honest presentation, these men are fabricating an illusion designed to deceive. Veganism becomes another creepy tool of the pickup artist. Men’s vegan-fronting in relationships is a feminist issue, too.

But it keeps happening. So, I simply sigh, smile, and say, “Good for you!” After all, the activist in me holds out hope that maybe they’ll actually get interested in fighting oppression and stick with it. At the very least, their being vegan for the next few weeks or months will, theoretically, save a few lives. When it’s over, however, it’s no surprise to me when I run into them later and they’ve got their hand in a bag of cheesy Doritos. I just roll my eyes and feel satisfied that I made the right call in passing him over.

It definitely gets old. The original version of this essay was written some years prior, and my impatience with the nonvegan dating pool has grown. Now that I’m in my thirties, I’m in a better position to negotiate. I’ve given vegansexuality a try. I met my current partner on a vegan dating site, and never once have I had to deal with manipulative pretenses of veganism with him or awkward only-vegan-at-the-table moments. Now my radical, rage-the-patriarchy feminism, on the other hand, is a whole different ballgame…

 

ARationalApproachtoAnimalRights

This essay is a revision of “Why I’m Not Impressed When Guys ‘Go Vegan’ For Me” first published on June 14, 2013 with a now defunct feminist blog. You can read more about gender and veganism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network. She is a Lecturer of Sociology and Director of Gender Studies with Monmouth 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 Exemplary Diversity Scholar 2016 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.

whyveganism.com

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.