Why I’m Giving Beyoncé’s Vegan Campaign a Chance

Beyoncé and Jay-Z shocked mainstream news and vegan activists alike when they announced that fans who pledge to go plant-based have a chance to win free tickets to their concerts for life.

Some vegans have not been so enthusiastic about the campaign, citing that veganism “for the health” is not the same as veganism “for the animals,” and that veganism is not something that can be “forced” on others.

Whose Veganism is It Anyway?

To this I would counter that, although some (myself included) may understand veganism to be a matter of anti-speciesism, vegans should hesitate to insist that the Eurocentric interpretation of veganism is the only valid approach.

As a practical matter, a “master frame” of veganism is not especially useful in the context of a diverse audience. Personally, I critique the hegemonic vegan frame which is highly bureaucratized and prioritizes capitalist interests over the interests of effective social change (which I argue inevitably undermines veganism). To be able to criticize hegemonic veganism from this angle, however, is a reflection of my white privilege.

As a white person, I have to concede that other ethnicities will have other priorities. These include the deadly consequences of food deserts and food insecurity as well as the role that “animality” as a social construct has played in the oppression of people of color. These are priorities which have been beautifully outlined by activist scholars such as Dr. Breeze Harper and Aph & Syl Ko.

I concede that “my” veganism will not be the veganism that other folk feel compelled to adopt.

The Vegan Society defines veganism as:

a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.

Beyoncé definitely does not count as a “vegan” according to this definition. She claims to eat animals’ flesh occasionally since it’s “all about moderation.” I assume her stage outfits make use of real birds’ feathers and cows’ skin as well. Her makeup is probably produced from slaughterhouse renderings and tested on other animals. She could exclude these things quite “possibly” and “practicably.”

But is The Vegan Society’s definition the only definition that matters? More specifically, is it the only definition which should apply to everyone? What about people of color living in a racialized society?

I suggest that the vegan identity is multifaceted and that the terms of engagement must be contextualized.

Cultural Force

In any case, I think it is a stretch to claim that Bey (who is not even a vegan herself) is “forcing” veganism on others. Fans who claim to go vegan (how can their veganism even be verified?) only have a chance to win free tickets, they are not guaranteed free tickets. Attending expensive music concerts is not a requirement, it is only recreational. Nor do Bey or Jay-Z require a complete transition since they also promote reducetarianism or “meatless Mondays.”

As I have uncovered in my research on flexitarian campaigns of this kind, many people already identify as someone who does not eat “that much” meat or dairy, since reducing animal product consumption is seen as a social good (unlike veganism which is interpreted as “extreme”). Importantly, the flexitarian identity does not often correlate with actual behavior change. In some cases, those who identify as flexitarian actually consume more animal products than their non-flexitarian-identifying counterparts.

That said, Bey is using her cultural clout to promote a social good. This is no different from the efforts of white celebrities like Moby, Morrissey, and, if you stretch it, Miley Cyrus. Morrissey reportedly bans all sale of animal flesh at his concerts–is he forcing his fans to be vegetarian?

True, celebrities are rarely trained in social justice activism, and their politics are not always perfect. I also find it uncomfortable that society should rely on celebrities to promote social goods since celebrities, given their extreme wealth, are the very embodiment of social inequality. Yet, Bey is putting her money where her mouth is–she is using her celebrity and privilege to make the world a better place through the channels available to her.

As this essay goes to print, Senator Cory Booker (also a person of color) has just announced his bid for presidency. He is a fierce social justice advocate and a longtime vegan. But he, too, promotes veganism for a wide variety of reasons which do not always center other animals. Would the movement be so quick (and foolhardy) to write off Cory Booker if he were to become our first vegan president? Need the vegan movement even have to wait for a vegan president? Beyoncé is practically American royalty, after all. Her clout arguably exceeds that of Booker’s.

Whether white activists like it or not, celebrity influencers shape the cultural landscape. The vegan identity (unlike the flexitarian identity) is a highly stigmatized one, and social movements will need to normalize its goals before they can be widely adopted. If Queen Bey makes vegan cool, it might not be “for the right reasons” (that is, it might not seek to advance the interests of Nonhuman Animals), but it can have a significant impact on the community she serves.

The Master Frame

Social movement scholars acknowledge that collectives strategically design frames which are hoped to resonate with their audiences. Multiple frames can be at work, but it is sometimes the case that a “master frame” will come to dominate in the movement’s repertoire. The utility of a master frame is its ability to present a strong, united front to the public and policy-makers. The downside is that a “one-size-fits-all” approach can be unrealistic given that audiences (and activists themselves) are not necessarily homogenous. Persuasion is a complicated matter and it sometimes takes many approaches to push a social justice agenda.

The Vegan Society, which formed in 1944 Britain and officially launched the political concept of “veganism” in the West following a protracted debate with The Vegetarian Society, may have prioritized veganism as a matter of anti-speciesism, but, from its very conception, it drew on a diverse framework relating to human health, poverty and famine, war, and individual autonomy. Indeed, The Vegan Society, today, continues a multipronged approach.

As the society moved into the 21st century, it continued to promote veganism, not necessarily as an endeavor to liberate other animals, but as something “normal” and achievable. Its vegan labeling scheme, for instance, was a major campaign in this effort. I have my issues with such an approach given its pro-capitalist leanings and its watering down of the anti-speciesist radical politic, but it is the case nonetheless that the expansion of commercially available vegan products has made veganism easier to perform.

Beyoncé has been dragged before for not meeting the expectations of white activist frames. White feminists, for instance, have criticized her brand of feminism as sexually objectifying and complicit with patriarchy, if not ignored it altogether. Black feminists have responded by reminding the community that there is no one “Feminism” (capital F) but rather many feminisms, and the failure to embrace Black women’s activism reflects white supremacy in the public space.

Because inequality does not stop at the door of social justice movements, activists must consider how inequality can sometimes shape strategy. Who is the “master” in developing the “master frame”? What I am suggesting is that the “master frame” is too frequently racialized in its construction.

Likewise, the need to control the vegan discourse and the very definition of veganism itself is rooted in colonial politics. As European countries pushed their culture onto “inferior” and “ignorant” subjects, they expected full assimilation. There was little patience for adaptation or nuance; it was simply presumed that European cultural values were universal and should be adopted unquestioningly. This is the very definition of cultural domination.

In this vein, it must be remembered that, while non-Western countries have their own histories of plant-based resistance, “Veganism” (capital V) as it is understood and politicized today, is a deeply European concept. White activists must tread carefully when attempting to impose “their” veganism on “others.” Indeed, the vegan movement, dominated as it is by white activists, has been less than welcoming to the veganisms of other cultures. This is problematic if the goal is to expand veganism beyond middle-class white spaces.

Most people go vegan and stay vegan because of their concern for other animals. Bey’s health-centric, flexitarian approach does not alter this research-supported fact. But Bey also has a wider cultural influence and represents a nonwhite consumer base that has been traditionally overlooked by the Nonhuman Animal rights movement. I am interested to see if her efforts will contribute to the larger discourse. I am also deeply supportive of women of color who have the “audacity” to be political in a white-dominated cultural landscape. Celebrity persuasion is far from perfect, but it can contribute to the destigmitization of veganism. This cultural normalcy was The Vegan Society’s aim all along.

Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is Lecturer of Sociology. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology with Colorado State University in 2016. She received her M.S. in Sociology in 2008 and her B.A. in Political Science in 2005, both from Virginia Tech. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar, 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She served as council member with the American Sociological Association’s Animals & Society section (2013-2016) and was elected Chair in 2018. She serves as Book Review Editor to Society & Animals and has contributed to the Human-Animal Studies Images and Cinema blogs for the Animals and Society Institute. She has been published in several peer-reviewed academic journals including the Journal of Gender Studies, Feminist Media Studies, Disability & Society, Food, Culture & Society, and Society & Animals. In July 2013, she founded the Vegan Feminist Network, an academic-activist project engaging intersectional social justice praxis. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory (Palgrave MacMillan 2016).

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A Hősimádat Veszélyei Egy Aktivista Mozgalmon Belül

Tartalmi figyelmeztetés: nemi erőszak és rasszizmus említése, rendkívül sértő (rasszizmus, akadályozottság) megjegyzések a palesztin emberekre és a muszlim kultúrára nézve

Gary Yourofsky

Translation by Eszter Kalóczkai. See more Hungarian translations of intersectional vegan essays by visiting their blog, Tudatos Vegán. The original English version of this essay can be found by clicking here.

írta: Michele Kaplan

Voltál-e már olyan helyzetben, amikor a körülötted lévő emberek azt gondolták: inkább meg se szólaltál volna?

Mindez március 19-én kezdődött, amikor néhány ismerős vegán Gary Yourofsky Palesztina-ellenes kirohanásáról beszélt. Természetesen azok az állatjogi aktivisták, akik a szívükön viselik a palesztin emberek sorsát (beleértve magamat is), teljes megrökönyödéssel olvasták, hogy mit mondott Yourofsky.

gary on palestine

(Az Igazi Gary Yourofsky által írt Facebook-poszt fordítása:) Amíg az izraeli emberek épp most rombolják le a hús-, tej-és tojásipart – ami végül az állatok koncentrációs táborainak a végét fogja jelenteni – a palesztinok és az elmebeteg emberjogi szimpatizánsaik épp, hogy több tábort ÉPÍTENEK. Míg az izraeliek befogadják a homoszexuálisokat, addig a palesztinok kiközösítik, bántják és gyilkolják a meleg embereket, mert úgy gondolják, hogy a homoszexualitás bűn. Míg az izraeliek (kivéve az ultra-ultra ortodoxokat, akik Izrael népességének az 1-2%-a, és ugyanannyira őrültek, mint a palesztinok) egyenlő mozgásteret biztosítanak a nőknek a társadalmon belül, addig a palesztinok továbbra is elnyomják a nőket ugyanúgy, ahogy az arab államok teszik. Míg az izraeliek szeretnek együtt élni a palesztinokkal és MINDEN más néppel, addig a palesztinok legfőbb célja, hogy minden zsidót elpusztítsanak, az iskoláikban a zsidók GYŰLÖLETÉRE tanítják a gyerekeiket, és NEM HAJLANDÓAK békességben élni a zsidó néppel. A palesztinok maguk a PROBLÉMA. Ők a legelmebetegebb nép ezen a bolygón. Még a velük szimpatizáló arab államok (Egyiptom, Jordánia stb.) is VISSZAKÜLDIK azokat az elmebeteg őrülteket, ha azok megbújnak az ő országaikban. Úgyhogy ne legyél már egy másik agyatlan, vérző szívű liberális, aki VAKON támogatja a palesztinokat, mert épp az a “menő”. Továbbra, habár szimpatizálok az emberi jogi kérdésekkel (melegek jogai, nők jogai, stb.), többé NEM fogok az embereknek az egyenlő bánásmódjáért harcolni, amig azok az elnyomott emberek elnyomják az állatokat. Amíg az állatokat belevesszük a vitába, addig azt mondom: A POKOLBA minden elnyomott kétlábú lénnyel, aki nem veszi észre, hogy milyen elnyomást támogat aktívan, amikor leül enni, vagy új cipőt vesz. Az állatoknak a legrosszabb. A világ teheneihez, csirkéihez, pulykáihoz, sertéseihez és birkáihoz képest a palesztinok KIRÁLYOKKÉNT ÉS KIRÁLYNŐKKÉNT élnek. Úgyhogy a LEGSÜRGETŐBB kérdésre koncentrálj inkább: az állatok felszabadítására. És felejtsd el azokat a palesztin őrülteket. És amúgy a palesztinok nem élnek koncentrációs táborokban, akárhogy is definiálod azokat. Menj és nézd meg, milyen egy vágóhíd, ahol ezeket az ártatlan lényeket lefejezik, egyiket a másik után, vagy egy tejipari telepet, ahol a teheneket megerőszakolják, hogy ismételten teherbe essenek, aztán a melleiket naponta többször gépekre kötik, nézd meg, ahogy egy vágóhídi teherautó 1000 csirkével behajt az épületbe, ahol megölik őket… és aztán kérdezd meg magadtól: “Hogy sikerült annyira átverniük, hogy azt higyjem, hogy a palesztin embereket elnyomják és koncentrációs táborokban élnek?” Kérlek ébredj fel és koncentrálj az EGYETLEN kritikus és fontos ügyre. [a jelek szerint ezt a Facebook-posztot eltávolították a Yourofsky oldaláról.]

Ki is ez a Gary Yourofsky? Hallottam már a nevét itt is, ott is, különböző állatjogi csoportokban, de nem tudtam, hogy mit tett hozzá a mozgalomhoz. Elkezdtem rékeresni a nevére, és rájöttem, hogy ez a kirohanása (amiből csak úgy dől a kirekesztés és a privilégium), nem egyszeri alkalom volt (bár még ettől se lett volna kevésbé elfogadhatatlan).

Gary Yourofsky egy vitatott, szevedélyes személyiség, aki egyfelől az erőteljes beszédeiről híres, amelyek hatására rengeteg ember lett vegán, másfelől viszont hírhedtek a lesújtó megjegyzései, amelyek elidegenítettek rengeteg embert az állatjogi mozgalomtól.

Ilyen megjegyzései például a hírhedt interjú (teljes egészében itt olvasható angolul):

Minden, szőrmébe bugyolált nőnek át kellene élnie egy olyan durva nemi erőszakot, ami egész életükre megnyomorítja őket. 

Mint vegén, mint nő, és mint ember, teljesen sokkolt, hogy ezt mondja, és egészen felkavaró érzés volt (és egy kicsit kevésbé érzem magam most biztonságban), amikor egyes emberek az állatjogi mozgalomban kifogásokat találnak neki.

“Jaj, ez annyira régi idézet” mondják, mintha ettől meg nem történtté lehetne tenni. Vagy mintha azóta bocsánatot kért volna, és megváltozott volna, mert nem tette.

Nagyon elszomorított mindez, mert annyi időt és szeretetet áldoztam az ügyre, és most megkérdőjeleztem, hogy van-e a mozgalomban jövőm. Tudtam, hogy van ez a régivonalas, (és nem annyira interszekcionális) ága az állatjogi aktivizmusnak, és van az újabb vonulata (ami jellemzően sokkal inkább figyelembe veszi az interszekcionalitást), úgyhogy nem gondoltam, hogy mindenki támogatja azt a levelet, de amikor sokan az újabb hullámból kifogásokat találnak neki, még akkor is, ha ez csak néhány ember volt, azt rendkívül elkeserítő.

A következő reggel, aktivisták egy kis csoportja (egészen pontosan 3 ember) megjelentetett egy közleményt, hogy tudassa az egész közösséggel (és az internettel), hogy a vegán mozgalomban semmi helye a mások kirekesztésének és elnyomásának.

Egy nemi erőszakot túlélő nő azt mondta, hogy nagyon pozitív élmény volt elolvasni ezt a levelet. Másvalaki azt mondta, hogy “senki nem támogatott, amikor ugyanezt mondtam Yourofsky-ról, annyira örülök, hogy vannak más vegánok, akik így éreznek!” (és többen egyetértettek ezzel). Így egy pillanatra úgy érezhettük, hogy bármi is következik ezután, már megérte.

És akkor… beindult az ellentámadás.

“Miért bántjátok Gary-t?”

“Miért vagytok ennyire gonoszak?”

“Gary olyn sokat tesz az állatokért, miért csak ezt emelitek ki?”

“Szerintem több jót tesz, mint rosszat.”

“Ezt most komolyan gondoljátok? Ez most valami korai április elsejei vicc? Csak fel akarjátok hívni magatokra a figyelmet, vagy szimplán hülyék vagytok?”

“Ne ítélkezzetek.”

“Hibázott, és akkor mi van. Mindannyian hibázunk.”

“Ezt most kiemeltétek a szövegkörnyezetből, pedig kontextussal együtt kéne nézni.”

“Inkább támogatni kellene, mint hátbadöfni!”

“Valójában nem is nézi el a valódi nemi erőszakot, olvassatok csak utána.” (Mintha Yourofsky ezt mondta volna? Nem ezt mondta. És mintha csak beszélni a nemi erőszakról teljesen ártatlan lenne, és nem lennének következményei? Nem így van.)

Rendkívül zavarbaejtő volt az egész, és rendkívül fárasztó. Mi a fene folyik itt?

És akkor rájöttem. Lehet, hogy hősimádattal állunk szemben? Én is álltam már így hozzá emberekhez régebben…

Emlékszem, amikor még nekem is voltak példaképeim, ha valami rosszat hallottam róluk, én is elkezdtem őket védeni, hiszen az én példaképemről  volt szó, aki egy szimbólum, aki reményt ad. A lelkem egy darabja el akarta hinni, hogy létezik egy ilyen hős, egy ilyen példakép.

Mostanság annyira nincsenek már példaképeim, mkert ahhoz, hogy valaki a példaképem legyen, ahhoz magam fölé kell helyeznem az illetőt. Tisztelem sokak munkásságát, elismerem őket, de valójában mind ugyanazon a szinten vagyunk. Ember és ember.

És amúgy értem én: a vegánságért és az állatjogokért küzdeni a mélyen gyökerező társadalmi szokások ellen küzdeni. Hiszen hiába a nagyipari állattartás a leginkább felelős a klímaváltozásért, és hiába annyira szörnyűek az állatok életkörülményei, akkor is a vegánság, az állatjogok puszta ötlete az “extrém”. És amikor megismered az állatipar mögött rejtőző igazságot, akkor nem tudod azt többé elfelejteni. És amikor tudod, hogy mennyit szenvednek az állatok, hogyha nem figyelsz oda eléggé magadra (az önmagunk gyógyítása, a lelki békénk megőrzése nem mindig kap elég teret a mozgalomban: “az állatok gyilkolása nem áll meg, úgyhogy mi sem pihenünk!”), akkor az megterhelő lehet.

De ettől még elfogadható a kirekesztés a mozgalmon belül? Nem. Továbbá ne felejtsük el, hogy hacsak nem egy vegán családba születtél volt eg idő a te életedben is, amikor nem voltál vegán. Úgyhogy rendben van-e, hogy erőszakra uszítunk más emberek ellen (amilyen te is voltál egyszer), csak azért, mert nem tudták kinevelni magukat a beléjük nevelt társadalmi normákból olyan gyorsan, ahogy te? 

A közlemény, amit írtunk, nem arról szólt, hogy csak azért támadjuk Gary-t, hogy valaki támadhassunk. Arról szólt, hogy azt mondtuk: “attól még, hogy valaki vegán, továbbra sincs semmi joga kirekesztő módon viselkedni másokkal szemben, és ha így tesz, annak lesznek következményei – függetlenül attól, hogy mennyire imádott személyiség”.

Rendkívül veszélyes, különösen egy aktivista mozgalmon belül, ha valakit annyira nagyra becsülnek, hogy érinthetetlenné válik, és a tettei, megszólalásai csak hibátlanok lehetnek.


Ez az esszé eredetileg megjelent Rebelwheels’ Gondolatok április 21, 2015.


Editor’s Note:

Interested in learning more about the problems with hero worship in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement? Check out the work of Marti Kheel, co-founder of Feminist for Animal Rights. Some of her writings on this topic are hosted on the FAR website. Vegan Feminist Network has also written on this topic in regard to the celebration of male violence as vengeance. You can also read more about the problems with anti-Muslim rhetoric on the Academic Abolitionist Vegan. A number of Yourofsky’s essays on violence and rape are also available on Negotiation is Over; please be warned, they are very crude and offensive.

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.



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.

The Dangers Of Hero Worship In An Activist Movement

By Michele Kaplan

Trigger Warning: Discussion of rape and racism; contains extremely offensive racist and ableist comments about Palestinians and Muslim culture.

Gary Yourofsky

Have you ever been in a situation where people wish you would just shut up?

It all began back on March 19th, when some vegans in my social media circle were talking about Gary Yourofsky’s anti-Palestine rant. Naturally, those in the animal rights community (myself included) who support the plight of the Palestinian people, were horrified at what he said.

Gary Yourofsky's Facebook statement on Palestine.

This post was apparently deleted from his Facebook. For disabled visitors, you can listen to the post read by Plant Powered Activist on Youtube.

Who was this Gary Yourofsky? I heard his name here and there in various animal rights circles, but was not familiar with his contributions to the movement. I began to google his name and found out that this rant (that was just dripping with discrimination and privilege) was not a one time incident (not that that would’ve  made what he said okay).

Gary Yourofsky, is a controversial and passionate figure in the animal rights community, with a history of on one hand, making powerful speeches that have inspired people to go vegan, and on the other hand making derogatory statements that have alienated people within and from the animal rights movement.

Such statements as his infamous quote (and you can read the full interview here):

Every woman ensconced in fur should endure a rape so vicious that it scars them forever.

As a vegan, as a woman and as a human being, I was shocked that he said this, and felt nothing short of disturbed (and a little less safe) when some people in the AR community made excuses for his behavior.

“Oh, that’s such an old quote.” they said, as if time makes it somehow untrue. Or as if he had since apologized for this statement, or changed his ways. He has not.

I felt heartbroken because I devoted so much time and love to the cause, and now I was questioning my future in it. I knew there was this old school (and not so intersectional) wave of AR activism and the next wave animal rights activism (which typically is very intersectional), so I didn’t think that everyone would support the letter, but when some people in the next wave were making excuses, even though it was “only” a couple of people, it was incredibly disheartening.

The next morning, a small group (3 to be exact) got together and put out a statement to let the community (and internet) know that our veganism has zero room for discrimination and oppression of others.

A woman who was a survivor of rape came forward and said that reading this letter was very healing for her. Another person said “I’ve been stuck without support on making these points about him many times. So glad this exists to show other vegans feel the same way!” (and this sentiment was repeated by a number of people). And so for a moment in time, we felt like whatever happens, this was all worth while.

And then… the backlash kicked in.

“Why are you attacking Gary?”
“Why are you being so mean?”
“Gary does so much for the animals, why are you focusing on this?”
“I think the good outweighs the bad.”
“Are you guys for real? … Premature April 1st joke? Trying to get an attention attacking Gary or just plain stupidity?”
“You’re being really judgmental.”
“So he made a mistake. We all make mistakes.”
“You’re taking things out of context!”
“He needs support, not stabbing in the back.”
“He does not condone actual, literal rape in any circumstance. Do more research.” (As if that was said in the statement? It wasn’t. As if just talking about it was harmless and without consequence? It’s not.)

It was incredibly confusing and draining. I mean what the hell is going on?

And then it dawned on me. Could this be a case of hero worship? Something that I have certainly done in the past.

I remember when I had heroes, and I heard something damaging or negative about them, I would get defensive and protective, because that was my hero. A symbol. Hope. Part of me needed to believe that a hero exists.

These days I do not have heroes, because to have heroes is to place someone on a pedestal. I admire people and their work. I appreciate them, but at the end of the day, we are on the same level. Human and human.

And I get it. Advocating for veganism and animal rights is going against a deep rooted social conditioning, where even though factory farms is one of the largest contributors to climate change, where even though the conditions in which the animals live are so horrific and unethical, it is the vegan diet, it is the idea of animal rights that is “extreme”.  And once you know the truth behind the animal agriculture industry, you can’t un-know that. And knowing how much the animals suffer, if people don’t take proper self care (which is not always promoted in the movement. “The killing doesn’t take a break, so either will we!”), it can all get to you.

But does that justify discrimination in the movement? No. Furthermore, let us not forget that unless you were born vegan, there was a time, when you were not vegan either. So is it okay to advocate for violence against people (who were just like you) simply because they haven’t un-learned the social conditioning at the same rate that you have?

At the end of the day, the statement that we put out there was not about attacking Gary for the mere sake of attacking someone. At the end of the day, it was about saying “No, just because a person is vegan does not give them a free license to discriminate against others (and without consequence), regardless of how revered they might be.” At the end of the day, it is very dangerous, especially within an activist movement, when a person is placed so high on a pedestal, that they become untouchable and can do no wrong.
This essay originally appeared on Rebelwheels’ Soapbox on April 21, 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.

Editor’s Note:

Interested in learning more about the problems with hero worship in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement? Check out the work of Marti Kheel, co-founder of Feminist for Animal Rights. Some of her writings on this topic are hosted on the FAR website. Vegan Feminist Network has also written on this topic in regard to the celebration of male violence as vengeance. A number of Yourofsky’s essays on violence and rape are also available on Negotiation is Over; please be warned, they are very crude and offensive.