Saturday, February 21, 2015

Backlash from Blackface

Why are we so insensitive to each other?

Why can't we express our thoughts and feelings without someone there to point a finger and tell you why you're wrong?

Why don't those people take a step back to try to understand?

These were a few thoughts I had the other day as I was reading a thread on a photo posted on Facebook - of a student in blackface.

Before I continue, I would like to clarify that both the student in "blackface" (UC's colors are black and red and apparently the sporting event that the young gentleman dressed up for was a blackout game...) as well as the president of campus (whose Instagram account the photo was re-posted on) had no malevolent intentions.

I repeat - It is loud and clear to MOST that both the student and president did not intend to hurt anyone with said post.

With that being said...

The problem here is ignorance.

The fact that the student painted most of his face black (he had a red beard) and didn't think or realize that, hey, this might be offensive to some, is ignorant and needs to be addressed. Which is exactly what one student voice did (I will call him Alpha for this blog's purpose).

Alpha wrote a long post with the picture and addressed the president.

"I attend a university that reinforces racial undertones (Blackface) as 'school spirit'. Ignorant to the fact that Minstrel Shows were very racially charged caricatures of black people post Civil War which have been perpetuated through American History over the past 100 years."

Keep in mind, the president's Instagram account posted the photo. Intentions aside, it wasn't appropriate.

Intentions of the student? There are MANY other ways to paint your face Black/Red:

Just a few examples for you. But this?:

NOT okay. While we're on the subject, if you think school colors/pride makes it okay to paint your face like this (if you're still lost on why this may be offensive), how about the people/students that paint their faces to actually dress as an African American for Halloween?

Ahhh yes - Trayvon Martin is definitely an acceptable and not at all insensitive topic to use for Halloween.

The thing is, even though the UC student didn't have the same intentions (there's that word again) as the people in the photos above, doesn't mean that the message is any different.

Alpha had a good message - one I 100% agree with:

"Being white means you never have to think about the implications of race but when you actively strive to become more racially aware that means you want to step outside of yourself and understand other identities outside of your own, which promotes inclusivity."

I will go back to my original question now: Why can't we step outside of ourselves and try to understand how someone may take offense to something that has hurt their ancestors repeatedly?

I am writing this blog entry like I am talking to a five-year-old for a reason. A friend of mine reposted Alpha's letter/post, which is how I saw it. I made the mistake of clicking on the photo so I can read the comments and discussion on Alpha's post. I became infuriated (and REALLY glad that I wasn't friends with Alpha, so I couldn't comment on it).

Alpha and some others were so amazingly articulate, patient, and calm with their response to some of the worst comments I have seen in awhile. There were some serious backlashing - people that weren't actually READING the message he was trying to convey. Just attacking. Alpha and others - you are heroes in my eyes for the amount of patience and time you used to try to explain why this photo hurt you. Bravo for 1) standing up for what you know is right and 2) to really try to teach the ignorant.

  1. behavior that shows a lack of good sense or judgment.
Or my own definition: 2. The result of not choosing to admit your ignorance and learning a valuable life lesson.
Just a few comments on this thread:
"This is completely a non-issue." (stated way more than once)
"He is simply wearing his school colors and showing pride." (This was after the explanation of why the image hurt)
"This isn't the post Civil War era anymore. It's only a racial issue if you make it one." (A lot of these comments were followed up by explaining White Privilege, which I'll get to in a moment)
"We live in an over sensitive society and this is a prime example of such."
"It's because he's white he's being attacked."
"All of this because a white person painted their face black to show school spirit.." (This comment was followed up by someone else's: "All of this because a white person doesn't know why this is extremely triggering, traumatizing, and racist.")
These comments are the reason I'm writing this blog. As a white woman, I don't feel the need to constantly stand up for the Black Community. I feel, and the thread showed, that African Americans are very much capable of doing that themselves. They do not need the White Community's permission to do so - what they need is solidarity and understanding on our end.
"White privilege (or white skin privilege) is a term for societal privileges that benefit white people in western countries beyond what is commonly experienced by the non-white people under the same social, political, or economic circumstances"
Are you white? Then you are privileged, regardless of how rough your life was growing up. You do not have a history of being judged by the color of your skin, even if that one girl, that one time, called you "White Girl" and that's all you can think about when someone calls you "Privileged".
Someone wrote: "When you say 'I don't see color' what that really says is 'I have the privilege of not seeing color' because you're not constantly reminded that you are white through microaggressions and systematic oppression. You have the privilege to ignore race issues."
I understand. I get it. I don't see color - I'm "colorblind". Everyone is the same. We are beautiful.
But guess what? We don't live in a perfect world. So the sooner we, the White Community, can 1) acknowledge other races and their issues and 2) see that we are different shades of beautiful on the outside, the sooner that we CAN work toward a not-so-racist community/world.
No one is asking anyone to go protest and shout from the rooftops how racist blackface is - What I want, what Alpha seemed to want, is basic understanding. Opening your mind to other fucking possibilities than what you are used to. I am not Black. I will stand in solidarity with the Black Community, but my experiences are shit compared to their history. I will never, YOU will never, understand what it is like to be judged by the color of your skin.
....but we can at the very least, acknowledge that it happens.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Not Today

I do not want to make this another blog about a celebrity that has taken their own life. But I will say this: Robin Williams's death shook me. Depression and suicide are very personal topics for me to discuss. The problem is that no one wants to discuss it, especially when someone close to them deals with it everyday.

I have lost a handful of people to suicide. It's hard enough losing someone, but it's even harder trying to explain a death when one takes their own life, and try to make it sound as peaceful as possible.

I have suffered from depression and anxiety for as long as I can remember. I was put on a variety of different pills several years ago and it's a tough battle on some days.

Here is the part where I will say, some may think that people with mental illnesses or other similar issues are crying out for attention. But this is probably one of the hardest things I will write, because of that. I wish this wasn't ever an issue to discuss, but it is. I'm sorry if anyone feels that mental illness is something to run away from, ignore, laugh at, make light of, or scoff over. It is not.

My best friend saved my life several years ago. She may not think about it anymore, or even think that it was a big deal, but it was to me. (Thank you, Erica.) I was living alone, was about to lose my job, my housing, and possibly schooling. I was alone with my thoughts and I could tell that even my co-workers were beginning to get concerned about me. I will not go into details, but I will say that if my friend was not around, I fear that I wouldn't be here today. She was my wake up call. After that day, I stopped taking any pills that I had (even the Xanax, which helped with panic attacks) and tried to make a conscious choice to continue on my journey.

No, I wasn't immediately healed or felt better or anything of the sort. This is where people get the terms "depression" and "sadness" mixed up. Clinical Depression is something that most people live with their entire lives. Medication and treatment usually helps most who are suffering.

"What are you depressed about?"

Nothing and everything at the same time. This question is the reason I stopped talking about it (until now). When I am sad, it's because my father passed away. Or my mother is sick. Or a friend is injured. Depression is when simple tasks (taking out the garbage, doing the dishes, even just getting up) become an every day battle and feels like you're trying to lift 500 lbs. It feels impossible. Mentally and physically exhausting and impossible. Of course, the bigger issues don't help at all.

"But he/she always seemed so happy!"

It's called a Mask. Everyone wears one at some point. Do you wear your best "Customer Service" work mask in the comfort of your own home? Probably not. (If so, then... Wow. That's all I got.)

"But there are others out there that have it SOOOO much worse than you!"

I never said that there weren't. In fact, no one did. But I never made an underhanded, shitty comment like that to you when, say, the manicurist messed up your acrylic nails. Or when you complained about your boyfriend being five minutes late. When you mentioned that your co-worker/friend/acquaintance passed away, I did not remind you that SOME people have lost their whole families and that you should be grateful.

No. That's not how compassion works. It doesn't matter who you are; if you're hurting, you should be able to reach out to someone and not feel ashamed. And yes, others have it much worse, but that doesn't mean that my pain and your pain doesn't hurt.

 I was thinking a few days ago about what someone could say to someone if they caught them about to commit suicide. What do you say to America's Funny Man? What would help me if I were again in that position? What if I walked in on someone about to, knowing the types of thoughts that were probably going through their heads?

Rather than begging them not to do it, or even telling them that they have so much to live for, I could only think of two words:

"Not today."

Just.... not today. Live it out for one more day and tomorrow we will talk about it again. I will again tell you: Not today.

It's a process. Day by day. Just.... please, not today.

About Depression:

Suicide Prevention and Hotline:

Help for Veterans:

Help for LGBTQ Youth:

Several years after my darkest hours, I am happily married and living in a new city. I ended up doing something for me - I packed up and moved out. Because I could. And it was the best decision of my life.

I still have dark moments - that hasn't gone away. Family of any sort helps tremendously. But what keeps me going is my husband and our German Shepherd. I have something to come home to, something to look forward to, a purpose.

Reach out to those you love. If you've read this far, I thank you. And I love you <3 And... today I live on. So should you.

Neena Thurman is a reader, writer/blogger, chess player and soon-to-be Environmental Engineering student (again!). She's an assistant manager at a local art house theatre and lives at home with her husband, Niko and their goofy dog, Athena.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

On Bravery, Authenticity, and Vulnerability

 After a hectic spring, I have spent the last few weeks doing some self-care. For me, that means riding my bike as often as I can and reading some books that have sat on my nightstand for a long time. The first two books, which I have been meaning to read for years (no joke) are Brené Brown's The Gifts of Imperfection: Letting Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to be and Embracing Who You Are and Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.
Now, perhaps it is odd that my definition of leisurely reading are books that deal intimately with difficult issues that have plagued me for what seems like an awful long time (e.g., perfectionism,
vulnerability, and what Brown refers to as not feeling ____________ enough, where the blank space can be filled in with any number of adjectives). For those of you thinking this very thing, I would say two things: first, I am also (slowly) making my way through George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, and second, I often need to be intentional about setting aside time to invest in this sort of self-care. If I do not, it is likely to be the first thing that falls off my To Do List, despite my knowing it is important. I am also preparing for a job search in the coming year, which, as a trans* person, has been something that is already surfacing some deeply held insecurities. Thus, I figure now is as good a time as any to begin doing some of this self-exploration.
For fear that this post could easily turn into a book report, I will just say that Brown's work revolves around issues of shame and vulnerability. Brown argues that when we are vulnerable, and embrace ourselves as imperfect people, we are able to build our own resilience to shame. Her work, then, is about moving people from saying things like, "I am not ___________ enough," to, "I am ___________ and I am comfortable with that." And, if ever we become
uncomfortable with being ___________, as often is the case, we are able to address these feelings in ways that allow us to live with courage, purpose, and connection. As Brown wrote in Daring Greatly, "What we know matters, but who we are matters more" (p. 16, italics in original).
Now I know the critique of Brown's work and, in fact, I agree with some of it. Yes, Brown's work is rooted in the seeming immutability of a gender binary (e.g., Brown often uses 'men and women' and 'he/she' language) that forecloses the possibilities of gender variance. Her work also leans on heterosexual narratives, which is problematic. These issues are real, and I am sure Brown, who is a talented and thorough researcher, has (or would) respond to them with the importance they deserve. However, the one thing I have often heard from people, especially those friends and colleagues of mine who share my critical worldview, goes something like this:

Well, Brown's work is fine, I guess, but come on; not everyone can be vulnerable all the time. And really, what does authenticity even mean? I think Brown is forgetting that there are some real issues of safety that make a lot of what she writes about inaccessible to marginalized communities.
This critique has been on my mind the past few weeks as I have been reading (and really jamming on) her work. Certainly, I have several privileged identities; I am White, temporarily-able bodied, and have a level of economic security that affords me some comfort. However, I also am trans*, and am not out to everyone in my life specifically due to issues of safety. Put in other words, I hear, get, and live the critique to Brown's work. That being said, I still don't agree
with it, as I think it misses the point of what Brown is trying to say.
I do not read Brown as saying, "Being authentically you means being the same person in all settings at all times." Nor do I read her as saying that being vulnerable means sharing your life story with everyone you know, meet, or with whom you interact. In fact, she says something much to the contrary; she suggests we all need to find those people with whom we can be vulnerable and will be vulnerable back with us. Brown states that our stories are precious,
and we should be careful and planful in determining with whom we choose to share them. So I think she gets that there are spaces and people with whom we cannot--nor should we feel compelled--to be vulnerable. Also, related to this, I read Brown as saying that being authentic means doing what is best for us in terms of taking risks and making meaningful connections with other people. What Brown sees as damaging is isolating ourselves and falling into our own feelings of shame and worthlessness, not that we do not reach out to every single person around us. Therefore, if we do not share pieces of ourselves, our histories, and/or our identities, it does not mean we are being inauthentic or are trying to eschew vulnerability. Instead, it means that we may be making good choices about with whom, and where, we can take the risks that encourage connection and build our own resilience to shame so that we can state affirmatively, I am enough.
Thus, the critique I laid out above seems like a bit of a red herring to me, as it is not wholly based on the point Brown is making. In fact, I think she would likely agree with the comment,
and then quickly say something like, "but that's not really what I am suggesting in my work."
Another word that I have often struggled with is 'bravery.' This word came into sharp focus for me this weekend when I was with a participant with whom I have been researching for the past two years. We were walking together when we heard Sara Bareilles' song "Brave." I have to admit that this song holds a special place in my life. Although I have struggled with the imperative in the song to 'be brave,' (as if that is an equally accessible, safe, or wise thing to do for everyone), a dear friend introduced me to the video about a year ago and whenever I watch it, without fail, it brings me close to tears. There is something so lovely about seeing people 'do
them,' and I am always slightly envious of their abilities to be comfortable enough to just dance. So there I am, wondering again what it means to 'be brave,' and if it is safe/accessible/
ever okay to not be brave, with a participant walking alongside me singing and dancing to the lyrics. The more I thought about it, I started to realize that Bareilles isn't suggesting bravery
looks the same to people across all contexts and in all moments. Instead, one way to think about the song is to queer the notion of bravery as a unified concept and see that being brave means
different things across times and spaces.
Similar to my thoughts on 'bravery' as a concept, I think 'authenticity' and 'vulnerability' do not have stable or static meanings. I have spoken with several friends about my own discomfort
with authenticity as a singular construct, as it seems to suggest we are--and should be--the same person in all settings and at all times...and if we aren't, then we are inauthentic, which,
as it sounds, comes with a normative value judgment (i.e., authenticity = good; inauthenticity = bad, immoral, fake, false, deceptive). The labeling of 'inauthenticity' as 'bad' or 'deceptive'
in this sense hits very close to home, as the trans*-as-deceptive narrative is still a widely-held common conception, especially for trans* women (for more on this, please see Julia Serano's 2007 book Whipping Girl, published by Seal Press). But I don't read Brown or Bareilles as saying this. Instead, I see them as telling folks they need to make good choices about where and with whom we are vulnerable, brave, and authentic (in the myriad forms and iterations these may take across spaces and times). If we do this, then we are reaching out, making connection, and working to reclaim our narratives rather than being subjected to the negative messages that tell us we are never _____________ enough.
And maybe, just maybe, if we do this, we can reclaim vulnerability, authenticity, and bravery, which are terms that speak to many people across a wide array of identities. I am also thinking there may be something here that relates to how one can understand resiliency as not a solid, stable, or unified concept...but I'll save that for a future post...
Z Nicolazzo is a Doctoral Candidate in the Student Affairs in Higher Education program at Miami University in Oxford, OH. Hir dissertation is focused on how transgender college students navigate their gender dichotomous collegiate environments. Z lives with hir dog, Grrtrude Anne, and loves to cycle and bake. Ze also updates hir blog semi-regularly, which you can find on hir website at

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Food for Thought

We’d like to thank Sarah for inviting us to write about subjects that we have been passionate about since childhood: animal cruelty and bullying. As writers, we blog about writing or ghost hunting, so it’s great to be able to discuss topics that really matter. This feels like a revolution.

When we were eight, we made posters and newspapers condemning cosmetics testing, circuses and zoos. We were Lisa Simpson without the high grades. Though we did have spikey hair. We turned vegetarian at 12 and vegan at 14. We joined animal rights groups,
signed petitions and wrote to politicians worldwide. We use our vote to give Parliament seats to MPs who care about animal issues. Since then, we've seen hunting with dogs, cosmetic testing on animals, sow stalls, and battery cages banned. Next stop is wild animals in
circuses, snares, bullfighting, live exports and the repeal of Section 24, to ban secrecy in labs.

Most people don't understand veganism. No, we don't all live on nuts, pulses and grain. Chocolate, ice cream and chips are our staple diet. Vegans don't eat, drink, wear or use anything that comes from an animal, such as honey, beeswax, feathers, leather, etc. You'd be surprised what this covers. For example, match heads contain gelatine. Vegetarians eat eggs, dairy products, etc. Just not meat. It annoys us when people say they're vegetarian but eat
fish. Fish are animals. Our friends ask if we mind them eating meat in front of us. We don't. Just because we won't eat meat, doesn't mean we'll impose our views on everyone else. We want people to make informed decisions.

People believe when teenagers become passionate about animal rights, it’s a rebellion. We’re 31. Our vegan years outnumber our non-vegan years. Our teenage rebellion days are over. But our days for fighting for animals are not. We hate seeing suffering but some people think it’s acceptable to abuse animals, after all “they're only animals.” Bollocks.

We became involved in animal rights when were 14, being bullied and suffering from depression. It gave us something to fight for when we wanted to give up. We were shy children, which later developed into crippling social phobia, but we always felt comfortable around animals. When it seemed everybody in our school hated us, our animals were pleased to see us. They didn’t judge us and they cuddled us when we cried. Learning what people did to animals enraged us.

The most sickening thing about animal cruelty is that it exists for one reason: money.

The biggest culprit is factory farming.

70 billion animals are farmed for meat, eggs and milk every year worldwide. 50 billion of them are raised in factory or 'intensive' farms. They spend their entire lives in barren metal cages, unable to forage, nest, or even move around. Imagine being in a lift
(elevator) with so many people, you couldn't move. No privacy, no bed, nowhere to go to the toilet except where you stood. All your future contained was a terrifying death. That is the life of factory farmed animals. Animals kept in such close confines experience boredom, stress, agitation and often resort to fighting and cannibalism. The obvious solution is to give them freedom. But freedom comes at a price – to the farmers' pockets. So the animals pay. With pain and suffering. The farmers' solution is to trim beaks, dock tails and clip teeth. Mostly without anaesthetic.

A battery hen lives in a metal cage with several hens, so her space is no bigger than a sheet of A4 paper. Laying for hens is like going to the toilet for people. They like privacy. Cages don't provide privacy. Battery cages were outlawed in the EU in 2012, freeing 250
million hens. However not every country complied, despite having 12 years to phase out the cages. Welfare is less important than profit.

Our mum is a teacher and her class were studying life cycles. The school hatched hen and duck eggs so the children could see the difference between them as they grew. Unfortunately, only one hen egg hatched, so one of the teachers got seven chicks from a
battery farm. She was supposed to get six, but the farmer grabbed seven and was going to throw one back, until she stopped him. At a day old, the battery chicks were twice the size of the week-old natural chick. Why? They're fed high-fat food to grow quicker. Quicker growth means bigger profits.

A chicken's lifespan is 6 years. A broiler's (chicken raised for meat) lifespan is 6 weeks. Free range chickens are slaughtered at 8 weeks, organic chickens at 12. Admittedly, it's not much better, but it's the best of a bad situation. Factory farmed chickens reach their slaughter weight in half the time of organic chickens, who are allowed to grow naturally. Turkeys are slaughtered between 9 and 24 weeks. Both broiler chickens and turkeys spend their short lives in broiler sheds, with thousands of other birds. They have food and water points, but no natural light and they never go outside. There is litter to catch their droppings, but it is only cleared when they go for slaughter. Ammonia from their droppings can damage their eyes, respiratory systems and cause hock burns on their feet as they are forced to stand in it twenty four hours a day. Once they become lame, they cannot reach the food and water.

Broiler chickens are deprived food for many hours before being transported to slaughter. Transporting can be so stressful that 20 million chickens die before reaching the slaughterhouse.

They are the lucky ones.

At the slaughterhouse, chickens and turkeys are hung by their feet, which is excruciating if they are lame. They are stunned by being dipped headfirst into an electrified water bath. However, some chickens raise their heads, missing the water so are conscious
when a laser slits their throats. Conscious chickens will again raise their heads. The laser slits their eyes instead. If the birds are large, the laser cuts their breasts.

Turkeys often suffer broken wings and legs due to rough handling when loaded into crates. Undercover footage from a well-known turkey farm showed workers playing baseball, with turkeys instead of balls. For fun. Legally, turkeys can be hung from their feet for three
minutes, which results in fractures and dislocations as they struggle to escape. Often, their wings touch the electrified water, shocking them. Birds that have not been stunned or killed properly enter the scalding tanks alive.

Smaller seasonal slaughterhouses often kill turkeys by dislocating their necks. It may be done by untrained staff without pre-stunning. Sometimes they have their throats cut without stunning, although this is illegal in the EU. Turkeys are plucked within seconds of
having their necks dislocated. They may still be alive.

The chicks from our mum's school spent the rest of their lives with us and the ducks. They sunbathed in the warmth, dust-bathed in the mud and chased us whenever they thought it was feeding time. (Hourly, according to them).They ate cooked vegetable dinner twice
a week in the kitchen and enjoyed flicking mashed potato over the cupboards. They would disappear into the shed to lay and crow proudly until we came to praise them. They were extremely intelligent/evil geniuses and routinely found ways to escape our garden to eat our neighbours' flowers. We were already vegan when we had them, so we'd give their eggs to our neighbours then march the unapologetic chickens home.

Foie gras is gaining popularity, despite the horrific way it is produced. Ducks and geese are kept in tiny barren cages and force-fed massive amounts of food via a tube shoved down their throats. This causes their livers to swell ten times its normal size. Asylum patients used to receive this treatment when they refused to eat. When it is done to humans, it is barbaric. When it is done to birds, it is a delicacy.

1.2 billion rabbits are slaughtered worldwide every year. In the EU, the majority of rabbits are kept in sheds which can house 500 to 1000 breeding does and 10,000-20,000 growing rabbits. Rabbits reared for meat (growers) are housed in groups in metal wire cages
– they have the space of an A4 sheet of paper each. They can't lie stretched out, sit upright with their ears erect, or stand on their hind feet. Often there is no bedding, which causes sores on their feet. Anyone who's owned rabbits will know how affectionate and inquisitive they are. This is taken away from them. To the farmers, they are not curious, playful animals. They are products on the supermarket shelves.

Does are given hormones so they can be bred at the same time. After giving birth, they are impregnated again after 11 days. Their mortality rate is high, often due to respiratory and intestinal diseases. In 2010, rabbits in France had seven times more antibiotics per kilo of meat than poultry and five times more than pigs.

The EU requires rabbits to be stunned before slaughter, but some are stunned incorrectly. Like birds, they are hung upside down, causing great distress and pain.

Pigs are highly intelligent and love foraging. In parts of Europe, they are used to sniff out truffles because of their superior olfactory senses. Approximately 1.3 billion pigs are slaughtered every year and at least half are factory farmed. Pregnant sows live in sow stalls for their 16 week gestation period. Sow stalls are narrow metal stalls which don't even allow her to turn around. There is no straw for her to nest with. They have been illegal in Sweden
and the UK for years and were finally banned in the EU in 2013. Sow stalls cause physical problems such as lameness, weak bones, cardiovascular, digestive and urinary tract problems. Sows often display behaviour similar to clinical depression.

Once she is due to give birth, she is moved to a farrow crate. These are sow stalls but with space for the piglets. A bar separates them, which allows the piglets to feed, but prevents the mother from crushing them or interacting with them. After the piglets are
weaned at three or four weeks, the sow is impregnated again within weeks. She has two litters a year and has a breeding lifespan of three years. She is then sold for slaughter. A pig's natural lifespan is 15 years.

Life isn't much better for cows. Cows, like all mammals, only produce milk after giving birth. Once she has given birth, she is impregnated again three months later. She is only productive for about three years, after which she is sent to slaughter because she is chronically lame or infertile. Her natural lifespan is 20 years. Almost every calf is taken from their mother shortly after birth – because they drink the milk destined for the shop shelf. Cows, like all mothers have a strong maternal bond and this forced separation causes great anguish. If the calf is male, he is surplus to requirements and is either shot or sold for veal. If the calf is female, she will share her mother's fate.

In the last 50 years, the demand for milk has increased, so farming has become more intensive to keep up. The most common breed of dairy cow in the UK, Europe & the USA is the Holstein-Friesian. They have been bred to produce high milk quantities. In the UK, she produces 22 litres a day. In the US, it's around 30 litres. If she was producing milk just to feed her calf, she would only produce three or four litres a day.

This unnatural amount of milk weighs down her udders, forcing her hind legs into unnatural positions, which makes walking and lying down difficult. This can cause mastitis, a painful udder infection. Some cows are kept in 'zero-grazing' where they spend their lives in
concrete sheds, which damages their feet. In America, they are given growth hormones to increase their milk yield. Fortunately this is illegal in the EU.

Fish are often overlooked in the meat trade, but they are just as intelligent as other animals. They have long-term memories, problem-solving abilities, social structures and some can even use tools. In the 1970s, 5% fish came from fish farms. Now, 50% fish that is eaten are farmed, due to the collapse in wild fish stocks. Scientists have predicted that by 2048, wild fish stocks will disappear completely, meaning all fish will have to be farmed for food. Farmed fish are fed on wild fish. It sounds like an oxymoron. Farmed fish are increasing because wild fish are decreasing. And why are wild fish decreasing? Because they're feeding them to farmed fish. In fish farms, salmon, which can grow up to 75 centimetres, live in a space no bigger than a bathtub.

Overcrowded fish are susceptible to disease, and suffer from stress and aggression which can lead to injuries, like fin damage. It can also reduce oxygen levels in the water. Atlantic salmon and rainbow trout are starved before slaughter so their guts are empty. Only
a day or two of starvation is required, but they're usually starved for a fortnight. The more humane slaughter methods are electrical stunning or a strike to the head. But fish are often suffocated in the air or on ice, gassed by carbon monoxide or have their gills cut without stunning.

Only 1% sheep are factory farmed, but this still amounts to several million. Male lambs are castrated to prevent breeding, help with fattening and to reduce aggression. Men, you might want to skip the next sentence. Castration occurs by having a tight ring or clamp
applied, or through surgery. Without anaesthetic. To prevent lesions or infections from flies, lambs' tails are docked using a hot knife, or a hot iron or tight ring around the tail. However, evidence has shown that this is unnecessary. Merino wool-producing sheep from Australia often have part of their skin around the tail surgically removed, known as mulesing, to prevent flystrike. Usually without anaesthetic.

At the end of their short, miserable lives, farm animals suffer a further trauma – live exports. They are crammed onto trucks, trains, planes and ships. If an animal falls or collapses due to lameness or exhaustion, they will be trampled, often to death. EU legislation
states the length of travel time allowed, and how much food, water and rest they should receive. This is rarely enforced.

In Europe, 6 million animals are transported every year. Australia exports 4 million sheep, mostly to the Middle East. They have a 50 hour road trip to the port, followed by three weeks on a ship and more road travel when they dock. 40,000 sheep die each year before
they reach the slaughterhouse and are left to rot, distressing the living animals around them. Canadian animals are transported thousands of miles across Canada into America. Their trucks are often unheated with no air conditioning, so the sudden temperature changes can be fatal. In India, there are only two states where the slaughter of cows is legal, so cattle are transported across the country and are often brutally treated when they arrive for slaughter. South America exports thousands of animals to the Middle East, so the animals spend weeks at sea only to be poorly treated and slaughtered inhumanely. Animals are loaded and unloaded by being abused with ropes, chains, sticks, electric goads and sharp objects. Some countries don't stun animals before slaughter.

Live exports are unnecessary. If fresh fruit can be transported across the world, why can't meat? Why can't they slaughter animals in their country of origin and transport them in refrigerated trucks? Again, it comes down to profit.

The global spread of diseases such as swine fever, avian flu, bluetongue virus and foot and mouth disease can be directly linked to live transportation. Disease spreads quickly between animals, as there are few medical checks.

Paul McCartney once said "if slaughterhouses had glass walls, we would all be vegetarian."

Factory farming is detrimental to both animals and human’s health. When an animal becomes ill and stressed due to its unnatural living conditions, it is pumped full of antibiotics. Often, animals receive antibiotics whether they are ill or not. In the EU, it is illegal to use antibiotics to promote growth. However, in America, approximately 80% all antibiotics are used on farm animals. What happens to those stress hormones and antibiotics when the animal is slaughtered? They end up on the dinner plate. There is major concern about this increasing the development of drug-resistant bacteria. People are becoming immune to antibiotics because they're eating them with their roast beef.

Small farms with well-treated livestock can't compete with the cheap meat factory farms produce. Many lose their livelihoods. Forestry is destroyed to grow animal feed. Fields that could be used to grow food for people are used to grow animal-feed, meaning less food
for people. This raises food prices, which increases poverty. Vehicles, factory pollution and aerosols are blamed for damaging the ozone layer. But factory farming causes 14.5% greenhouses gasses – more than vehicles. 37% methane emissions and 65% nitrous oxide
emissions are caused by factory farming. Both are more harmful than carbon dioxide.

Factory farm workers often suffer from musculoskeletal conditions. The dust and noxious gasses can cause breathing problems and lung disease.

So what can be done to reverse this trend? The obvious answer is to consume less meat and milk. The easiest way to make a difference is through your wallet. Never underestimate consumer power. Buy locally produced meat to reduce live transportation. If demand for cruelty-free products increases, manufacturers have to listen. If demand for foie gras decreases, they will have to stop making it. The cost between buying eggs from caged or barn hens, compared to buying free range eggs won't matter much to a shopping bill, but it will matter to the millions of hens imprisoned in barren metal cages. Buying meat from factory farmed animals may cost less than meat from free range or organic animals, but the cost to their well-being is higher. Buying fish from sustainable or organic sources may be
expensive, but intensive farming is ruining the oceans for the sea life that depend on fish for survival. When wild fish stocks are depleted, what will happen to dolphins, whales, sharks, penguins, seals and polar bears? They can't visit supermarkets to buy farmed fish.

You only have to spend a few minutes with an animal to know they experience love, excitement, enjoyment, curiosity, jealousy, boredom, fear and pain. Animals' skeletons are the same as ours. Their emotions are the same as ours. There are countless stories of animals risking their lives to save their owners, or their young. And yet, animals are considered lesser beings. Commodities to be used and abused for profit or pleasure. If humans can do this to
creatures who are essentially the same as us, what does that say about us?

Animals don't have a voice. Countless groups throughout history such as slaves, women, Jews, didn't have a voice. Does that mean it's ok to use them, because they can't tell us not to? No.

Cheap meat may be attractive to your bank balance, but suffering is a high price to pay.

Rise Against’s lead singer, Tim McIlrath, a vegan and animal rights campaigner, perfectly sums up most issues going on in the world: "real revolution begins at learning. If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention."

C L Raven are identical twins from Cardiff, Wales. They write horror novels, novellas and short stories and contribute articles to Haunted Digital Magazine. When they're not looking after their animal army, they're exploring castles, ghost hunting in spooky locations and drinking more Red Bull than the recommended government guidelines. Along with Neen Wilder, they make up the ghost hunting trio, Cardiff's Answer to Supernatural and have their own show on YouTube - Calamityville Horror.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Gender Beyond Binaries

I'll be blunt, gender comes in more than 2 flavors. The stupid doctrine that there are exactly two genders - male and female, is the root of much hardship and suffering for me personally and for many people within western culture. It's probably even hurting you right now, whether you realize it or not. For one thing, there are the somewhat rare cases like me, who don't fit into either the category male or the category female. But a more common problem is that different women are female in different ways. Trying to have a unified view or ideal of all women is hopeless and counter-productive. And men likewise are male in different styles and flavors. Trying to imagine a single ideal male, for all males to strive toward being, is hogwash and the root of much suffering. There are other ways to arrange a culture besides a rigid gender binary and trans and non-binary folk like me are in the process of trying to improve how our culture deals with gender for everybody.

So let's talk about folk outside the binaries first. Gender is a complex philosophical idea, and I could spend a long time just on it. But I like to think of gender as having three main components: gender identity, gender presentation, and biological sex. Sexual orientation is tricky issue to, it isn't exactly the same as any of these three terms, and both sorta is, and sorta isn't part of gender. Ok, so gender identity is how you think about yourself, how you self-identify, who you are to yourself when you are alone. Gender presentation is how you perform or display your gender through actions and choices: clothing, word choice, mannerisms, vocal tones, postures, dozens and dozens of conscious and unconscious details. Gender presentation is social and cultural, but it's about presenting yourself to others. Biological sex is about your actual body and its physical details.

The next thing to understand, is that biological sex doesn't always line up neatly as male or female either. Humans have a dozen or more sex-linked biological traits. Chromosomal sex, hormonal sex, gonadal sex, wolffian-mullerian structure sex, outer genital sex, and so on. And they usually line up well. Perhaps as much as 99% of the human population will be female according to all these biological criteria, or male on all these criteria, before we even think about culture or social identity or self-understanding. But many people DON'T line up, straight down the line, even at the level of biology. Intersex people and transgender people especially often don't fully line up, but even other people can fail to code the same way for every biological sex trait. Sometime, one falls outside of the criteria, or sometimes in-between. An intersex person with Klinefelder's Syndrome, for example, has 47 chromosomes in most cells, including 2 X's and a Y. We call them XXY, and they chromosomally aren't male or female exactly, although they often self-identify and appear socially as males. Someone with AIS (androgen insensitivity syndrome), might be chromosomally XY (male), yet have good female looking genitalia at birth and be raised as a female, undergo a seemingly normal female puberty, and have no clue they are not fully female biologically, unless infertility examinations as an adult reveal they lack a uterus and are chromosomally male. A transgender person might be female bodied by every biological standard we can measure yet (other than self-identity) when young, but seek and receive hormonal and surgical alterations so that as an adult they are male shaped, have male hair patterns, male musculature and scent, male genitals, and yet still be female chromosomally and still have a uterus. Even at the level of biological sex, such a person isn't really female anymore. In my case, I was pretty male bodied, as far as we know, most of my life, but probably had far less male hormones than the norm most of my life, and I have a fairly female hormone profile now (and my scent and fat distribution and such are currently shifting to a more feminine pattern).

So how common is it to fall outside of the gender binary in terms of one's self identity? It's hard to say. There are 2 main groups that do - intersex people and transgender people. Both are tricky to define, but basically an intersex person is someone that has a biological condition, other than just in the brain or self-identity, that makes them seem biologically non-binary, and a transgender person is someone whose current gender identity does not match the gender identity they were assigned at birth (and have often, but not always, sought to medically change their bodies through hormones or surgery). Something around 1 in 1000 babies appear ambiguous or unclear in gender at birth, many of whom wind up as intersex to varying degrees (and other intersex conditions don't reveal themselves until puberty or adulthood). Something around 2 or 3 people per 1000 come to self-identify as transgender over the course of their lifetime. Now, many transgender people don't think of themselves as outside the gender binary, they just think they were put on the wrong side of it at birth. A transwoman, say my friend Rachel, may well think that she is completely female, and that she deserves to be on the female side of the binary, rather than outside of the binary, even though she was assigned the gender male at birth, and may have some male biological traits left (like XY chromosomes). Similarly, an intersex person may have been ambiguous in gender at birth, but now think of themselves as a normal male, and want to be included on the male side of the binary, rather than be thought of as outside the binary or in-between male and female or anything like that. Still, estimates are that nowadays about 25% of transgender people self-identify as non-binary (as I do), and a good chunk of intersex people do too. So probably a rough and ready estimate is that somewhere around 1 person per 1000 think of themselves as neither male nor female, in modern Western cultures. (Evidence and anecdotes both suggest such people are highly likely to move to large cities, so the numbers are higher in cities, and lower in more rural areas). And of course, there are many different ways to be non-binary in gender. I think of myself as “androgyne” or somewhere “in between” male and female, mixing both. Some folk think of themselves as “third gender,” other in gender from male or female, but not necessarily in-between. Others describe themselves as “agender” feeling like gender just doesn't apply to them, or that they lack both male and female traits.

I won't try to speak much for intersex people, since I'm not one. But I have certainly read their stories of suffering because society wanted to put them into a male box or a female box rather than letting them be as they are. What is the first question most people ask about a new baby? Even before “Are they healthy?” Yup “boy or girl?” And woe to the parent that answers “neither” or “time will tell.” Many a parent was talked into disasterous genital surgery for their infant by experts assuring them it was for the best ... If you want to read more about intersex folk, see for example, “Full Frontal Activism: Intersex and Awesome."

But I do self-identify as transgender and as non-binary, so I can tell my story. I knew that I never really fit as a male, and it was a struggle from as young as I can remember. But I was close. Close enough to say to myself “eh” and try to be male. I used to say that I “rounded-off to male.” I knew I wanted to be more feminine, but I knew I couldn't “really” be female. I had no conception of a possibility of an in-between space, nor had I ever met anyone openly in-between, or seen it portrayed on in the media. I remember assuming that David Bowie was “pretending” for “style-points” rather than that he was genuinely trying to express who he thought he was. I never really considered myself transgender until a few years ago, because I thought that meant I would have to be “all-the-way a woman,” and I strongly suspected that wasn't me. I often wanted to be a woman. I often burned with envy for women. But I didn't think I could pull it off. Maybe in my next life. Biology was destiny right? But the thoughts and issues wouldn't go away for long either.

Males police other males for masculinity relentlessly. Any hints of femininity are shamed, and usually assimulated to homosexuality. Most people thought I was gay growing up, even though I showed attraction to females and little to males, simply because I couldn't really hide how feminine I was, and that was the only social category available for seemingly feminine males. I remember dressing a little too feminine as a teen, getting crap for it, and over-compensating to very safe and neutral all-black boring wardrobe. By the time I was in college, I understood that any hints of iffy male gender would doom my career (I wound up in grad school as a philosopher, easily the most male-dominated of the humanities, up there with engineering on the male/female graduation ratios …). So I repressed. A lot. There was no space in the culture for any gender ambiguities unless you were a rock star or wannabe, so I tried to allow none. I wasn't anti-social exactly, but I had no way to be myself around people, or even really by myself. I retreated into fantasy. I became joyless, and then depressed. In the end, my career was destroyed by the effort and depression of repressing my gender identity, just as it would probably have been by being open about it. Transgender people and non-binary people have much higher unemployment rates than the general population, and lack the legal protections against discrimination that many other groups enjoy. If I had a job here in Indiana, I could legally be fired from it just for being non-binary.

Now that I have been openly transgender and non-binary for a few months, I am surprised how little direct conflict it has caused so far. But it causes many little problems, because the culture doesn't know how to cope with me. I make people uncomfortable simply by being around. If I am eating dinner with my family at a restaurant, everyone else will sneak glances and try not to get caught doing so. Store clerks that were warm and friendly when I was passably male, are careful and polite instead, now that I am harder to code. Surveys and paperwork routinely ask me to check a box for male or female and have no other options. I can use gender neutral language for myself on many many things, but there isn't a gender neutral term in-between “ma'am” and “sir” yet in English, so people always stumble there. My preferred pronouns (ze, hir, hirs) are uncommon enough to sound really weird to people. But, as with many trans people, it's public bathrooms that are the worst social minefield. Occasionally, somewhere will have a gender-neutral toilet (often labeled a family toilet, or a handicap toilet), and I'll use those where possible. But often, I have to pee and my only options are the men's room or the women's room. Hmm, which one am I more likely to get beaten up in? Or to make others uncomfortable in? Or to have security called on me in? I haven't gotten beaten up yet, and I'm white, but statistically it happens a lot to trans folk, especially trans folk of color, so be sure I'm thinking about it. Similarly, there hasn't been a real case of a trans person assaulting someone else in the bathroom in the US yet, although there have been several hoaxes. I'm in much worse danger from others than they are from me. Trans people get murdered a lot more than non-trans folk too .... I've known trans folks that were kicked out of their families or got far more social rejection than I have. I suffered inside a lot when I had no categories for what I was. I suffered some, the 6 months I was cleared for female hormones by my therapist, but was unable to cajole the medical system into letting me have them (and I am sooo much happier now that I am on estrogen and t-blockers). But now, for me, it's more annoyances, and incomprehensions, and sadly making others uncomfortable, and routine little hassles, than actual suffering.

But the problems with the western gender binary are not limited to the rare folks that don't fit into it. The binary is a terrible mistake for most cisgender folk too (people who have always been identified with the gender they identify with now, that is most people). It assumes that it is somehow helpful to lump all women together. As if there were a single unified experience of womanhood that unites all women as “sisters.” As if all men were somehow men in the same way, so that the most salient fact about them is that they are “men.” This plays out in all kind of destructive and twisted ways emotionally and socially. I know women who don't feel like they are “real” women, because they put too much emphasis on career, or not enough, because they are infertile, or even because they delivered their children by c-section instead of vaginally. Women of many body-types feel the “ideal” woman is not of their body type. Heck famously, even the supermodels cannot meet the standards of idealized feminine beauty without extensive photoshopping. But part of the root of the problem here is the assumption that all women are to be held to the same standard, the same ideal (or to hold themselves to it), that women are women in the same way. But some women are tomboys and some women are fashionistas. Some women are dedicated careerists and some women nurturing homebodies. Some women love singing and some women love dancing. Singing is no more feminine than dancing, the two are just feminine in different ways. But we use these ridiculous ideals of gender to torture ourselves and each other for failing to achieve. “Women should all strive to be women in the same way” is just as much of a terrible and hurtful error as “Male and female are the only options.” 


Just as I had to struggle to be the androgyne I am, instead of the man that some nebulous abstraction like “society” thought I should try to be, if you are a woman, you have to struggle to be the woman or you are instead of the woman society thinks you should be. Your experience of your own gendered self is over-policed by normative social expectations for your gender identity. I'm not saying it's bad to have ideals, or to strive, but strive to be feminine in your own way, strive to create your own personal flavor of feminine, rather than imagining there to be one true way to be female. Similarly, this means that some styles of Feminism are actually counter-productive. Healthy philosophies of Feminism, need to be intersectional, and embracing of diversity of the feminine, rather than over-emphasizing the shared experiences that aren't really as shared as one might think. If we try to hold all women to the standard of the ideal, well-off, white, educated, careerist, fertile, healthy, cis, straight woman, our so-called Feminism is likely to do more harm than good. There are many ways to be a woman, and that is OK.

Similar points apply on the male end of the binary. Over-emphasis on male unity winds up pitting jocks against geeks, rich against poor, the hairy against the clean-shaven, the straight against the gay. It imagines that there is a single right way to be masculine (probably involving military experience and business success), instead of many different ways to be masculine. Once we give up on the “one true way to be male” many problems become less sticky. Homosexual masculinity doesn't have to be nearly as threatening to heterosexual masculinity, as long as they aren't competing for the heart of masculinity itself. Stupid dominance games can be less obtrusive when we admit frankly that IT and Sales can both be manly in different ways. Sure, if you are a man, maybe you can be more manly than you are now, but do it by striving to be like the men you admire most, not just the ones that code as mostly clearly some kind of generically ideal male. Is Sean Connery or David Bowie or maybe Isaac Hayes more your style, 'cause trust me I know ladies (and guys for that matter) that dig each of them, but if you try to be like Connery and Bowie and Hayes all at the same time, you'll only get heartache and self hatred. Most people understand that the media portrays an impossible standard of feminine beauty, that many women torture themselves in various ways trying and failing to live up to it. This happens to men too, but it's better hidden, and usually revolves around notions of coolness rather than beauty. In video games and porn, men can be the action heroes, rock stars, or players that they try and fail to be in real life.

Many other cultures throughout history have had more nuanced views of gender than the so-called western binary, that seems normative in the US at the moment. Modern Indian society famously has a very active “third gender” called hijras in Hindi, (or tritiya prakriti in Sanskrit, often even “eunuchs” in English), and in practice there are many sub-varieties, and local differences of culture within it. The “kathoeys” or “ladyboys” of Thailand, similarly seem like a simple 3rd category besides male or female at first, but in practice have far more complicated gender identities (kathoey literally means “non-male” but some identify as “a second kind of woman” (sao praphet song), others as just plain women, others as “a third gender,” and so on). Native American cultures frequently had and have categories of gender besides just male and female, and while “two-spirits” are the most well-known and widespread example, you can find cultures that had 4 or 5 gender categories, or that subdivided male and female into several sub-varieties, with several non-binary types as well. Even Western culture is not so devoid of ambiguities here as it is often portrayed - Italian castrati and feminnellos, the sworn virgins of the Balkans, the mollies of 18th century England, and so on. Even the Bible has some terminology for exceptional gender identities that many translations try to cover over. People struggling to live their own complex and nuanced gender identities, despite the over-intrusive expectations of society, is a story that repeats in different ways in all cultures and time periods.

Gender, and even sex, are not binary. They aren't even really a spectrum. They are dozens of spectrums and variables in a complex tapestry of possibilities. Yeah, there are two main camps, and most people fall someone into one one of them. But not everybody, and there are plenty of important internal differences within each camp. Don't police other people's genders so much. Admire what you like, but allow that there are many types of people in the world. Strive to embody the gender you feel is yours in your own personal way, but take lots of inspiration from others in the process. Don't hold yourself or others to impossible ideals, incoherent ideals, self-contradictory ideals, one-size-fits-all ideals, but encourage growth where you can.

Dress as you want to dress. I used to be confused about whether to say I was crossdressing or not. I'm usually wearing a mix of male and female clothing, and if I'm in-between what is “cross?” Then I saw the term “freedressing.” Yup, that's what we should all be doing. Want to display your ambition in the business world even when you are off the clock? Go for it. Wanna make a cutesty hip cultural reference with your t-shirt? OK. Wanna wear a light flowery sundress? OK. Clothes have a lot of different functions, utilitarian, social, but also emotional. They help us feel the way we want to feel, and display what is important to us to others. Feel dumb in a skirt, and far more comfortable in pants? Then don't wear a skirt unless you have some other really good reason to wear one anyway. Freedressing starts with not over-policing ourselves, but then extends to not over-policing others. Is that male rapper wearing a dress? Ok, why? Is he just trying to get attention, or does he like the frisson of the conflict, or did he lose a bet, or does he just feel better in a dress? Is that male-ish looking person wearing an overly pastel color top? OK why? Are they trying to display that they are gay? Are they displaying allegiance with an 80s Miami-Vice style? Or do they just think it looks good with that particular tie? We can't not notice other people's clothing choices, or our own, but we can be charitable, and suspend judgment a bit, and wait for further information before deciding for sure why someone is doing what they are doing, instead of leaping straight to attacking a perceived transgression.

The gender binary is hurtful to all of us. We have two main ways of fighting it. First, we need to look at it, see it, understand it. The more we see of its failings, the more we see its connections with various problems in our lives, the easier it is to get past it. But, second, we have to stop re-enforcing it. The gender binary is re-built day to day, by thousands of little social interactions. Mostly those involve policing other people's gender presentation, and our own. It is easy and tempting to make little micro-aggressions against other people for being the wrong kind of woman or man. Try to resist. Don't slut-shame women for dressing more provocatively than you like. Don't frump-shame women for dressing more timidly than you like. Don't attack a man for being sissy or macho. These tactics often win little battles, people often back down, but they make the overall climate of our culture a little more uncomfortable and hurtful for all of us. We want gender to be a comfy home to live in, not an armed camp where we are always trying to defend ourselves. Try to be yourself, and try to let others be themselves too, and slowly the gender binary will loosen and become less thorny for all of us.

Dr. B. P. Morton – May 2014
B.P. is a full-time housewife and dad of 2 kids, 9 and 12, but otherwise ze uses gender neutral terms for hirself. Ze is an androgyne in early transition. Hir Ph. D is in philosophy, and ze was a professor of philosophy and sometimes religion, at various universities for a number of years. BP lives in Terre Haute, IN, with hir wonderful and accomplished wife, who works for an organic farm/charity owned by environmentalist nuns. Ze likes role-playing games, computer games, board games, running, and poetry.