Adam Kol

Published on:

May 2, 2016

Coming Out

3 DxE activists share their personal stories of coming out and of taking the Liberation Pledge

A number of animal rights groups including Last Chance for Animals, Free from Harm, and a Well-Fed World have begun promoting the "Liberation Pledge," a pledge to set a norm in our social circles against violence against animals. Confrontation with family and friends is not something we relish, but being true to our values is uniquely empowering and profoundly transformative. In light of this, members of the LGBTQ+ Animal Liberationists have put together stories about a similar rite of passage many of us may experience: coming out.

That came to be in a moment that transformed the growing movement for queer rights, as movement leaders demanded that gay men and women take personal risks to come out to friends and family to fight homophobia and to defeat discriminatory laws. In 1969, the radical new Gay Liberation Front urged readers to come out, betraying the earlier generation’s insistence that the most important thing was to protect the secrecy. Famously, in 1978 Harvey Milk, the first openly gay public official in the U.S., implored gay men and women across the United States to come out:

Gay brothers and sisters, you must come out. Come out to your parents. I know that it is hard and will hurt them, but think about how they will hurt you in the voting booth! Come out to your relatives. Come out to your friends, if indeed they are your friends. Come out to your neighbors, to your fellow workers, to the people who work where you eat and shop. Come out only to the people you know, and who know you, not to anyone else. But once and for all, break down the myths. Destroy the lies and distortions. For your sake. For their sake.

  A poster from the Gay Liberation Front urging people to
A poster from the Gay Liberation Front urging people to

Coming out and taking the Liberation Pledge are profoundly different acts. As animal rights activists, we are not the oppressed - we are animals' allies. For that reason, taking the pledge does not incur the same social risk, and it does not confer the same benefits.

That said, going through the wrenching process of coming out and having, too, had to declare our unwillingness to be bystanders to violence against animals, we believe there are profound similarities between the two. While these are the stories of a few, we encourage all to take them to heart.

Zach's Story

When I was a sophomore in college, I decided to come out for the first time, to my mom. I played John Lennon's "Imagine" and promised myself that when the song was up, no matter what I thought or how I felt, I would march downstairs and say, "Mom, I think I'm gay." That word “think” was an unfortunate one - my mom was reassuring, but my tentativeness made both of us hesitant and me terrified. I cried for about an hour. I spoke to my sisters soon and they were supportive and confident. My dad, too, was loving and understanding. But my parents, having grown up in a different time, were worried about me, and I didn't tell anyone else, passing as straight for half a year more.

I met a man in Paris in the spring, but I didn't feel comfortable doing anything with him or anybody else until I realized: I could not feel comfortable with anyone until I was comfortable with myself. I had only decided to talk to my mom in the first place because I was sick of feeling terrified, unsure of myself, and uncomfortable with my friends. I had given up many things that I loved for fear of being suspected or found out.

My life was profoundly limited, so I decided the secrecy had to end. I went for a run, saying "I'm gay" repeatedly under my breath so that I could say to my Parisian host mom, "je suis homo." One by one I came out to my friends, and each time it was terrifying. Each time I asked myself how they would react. I also had times when I almost told them but didn't, and yet each time when I was done, it felt like a huge load off my chest.About a year ago I drifted into the decision to not eat at meals where animals' bodies are on the table, but each time I have that discussion so, too, I am terrified at how they'll react. I don't know what they'll say, or what they'll think of me, and I still don't know what people think of me whom I've spoken to about this. It feels like a profound act of liberation, though, and every time I feel I have made clear who I am, what the norms are that I live by, and what the norms are that I want to see in the world.

  The liberation band, a fork bracelet symbolizing one's commitment to the Liberation Pledge
The liberation band, a fork bracelet symbolizing one's commitment to the Liberation Pledge

I am not oppressed as a vegan the way I am for being queer. Still, offering people the choice between my presence and an entrenched social norm is a radical act of social rebellion in both cases. It is a clear statement that I am on the side of the oppressed and will not be silent. It demands a hearing in the court of the oppressor. It is an acknowledgment of who I am and my authentic identity - that I not only believe it is wrong for me to hurt animals, but that I believe it is wrong for anyone to hurt animals.

When I came out as gay, it wasn't because I was happy and wanted to show it to the world. I came out because I was terrified and wanted to be myself and have the terror end. There are countless animals for whom that terror never ends. And I will come out for their freedom every day for the rest of my life.

Rebeca's Story

During my freshman year in college, I realized that something might be different about the love that I held for one of my best friends. We were also both part of the Latter Day Saints Church, and I knew it would be seen as unacceptable to feel this way towards her. After all, it was unnatural and immoral to have sexual desires for someone of the same gender. There was reversible therapy for this attraction. This terrified me because I knew it would be suggested as treatment. The final fear I held was that my friend would in turn also believe that being gay would be reversible or treatable by means of therapy.   

Fatefully one day, we sat down on her bed, side by side. “I love you,” I said. The words lingered, and I waited for her response as I told her, “I think I might be gay.” Her face was plastered with disappointment as if I had told a family secret. “It’s okay, I know, but I don’t feel the same way.” She looked at me, but her next words seemed inaudible as she stated that she understood or that the church could help me.

I wish I had been strong enough to tell her to fuck off, that there was nothing wrong with me or anyone like me. Instead, I spiraled into a state of depression after that day -- in a war between self-hate and utter darkness. I didn’t want to be destined to live in a skin that tempted me daily. All I needed to hear was “I love you as you are.” It was not until I called another friend from our queer alliance that I felt safe. It is thanks to his words that I am here today. From that moment on, I defined my life.

I have defined my life in other moments as well. I have taken a stand and reclaimed myself. When I first decided to be vegetarian in high school, I felt like I made a difference. However, although animals continued to die, eventually my diet became methodical and thoughtless. Alone in this struggle, I stayed silent and went back and forth on whether or not it was okay to kill animals for human consumption. I would sit at a dinner table with my friends in a routine way - I would barely process or think about the life our “food” once held. Much like the process of coming out to myself, the process of admitting to myself that animals are oppressed and killed for no reason profoundly changed me.

  Come Out!, a newspaper by and for the gay community
Come Out!, a newspaper by and for the gay community

Moving to the Bay Area enabled me to come out to myself and everyone around me for the first time as queer and vegan. Coming out meant honesty, and with it came the understanding that violence takes different forms in different spaces in different ways. I had once repressed myself and what I knew for the comfort of those around me, but I defied the stigma and confronted the truth with strength.

For too long, I was silent about the love that I held for animals. I was supportive of violence. I had waited for years for change to come on its own. Now, I realize that in everything, I must be that change. I must decide what kind of a change I want to see in the world. It is that change and that courage which creates the passion and love for the world around me that makes me advocate for animals. Silence, in all its forms, is oppressive. I will no longer be silent. I am now empowered to talk about my identity and what it means to me.

David's Story

Closets are the order of the day in human society – something I first experienced for sexuality. Sex for pleasure, sex with various partners, same sex, fetish sex, extramarital sex, prostitution all live “in the closet.” I experienced it many times, including in third grade, when the sweet tradition of buying a set of Valentine's cards which all said “Be My Valentine” and writing a name of each boy and girl in my class on them came to an end because we’d gotten “too old.” It deepened when I realized, as I grew up, that you keep certain things hidden in public, you wait for sex until you are married, and once you are married you have sex with only one person. Many of us seem to live double lives – one sexual and one almost non-sexual – or sexual-by-the-numbers.

In college, I met and married a woman who I loved.  We lived together, shared our lives, and had an unbreakable friendship. But while she was unwaveringly interested in monogamy, I started to think that I was not comfortable with the ideal of heterosexual monogamy we all grew up with. I loved her, and so I stayed with her, living by this ideal despite myself. Yet as time went by, I could not force myself to be what I was not, to remain in this marriage when I felt a desire for love that did not obey this social norm - a longing for autonomous, consensual, queer love. So I came to her, we ended the marriage, and I moved on, mired in remorse. But from then on, challenging as it was, I have set the norm for those around me to respect my autonomy and varied love.

It was a straight path for me from guerilla theater, yoga, acting, and mime to groups that organize people to question social norms. I was trained as an actor in my youth, and this prepared me to disrupt common customs. During my performative youth, I discovered another closet - the closet in which we hide our guilt about the skeleton in the room, violence against animals.

As long as I can remember I found eating meat eggs and dairy as repulsive. Yet not to eat them was a “sin.”  I felt very alone in this position. I saw animals as my friends who have lives and feelings just like me. Why was killing and eating them “good”? I became vegan, but still, as a performer used to crafting worlds anew, I asked myself why I accommodated to a world whose norms I did not accept, where violence against animals is accepted as usual.

Therefore I have taken the Liberation Pledge to do all I possibly can to end speciesism -- including not sharing meals where the flesh, excretions, or secretions of any sentient being are served. This has caused much strife with my family, as they initially felt I was choosing my “personal beliefs over my family,” especially at holiday - but now I’m noticing that some of my family members are actually inviting me to join them for holiday meals where they vow not to have anything from an animal on the table. Progress is possible - even with family!