Linking the Struggles for Liberation: LGBTQ and Animal Rights
By Hana Low
At a recent DxE open meeting, four LGBTQ-identified members of the DxE community, all of whom were people of color, came together to discuss their views on how nonhuman and human liberation struggles are connected. The presenters all recognized the importance of furthering the nonhuman animal liberation movement in a way that does not appropriate the struggles of other groups or otherwise perpetuate parallel forms of oppression. Following the set of presentations, attendees engaged in a thoughtful 45-minute Q&A session with the four panelists and later received updates and provided feedback about DxE’s latest campaign against humanewashing and consumer deception. Without further ado, please find summaries of and links to each of the four talks, which run about 10-15 minutes in length each.
“Respecting Gender Identity” - Pax Ahimsa Gethen
In their presentation, Pax discussed how to respect human and nonhuman animals’ personhood and identities by using appropriate pronouns. Although some human beings intentionally choose “it” as a personal pronoun, most prefer “he,” “she,” “they” or other gender-neutral pronouns as their personal pronouns. “It,” a pronoun used to refer to inanimate objects, has been used to remove the personhood of transgender people and reduce nonhuman animals to object status. Pax also talked about the appropriateness of using gendered words such as “girl” and “guy” that are typically reserved to describe human beings, and gave members of the DxE community concrete tools for respectfully and conscientiously engaging with people of all genders. (Note: In the Q&A, presenters and attendees discussed advantages, disadvantages, and ethics of assigning gender to nonhumans on the basis of their biological sex, given that such practice is not acceptable behavior for humans.Those interested in this topic should check out the work of Joan Roughgarden, who is a transgender woman, ecologist, and evolutionary biologist and has written about possible sexual and gender identities of nonhuman animals.)
“LGBTQ + Animal Liberation” - Dominique de la Loza
In her presentation, Dominique discussed how understandings of “natural” and “unnatural” behaviors are used to oppress and justify violence to human and nonhuman animals. Speciesist acts of raising and using animals for food, clothing, entertainment, “science,” and other purposes are constructed as normal and natural, while non-reproductive sexual and romantic experiences are constructed as unnatural, even though they occur in nonhuman animal communities. Referencing queer animal activist and cofounder of VINE Sanctuary pattrice jones, who prefers that the name not be capitalized, Dominique argues that by denying that nonhumans have sex for pleasure or form non-reproductive pair bonds, scientists and scholars perpetuate the harmful naturalistic myth that animals don’t have complex emotional lives and agendas of their own. By reframing conceptions of “natural” and “unnatural” behavior and dismantling heterosexism, cissexism, and speciesism, we undo the harm that these systems cause to nonhumans and queer people, and allow everyone to exist for their own purposes--with the freedom to pursue pleasure and joy, and express themselves however they see fit.
“Trickle-up Queer Animal Liberation” - Hana Low
After opening with a short reading from an anti-speciesist trans woman, in their talk Hana presented a model for critically examining representation strategies and messaging in the mainstream LGBT and animal rights movements. To build ethical and effective liberation movements, we should focus on the plight of the most oppressed individuals within marginalized groups (in this case, LGBTQ people or nonhuman animals) rather than the most privileged within those groups. Hana stressed that all beings exist for their own purposes, and the worth or value of particular individuals shouldn’t depend on their ability to fit neatly into a heteronormative and human-centric world. They also advocated that activists focus on telling stories of liberation, resistance, and resilience, and abstain from presenting LGBTQ people and nonhuman animals only as victims of tragedy and violence rather than empowered subjects.
“You are Only Responsible for Your Identity: Being an ‘Ally’” - Zsea Beaumonis
In his presentation, Zsea aimed to redefine what it means to “ally” so that those who act in solidarity with liberation movements are accountable to marginalized communities for their actions. Simply because someone is sympathetic or believes in a cause doesn’t mean that they are effectively supporting that cause and acting as an asset to the movement rather than a liability. “Activists” who seek to dismantle one oppressive system or another should seek direction from, and elevate the voices of, people most targeted by violence. Self-identified “allies” who do not listen or hold themselves accountable may end up overpowering the voices of those who they are trying to serve or hamper the liberation work. In addition, Zsea named a deep process of unlearning speciesist biases that we all must undergo. We should engage in our liberation work starting at home, and allow our nonhuman companions to live in a way that is fulfilling to them, so long as they are not at risk of harming themselves or others.
Funnily enough, a great deal of the exposure that the talks received resulted from their having been excerpted into a six-minute video and posted on self-described “citizen journalist” Dan Sandini’s blog, Daylight Disinfectant. I won’t link to his summary blog post here, because of the utterly disrespectful way that he talks about LGBTQ people and animal rights activists (including misgendering, references to “lesbian chickens” and insinuations of bestiality); but he did manage to garner us over 11,800 views at the time of this writing.
He seems to have watched the videos quite closely, summarizing some of the key points that each of us made, though he did describe us as “liberals” when I know that several of us would describe ourselves as queer radicals instead. Similarly, Glenn Beck’s mocking treatment of Kelly’s speak-out featuring Snow a few months ago caused her video to go viral with 700K+ views, which sparked a national public conversation about speciesism, commodification of and violence against animals. Hearing conservatives mock us and insult deeply held identities is painful; but, as long as we speak our truths firmly and compassionately, and root them in our communities’ experiences of violence, more public exposure to our total queer and animal liberation commitment is only a good thing, in my mind.
Articles and related links:
Fear of the Animal Planet: The Hidden History of Animal Resistance by Jason Hribal
Evolution's Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People by Joan Roughgarden
The Gender Book (print and e-book)
Crime Against Nature: A More Accurate Telling of What's Natural by Gwenn Seemel (e-book)
Progressive Podcast Australia Episode 83: Queering Speciesism (with Extra Jess Guaranteed)
Gender Neutral Pronouns: They're Here, Get Used To Them