A while back I was conversing with Janine Bandcroft, who asked me about being non-binary.
I said gender identity isn't something we're born with; it's something we perform. Our human identity, too, in a world of so many living communities, is a performance.
Picking one side of a gender dichotomy or one side of the human-animal divide is what most people do because we are taught to do it incessantly early in life. But dualities can be deceptive.
I could just as well identify myself as born from a mixed-sex couple, and sometimes I do.
Sometimes a kid will ask: "Are you a boy or a girl?"
And I say: "My father was a boy and my mother was a girl so you know what? I am a mix of boy and girl!"
The kids always find that interesting, though the accompanying grownups usually crinkle their noses or walk faster.
You know, human beings with intersex chromosome variations are as numerous as people born with red hair. In many animal communities, intersex or shifting sex occurs widely. The "natural" binary of sexes 🚹 🚺 is a fiction.
C'mon, U.S. Census.
When someone tells me to choose M or F, or uses a pronoun for me that doesn't match my own sense of self, why is that something I have to get comfortable with?
And why should anyone have to struggle their entire life to prove they are who they are? Think of athletes with unique chromosomal makeups, for example, who cannot escape this burden of proof because officials keep trying to evict them from their sports.
Why should someone who fits neither side of the either/or standards be disqualified, unrecognized, devalued, policed for what they should be wearing, and so forth, as happens in various professions? (Courtroom law happens to be one, though I gratefully assume the Kamala Harrises of the world are changing the norm.)
How many souls across the world could live according to their deep sense of self if people weren't imposing categories on them, and inventing restrictions for their everyday social experiences?
Change begins with questioning the categories we’re in.
Not just a few of us.
Because we all know what's oppressive about these categories. And we know that sexism, which still flourishes in our midst, begins in category-invention.
In our society, we're conditioned to defer to those who are, generally:
- Male-identified, and
- Defined in opposition to (or in charge of) beings traditionally associated with nature.
A long time ago I read a book by Marge Piercy. The characters used the gender-neutral pronoun per for everyone. I like it to this day. It makes me think of personhood. And as we vegans know, personhood is more than human.
So I might just as well classify myself as a primate too...
And often I do. I am an animal liberation advocate. Once I am you, I really struggle for you.
If we define “class” to mean a slot in an oppressive hierarchy, then we can question that structure rather than follow its rules. I start by changing my perception of myself and the non-me.
Once I am you, I really struggle for you. It's no longer just charity (or chivalry).
The stalking of other animals can only happen because animals are others, and that's enough to make killing them for sport OK.
The use of other animals in labs can only take place because bioethicists respect an imaginary ethical barrier between species. But it isn't a real barrier; it's more like a continuum. After all, isn't evolution a reality that one classification emerges from the last?
Every day I'm alive, even when I'm happy, I'm aware of a frightening thing.
If I were targeted, someone would say, well, why was I jogging there alone? And if I were perceived as nonhuman, as another animal making my way along my jogging route, I could be run over, chased openly, trapped, poisoned or shot dead.
And so, as I jog, I am conscious of my membership in the human classification, the human club. And I think it's up to me to challenge that.
From our shared Studio for the Art of Animal Liberation,
the updated VEGAN 101 slideshow is yours to enjoy, show, share!
Photo credit: Frederick Medina