“When did you start transitioning?”
This question always stumps me. It feels like I’ve been gender-transitioning my entire life. As early as age 8 I made efforts to feminize myself, even if no one understood what I was trying to express. Then after a bad mushroom cut in middle school, I refused to let my hair be anything but long. Considering myself genderless (or non-binary) as a teen, I was frequently seen as female by strangers yet I struggled to advocate for my identity. It wasn’t until 21 that my “transition” officially started with doctor visits, hormones, a woman’s wardrobe, and she/her pronouns that people finally accepted. But regardless of whether I communicated who I was inside via a dramatic change in looks, I—like all of us—have a need to feel understood.
As happy as gender acceptance made me, all this time I was making another transition in my life that felt even more important. I was transitioning from someone who unthinkingly used animals for my traditions, to a vegan and animal advocate.
My quest to help non-humans began in earnest around the time of a squid dissection in sixth grade. Coincidentally, the same year those anti-queer comments in the hallways crushed my self-esteem! Staring at the squid body on my desk was the first time I’d had to directly interact with a corpse. I was suddenly forced to ask myself, Is it OK for a sentient being to be harmed for me, for non-survival reasons such as a science class or meat?
So much for going to Hogwarts when I turned 11. Growing up as an unspoken trans girl + aspiring vegan, my twin passions became inseparable. Society misunderstood my gender—and other marginalized groups—as much as they misunderstood the moral worth of non-human individuals. Gender dysphoria and what vegan psychologist Clare Mann calls vystopia became my top two triggers for depression. Later, they became my ultimate joys and gratitudes. What glory, that I was now seen for my womanly self and had veg friends to join forces with!
Another parallel is that with each transition, I went through some different stages of animal-rights awareness.
Beginning with idealism. I created a fictional world called Evergold. It was an alternate dimension, to which animals in peril could escape. There, no human would abuse them. In the Evergold habitat, the moose and the wolves met up for friendly games of tag. There was also no gender in this world.
The hardest times were when all I did was escape into 3rd-party fantasies. Online gaming was something I enjoyed, but I eventually fell into a Neopets addiction. Fortunately, as I linked up with like-minded people and my circumstances improved, I had less reason to be a mere comfort-seeker. Once I was both out as a trans woman and pursuing paid work in animal advocacy, I gave up my game world for good. It’s been easier to stay grounded in my real-life goals ever since!
With both gender and animals, I came to embrace criticism and objections. I learned to let go of pointless drama, and to focus on the thoughtful feedback that could deepen my knowledge. When I was in a good place, I did a binge-read of transgender-critical articles, taking notes. I found the parts I could agree with, and it actually made me a more self-confident trans woman. “Being transgender to me,” I wrote, “is about admitting biology’s imperfection. It is about embracing multiple sides of myself—the body and the mind. It’s about valuing both facts, and feelings.” Other people could have their own definitions, but by listening to the critiques that most scared me, I was able to stand up for my identity better. I clarified what made sense to me.
Likewise, for the sake of my animal activism articles, I make it a point to read pro-meat stuff. I may want to gag at some of the points, but understanding the best anti-vegan arguments helps me be a more nuanced ambassador. For instance, critics point out that a plant-based diet still causes various harms. So I started to compile resources that try to measure the different negative aspects, and provide more holistic views. Animal Visuals estimated the death toll of slaughterhouses and harvest for major food groups. Food Empowerment Project has avoided the term “cruelty-free” and written over 40 essays on food justice topics from workers’ rights, to environmental racism, to animals of the sea who are often overlooked.
Today, I want to pinch myself. My disheartened teen self would call it a dream to get to write the words I am writing, as a happy vegan trans woman. Together, these two transitions have taught me how vital it is to pursue your own private truth & joy and to be of service to others. I wrote this article not only to celebrate the progress for people of all genders, but also out of hope that someday, there will be a tipping point for non-human animals too. We humans of privilege will hold ourselves accountable to treating fellow creatures so much better.
Whoever you are, I wish you peace and wellbeing. May you savor this unique life you lead as a self-empowered doer of good!
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Photo: Sharon McCutcheon via Unsplash