“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 got 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 as a teen (non-binary), 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 people finally accepted. But regardless of whether I successfully communicate who I am 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 life transition that felt even more important. I was transitioning from someone who unthinkingly hurt animals for my traditions, to a vegan and animal advocate.
My quest to help non-humans began in earnest during a squid dissection in 6th grade. Coincidentally, 6th grade was the same year anti-queer comments in the hallways were crushing my self-esteem! Staring at the dead squid on my desk, it was the first time I’d had to directly interact with a corpse. I was suddenly forced to ask, 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 human groups—as much as they misunderstood the moral worth of non-human individuals.
Gender dysphoria and vystopia (the dystopia of living in a culture indifferent to animal abuse, as coined by psychologist Clare Mann) became my top two triggers for depression. Later, they became my ultimate joys and gratitudes. What glory, that I now am seen for my womanly self and have vegan friends to join forces with!
Another parallel is that with each transition, I went through stages of awareness.
Beginning with idealism. After that unsettling squid dissection, I wrote stories about a fictional world called Evergold. It was an alternate dimension to which animals in peril could flee, where no human would harm them. In this magical land, meat grew on trees, so the moose and the wolves could be friends and just play tag. There was also no gender in Evergold.
I went through a period where all I did was escape into fantasy. Online gaming was something I enjoyed, but I eventually fell into a debilitating Neopets addiction. Fortunately, as I linked up with like-minded people and my circumstances got better, 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 Neopets for good. It’s been easier to stay grounded in my real-life goals ever since!
With both gender and veganism, I made peace with 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. I found the parts I could agree with, and it actually made me a more 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 definitions, but by listening to the critiques that most scared me, I was able to stand up for my own identity better. I clarified what made sense to me.
Likewise, to improve my animal activism I make it a point to read pro-meat stuff. I may want to gag at some of the points, but the best ones makes me a wiser ambassador. For instance, critics point out that a plant-based diet still causes harm, so I sought out resources to clarify. Animal Visuals estimated the death toll of slaughter and harvest for different food groups. They make a strong case that veganism significantly reduces harm to animals. Meanwhile, Food Empowerment Project has written over 40 essays on holistic food justice—from workers’ rights, to ending environmental racism, to including animals of the sea in our circle of compassion.
Today, I want to pinch myself and double-check my life is real. Back when I was a depressed teen, it would have been a wild dream come true to get to share my story of becoming a happy vegan trans woman.
Together, my two transitions have taught me to pursue my own private joy and be of service to others. I write this article not only to celebrate progress for transgender people, but in hopes we create a tipping point for non-human animals too. Those of us with privilege can hold ourselves accountable to treating our fellow creatures a lot better.
Whoever you are, I wish you the greatest wellbeing. May you savor this unique life you lead, self-empowered and empowering others!
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Photo: Sharon McCutcheon via Unsplash