The Sistah Vegan Project

Transphobia and Heterosexism are not “Liberating” or “Cruelty-Free”: On Veganism, Ce Ce McDonald, and Trayvon Martin

I just read The Unjust Murder of Trayvon Martin is a LGBT/Feminist/Human Rights Issues by Dr. Eric Anthony Grollman.

Source: http://mjcdn.motherjones.com/preset_12/cece2v2_0.jpg

CeCe McDonald                                      Source: http://mjcdn.motherjones.com/preset_12/cece2v2_0.jpg

I have been pondering over how the mainstream media in the USA tends to focus on racially motivated violence enacted on cisgender-identified Black males… and how the injustice enacted upon Ce Ce McDonald and many other transgender people of color, do not garner the same type of outrage.

I do not wish to simplify matters, but I am rather disappointed (but not surprised since we live in a transgender-hating USA) by the amount of hate and disgust against LGBTQ people of color from hetero-normative Black folk who are simultaneously enraged about Martin’s murder. I have been trying to think about how to write about this for weeks. If you are not familiar with my work, my research and activism have focused on food, healing, and structural oppression as experienced by Black vegetarians and vegans in the USA and; how the [invisible] violence of neoliberal whiteness has ‘colonized’ mainstream vegan rhetoric coming from organizations like PETA. Simultaneously, I am also interested in understanding how veganism is used to ‘decolonize’ the Black USA community from legacies of colonialism. However, I can’t tell you how disturbing it is to realize that a majority of Afrocentric vegan/raw foods rhetoric is ensconced in heterosexist/hetero-normative/trans-phobic logic. Yet simultaneously, the same ‘liberating’ and ‘decolonizing’ canon has an outpouring of sympathy and understanding for Black [cisgender-identified hetero-normative] folk who collectively suffer under systemic anti-black racism and white supremacy in the USA.

For example, even though I appreciate the work of Queen Afua’s Sacred Woman, as it did help me to cure my fibroid tumors, her entire book makes the assumption that all Black identified women and girls are cisgender identified and heterosexual; that the most ‘sacred’ romantic union that I as a Black female can be in is with a man of African descent. This also automatically implies that transgender, as well as lesbian and bisexual women of African descent cannot be part of a new future ‘healthy’ Black nation. Such an exclusive Black nation, in Sacred Woman, can be achieved through proper vegan food preparation to feed one’s family and self. Let me clear: Afua never directly says she hates people who are not straight or not hetero-normative gender conforming; but the absence of including transgender and non-straight women of African descent says something very profound about what bodies, sexualities, and genders are normalized and can be nutritionally ‘cleansed’ and ‘purified’ towards a moral or correct type of healthy Black nation (see Harper 2013). An Afrocentric guru who has been direct about his disgust with non-straight and non-gender conforming Black people is Dr. Llaila Afrika. His work has advocated that a properly planned holistic vegan or raw diet can “cure” queer Black folks. His rationale is that “gender-confused” and/or non-straight people of African descent have impure gender and sexual behaviors due to consuming the white colonizer’s industrialized and carnicentric diet (Afrika 1994; 1998). This logic is dangerous, unmindful, and unloving. But of course the Afrocentric canon of holistic health is not a singular anomaly in the mindset in the USA; it’s a microcosm that simply reflects the moral fabric of an entire mainstream USA that may have progressed a little better in terms of understanding how racism impacts Black [cisgender identified] people, but are still in the dark ages in understanding how violent it is to teach us that hetero-normative gender binaries are ‘common sense’, ‘natural’, and ‘pure.’ After all, PETA’s vegan anti-fur campaign from a few years ago delivered an anti-transgender message, “Wearing fur is a drag”,. The campaign depicted a picture of a drag queen wearing fur. Why are we supposed to want to throw blood on her? Are we supposed to be disgusted by a person wearing fur? Or are we [cisgender identified people] supposed to ‘naturally’ be disgusted by a person wearing fur who is transgender-identified?

I have organized a web conference for September 14, 2013. It is called “Embodied and Critical Perspectives on Veganism by Black Women Vegans and Allies.” Many topics are covered. Not surprisingly, I could not find one person to submit a proposal about the anti-transgender and/or heterosexist rhetoric that undergirds the canon of mainstream veganism. I have extended the call for papers deadline to August 20, 2013. I don’t want to speak for a demographic of people that I am not (i.e. transgender identified), however, if I cannot find anyone to present on this dire matter, I will need to contextualize and speak about both Martin and Ce Ce McDonald’s tragedy: How do transphobic Afrocentric ‘food liberation’ rhetoric, as well as the realities of USA’s white supremacist value system, help to perpetuate the unjust outcome of McDonald and to leave her suffering as invisible and inconsequential to mainstream media? Why is her tragedy not garnering outrage for justice even by mainstream American sympathizers of injustice? Trayvon Martin should not distract us from thinking about racialized-sexualized-gendered, etc. forms of violence that take place on minorities within a minority (i.e. transgender people of color).  How can USA mainstream simultaneously acknowledge that racism not only affects the “ heterosexual Black cisgender identified males” but also sexual and gender minorities? How can we hold both Martin and McDonald in our hearts and consciousness and understand, as Dr. Grossman says,  “that the Unjust Murder of Trayvon Martin is a LGBT/Feminist/Human Rights Issue”?

 Works Cited

Afrika, Llaila O. 1998. African holistic health. Rev. 6th ed. Brooklyn, NY: A&B Publishers Group.

 Afrika, Llaila O. 1994. Nutricide : the nutritional destruction of the Black race. 1st ed. Beauford, SC: L.O. Afrika.

 Harper, Amie Louise. 2013. Vegan Consciousness and the Commodity Chain: On the Neoliberal, Afrocentric, and Decolonial Politics of ‘Cruelty-Free’. Dissertation, Geography, University of California, Davis, Davis.

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10 thoughts on “Transphobia and Heterosexism are not “Liberating” or “Cruelty-Free”: On Veganism, Ce Ce McDonald, and Trayvon Martin

  1. thanks for this, breeze. get ready for the usual backlash. i would love to read something from you about whether you think veganism is the best human choice from a moral standpoint, or simply the best choice for some humans. it’s a hard area for me, as so much of the commentary seems to assume that, unlike our celebration of the variety of ways of being human sexually, there is only one way to eat in a way that honors creation.

    • My answer is that I think it’s the best human choice for some, not all. I have always said this but I also know that I get a lot of back lash from vegans who truly believe ALL humans on the planet can and should be vegan. I know that there are nutritional science research articles and books that “prove” that everyone can be fine on a properly planned vegan diet, but I just want to be careful with saying this. I also don’t think it is possible for all humans to be vegan, especially if they live where they simply can’t have access to or grow vegan based foods all year round. Just a few of my thoughts.

      • Breeze, I wanted to comment on what you said as this is how I feel about it. Actually, I cut & pasted this from what I had said originally from a vegan forum that brought up the same topic:

        ‘I think everyone can go vegan. No excuses whatsoever. Have any health issues? See a vegan nutritionist. Have any emotional issues regarding veganism? See a psychologist. I’ve even seen healthy vegan recipe menus online based on living on welfare. For any animal “food” there is an alternative cruelty-free vegan food.

        I was listening to this research historian explaining how people started eating animal flesh. He said when people moved about the earth, there were areas where there wasn’t sufficient plants and fruits around to fully nourish everyone so then they started killing animals to complete their nutrition and then it became a satisfying substitute….So that’s why people started eating meat as pleasure, and as alternatives to plants, or are in places where plants are hard to grow, like extreme temperature areas.

        I still think that’s not a reason to not be vegan.

        I hear this a lot about people living in extreme areas where there isn’t enough plants around.

        Animals do a lot of roaming the earth, seeking new places to live. When they find areas where there is not enough food around, they leave! Move on to places where there is enough food.

        Why didn’t early humans do the same thing?

        Obviously now, after years of staying where food is lacking or where land is such that growing food is difficult, and resorting to eating animal flesh, there are many people living in those places. But long ago, they should have left, which would also have greatly helped our earth’s overpopulation of people.

        It’s a case of where doing something wrong in the first place only made things worse and worse to now it would be most difficut to relocate all these people in such areas and place them in areas where plants are plentiful and good land to grow food. And there’s the issues of forcing people to move….

        What a screwed up world we live in.’

        (My text today) So I don’t look at living in remote places so much as an excuse to eat animal flesh, but rather I look at it more as a tragedy that could have been avoided.

      • I just wonder how one can force an entire tribe of people, for example, to ‘relocate’ so they can be vegan. That is the part that I do not feel comfortable about. I was also thinking about Mexican Indigenous communities suffering from lack of access to clean water because us folk living in California use/exploit the Colorado river. By the time it gets to Mexico, there is nothing left for them. I’m wondering then if we should vacate California to make water rights more fair. I am not trying to play ‘devils advocate’, but am just trying to understand what I think is a very complex situation.

        I think everyone can’t go vegan or even be a whole foods ‘healthy’ omnivore because access to healthy lives is not easily accessible for most people. How many people can afford to go to a vegan nutritionist? I have health insurance, though its quite crappy, but I’m actually not able to afford to go to any non-allopathic practitioners because my insurance just wont cover it. I also have always wondered if the whole went vegan, would it really cure hunger and food access problems if it still exists within the logic of neoliberal capitalism. I feel like food is still used a a weapon and is controlled by powerful entities. I have wondered about this for awhile.

        I also get worried about ‘colonizing’ people to do only one thing. I hope I am making sense.

        These are important questions and comments to consider, and I’m alway happy to know that a significant women of color vegans are bringing it up.

      • i really appreciate your very helpful response. my own political analysis is that everyone should pretty much stop telling everyone to be the same, to stay in our assigned places. there are some choices we cannot tolerate in the usa–like murdering Black boys at all, never mind murdering Black boys with no consequences–but they do not include what people choose to wear or eat, or who they choose to share their bodies with, from my perspective. all of that said, i have admiration for people who choose to be vegan; i think it shows discipline, awareness, and self-love.

  2. Well, that’s the thing regarding relocating people. It’s like a fait accompli where by past horrible actions, it makes it practically impossible now to fix. People should not have tried to live in unliveable places to begin with and as a result, innocent creatures suffer for it.

    Things would have been great (or at least better, in my opinion) had not huge errors of the past had happened but unfortunately we can’t go back in time. I believe all your concerns you raised had solutions if people didn’t go the way of choosing to live in certain areas.

    With a vegan nutritionist, I believe in this day and age, almost all businesses have payment plans (made out to what you can afford giving on a monthly basis) if you can’t afford a nutritionist. I would also shop around. Although one obviously must be careful with the Internet, one can get online and get advice from experienced vegans, especially if the issue is minor. Listen to them intelligently and see if what they say makes sense and possibly try it out before going to a vegan specialist. But I think most people have no problem with vegan nutrition as long as one knows what one needs regarding vitamins, minerals, etc. supplements can be used too. You can also try to find a regular medical doctor who is vegan, as they would know a lot about veganism and health insurance could cover it.

    For me, I come from a place where I believe people were originally vegans from the start, be it Adam and Eve or whoever you feel were the first beings on this planet–they were vegans (as I don’t believe animal flesh is even food for humans). I don’t believe this world was set out originally to condone animal cruelty, just like any other kind of cruelness, be it racism, ageism, sexism, etc. Yes, all these isms exist now, but I don’t believe it was here from the beginning–none of it. I believe this earth started with peace. I could never imagine this world being designed from the start to be cruel and evil–that just doesn’t make sense to me.

    And continuing with all these isms of cruelty, just makes the world get worse and worse. Cruelty begets more cruelty–toward humans, animals and the environment.

  3. Lincoln on said:

    This is an excellent post, and something, as a white trans person, I’ve been trying to wrap my brain around for years. Plus, the hell with PETA. It just had to be said. They creep me out. Anyway, back on topic.

    Not only is the lack of attention to Ms. CeCe’s case outrageous, but it amazes me that Zimmerman had to get away with murder before more mainstream media outlets even started looking at Marissa Alexander’s case. (She’s the Florida woman whose Stand Your Ground Defense was denied by the judge. Even though no one was harmed. Because she aimed her gun at the ceiling before she shot it. To ward off her abusive man. Who admits that he most likely would have killed her. And she’s gotten 20 years.)

    I’ve been a vegan for awhile, and I think it was a fail after awhile in large part because of the meds I’m on and the two hospitalizations I’ve been through. Before that, I stopped being vegan (and even vegetarian after a spell) because it’s hard to follow a diet when you’re homeless and your food’s provided by systems who get their food from within the system cheap. Getting mostly crappy foods in bulk for cheap doesn’t inspire a lot of dietary diversity.

    As far as what we become aware of, both in food, media, and important stories, I’m still teasing that out in a lot of ways. I think it has to do in large part with where we “eat” our media. Sometimes there are days when even Rachel Maddow’s news feels more like a Taco Bell run than a carefully prepared meal.

    There’s more to what I’m thinking, but this is the most I can say without sounding too thoroughly random. My thought process is a bit like shaking coins in a box at times. :)

  4. I need to have fair access to healthy food ingredients and preparation facilities, as well as nutrition etc. knowledge to be able to follow a healthy, wholefoods, vegan diet. Oppressions intersect!

  5. drag queens =/= transgender people. drag queens by and large are cisgender gay men, very few are transwomen. though, considering how often people think those dudes are us (transwomen), i do agree that in a sense it’s transphobic on PETA’s part, even in a less trans-hating country it’d be easily distinguished as homophobia.

    as an aside, veganism definitely IS useful for a transitioning transwomen – the hormones in plants are much more conducive to femininity than eating, and herbal remedies to support transition can be made.

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