christmas post

[cw: animal rights, scrupulosity, donation requests, mass animal death, veganism]

 

 

This post will be based around a question: How much do animals matter to you?

 

If your answer is “they don’t”, this essay probably isn’t going to do much for you.

 

But I think that most people, on some level, do care about animals. Maybe less than humans–maybe much, much less, even–but they do, in fact, care. And a lot of people care about animals a lot, but they don’t know how to help, or they’re afraid of facing guilt from having not helped before, or they’re in a situation that makes it hard for them to help, or it’s just easier to not do anything.

 

 

Here is the first idea off of which I am operating: There is currently a great moral tragedy occurring. Hundreds of millions of animals are dying daily, at unprecedented rates. Every second, over 4,000 animals die. Each of them has as deep of a life as your pet; each of them has a personality, a love, a way of responding to pain, a schedule of when to wake up and when to go to sleep. Each loved, hated, experienced joy and pain, who ate and slept. Each died a completely, 100% preventable and unneccessary death because of humans.

 

It is not only their deaths. They are living lives of torture–body parts hacked off without anesthetic, cages or crowding so tight they may live their entire lives without ever flying (for birds) or even just turning around (for mammals), injuries and illness left untreated or treated with excessive antibiotics that cause side effects and unnatural growth, left to linger in their own waste and blood. There are billions of them at any given time, numbers so large we do not, can not understand the scale. And we are the reason why–not some ill-defined Other, not even the people who carry out this death sentence, but us, every one of us that has paid for and eaten meat or eggs or dairy and done nothing.

 

To put context to this idea: This is a rate almost 60x higher than the rate of deaths during the holocaust, and it has lasted decades longer–over the past 3 years, working off the most conservative estimates of the dead animals and the highest estimates of people who died in the holocaust, the scale is 7,950x larger than the deaths of the holocaust (a more balanced estimate gives the number 23,900–for every single death from the holocaust, almost 24,000 animals died). You may argue that it is a bad comparison because of how tragic the holocaust was, that you would in a heartbeat trade 24,000 animals for a single human life, so let me give more examples. If you think that humans are 100,000 times more important than animals, you believe that eating meat is equivalent to the Ukranian genocide (also known as the Holodomor). Up that to 1,000,000 times as important, and you get equivalents to the Armenian and Rwandan genocides.

 

Just in the years we have numbers from, there have been over 500 billion deaths (most after extended torture). The human brain cannot process 500 billion; it struggles with thousands. 500 billion is larger than the number of human beings who have been born in the entire history of earth. If you lived just a single second for each death, assuming that the deaths stopped the moment you were born, you would live to be 15,854 years old. Just a single second. There are more deaths per minute than there are words in the english language. Every single one was the death of a being that felt and dreamed and thought. Every single one could have been prevented with small personal sacrifices on the part of humanity, but they weren’t. Unless you value every single human life as thousands of times more important than the life of, say, a pig (before you laugh: pigs are about as smart as 3-year-old children, are as good of companion animals as dogs are, are clean animals capable of empathy, have excellent memories, play video games using a joystick, and live in complex social communities), you agree with me: this is the most pressing moral issue of our time.

 

 

You may try to rationalize this away. You may feel crushing guilt or shame. You may feel sad, or angry, or useless. Don’t flinch. Hold it in your mind, look it in the face, and tell yourself: I will do what I can to help fix this.

 

What you can do might not be very much. That’s okay. It is still something. Something is always better than nothing. I hope this essay helps you. Do not feel pressured, because of this article, to do more than you can handle; put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.

 

What you can do might be, in fact, nothing. In that case, this essay is kind of useless to you, and I am not sure why you are reading it, but I hope you’re enjoying it anyway?

 

In case you haven’t guessed it, the tragedy I am talking about is eating meat. The statistics I am using are from 2003, with a year or two from 2013 added on–it is likely that it has grown since then, and that it will grow in the future if people like you and me do not do something to try and stop it. I will not describe the torture they go through; there are enough graphic descriptions of that on the internet to last a lifetime. If you want to know what they go through, and you can handle it, watch Earthlings. But do know that they do not live idyllic lives before their slaughter; these are animals that can love and learn and play, and they are deprived of that until their death. There are no laws regulating how their lives are lived; while deaths of cows and pigs are regulated, chicken and turkeys are exempt from humane deaths. The regulations that do exist are rarely enforced.

 

With every blink of your eye, their painful lives begin and end. This will likely awake emotions in you. Face them, do not avoid them. Breathe.

 

 

You may rationalize this with your love of humans–humans matter more than animals, that’s just how this works, I shouldn’t prioritize animals.

 

The first objection is clear: we are not discussing a situation where you value one animal over one human. we are discussing a situation where you value thousands and thousands of animals over one human.

However, even if we were, you do not have to stop caring about human lives to help animals. You can support animals and the environment and human rights and hunger and water availability and education and social justice. You can choose the thousands and thousands of animals and the one human instead of choosing between them. You can care about more than one thing at once, and just because you care about something less doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care about it at all.

 

The second objection is less clear, but no less important: causes overlap.

 

Animal agriculture is the single largest user of freshwater resources, accounting for 70% of freshwater use and 93% of freshwater depletion. If you care about people getting enough water to drink, you should support veg*nism.

 

10-25% of greenhouse gas emissions are due to animal agriculture (the lower estimate only counts the amount directly emitted by the animal farming, while the higher estimate also includes the amount emitted by e.g. deforestation to develop the land into a farm). 65% of global nitrous oxide emissions are due to animal agriculture, along with 37% of methane emissions and 9% of carbon dioxide emissions. If you care about climate change, you should support veg*nism.

 

36% of calories from the food we grow goes to animal feed instead of the humans starving. If you care about world hunger, you should support veg*nism.

 

If you care about health, vegan diets have been approved by many organizations as healthy for all stages of life–in fact, they significantly reduce the risk of heart disease and other chronic diseases as long as a B12 vitamin is taken or B12-fortified food is eaten (vegetarians need not worry about B12, as it is found in non-meat animal products).

 

Around slaughterhouses, the rates of PTSD are high, the emotional toll of being exposed to constant death and cruelty. The violence they are forced to be a part of plays its own role–domestic violence is also high in these areas. They are frequent in poor rural areas, and many farm workers have no real choice but to work there. If you care about human rights, mental health, women’s rights, poverty, or worker’s rights, you should support veg*nism.

 

These issues do not contradict. We will not starve if we go veg*n or support veg*n causes–quite the opposite: we will have enough food for an additional 4 billion people.

 

 

But there is good news, and a certain joy, that comes with all this evil: things are bad, but you can help. Veg*nism is not just the lesser of a host of evils, it does not prioritize animal lives over human lives. It is just good. It saves animals, it saves humans, it saves the environment and water. Sometimes, things are just good! Tragedies are sometimes completely and utterly preventable, not a necessary evil, not a balancing act, and you can help prevent them.

 

One obvious step is to go vegan or vegetarian, or to take steps towards doing so. There are many resources on the internet to try and help you with this. You can also do meatless mondays, or cut out poultry and farmed fish (if you care a lot about animal suffering and death) or beef and large fish (if you care a lot about world hunger) or beef and lamb (if you care a lot about climate change). You can try to convince others to become veg*n as well, spread awareness, cook or buy more veg*n food for yourself and others, or take other steps towards embracing veg*nism.

 

Another step is to donate. According to Animal Charity Evaluators, you can save 100 animals for every dollar you donate to The Humane League. The least amount of money you can save a human life for is $3,500 with the Against Malaria Foundation–for the price of one human life, you can save 350,000 animals! Not only this, but even very small donations can make a significant impact. For every dollar, 100 animals are saved. That is 100 animals who are not dunked alive in boiling water, who are not cramped together in cages thick with their own filth. 100 animals who are now free. 100 animals who are capable of love and play and feeling the sun on a hot day and grass and dirt beneath their feet and the taste of cold water, each as valuable as any pet cat or dog or snake or rabbit or fish or any other animal.

 

Remember what we talked about before, the lives that blink in and out over a second? For a donation of $40, for a second, all of that stops. 4,000 animals are killed every second, and 4,000 animals will be saved by your donation. Just a moment, just a second–a moment worth 4,000 lifetimes.

 

If you are too poor to donate, too disabled to go veg*n, that’s fine. You should not feel guilty for doing your best. Try to do everything you can do healthily and happily, whether that’s a lot or whether that’s nothing.

 

Remember: There is a massive tragedy going on, of a huge scale, and you (yes, you) can help save its victims. That is not something to be guilty about–you are not the one who caused the tragedy. It is something to celebrate–you can help stop it.

 

 

If you donate to Animal Charity Evaluators or Mercy For Animals before 2017 begins, your donation will be doubled.

 

If you donate to The Humane League before 2017 begins, your donation will be tripled.

 

And not contributing to this tragedy is the best way to help stop it in the long term. Consider going vegan or vegetarian, or taking steps towards veg*nism. Make 2017 a year that is better, not worse, than the one before it.

 

There is an awful, awful, tragedy going on, but instead of being upset, know that you have the power to help stop it.
For the next week, it just takes a single penny to save three lives. Please, consider taking action for animals–however you can. There is no better Christmas gift you can give animals than the gift of freedom and life.

on animality

[Note: This is a heavily intellectualized version of how I feel; it focuses on animality-as-narrative and animalperson-as-identity, not the actual, embodied experience of being an animal-person, which is impossible for me to put into words due to my experience of it as an inherently wordless. Mel Baggs and Akhila have described it much better than I think I am able to; I recommend reading their writing if you want to know how I perceive the world as an animal-person instead of how I feel about the narrative of “animal-person” applied to my life. This is tentative and exploratory; I do not know right now if animal person is, in fact, my primary identity, or if it’s one of many, but this is my first essay to seriously explore this narrative, and writing it was very meaning-filled and cathartic for me, so it may be. Who knows? Well, we’ll see, I guess. ^-^]

 

 

I love animals.

I always have.

 

I can add so many words to this, but that is what it boils down to. Above everything else–above aromantic and headmate and crazy and girl–I am an animal person.

 

This is a story about being therian. This is a story about being an animal rights activist. This is a story about losing my way. This is a story about falling down, down, down the rabbit hole, and getting out, and this is a story about choosing to go back.

 

 

I have never felt completely ‘human’, and I have always connected very much to animals.

 

When I was three, people would ask me what I want to be when I grew up and I would tell them “a cow”, “a polar bear”, “a cat”.

 

I grew up believing I was secretly half-cat (and this would later be labeled a delusion; while the belief went away, the feeling never faded).

 

I discovered santa wasn’t real in fourth grade, when I wrote, Dear Santa (parents dont read this!!!!) I don’t want anything this year just please let me tranform into a cat for christmas or else I’ll know you’re fake and not really magic!! and I woke up the next morning with a pile of gifts and a body I couldn’t stand.

 

When I played “pretend”, I pretended to be anything but human for as long as it was socially acceptable to do so. I would see myself in the mirror and sometimes it would be fine and sometimes there would be a disconnect–where’s my fur? Where are my ears? Where is my tail? (and this would later be labeled as dissociation and dysphoria, but that doesn’t mean it’s not real)

 

Not only that, sometimes my first response to things is ‘normal’, and sometimes it is to hiss, to purr, to arch my back, to mimic the birdcall to chase the rabbit to run from the car.

 

I feel my fur, my tail, my ears, overlaying my human body. Seeing a margay for the first time was like looking in a second mirror. In all the ways that matter to me, I am a margay.

 

And I was abused for it. She told me, “you are a cat,” and I agreed, and she twisted it around into just a game and you’re not a human so I can hurt you and you’re weaker than me so I can hurt you and but you’re delusional for believing me.

 

 

I have never felt completely ‘human’, and I have always connected very much to animals.

 

When I was five, I was nominated as a semifinalist for an award for helping animals.

 

When I was eight, I understood the distinction between empathy and sympathy by saying “empathy is what I feel about animals, sympathy is what I feel for humans.” I ran a fully active online animal rights group and argued eight people into becoming vegan or vegetarian.

 

I have always known that people hurt animals (and that people hurt me, and that I was an animal, and that these things aren’t connected to me but they’re connected in the minds of the people doing the hurting). There is a reason that dehumanization is seen as cruel and oppressive. Once you see a person as an animal, you stop caring about them, because you don’t care about animals. (The same thing happens, equally obviously, to disabled people and children–it is strange, how easily “not as intelligent in the ways that we care about, different senses and perceptions, weaker than us, or not strong in the right ways, too different” becomes bad, becomes repugnant, becomes cruelty that you are complicit in despite turning up your nose at)

 

 

When I was twelve, I cared, but I was suicidal, and I couldn’t do anything anymore except for cry and cut myself and wonder why can’t I help them anymore, why am I bad like this, why don’t I care enough, why can’t I just die already.

 

 

Talking about animal rights with my friends is always a strange experience, because I am the only one who agrees with it, and yet they are all animal-lovers who are repulsed by cruelty.

 

The difference is that they are also repulsed by people pointing out their complicity in the cruelty. The difference is that I know I can hold guilt without dying. Society doesn’t want you to know that, your brain doesn’t want you to know that, your entire being–dare I say your humanity?–screams at the idea of guilt, but it’s true. Shame is what they try to give you, and that is what you cannot live with.

 

 

Let me ask you: where is your criteria for who matters?

Do pigs matter? Do dogs matter? Do toddlers matter?

(They are similar in the ways that matter: they can all feel things and communicate their feelings, although none can use language; they can all learn; they all experience happiness; they all experience pain and sadness; they play games, they love, they cry. And yet we have decided, as a society: pigs are the dirt of the earth; dogs are sweet and lovely, but are generally not extensively mourned; three-year olds are by far the most important, as long as acknowledging them doesn’t make us confront any of that uncomfortable guilt that comes with acknowledging the developing world.)

 

Do dolphins matter? Do schizophrenic people matter? Do elephants matter? Do I matter?

(We are not all similar, yet you see the point: we feel pain differently, we feel happiness differently, but we do feel. we communicate, even if you can’t understand us. we love; we are happy; we are sad; we feel pain and pleasure. we are capable of horrible things and wonderful ones; not all of us are considered human.)

 

 

The effective altruism movement gave me anxiety and scrupulosity spirals for months, almost re-awakening my eating disorder, curled up into a ball of but eating is basically murder because the money that gave me one meal could have bought 10 meals for children in the developing world.

 

Then I found ACE–then I discovered, you can save 14 animals for just one dollar.

 

And what I felt, it wasn’t anxiety, it wasn’t guilt and shame and fear, it was awe and wonder and empowerment, because I can save 14 animals!

 

It felt like, I have been working my entire life to save animals (to save people like me, because animals are people and I am an animal), and here it is, I can. I can do something to help them. I can do something to save them. And that’s how I understood–this is what the movement is. It’s not about guilt–it’s about the amazement and hope of I can save lives.

 

 

I read books and I want to scream. I want to claw away at my skin, with real claws, not blunt fingernails, tear it off. I see myself in the characters: the dissociation, the escapism, the desire and the need and the trying desperately to make the need go away because it doesn’t work, it will never work, all it does is mark you as not-normal, so you try to hide in yourself and make yourself disappear. You shut yourself up, repress and disconnect, in the name of selflessness, of protecting the people around you from you. And it doesn’t work. It never works. Or, it does, but when it works, it works too well and makes everything worse. It never makes you happy. But I don’t always see myself in the text of the situation, and I am afraid to talk about my identification, as if saying I relate, this is me, this is what I have done, will be perceived maliciously as if I am taking over, so I do not even comment on fanfiction and blog posts, just copy them into my journal o quotes.

 

This is what books do, for me, this is what they always have done: they make me imagine what it would be like to transform into a cat, for the first time in years since I have tamped down, hidden, repressed, that desire–no, that need. They talk about my feelings, the way that high schoolers who don’t look right, don’t feel right, the ways we all self-destruct and hide from our needs, the ways that nonhumans exist and think and feel, the ways that my brain glitches and cracks and screams and self-destruct, and none of it is quite right but it’s all I have, because I need stories. Books have made me delusional; books have saved my life. And sometimes when I read them, I see what I am missing, what I am missing because of the things I need that aren’t okay, aren’t allowed, aren’t even always possible.

 

I doodle cats on my homework before even realizing what I’m doing, and then I glance down absentmindedly, burst into tears because I cannot stand it, go home to gaze at the faces of kitten Pepper and cat Lion, and envy them so much for just existing as they are. I see their faces and I ache because I want it, I want what they have so effortlessly, I want to be able to purr and meow and walk on four legs and scratch and bite without training myself ever-so-carefully, practicing for weeks, days, years, trying to teach my human body how to do it, but also training my animal brain how to not-do it, how to smile carefully and use words and not act too weird where people might see me, and I want things that I cannot want (I want to be small, I want to have fur, I want to have large eyes and paws that can rotate 180 degrees to climb up trees and then back down, headfirst, I want to look in a mirror and feel a connect with who I see there).


 

I shave my legs for the first time for a chorus concert, trying not to cry, watching the closest thing I will ever have to fur fall to the floor in tiny, thin clumps.

 

I hide from my reflection. I want, desperately, more than anything in this entire universe, to become a cat. I never grew out of wanting to play-pretend, except that this doesn’t feel like playing pretend, it’s not a delusion with that sneaking back-of-my-mind knowledge that it’s not real. It’s immediate and important and necessary, I want to be a cat I need to be a cat, I need this more than I have ever needed anything in my entire life. I spent three years in an eating-disordered dreamworld of repressed hunger and need. It is hard to describe that gnawing starvation that turns into utter binging because you cannot control your hungers to someone who has not experienced it. And yet those needs are still secondary–more than food, more than water, I need two things: to not-be-alone, and to be a margay. And one of those is achievable, and one of them isn’t, and I don’t know how to come to terms with that.

 

 

Am I really an animal? I don’t think I’ll ever truly know. But this is what I do know: for two years (three?), I wasn’t dysphoric, laughed at my past self for being so silly as to believe that I was an animal, and those were the worst years of my life, those were the years where I counted out all the pills in the house and made funeral plans (give all my money to charity; hire my friends to sing; make me into a tree, because even in death i didn’t want to be human), cut and starved and cried myself to sleep every night. So this much is what I know: being allowed to be an animal–or, more accurately, an animal-person, because my experience of being animal is tied together in a million ways with the ways that animals are people who are treated like not-people and the ways that framing my life with models and narratives is a human thing and the way I speak in words and think in feelings, the way that I am not human not animal somewhere in-between–it feels like some of the weight lifts off my chest. Is it a delusion, a hallucination, a depersonalization, a metaphor taken too literally, an extension of a childhood spent psychotic? Who cares? This is what I know: when I bike fast enough, I feel my fur rippling in the wind, and for once everything in the world feels like it might be okay.

 

 

This is what being an animal-person means to me: it means that, even on a cocktail of antidepressants and antipsychotics and antianxiety medication, even with supportive family and friends, even with the best therapist I could ask for, even with writing as an outlet–I will still look down and feel a deep wrongness at my skin, I will still dissociate when I look in the mirror, I will still get random intrusive thoughts about needing to destroy my body, rip off chunks of flesh, claw my way out of the pit in my stomach and drop this body like a shell, I will still consider suicide because there is no other way out of this body that is so intrinsically not mine, this species that is destroying my kin with its ideas of superiority. It means that, when I have bad years, I cut and starve and puke and cry, panic and scream and rave and hallucinate. Being an animal-person means trauma.

 

(To those of you who will read this and say that I’m batshit insane: yes, that’s the point, I’m glad you’re paying attention.

To those of you who will read this and conclude that I’m too crazy to matter, to be allowed to define my own story, write my own narrative, title this essay animality instead of schizophrenia: fuck you.)

 

This is what being an animal-person means to me: it means I have empathy, incredible empathy, for the plight of other people trapped in a world that doesn’t think of them as people, other nonhumans and other dysphorics and other neurodivergents and, yes, other animals; it means that I experience the world as a primarily sensory being, without the world filtered through words until I choose them to translate my experiences; it means I get huge amounts of joy from small pleasures like hands on tree bark and teeth biting into food, it means I get to experience the richness and vividness of life and pay attention to all of it, it means I can nuzzle and purr at my moirail and she will cuddle me and pet my fur, it means I can bond with her over wings and fur and being not-quite-human and trying to fit in and not always succeeding, it means I can foster kittens and connect with them and understand them, and it means I get to read and write and draw and sing and listen to stories. It means I can try to help, to make up, in some small way, for the wrongs not-quite-my species can create in this world. It means I get to experience the liminal space, not human not animal but something between the two, or maybe combining them, constantly shifting, transforming, intertwining, becoming something–someone–new, a perpetual motion machine of animality and humanity weaving together, understanding things instinctively that most humans and most animals will not, without the strange in-between experience that is my life.

 

(To those of you who will read this and say that none of those are really inherently animal things, or even animal-person things: I know. But to me, in my narrative, in my web of connections and love and being, they are. They may not be for other people, I’m not here to tell your story, I’m here to tell mine.)

 

This is what being an animal-person means to me: playing with an ocelot figurine in the bathtub every night when I am 3. giving away my birthday money to animal charities when I am 5. telling my friends I am a werecat, transforming at midnight at the full moon, when I am 7, and believing it myself because the alternative–humanity–is too painful. realizing when I am 9 that I am not in fact a cat in any meaningful way, but still wanting to be one, connecting more with my kittens than my friends, becoming suicidal, roleplaying warrior cats online where I can pretend to be a cat, going vegetarian even though meat makes me feel like myself because I can’t bear to hurt any other animals. discovering the word “therian” when I am 11, and instantly knowing, calling myself feline therian: ocelot–no, oncilla?–no, margay. i’m a margay, looking at a picture of a margay for the first time and writing bad poetry about what it’s like to see yourself, not just see your body but see your self, for the first time, recognizing yourself in a photograph 11 years later than you were supposed to. naming myself, Sofia, at age 13, realizing that I’m allowed to be a person. now, age 15, heart still too sensitive, writing this, this confused mess of here is what being an animal-person means to me.

 

(To those of you who will read this and say I’m young: I know. Perhaps someday I will be old, perhaps I will die before then. Perhaps things will change. But I will not refrain from writing just because I am young. I have always been young, so far. I am young and confused and crazy and animalistic, dehumanized, othered, and I am trying to learn to extend myself the same empathy, the same love that I extend to everyone else, and that starts with recognizing myself: my name is Sofia, and I am a margay, and that matters.)

 

In all the ways that matter, I have always been a person, and I have always been an animal.
(To those of you who might read this and recognize yourself: Hello.)