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March 2006
Faggotarian: Connecting Liberation Struggles
By Sam J. Miller

 

Juancy Rodriguez and Sam Miller.
Photo by S.J.

For years, when I was asked why I was a vegetarian, my response depended on who I was talking to. For people whose esteem I already had, or didn’t want, I’d play up the political angle—it’s wrong to kill animals, meat farming is much more ecologically destructive than vegetable farming, oppression of animals is inseparable from the other forms of oppression that our bloodthirsty capitalist system feeds on. With folks I wanted to like me, on the other hand, I was doing it for “health reasons.” That sounded less confrontational; less likely to make people think I was some kind of commie pinko faggot.
Health and politics were both important in my decision to stop eating meat, but the main reason was: sexy boys. I was a vegetarian because I wanted to impress my friend Greg, who was a gorgeous punk rock vegan. I wanted him to like me—I wanted him to, well you know...

Vegetarianism was a way to bond. I’d call Greg up and ask for advice, or recipes, or political education, crouched on the floor of my bedroom cradling a notebook, scribbling down words of wisdom. Things like:

“The great thing about rice and beans is that when you cook them together, the nutritional content actually increases a lot more than what it would be if you cooked them separately. It’s crazy!”

“These kids, they just don’t care about anything. You know? I just want to shake them out of their autism.”

“ Have you ever read Noam Chomsky?”

No, I never slept with Greg, who was as straight as nine-fifteen. He still shows up in fantasies from time to time. I’ve evolved past the sad closeted boy I was. Now I’m a happily in-your-face homo, showing up at punk shows with handmade shirts saying things like
And God made
queer butt sex,
and it was good.
—Genesis 7:13.


These days I don’t think twice before saying, “I’m a vegetarian because I don’t want to kill animals, and because I was in love with a vegan, but he was straight.” Just like I don’t think twice before saying, “Hell yes I’m a faggot—why? You buying?” Because as a writer and an organizer, I’ll take any opportunity to start a dialogue with someone about issues they might not want to talk about, or about which we might not agree.

My apologies for vegetarianism came back to me two weeks ago, when I got an email from a kid who read a short story I had written, about homophobia in supposedly-progressive punk scenes. “I know what you’re saying!” he said. “I feel like I face a lot of discrimination and hostility when I tell people I’m a vegetarian!”

My first instinct was to get really pissed off. What do you know about discrimination? I asked, in the email I started but never sent. Being a vegetarian is a choice you made, buddy—you might get some dirty looks from people, but you don’t have to worry about your family disowning you or your friends beating you up. You’re not at risk of being the victim of a hate crime. You’re not living in a world where because you’re a vegetarian you’re denied basic civil and economic and human rights. There’s a fabulous article by the excellent queer-punk theorist Mimi Nguyen, where she scoffs at some girl saying she understands the experience of racism because she’s been discriminated against for having blue hair. The fact is, the injustices that surround race and gender and sexual identity are systemic and inescapable. You don’t have huge governmental bodies implementing policies that will dramatically increase the number of homeless vegetarians; you don’t have prisons stocked with disproportionately high numbers of blue-haired punks. If things start to get scary, you can’t stop being a woman, or a person of color, or a queer.

But on the other hand—becoming a vegetarian is a gesture you make out of dissatisfaction with the status quo. It’s an acknowledgement that there’s something fundamentally wrong with the world you live in, and it’s a commitment to work to change that. And when I was a lonely closeted angst-ridden high school student, taking that stance was the beginning of my having enough courage to be out and proud.

Being a vegetarian didn’t make me gay, but it was one of many factors that influenced my eventual coming-out. Without the influence of militant vegetarians I might never have seen my sexual identity as a revolutionary force—I might never have realized that something so personal was so profoundly linked up to issues of oppression and liberation. Becoming a vegetarian was the first time I said to myself: I have the power to participate in radical transformation of society.

Like rejecting animal subjugation, resisting homophobia can lead you on an ever-deepening process of connecting struggles. One of the coolest activist groups on the planet is the NYC-based Jews Against the Occupation (JATO), where I met lots of other young queer folks (including lots of vegetarians!) who had been brought to radical direct action through their own experience of systemic injustice. We’d joke about how it was easier to come out to our parents as queer than it was to “come out” as being critical of Israel’s policies against Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. These are people who would chain themselves across Fifth Avenue, bringing rush hour traffic to a halt for a solid hour, demanding an end to U.S. aid to Israel—or travel to the West Bank to stand in front of the IDF bulldozers trying to demolish people’s homes. One amazing aspect of JATO’s work is its ability to link different levels of injustice—looking at the racism in U.S. foreign policy as it relates to the racism here at home.

But wait—there’s another reason I stopped eating meat. When Wal-Mart came to my tiny town, the butcher shop that my dad ran, which had been in the family for three generations, had to close. Dad was out of a job, and we went from Easy Street to Skid Row in nothing flat. And now where did we have to go for meat? Wal-Mart. Which annoyed the hell out of me. Becoming a vegetarian meant I didn’t have to buy meat from the enemy.

I tried hard to put Wal-Mart out of business by not shopping there. Somehow the corporation didn’t crumble because it wasn’t getting my puny money—just like misogyny and homophobia don’t disappear because we ourselves don’t take part in them. As long as liberation stops with us we’re not going to make a dent, and we’re going to feel powerless and small in the face of our nemesis (whether it’s the prison industrial complex, or agribusiness, or gentrification, or patriarchy). When we start to get together with others, though, and plan collective strategies of action and organizing, we can really shake shit up.

Liberation is a process. Personal liberation is the foundation—only when we’re confident in who we are, can we be effective agents for change in the world. But personal liberation will only take us so far. In a world where animals—and faggots—and women—and people of color—and the poor—are caught in systems of power and control so huge and complex that they literally shape and dominate every institution and relationship in our world. We gotta get the message out. Direct action, awareness-raising and organizing are the tools by which we turn our rage into change. Speak up. Act up.

Sam J. Miller is a community organizer. He lives in the Bronx with his partner of three years. When he’s not writing or organizing to fight for social justice, he’s binging on silent movies and punk rock. Drop him a line at samjmiller79@yahoo.com.

 

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