Updated: Sep 22
Jasmin Singer (born 1979) writes in her 2016 published biography "Always too much and never enough" about her childhood, her coming-out and many issues confronting body image in a healthier way. She lives as a writer and activist in California and works as the Senior Editor at VegNews Magazine. In 2016 she was named by The Advocate Magazine as one of “40 Under 40 People to Teach Us About Each Other.”
You were one of the first to write about the connections between the LGBTT*IQ movement and the animal rights movement. Can you briefly explain this and tell us about the feedback you received?
I’m not sure I was one of the first people to write about this, but one of my first published print articles—”Coming out for Animals,” from Satya Magazine, which I wrote in 2006—was all about the connections between LGBTQ and animal rights. It pointed to the commonalities between the mindset of the oppressors of queer people and animals alike (“insert-the-blank is here for my use,” “I am better than insert-the-blank,” “God, or the bible, said I should bully this animal/gay person”). The final line of the article is, “Sliced to death is sliced to death, whether a slaughterhouse worker or a homophobic bully happens to be holding the knife.” When I wrote that, I spent a great deal of time talking with longtime activist pattrice jones, who had been writing and thinking about those connections (and many other connections between social justice issues) for a long time, and she—as well as the other activists I interviewed for that piece—was instrumental in my early mindset as an intersectional activist. I came to the animal rights movement by way of the AIDS-awareness movement and saw each issue as a different spoke on the same wheel, which, to this day, has informed the way I approach my writing, thinking, activism, and media-making. The feedback I received back then was mostly positive within the animal rights communities, though people outside of the animal rights communities were somewhat perplexed by the parallels. However, I have noticed that since then, things have shifted within animal rights circles, and, these days, inclusivity within our movement is sparse and still taboo. In the wake of the ways the #metoo movement has impacted the animal rights community (which I get into more below), I have hope that our movement will continue to evolve toward equity for all individuals (human and non). With more and more media outlets reporting on injustice through a holistic lens, I also have hope that how we treat animals will also be part of the dialogue when it comes to social justice issues at large. More recently, the organization I co-founded, Our Hen House, produced a video entitled “Coming Out for Animal Rights” which speaks to many of these connections. You penned your memoir, Always Too Much and Never Enough, early on, and it focuses on your coming-of-age story as a young vegan lesbian with disordered eating. How important was this step into the public eye for you?
The only way I can think about this is to leave myself more or less out of the equation, which I realize sounds weird—since I wrote a memoir—but I need to remember that if my story resonates with someone else (and I hope it does), that’s because it is a reflection of them, not me. If I didn’t think like that, I’d probably be distracted by feelings of intense vulnerability regarding being out there with my story. That said, I strongly believe in the power of personal narrative to create change, and I think the animal rights community in particular has not yet latched onto this potentially game-changing medium. When people read a memoir—similarly to when they experience art—their defenses are often down and they can feel safer to delve into issues that can be difficult to address, such as veganism as a moral imperative. It’s easier to walk through those issues from the safe perspective of someone else’s story.
In recent years, the subject of veganism and animal rights has grown a lot and there are different opinions about which is the right way towards total animal liberation. What is your personal opinion on how it can be achieved?
I think we need a multi-pronged approach. I don’t think there is one right way, nor do I think I have the answer. When it comes to changing the world for animals, some people need to be litigating, some people educating, some people making media, making art, making cupcakes, making sanctuaries. The two things that I think are absolutely required for change to occur are: 1) finding and fostering safe, inclusive spaces for everyone, understanding that marginalized communities need to take priority, and 2) taking care of one another and ourselves—with attention and gusto—in order to remain lifelong activists. Along with animal rights lawyer Mariann Sullivan, you host and produce the Our Hen House podcast. How important are shared morals when it comes to animal rights?
Though I am the first to complain (usually to Mariann) when someone expresses a moral or value that I disagree with, I’d prefer kvetching than having a monolithic movement any day. In other words, the only way our movement can indeed evolve is if we’re productively and respectively challenging each other and ourselves to think differently and question our previously held belief systems. As long as our bottom line is animal liberation—and if everyone is indeed doing everything they can to help animals and live in alignment with their moral code (first step: go vegan)—it’s definitely not my place to determine what is or isn’t the “right” moral code. We are in our ninth year of producing Our Hen House, and in that time I have interviewed thousands of activists working to create change for animals. Most of them would not agree on every single thing, and I think that speaks volumes for how to collectively form a movement.
There are many women and LGBT people as well as other minorities in the animal rights movement. Do you think that people who have experienced oppression generally have more empathy towards the suffering of oppressed non-human beings?
I think there’s an argument for the fact that those who have historically not conformed can more easily embrace their veganism and, as people who are used to going against the grain, we often have built up inner-resources that can help us deal with making choices that are not part of the status quo, such as fighting for animal liberation.
The #metoo campaign has also arrived in the animal rights movement and it has become evident that many of the big animal advocacy organizations are led by white, cisgender heterosexual men, whilst women do the work. How do you think this can be changed and improved?
We have to dismantle the system in order to rebuild it, and that’s the phase I think we’re in right now. Organizations (and the people who support them) need to make sure that systems are created, and accountability is taken, to ensure that a zero-tolerance policy prohibiting sexual discrimination and harassment is in place (and upheld). Otherwise, women and other marginalized groups will suffer, and so will the animals. For harassers and those who have been complicit in abuse by sweeping harmful, discriminatory behavior under the rug, they need to own up to their mistakes by very specifically offering apologies (without any kind of self-congratulatory or ego-infused behavior) and then directly addressing sexism and sexual harassment by speaking directly to the perpetrators. We need to give the women the benefit of the doubt, and we need to believe ourselves. I have also been guilty of second-guessing whether something I have experienced has been abuse, sexism, or sexual harassment, partly because I was afraid, and indoctrinated into a culture where women—and queer people—are secondary (at best). We need to rebuild the system that has been harmful to our movement, and part of that needs to be finding and fostering safe spaces where we feel heard and seen, then making sure to practice collective care so that we can see and hear our comrades in this fight. What is your wish for the future?
Down with shame, down with staying in toxic patterns, relationships, and workplace dynamics, and down with abusing animals (humans and non-humans) and pretending it’s normal. My hope for the future is that we can rebuild a stronger, safer system that doesn’t bank on pushing some individuals down—be they queer people, POC, women, animals, or insert-the-blank marginalized group—while others who are far more privileged continue to be celebrated. Enough’s enough.
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Fotocredit: Jasmin Singer
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