guest posts, reflections

Guest Post by Tori Lion: On Disrupting Temple Grandin

Tori Lion is a committed vegan activist, artist, and academic living in Toronto, where she engages in community organizing with Toronto Pig Save and its sister organizations, Toronto Cow Save and Toronto Chicken Save. She identifies as part of the mad, autistic, and queer communities. She uses her creative works to instill ecological awareness and compassion for other animals.

Most parents of autistic girls hope that their daughters will grow up to be like Temple Grandin. Animals have enchanted me since before I remember anything, and I think that my mother must have imagined me politely shaking her hand one day, perhaps over hors d’oeuvres following a standing ovation in a crowded lecture hall. Among my presents for my twelfth birthday was one of her books, Animals in Translation. That was before I grew into who I am now, a lesbian who goes to slaughterhouses every week to lay my hands on the bodies of Dr. Grandin’s victims. I stroke their curls and watch as they struggle for the water bottles carried by my activist friends and I. My hands have been covered in the filth that coats every inch of their skin. In spite of their terror, they come to know me by running their catlike tongues over my fingers, by nibbling my mittens in the winter. The intimate senses have largely been maligned by Western philosophy, but I know the truth at least partly because of them.

Perhaps Dr. Grandin and I are similar because we both became who we are among the carnage of the stockyards. Traumatized and alienated from myself as a result of years of repression, I was invited to bear witness to cows awaiting the death machines one morning in January some time ago, and I never looked back. However, unlike Dr. Grandin, I knew that my community members and allies were those who looked out at me with bewilderment from behind metal slats, who mirrored my vulnerability and exchanged affectionate touch with me. The stench of their surroundings puts me in mind of skies blackened by ashes of bodies like mine gassed and incinerated as the culmination of eugenics projects; I wonder, do such thoughts ever occur to Dr. Grandin as she arrives at her places of work? She claims that she doesn’t have an unconscious, and she conveniently denies the animals she murders the ability to hear the screams from underground. I imagine that not being afflicted by the turmoil of the mind must make doing her job a lot easier. As someone cohabiting their location at the margins of normalcy and reason, I see my reflection in the wildness of animals; rather than acknowledging this, Dr. Grandin’s work is saturated with the language of eliminating resistance, of rendering her victims docile so that they can better fulfill their role as units of production. From her position on the catwalk, looking down with the gaze of mastery over nature, Dr. Grandin sees her victims blending smoothly into her machines. I am increasingly overcome with a burning desire to let Dr. Grandin know that she is wrong.

When Dr. Grandin makes a visit, I refuse to politely shake her hand. I take the stage with her, carrying a sign reading, “KILLING THE UNWILLING: NEVER HUMANE – GO VEGAN!”, which is promptly pulled from my hands. “Don’t believe the happy lie, animals do not want to die!”, I shout. “It’s not food, it’s violence!” I point at Dr. Grandin, yelling, “I’m autistic and I try to save animals from her every day!” Being dragged away by security, I’ve never felt simultaneously so ecstatic and so overwhelmed. Upon leaving the University of Guelph campus, I repeatedly yell, “I did it! I did it! I did it!”, out of breath. The release of energy is good and necessary.

The protesters occupying the lawn and sidewalk resume chanting, and I join them. Waiting within the walls of an academic institution built upon animal exploitation, the truth could be heard coming in from outside, much to the annoyance of Dr. Grandin, who ran outside to argue with my friends. A powerful feeling of joy had rushed through me. I knew that we were going to invade and crush down the walls of speciesism and crush down the walls of her slaughterhouses; she and her meatpacking audience could no longer be safe in there.

Dr. Grandin, I do not want to resemble you when I am an old woman. I look forward to further embracing my own animality, to use the words of pattrice jones, rather than learning to dispose of the animals who I claim to “love.” I don’t think that you could have predicted who I would become. I don’t think that you have been challenged before. Is that why you seemed so unsure of how to respond to me?

A large chalk drawing of Joshua the calf that Tori made on the sidewalk next to a Starbucks franchise in downtown Toronto as part of the International Day of Action Against Starbucks.


Radio Interview: “Love in abundance – on the intersections between queer human and non-human animal liberation”

AV logoA couple months ago, I did an hour-long radio interview on Animal Voices, a weekly animal liberation radio show that is focused on bringing critical perspectives to the animal rights and environmental justice movement. It was such a pleasure to speak with Dan and Vic (the co-hosts that day) and speak on such diverse topics as queer/trans/animal liberation, anti-racist animal rights organizing, prison abolition, and polyamory. I am including the questions they asked below, because I was so impressed by their thoughtfulness. Their questions enabled me to think through some ideas that I hadn’t even considered before.

Can you tell us about how you came into animal and queer activism?

Your direct action everywhere talk is called “trickle-up queer animal liberation” – in it, you refer to how trickle-down principles suggest that one must address the oppression of individuals closest related to the dominating group first, then move on to the next one. Trickle-up is the opposite, and claims that we must care about and help combat all forms of oppression, including/especially those furthest away from the “norm” – could you elaborate for us about why you advocate for trickle-up over trickle-down?

You refer to two types of messaging that is commonly repeated that says that some issues that non-human animals and queer individuals might encounter is that they might be seen as “cute”, which makes it so that only said “cute” animals are the ones that receive attention, and with the queer population, there are certain behaviours/identities that are maybe seen as more “digestible” to the mainstream heteronormative ideal – how does this homogenization harm liberation?

I really like what you said in the talk about not understanding queer and non-human animal lives as “tragic beings”. I’ve had conversations in the past about this, especially about NH animals, because when we see factory farm footage for example, there’s a tendency to perhaps see “the life as a chicken” as one of misery, but in the right conditions, a chicken could be very happy. Would you be able to unpack the idea of the “tragic being” a little more, and how is this view projected in queer individuals?

On a related note, when we do talk about violence, we often do fall into the pitfalls of the above two issues we just discussed about valuing certain lives over others, and/or focusing on the violence rather than the inherent value of the individual experiencing said violence. You are with the Colorado Anti-Violence Program – would you be able to speak on your strategies for addressing/working against violence?

What resources are out there for those who have either experienced, or witnessed violence, and are there ways we can perhaps reach out to those who are either perpetrators, or are hesitant to take a stand if they don’t necessarily feel personally affected (and of course it is possible that people can be on both sides of this issue as well)?

Let’s talk about the idea of bodily autonomy. As “property”, the bodies of non-human animals are owned, exploited, and destroyed by industry, but in human societies there is also a significant policing of women’s/queer/trans bodies. What is your response to policies, perspectives, and practices that attempt to control bodily autonomy, and how do you suggest we subvert that?

Liberationists, who seek empty cages for NH animals, often also advocate for prison reform/abolition – could you elaborate on the intersections here, and what might you advocate for in regards to alternative solutions?

On a lighter note, talking about understanding animal lives not just as “tragic beings”, can you tell us about working at a rooster sanctuary? What have you learned from the animals you work with, what are their lives like outside of factory conditions?

I was wondering if you’d also be interested in commenting on your work with combining anti-racism and anti-speciesism activism. I think it’s important that we all are constantly maintaining and increasing our awareness of words/behaviours/actions that might be oppressive to any individual or group. Last week on the show, we interviewed an activist who addressed fatphobia and thin privilege in the vegan community. Would you be able to speak to some ways that we should be aware of and fighting against xenophobia and white privilege in the vegan community as well?

Although I’ve noticed issues like racism and fatphobia in the vegan community, I feel like discrimination against queer individuals is perhaps not quite as pronounced – don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that vegans, just like anyone else, have internalized transphobia, biphobia, homophobia, polyphobia, etc. Would you be able to comment on how some of these forms of discrimination and oppression might have manifested themselves in vegan communities?

What about in the other direction, I have noticed that there are of course tons of queer individuals and communities that have embraced the speciesism and animal exploitation of the hegemonic class and human supremacy. For example, in Calgary around stampede time, there is what’s known as the “gay rodeo”, which is exactly what it sounds like – obviously a celebration of animal abuse/exploitation for the sake of “entertainment”. So when engaging with those who are potentially/probably involved in struggles for their own liberation, such as those in the queer lib movement, how do you incorporate bringing NH animals into their understanding of sexuality? Likewise for feminists, anti-racism activists, etc?

You mention non-monogamous relationships, I’m curious about how you see these identities and forms of relationships tying into queer and animal liberation. For me it seems like having autonomy is the common ground in liberation struggles, in the sense people can building their own identities and experiences rather than living in fixed ones.


Pro-choice is not anti-vegan

I submitted the below piece to the bimonthly zine, Sister Species Solidarity. I had never heard of the zine before, but it’s now on my feminist/animal liberationist reading list and I eagerly await the next issue. Creating knowledge and discussion outside of the realm of academia is important work, and I’m glad that the editors prioritize the voices of women and people targeted by sexism. There’s no pandering to male allies for the sake of “diversity and inclusion.” This issue’s theme was Bodily Autonomy, so I wrote about reproductive justice and abortion access. Enjoy! 

People often ask me, why are you pro-choice? (They will often ask me why I am pro-abortion, and why I care so much more about the lives of chickens, pigs, and cows than unborn humans.) They say that they are pro “all” life, that they don’t think terminating a fetus can possibly be consistent with vegan ethics of causing least harm.

First of all, I’m not pro-abortion. I’m pro-choice, which is an entirely separate framing of reproductive justice. If someone wants to carry a pregnancy to term, they should be able to do so. Every sentient being should be trusted to decide for themself when is the right time to start and build a family, and which kind of family they want to build. Single parents, teen parents, low-income parents, disabled parents, queer/trans parents, parents of color, etc. need support and resources that suit their families’ needs, not shaming.

The difference between a human uterus haver* and a hen is that the human can consent to having a fetus removed (one who is seeking an abortion is specifically asking for that), whereas the hen (lacking the ability to communicate with us humans) can’t consent to having her egg taken. The human and the hen both deserve the right to bodily autonomy and self-governance. Eggs aren’t just “lying around” – if you crack an egg open for a hen they will gobble it right up.

If you want to reduce abortion rates, which is a noble endeavor, the way to do that is comprehensive sexual education, accessible and affordable birth control and sexual health services, and resources and support such as parental leave and childcare support so that people feel like parenting is a feasible choice for them. Forcing a person to carry a child to term and then to keep that kiddo or give them up for adoption doesn’t sound like respecting someone’s bodily autonomy to me.

Also, it would be super if we could talk about not eating the bodies and secretions of other animals without being misogynist toward humans. Eating eggs (for instance) is wrong because taking something that belongs to someone else without their consent is wrong, not because women and periods (and therefore eggs) are gross.

*I am using the clunky phrase “uterus-haver” rather than “woman” because not all women have uteruses (think of trans women, or women who have had a hysterectomy) and not all people who have uteruses are women even though they may still be able to become pregnant (think of trans men or genderqueer or nonbinary female-assigned people.) Access to family planning care and abortions when needed is a reproductive justice issue for people of all genders.

**I will acknowledge one hole in my argument for reproductive justice. I do support spay/neuter programs for domesticated animals. I think it just to ask the question of why I would, when I absolutely oppose the control of reproduction for any human who is capable of consenting to their own reproductive decisions. The compromise with spay/neuter programs for domesticated animals is because we live in a world that is violent to nonhumans and that has exploited them at every turn for millenia. I believe that nonhuman animals are here for their own purposes and do not exist for us to use. At the same time, I wish to avoid causing them harm to the greatest extent that I can. I believe that on the grand scheme of things, not spaying/neutering animals (e.g. dogs and cats) will cause them to reproduce with one another which will ultimately cause more violence to their offspring in this speciesist society.


On the Radio: An LGBTQ Intergenerational Mixtape

2in_cmyk_KGNU_PCI was recently a guest on KGNU’s Outsources, a weekly show focusing on LGBTQ issues and people in Denver and Boulder. My friend Sean Kenney hosted, and invited the three of us to each share a song that related to our queer identity, and to discuss sexual and gender identity and coming of age in different decades. The show was styled after the live intergenerational mixtapes assembled for the Warm Cookies of the Revolution, a “civic health club” in Denver. (As a side note, Warm Cookies manages to make topics as dry as taxes and housing policy engaging, and is definitely worth checking out.) I’m quite pleased with how the Outsources show turned out and hope you have a listen; it’s about half an hour long. Additionally, if you live in the Denver/Boulder area and think of an idea that would be great for a queer radio show, let me know and I’d be happy to get you in touch with the producers. I love reading, watching, and listening to queer-made media and like to do whatever I can to elevate queer and trans* voices and support us telling our own stories.