Chris Taylor (55) is an inclusionist activist, living in Kansas (US).
In this interview she talks about what it is like to live as a disabled queer fat vegan in Kansas, about coming out, her passion for photography and writing, and ableism and bodyshaming in the vegan movement.
When and how did you become interested in animal rights and veganism?
I cannot remember when I wasn’t interested in animal rights, but like so many, I was indoctrinated to the point it did not occur to me until well into adulthood that I had the power to become vegan and that changed everything. I don’t think I was prepared for just how much it would change me. I started transitioning around 2005, but I think of 2007 as the year I fully embraced veganism. Becoming vegan changes so much about how we see the world. It is difficult to put that into words, particularly so nonvegans understand it. I have often heard veganism described as a lifting of the curtain, a way of seeing the world without cognitive dissonance. It can be very difficult to be a witness when so many choose not to look, but I have never regretted my decision.
What is your background (personally, professionally, education, photography …)?
I was a high school dropout. I went back to college at 30. I discovered I not only loved school but was pretty good at it. 😊 I completed a masters in adult education and an MFA in creative writing. I teach English and creative writing. I have loved photography since I was a child, but I didn’t spend a lot of time on it until I became vegan. Being vegan changed the way I see everything. I started photographing birds, noticing their thoughtful expressions, their personalities. I could not stop watching this amazing world that so many of us never notice in our day-to-day lives, this world humans seem to have made themselves so separate from. I have always seen myself as kind of a witness, so that is what I do. I document this world as much as I can.
You describe yourself as a writer. Do you do this professionally?
Like most writers, I haven’t been paid much for my writing, so I don’t know if I would call myself a professional. I do write as often as I can but making a living comes first. I have written two memoirs, a couple of novels, and many short stories, but I am one of those people who seems to always be in process, always working on something, but not submitting my work as much as I would like to. This is something I am constantly telling students not to do. I say, “Submit as often as you can.” I should take my own advice.
You post a lot of photos online. Are you a professional photographer?
Nature photography is a tough business to break into. I have sold a few photos, but this is not something I can afford to do full-time. I give away more photos than I sell because my goal is always to raise awareness—I want people to see and celebrate all the beings around us. That’s why I started posting a photo a day on Twitter. These are all original photos I have taken at area lakes, rivers, and wetlands. I am now on Day 432. That’s quite a few photos I just put out in the world. I know anyone can take them without giving me credit, but I am okay with that if it helps raise awareness even a little bit.
Are you an animal rights activist? Activist for disability rights? Queer rights? What kind of activism do you do or support?
I like to think of myself as an inclusionist activist. My activism is about ending oppression and exploitation. I can’t be a single-issue activist. As an inclusionist I recognize the intersections of multiple perspectives and resist all bigotry and discrimination. I reject hierarchies of marginalization and fight to end speciesism, ableism, sexism, ageism, racism, heterosexism, and other forms of bigotry and discrimination.
Can you tell some more about your disability and how it influences your life? What are your specific challenges? If you are uncomfortable about writing about this, can you perhaps share why this is difficult for you to talk about?
I deal with what my rheumatologist calls a “connective tissue disorder,” which includes a host of autoimmune issues. I have chronic pain, good days, and bad days.
You specifically mention on your twitter profile that you are a fat vegan, and that veganism is not a diet. Why do you feel it is important to highlight that?
I think is important to say over and over, veganism is not about health, whatever health is. Some people turn to plant-based eating to change their health, but that is not about being a vegan. A vegan, to quote Donald Watson who coined the term, is someone who rejects the oppression and exploitation of nonhuman animals, whenever and wherever they can. Vegans come in all sizes. To suggest that vegans are some special, super healthy group is just another kind of oppression.
Which do you prefer: being called a ‘disabled queer fat vegan’, ‘fat vegan disabled queer’, or in another order? Or none / only some of these? Does the order matter?
The order does not really matter to me. I do think that naming who we are is important; it is important that others know we are more than any one thing and that one can be both fat and vegan, disabled and vegan, fat and queer, etc.
How is it living as a disabled queer fat vegan in Kansas?
My partner and I live in a part of the state that is considered progressive, but I can’t say that it is super welcoming. Many here who call themselves progressives are super into this idea of “happy meat.” They think they can buy their way out of any kind of responsibility pretending their backyard slaughter is sustainable and even moral. Like the rest of the country, there are some great people here and there are some scary bigots. That is true for every state in America.
What similarities or differences do you feel there are in ‘coming out’ as being queer, as being disabled (in case of invisible disability), as being vegan?
I came out at 30, but I was in college and in a pretty welcoming environment. If I had not had that support, I might have never come out. Outside of that environment, there seemed to be this distaste for anyone talking about being queer. I rarely encountered any kind of open hostility, but I am also a white woman, which I know makes a difference. It wasn’t easy, but it was far easier to come out as queer than as vegan or disabled. I have had far more hostility directed at me as a vegan than I ever did as a queer. Coming out as disabled is newer to me, but I see so much ignorance and ableism everywhere, this desire to try and “fix” people, concern trolling, and of course, a whole hell of a lot of inspiration porn. I should note this kind of bigotry comes from both the right and left, which makes it difficult to have any sense of belonging. I often feel like I am the person who cannot get along with anyone because I am always pointing at the inconsistencies.
Focus on the mission of ending exploitation and oppression for all human and nonhuman animals.
Do you feel the vegan / animal rights movement is ableist? If so, can you give some examples?
Oh yes, definitely. As long as there is this idea promoted that one will be skinny, healthy, and happy if they become vegan, this will be an issue. If I had a dollar for every time I saw a plant-based eater tell a disabled person what they “should” be eating, I would be a very rich woman. Or, if I had a dollar for every time a plant-based eater ignored people’s lack of access to healthy food and said something like, “Being vegan is easy…” I don’t like to call these people vegans because I feel like they don’t get what being vegan is about. It is about ending oppression, which should be inclusive.
Have you yourself experienced discrimination in the movement? Discrimination based on your abilities? On being queer? On being a fat vegan (bodyshaming)?
Yes. At the first vegan potluck I went to, a skinny white man grilled me on when and how I became vegan. This was not the same as sharing a “when I became vegan” story. This was trying to trip me up, catch me in some kind of lie about being vegan. It was odd and hostile. In retrospect, I think he just didn’t want me there. It messed with his ideal.
The second time I went to the vegan potluck, a different skinny white man came up to me and asked out of the blue if I had ever tried OA (overeaters anonymous). I kept asking him “why?” and “what do you mean?” to make him say it. He just couldn’t get that I wasn’t ashamed of being fat and begging him for help. I had never even been introduced to this man. I was shocked that a total stranger would do this. The reality is, it is not that shocking; fat people hear this kind of thing every day from strangers. That was my last time attending the potluck. I keep saying I am going to try to start my own potlucks that put an emphasis on inclusion, but I haven’t gotten around to it. This experience has made me a bit shy about attending any kind of local demonstration since it is usually the same people. I don’t think I would be welcome.
Can you give some suggestions as to how the vegan and animal rights movement can become more inclusive and accessible for persons with disabilities? To be more inclusive on all fronts?
We can stop equating veganism with health. We can hold events in places that are accessible. We can read and learn about ableism and other forms of oppression. We can listen to people talk about their experience. We can stop assuming everyone has the same access. We can focus on helping people make the transition to veganism on a budget.
Can you give some examples as to how vegan outreach and advocacy can be improved, to better reach disabled people?
Stop sharing inspiration porn about people being “cured” by plant-based diets. Recognize and respect disabled people. Stop promoting people like Peter Singer. I hear so many vegans say Singer is their hero, the father of the animal rights movement, with no reflection on the harm he has put out in the world. He’s not the father of my animal rights movement (learn more about Singer from Not Dead Yet). It’s interesting that so many vegans defend him in the same way people defend eating animals. Talk about cognitive dissonance! Stop concern-trolling and trying to cure us. We don’t want it and we don’t need it. We are the experts on our own lives. White vegans can stop ignoring and disenfranchising vegans of color. White vegans can stop using problematic phrases like “cruelty free,” which often ignores the violation of human rights. Focus on the mission of ending exploitation and oppression for all human and nonhuman animals.
Chris Taylor – Interview CripHumAnimal
– Interviews Crip HumAnimal – I particularly welcome stories of disabled LGBTQ+ vegans, vegans of colour, vegan women, or other oppressed and marginalised groups, to highlight their specific experiences and the interconnections of oppressions –