How We Sometimes Question
The topic of where to set boundaries when it comes to romantic entanglements is one that cycles in and out of discussion more often than most for vegans. The question which invariably introduces it is something along the lines of "Would you date or otherwise get involved with a non-vegan?" and the responses to it--and the tangents that fire off from it--vary considerably. We ask each other about the non-vegans we (either have or might) let into our lives. Sometimes the discussion concerns those who have gone vegan while in the midst of a relationship with a non-vegan and who perhaps end up feeling a weight when this person doesn't "get it" and remains non-vegan. On the other hand, some of us ask each other--ask ourselves--whether we should or even could become involved with a non-vegan.
How We Sometimes Respond
For a sampling of how widely opinions differ and for a good handful of shared anecdotes, have a look at the comments left in response to a post I'd written around the topic a year and a half ago. They range from stories shared by vegans who are either dating or married to non-vegans, to assertions from others who are not that they would rather spend the rest of their lives alone than become involved with a non-vegan. Some felt hopeful that patience in educating another would bring him/her around and others insisted that not making it explicitly and repeatedly clear to one's partner (or potential partner) that his/her non-veganism is unacceptable is tantamount to condoning non-veganism in general on a wider scale.
We're each responsible for establishing and maintaining our own personal boundaries when it comes to our interaction with others. And the truth is that it can often be hard to deal with the overwhelming prevalence of speciesism around us--a speciesism which underlies the actions of the majority of those around us, whether acquaintances, coworkers, family members or even our closest friends. I admit that it can sometimes be hard on the head to interact with others around me who still believe that non-human animals are somehow ours to use regardless of their sentience; the rest that's involved in being vegan is so easy in comparison.
Differences and Similiarities, Oh My!
It makes me sad to watch loved ones, particularly those with whom I've discussed veganism, continue to consume animal products altogether quite nonchalantly. The thing is, though, that for most of my life I was one one of those people who didn't give a second thought to using animals. Even after first becoming conscious of some of the horrors inherent in the raising and slaughter of animals, I didn't immediately go vegan. It took time to wear away at the compartmentalization in which I'd been engaging for so many years--the same sort of compartmentalization that facilitates the perpetuation of speciesism and entrenches it in the lives of so many. That I can admit this to myself leaves me able to better understand why many of those who are closest to me continue to use animals, even though they're well aware of exactly why I don't anymore.
Speciesism is a form of discrimination, not unlike racism, sexism or heterosexism. However, speciesism fits like a second skin as almost all of us are taught from the moment we're born that non-human animals are different and that this somehow justifies our commodification of them. Over 95% of us take off running with this and spend most of our lives consuming accordingly. Our parents taught us that it's perfectly normal to treat and use some animals as if they were things; they, in turn, were taught the same by their own parents. We all come by it honestly and then spend our entire lives having it reinforced by sociocultural norms and the advertising campaigns of those who profit from providing us with the parts and secretions of non-humans. This doesn't excuse it, nor does it somehow make it any more "right" that it exists or that the overwhelming majority of humans haven't even thought to question it too closely. But it does put it into perspective and it does help explain the compartmentalization that continues with those around us. In many ways, it also emphasizes the tremendous amount of work that needs to be done right now to educate non-vegans about why it's wrong to use non-human animals.
As I stated previously, I think that it's up to each and every one of us to establish our own boundaries when it comes to our interaction with others. Some who've gone vegan choose to maintain an emotional distance from non-vegans; some don't. We all have to eke out our lives forming meaningful bonds with others around us and we each have to know our own limitations in terms of what would enable or hinder forming those meaningful bonds. No two lives are alike and the complexity of the mesh of relationships we weave or into which we're drawn as we exist covers so much ground.
When it comes to the choices I make when I let others into my life, I can't help but factor in that for almost 90% of my life I wasn't a vegan. And even after having been presented with the facts by some, it took me years to transition from being a lacto-vegetarian to finally committing myself to veganism. I think that there are so many traits in another person that constitute what goes into the plus column when we're learning to know who or what that person is that I would find it hard to dismiss a person based on his not already having reached the same conclusions about certain things that took me so long to reach, myself. This certainly doesn't mean that I would choose to overlook another's use of non-human animals; over the years, I've grown more comfortable discussing veganism with people in my life in a pretty straightforward way and the subject would surely not be side-stepped. Basically, I think that it takes time to suss other people out to see what it is that makes them who they are (and even of whether what that is could expand to embrace veganism). All things being equal, I would definitely prefer to let someone into my life who'd already reached that point of clarity that led to my own going vegan, but those opportunities are less than scarce.
It's worrisome to me how some advocates who assert their own chosen refusal to involve themselves romantically with non-vegans occasionally end up communicating (whether inadvertently or not) to those vegans who do, that in doing so, they're perhaps not serious enough about veganism. When vegans sometimes say to me that involving oneself with a non-vegan is no different than involving oneself with a racist, sexist or heterosexist, I have to wonder if that bright point of clarity that triggered their own decision to go vegan left them a little blind to their own journey towards veganism and to the fact that speciesism is something that doesn't even occur on a conscious level for most people. That animals are ours to use seems as much of a no-brainer to most as air being ours to breathe. Sometimes we're oblivious until we have the obvious pointed out to us. I know that I was.
I understand that some vegans would rather never allow themselves to become emotionally attached to a person who is non-vegan or who doesn't become vegan shortly after having been presented with the facts about the brutality and injustice inherent in animal use. I obviously respect that. It seems like a rational way to ensure consistency and harmony in one's life. I hope, however, that we never get to the point where those who hold on to hope are made to feel ashamed for recognizing a little bit of themselves in others and for opting to attempt to educate and guide--whatever the emotional risks. I hope that as vegans we can continue to offer each other support and encouragement, regardless of the decisions we each make concerning whom to let in and whom to love.
Wednesday, April 06, 2011
How We Sometimes Question