Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Relationships Revisited

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.


veganelder said...

A thoughtful and well-written post...thank you.

I especially liked the passage where you wrote: "...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.... ...Sometimes we're oblivious until we have the obvious pointed out to us. I know that I was."

M said...

Thank you for the feedback! There've been a fair number of people reading the post, but without commenting, so I'd been wondering if people haven't been relating to any of it.

Lucas said...

Thank you for writing this, Mylene!

I think it's easy for a vegan who is already in a relationship with another vegan to forget that statistically it is not possible for all other vegans to find vegan partners. It's quite different than trying to find a partner who isn't a raging racist or heterosexist because those people are not 99 percent of the population whereas nonvegans are. Also while racism, sexism, and other isms certainly are similar in many ways, there are also differences between them and speciesism, as you rightly pointed out, particularly in that we are dealing with other species and we humans have all been taught from the beginning of our lives, that it's normal, natural, and necessary to use them for our purposes. That can be very difficult to overcome as many vegans know from personal experience.

I think partnerships can be a great way to inspire nonvegans to go vegan. My wife Kenya went vegan nearly two years before I did. I was the cheese-breath, leather wearing vegetarian who "could never go vegan". I mean I was really set in my ways and had no intention of ever changing. Although Kenya was frustrated with my unapologetic ovo-lacto ways, she never pressured me or shamed me for what I was doing. Rather she would gently drop bits of knowledge on me here and there and at the same time would show me which food, clothing, and personal care products could be veganized. She demonstrated to me that being a happy, healthy vegan was not only possible but totally easy. After a while I started buying nonleather shoes and belts and began eating many more vegan meals. At this time she really hit me with the idea that the I really couldn't justify any exploitation and made the made connection of human and nonhuman oppression. You could say she "ripened me up" to the idea of veganism by first showing me that it could be done and then by explaining why it was necessary.It's likely that I would not be vegan today if it weren't for her sticking with me as a nonvegan.

M said...

Lucas, thanks.

The truth is that my last relationship was with a non-vegan and some of the recent discussions I've come across haven't sat well with me. I loved him for the person he is and there's no way that I'd let anyone, vegan or otherwise, shame me for that. Relationships are complicated and much of the compromise that occurs within them is even more complicated.

veganelder said...

Ah, my suspicion is that the post related "too well" to many and that commenting coherently involved sorting through many sticky and confusing issues. On the one hand choosing to not harm or exploit others is a simple decision...on the other hand such a decision is connected to so many other significant and difficult decisions and sorting out ways of behaving that it can make you want to run down the street screaming. You have done a masterful job of attempting to extract some clarity from a morass of confusion.

M said...

I've received two emails concerning the post which were quite critical. One stated that I was somehow downplaying speciesism (which I most certainly am not). The other actually suggested that a vegan who becomes romantically involved with and/or marries a non-vegan and goes on to share a home with that person is more or less "choosing to abandon veganism and would be a hypocrite to claim otherwise". The second email really disgusted me.

J said...

Mylène, you wrote here what needed to be written, and I can't thank you enough. :)

veganelder said...

Well, when the vegan cops start accusing you of saying things you didn't and doing things you didn't then you might be onto something. :-)

M said...

Oh, I have no problem whatsoever with someone's clarifying whether certain products aren't vegan or pointing out where certain activities involve animal use. I just find it a little unreasonable, in a world where over 95-98% of the population is non-vegan, to pass judgment on vegans who attempt to form meaningful relationships with non-vegans.

Unknown said...

Thank you for a great post, and a great blog.

I am myself deeply in love with a non-vegan and I think there is nothing wrong with having relationships with non-vegans. Of course I would like her to go vegan as I would want all people to do. But the fact that she is not a vegan can't stop me from loving her.

I don't think many people would think that you have to stop seeing friends and family if they're not vegan so whats the difference when it comes to romantic relationships?

I think that it's important for vegans to interact with non-vegans as a positive example. I can just look back at my own story, I had many vegan friends and I told them I'd never go vegan but one day I changed. So I often think, if i can change, so can others.

I also want to add that I take speciesism very seriously but I don't think that the solution to this vast injustice is to turn our backs on those who have not yet realized this.

Vegan4Life said...

Thank you for this post, Mylène. I was in a relationship with a non-vegan for a year after going vegan. In the end I broke it off because his complete refusal to even consider veganism. For a while I was considering only dating vegans, but after some time on my own I realized how limited the choices are. And also, even non-vegans can be good people.

Kathleen said...

Love this blog post, Mylene. Especially like your conclusion, " 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."

I agree. For me, veganism is a relationship that I have with myself. I am still in my first year of being a vegan, and I am finding that veganism is all-consuming. I can't fathom getting involved in a romantic relationship right now. Perhaps if a liberal/progressive vegan came onto my path, I might consider it, but we know the odds of that happening.

Before being vegan, I was a pescetarian or lacto-vegetarian for 40 years. In all that time, I never met one vegan and only a few vegetarians. I also raised a family of three daughters as a single parent, and none of them are vegetarian or vegan.

So, like you say, my journey to veganism was long. I would not deny that long journey to someone else. I don't have an us/them (vegan/nonvegan) mentality.

Heidi said...

I have been married for 18 years, but vegan for 5. I dearly wish my husband would become vegan too, but it hasn't happened yet. I am the one who has changed, and I can only hope that he will eventually too.

Heidi said...

I have been married for 18 years, but vegan for 5. I dearly wish my husband would become vegan too, but it hasn't happened yet. I am the one who has changed, and I can only hope that he will eventually too.

francesca said...

I can't say I'm surprised by the emails you received. I think there are some issues vegans just can't absolutely agree on where the lines aren't as black and white (unlike products that aren't 100% vegan). I think you did a good job of outlining the differences between speciesism and other forms of discrimination and I do believe it makes a difference that out world is steeped in it.

amandalikes said...

I wouldn't want someone to have missed out on my wit and charm just because I wasn't vegan 'yet', I don't think its fair! We're all on a journey in life and I wouldn't want to pass over someone just because they aren't at the exact same point.

I'm in love with a non-vegan, we eat vegan at home aside from his moro bar addiction and cheese once every few months. He goes out of his way to cook me delicious meals, defends me when people pick on me, makes sure I get the right food at restaurants and eats vegan with me every night.

I get really offended when people say 'I don't know how you can do that', and make a disgusted face. Thats the love of my life you're making a face at, and its making me think less of you. Maybe they have just never been in love?