Join Date: May 2006
Location: Seattle, WA
"Carol Adams & Feminists for Animal Rights" by Mirha Soleil-Ross
[I'm posting this piece written by Mirha-Soleil Ross that doesn't seem to exist online. I've tried to go through and retain all the italics and underlining, so hopefully I've got this right. I've been fighting with some anti-porn activists on another vegan board, and posted this, so I figure I ought to post it here, as well, since it's a great piece.]
Carol Adams & Feminists for Animal Rights
a hodgepodge of bad theory, exclusion, prejudice and transphobia
*practiced through an eco-feminist lens*
The following is an excerpt from the keynote address Mirha-Soleil Ross presented on June 17, 2005 at Queer Communities and Controversies, the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education’s second annual conference in Toronto, Canada. Mirha-Soleil will eventually release a polished text based on her full presentation. However, in the meantime, she accepted to share this rough and unedited excerpt with activists in the animal rights community. Mirha-Soleil Ross is a long time transsexual, sex worker and animal rights activist. She is originally from Montréal, Québec, but has been based in Toronto since 1992.
In this article, Mirha-Soleil Ross criticizes severely Carol Adams’ work, charging that she silences the voices of the most unprivileged, marginalized, stigmatized and oppressed women. She demonstrates how Carol Adams, through her Sexual Politics of Meat slide show, treats women who work in the sex trade as inanimate objects, turning them into “absent referents”. She then tells the story of her personal encounter with Carol Adams and details the offensive, anti-transsexual behaviours and attitudes she was subjected to by the author of The Sexual Politics of Meat. In the second part of the article, Mirha-Soleil Ross exposes the anti-democratic way in which the organisation Feminist for Animal Rights (FAR) functions. While FAR claims to be an organisation working to end all oppressions, they hold typical radical feminist positions on issues such as transsexuality and sex workers’ rights. They fight against decriminalizing the lives and working conditions of women in the sex industry. They even refuse to allow women who work in the sex industry to speak out publicly about their own oppression and political needs. Furthermore, their advisory board members include transphobic, hate mongering writers, notably Mary Daly who calls transsexuals “necrophiliacs” and “frankesteinian” products, “corpses” who have a “lack of soul, life loving principle within themselves”. Reading Mirha-Soleil Ross’ testimonial will make anyone who is committed to social justice for all people, including sex workers and transsexuals, sick in the stomach. It will make you realize that transphobia and other forms of intolerance are still very much alive. In the animal rights movement, they are fuelled by a handful of reactionary women who call themselves “eco-feminists”.
So on that memorable 15th of July 2000 —my birthday!— my boyfriend and I glanced through the World Vegetarian Congress’ program. And as the caffeine of a gigantic soy latte kicked in, as our bravery leapt to new heights, like a cranked up version of the Dynamic Duo, we decided to attend Carol Adams’ famous slide show, The Sexual Politics of Meat. The show, according to her own description, “…explains the animalizing of women in contemporary cultural images and the sexualizing of animals used for food. [It]... demonstrates how a trinity of interrelated forces --objectification, fragmentation, and consumption-- impact our cultural and personal consciousness about women and animals.” We had read enough reviews of her show to expect the worst, to dread being infuriated. We feared I might not be able to contain myself, that I might cause a scene. However, her slide show turned out to be so goofy, so politically retarded, so intellectually infantile, her ideas were rooted in such a prehistoric feminist paradigm, that we feigned enthusiasm and even joined in the farce... We gasped in shock, ooed and awed in outrage, clucked our tongues in disdain each time Adams deconstructed an image and exposed a poignant connection between the objectification of women and animals: Yes! That asparagus was obviously a threatening phallus about to penetrate a vulva —or piece of meat— spread out on the plate and that patch of parsley was clearly on the side to suggest female pubic hair!
If you haven’t figured her out yet, Carol Adams champions radical feminist theories. She finds intellectual and spiritual nourishment in the work of radical feminist activists and writers. She credits Mary Daly as her guiding light; she thanks John Stoltenberg and his dead fuck buddy Andrea Dworkin, as well as Nikki Craft and Catherine MacKinnon, for their inspiration. Her Sexual Politics of Meat slide show —which has now evolved into a book entitled The Pornography of Meat— looks at a few popular images, subjecting them to her anti-speciest, anti-sexist reading. Most of the images Adams selected to build her show are ads which strike us as ridiculous, much more ridiculous, in fact, than offensive. They contain, whether explicitly or in the most remote corners of Adams’ imagination, some sort of sexual connotation. The few images that are truly offensive, and which depict women in degrading or violent situations —for example, the famous Hustler image of a woman going through a meat grinder— are of the vintage sort and would be difficult to find nowadays.
The first problem with Adams’ show is lack of context. Adams shows no interest, no concerns whatsoever in providing her audience with adequate information about the contexts within which the images she uses in her show were produced. As a result of that negligence, the messages of many images are often perverted and forced to take on new meanings, meanings that conform to Adams’ gory scenarios. Simultaneously, in many cases, it is the intention of the creator of the image that is actually perverted. Nowhere is this more clear than when Adams discusses her most popular image, one that has been canonized as epitomizing the link between pornographic violence against women and the butchering of animals. That image appeared on the cover of a 1974 issue of Hustler Magazine. It shows a naked woman going through a meat-grinder. The image, on its own, is truly appalling. However, the intention of Larry Flynt, the publisher of Hustler Magazine, was substantially more complex than Adams’ fragmentary, obtuse account of it. Commenting on the rarely acknowledged symbiosis of thought that existed between Larry Flynt and radical anti-porn feminists, Susie Bright —an American queer and sex-radical writer and activist— offered the following reflection:
“[...] they sort of look at each other and don't see what effect they had or what they ever had in common in terms of sexual liberation or women's liberation which is bizarre to me. Hustler, it's interesting, until the women's movement attacked his magazine for the meat grinder issue, which ironically was also his conversion to Christianity issue, what Hustler was known for, the revolution they made in publishing was that they published explicit pictures of women's genitals, which had never been done before. I mean, Hugh Hefner, Bob Guccione and all of the others avoided this like the plague, because it was considered ugly and taboo and disgusting. Here comes Flynt. He goes, no, this is the essence of male heterosexuality. This is what we love. This is what it's all about. This is what I'm going to glory in and revel in. He was then criticized by some people, including some feminists who saw those pictures and instead of saying, ah, the celebration of the vulva, they said, this is hideous, and it's treating women like pieces of meat. That was the famous expression.”
Democracy Now, August 17th, 2004
That is very significant, very relevant information indeed! That information —the context within which the image was produced— must have been judged irrelevant for Adams because she chose not to integrate it into her analysis or share it with her audience. The Hustler Magazine cover showing a naked woman going through a meat grinder was actually an anti-porn statement from Larry Flynt himself. Knowing that fact definitely impacts the way we read the image, the way we interpret its message. Flynt had just converted to Christian fundamentalism; he had embarked on a spiritual journey that included purging Hustler of all pornographic imagery. As a point of fact, the image appeared on the cover with a quote from him declaring: “We will no longer hang women up like pieces of meat.” The “message” of the image as intended by Larry Flynt was actually completely aligned with the anti-porn dogma of radical feminists, including Carol Adams.
During that same slide show, Adams exhibited another image, one equally efficient in demonstrating Adams’ feminist practice of perverting the meaning of certain images and of misrepresenting the intentions of their creators. The image was a photograph of a feminist performance artist during one of her performances. She was naked and had hung herself upside down, her feet bound together, from a meat hook, in a storage fridge. She had positioned herself alongside a number of animal carcasses in a way that made her appear almost identical to them. Whether or not we agree with that artist’s political statement, her mise-en-scène, her performance and the impact it produced on an audience, were powerful. And her message couldn’t be any clearer: women, in our culture, are objectified and treated like “pieces of meat”. That is precisely Carol Adams’ point. But forget the feminist critique put forward by this performance artist, Adams saw it as just another horrifying, misogynist example of the objectification and animalizing of women in popular cultural images. The political positions of this feminist artist were aligned with those of Adams, but used the language, aesthetics and conventions of performance art. That was all irrelevant for Adams who considers the exposure of any female naked body, for any purpose (including artistic or political), to be harmful to women.
So Adams’ interpretations of these two images and of the others included in her slide show, and her political conclusions, are so absurd that I should think no one, especially not young, educated, smart, clued-in feminists, would take her seriously. In “Fifteen Questions to Carol Adams”, an interview published in the Harvard Crimson newspaper after she presented her slide show on campus, Elizabeth W. Green asks her: “You are billed [...] as a feminist-vegetarian theorist, offering an ecofeminist analysis of the interconnected oppressions of sexism, speciesism, and racism. In your presentation, [...] you called asparagus a phallic symbol and said parsley was representative of pubic hair. Should we really take you seriously?” Adams responded: “Since when is a cigar only a cigar and an asparagus only an asparagus? Most people aren’t willing to look at things other than how we have been trained to look at them. Images that are in our face naturalize oppression, and reinforce dominance by animalizing women and feminizing nonhuman animals – serving them both up as consumable.”
Putting aside the asparagus and the parsley, Carol Adams, as a phenomena, is deeply disturbing. She shows how, in our day and age and in a world of fast and easy communication, a world within which we have almost unlimited access to knowledge, a well-known feminist can disregard two decades of critical and sophisticated feminist, lesbian and queer thinking on issues such as pornography and sexual representation. Further disturbing is the fact that Carol Adams gets invited to speak on campuses (including the most illustrious) all over North America without ever being formally challenged on her extremely limited knowledge, on her outdated reading list, and sloppy scholarly work. Even more disturbing is that she’s never attempted to speak or give voice to the women whose bodies she claims are “objectified, fragmented, and consumed” through sexually suggestive or explicit imagery. Her slide show is a big success not only on university campuses, but also at every animal rights conference and festival in North America. Carol Adams’ feminist discourse is a spectacular example of unsophisticated ideas being slapped together into a hodgepodge of bad theory, of retarded feminism, of ignorance expressed self-righteously, of archaic prejudices, all hailed as radical, cutting-edge scholarly work in English-speaking activist and academic communities.
In a conversation with Claudette Vaughan, an animal liberationist from Australia, I said that “... unfortunately the animal rights community has been one social justice movement where the voices of prostitutes have been painfully absent and this in the presence of very disparaging and hurtful attitudes and propaganda. Writers like Carol Adams, Gary Francione, and Jim Mason all regurgitate old seventies misinformed radical feminist ramblings around prostitution and pornography. They make offensive and trivializing comparison between consenting adult women working in the sex trade and non-consenting animals murdered by the meat industry. And they do so without ever speaking to us. If anyone is going to start writing articles and developing theories linking meat to pornography and prostitution and the so-called objectification of women's bodies, than I insist that we – as women and as prostitutes and as sex workers – be the first ones consulted regarding these matters!”
So on July 15 2000, it was with the idea of “consultation” in mind that I approached Carol Adams after her slide show. Her presentation had been received with unmitigated enthusiasm by the 75 people in the room. Her ego was soaring high as she chatted and politically networked with a good half-dozen groupies outside the conference hall. Convinced that she had for sure never spoken to a working prostitute, even less so to a vegan prostitute, considering that she based her entire work —articles, books, lectures— and career as an intellectual feminist on the theoretical link between the oppression of animals and the oppression of women (like myself) who use their bodies sexually to earn a living, I thought she’d be delighted to politically “network” with me. So very sweetly, I introduced myself and asked if she could clarify a few points. First, I wanted to know if she only opposed heterosexual pornography that involved non-consenting women in violent, degrading sexual acts (an extremely rare occurrence, if an occurrence at all) or all sexually explicit or suggestive images, including, for example, those produced by lesbians, by gay men, by trans people and disabled people for community education, for HIV/AIDS prevention and for collective sexual empowerment.
Images are powerful —I agree with Adams and other anti-porn feminists on that. Images do transmit values and can affect, up to a certain point, our sexual desires and response. In light of this, if some feminists argue that some sexual images hurt women, then other images must have the potential to do the exact opposite, that is to bring about personal and social change beneficial to women and to other sexually marginalized people. I mentioned to her that I had, myself, participated in the production of images that would be considered pornographic. I produced these images because of the very legitimate need and demand for alternatives to the commercial sexual representations of women, of queer people and fat people, of people of colour, of disabled and trans people. Much like TV sitcoms, like soap operas and Hollywood films, commercial porn often appears formulaic, stereotypical and disconnected from the reality of our common experiences. So I could not believe that after looking deep into my angelic vegan eyes, my eyes as brown as the life-giving soil, as the gentle-healing soul of Mother Earth, that she, Carol J. Adams, my vegan sister, could see a malevolent, violent spirit whose thoughts were filled with fantasies of naked women going head first into a meat grinder! She took a long, heavy breath, and after a pause —during which her groupies nervously held their breaths and sustained cute little anxious frozen smiles— she declared that in our current social, cultural and patriarchal context, all sexual images, explicit or suggestive, harmed women. She said that even the pornography made by lesbians was violent, that it reproduced unequal, heterosexual relations of power, sexual dynamics of dominance and submission. Well, I suspected the answer but I wanted to hear it directly from her own vulva-shaped lips...
My networking started to turn into a full fledged intervention… I told Adams that I was a long time prostitute and that I had also worked for a year, 40 hours a week, as a model doing live hard core shows for a large internet porn site. I told her that I had found her use of naked women in sexually suggestive and explicit situations offensive. I was shocked by the way she deconstructed, analysed and interpreted them to profit her theories and political agenda. I was particularly enraged because I knew she had never attempted —probably never even had thought of it!— to bring in the voices of the women who appeared in the images of her slide show. I mentioned the cavalier attitude with which she had projected the ass of a woman on a giant screen. She had displayed the same attitude when inviting the 75 men and women present to comment, critique, deconstruct, interpret, read, even crack “feminist” jokes about that woman’s ass. I explained to her that this had been, for me, a perfect example of that cycle of “objectification, fragmentation, and consumption” she so vehemently denounces. If Adams does not include the voice of the woman whose ass she shamelessly puts on display for her audience to use as a subject of feminist inquiry, if Adams does not include that woman speaking on how SHE experienced the production of the image, how SHE now sees it, then it is Adams who is dehumanizing her, it is Adams who is turning that woman into an inanimate, lifeless object. I told Adams that as a woman and as a sex worker, that I had been more sickened watching her and her 75 attendees “deconstruct” that woman’s ass than I would have been watching 75 men jerking off while watching that exact same ass. Indulging in feminist intellectual masturbation is more harmful to women than a guy wanking off his peter. Once done, the guy wipes his peter off with a kleenex and that’s the end of the story. But once done, Carol Adams and her cohorts go on to form political coalitions that oppose any measure that could help improve the working conditions and lives of women in the sex trade.
The fable of the fish in the water…
One of Adams’ favourite metaphor is that of “the fish in the water”. In The Pornography of Meat, at the beginning of chapter 10 which is entitled “The Fish in the Water Problem”, she quotes Catherine McKinnon as saying: “All women live in sexual objectification the way fish live in water.”
After our little debate, my boyfriend and I said goodbye to her and to her fan club and off we were exploring all that the Congress had to offer. It was obvious that I had struck a chord with her. She had acted as though she understood my position —that as a prostitute, I had more knowledge and expertise on the issues than her and that she was in no position to invalidate my experiences. She remained respectful in the midst of a very tense conversation. I believed it would take some time for the knowledge to sink in her, but that there was some hope. I also felt somehow sad for her because she had been challenged on theories she had spent a major part of her life developing. I had just told her that they were all non-sense, that she was offensive, that she needed to speak to prostitutes themselves and, le cas échéant, that she’d be better off moving into the vegan cookbook industry and leave vegetarian feminist theory to other less dogmatic feminists, feminists who would be more in tune with their times. And I had left her and her gang on friendly terms. I had even said before leaving that mises à part her ideas on pornography and sexuality, that I had appreciated some of her work, notably her theory about the “absent referent”.
Nearly fifteen minutes had passed before our paths crossed again. I was walking down a busy hallway with my boyfriend when I saw her. She was still sitting in a circle with her groupies, on the floor, in good old fashion activist style. Turning her head in my direction, she became frantic and started wagging her finger at me, making some strange whistling calls, uttering a few words like: “Come on! Come here! Come on over here!”. I felt something was up; I felt weird being called that way… I might have been anthropomorphizing for a brief moment, but I felt like a poor dog, a mutt being summoned by her after having humped her pony’s leg. But I promptly obeyed and went to her with my tiny toutou tail well-tucked between my legs. “Isn’t true that we haven’t swam in the same water?” asked Adams, looking exhilarated all the while grinding her teeth, barely able to contain her spit at the prospect of vindication. “What? Swim in what water?” I responded, completely lost and perplexed. “You know, earlier in my presentation, I spoke about the metaphor of the fish in the water. I used a quote that said all women swim in the same water. So isn’t true that we, you and I, haven’t swam in the same water?”… “What do you mean? Can you drop the metaphor and get to the point?” I responded, even more lost, even more perplexed. All her groupies had regained their cute little frozen nervous smiles and had again stopped breathing, anxiously awaiting for a new round to begin. The group included only one person I knew, Tom Salsberg, who always stands out with his thick glasses and big mouth. “Well isn’t true that you have CHOSEN to be a woman?” she asked with slow deliberation, feverish like a small town cop coercively extracting a confession from an innocent suspect, yes a cheap late night B-movie cop whose life has suddenly taken an unexpected, thrilling turn.
I didn’t expect anyone to announce I was a transsexual at that vegetarian congress. In fact, being a transsexual hadn’t even crossed my mind at all the entire day. As a woman, my personal and social interactions with men and other women are so deeply defined by male and female dynamics, my place in these dynamics is so obviously unambiguous for everyone that I rarely think of myself, publicly, as a transsexual. Nor am I ever reminded of the matter by anyone. Furthermore, the power relation that had earlier been at play between Carol Adams and I was typical of the dynamic at play between non-transsexual anti-sex work feminists and non-transsexual female sex workers. There had been nothing uncommon about our exchange. If there was anything special about it, it was that Adams had never before been confronted by a vegan prostitute on her anti-sex work animal rights slide show and books. The substance of the arguments I had presented to Adams would have been exactly the same, had the vegan prostitute confronting her been a non-transsexual woman. I had spoken about sex work from a point of view that was personal, yes, but also political. My arguments and political demands were completely aligned with the arguments and political demands of sex working women, transsexuals and non-transsexuals alike, internationally. I had spoken from the heart and if there was passion in my voice, if I seemed direct and fearless, it was because I had already spent, by the year 2000, ten years working full time as a prostitute. Ten years sucking and fucking guys for money is certainly formative for the character and also formative had been my ten years spent battling, along other transsexual and non-transsexual sex workers, the social, legal, and political forces, including the feminist movement, that attack our livelihoods and that try to eradicate us as workers, as women, as living sentient beings.
So I finally figured that the “fish in the water” metaphor was Adams’ passive-aggressive way of forcing me to state publicly, to her and to anyone within hearing distance, that I was a transsexual. I briefed her on the fact that a transsexual, maybe I was, but that I had not “chosen” to be a woman, that being a “man” would have been impossible —physically, socially and sexually— for me. I looked at Tom Salsberg, the big mouth with the thick glasses, and realized he was the only one there who knew I was a transsexual. So he must have felt like quite some hip dude being the one able to break it to Adams and her crowd: “That vegan hooker with big boobs is, in fact, a MAN!!!” So I looked at him, I looked at everyone around, I looked at him again and I calmly said that I resented being forced to divulge very private information about my medical history to people I didn’t know at all. I said to Tom Salsberg that it had been very inappropriate for him to out me as a transsexual to these people, probably only seconds after I had turned my back and left on good terms with them. But Carol Adams defended him, arguing that I should have told her right from the beginning that I was a transsexual, that she had the right to know, and that it was obvious I had deliberately attempted to conceal that information from her because I knew it would have been extremely damaging to my earlier argumentation over pornography and prostitution. She said that being a transsexual was an essential piece of information, one she should have been provided with before engaging into any kind of discussion with me. She said it coloured my analysis and positions in the debate we had. I responded that I hadn’t told them I was a transsexual because it had no place in a conversation about veganism, animal rights and sex work and that it was not the sort of personal information I shared with strangers. This being said, considering my history as an activist, being accused of hiding my transsexuality is truly insulting —it was like being slapped in the face.
For those who might think I am a terrified, closeted transsexual who lives in fear of being found out, I’d like to share a few relevant biographical facts. By the year 2000, I had already been a transsexual activist for a decade and had always been very out and loud and public about my transsexuality. I had appeared regularly in both alternative and mainstream media to discuss transsexual politics and had spoken about my own transsexuality every time it contributed to supporting the discussion at hand. I had founded a mutli-disciplinary transsexual art festival, Counting Past 2; I had developed social services programs for street transsexuals. I had created and run for two years a vegan meal-drop-in for the street-active and lower-income sections of the trans community. I had published magazines, produced numerous films which had screened at festivals internationally; I had produced several performance pieces and published essays, interviews, and short stories all in connection to my transsexuality. I had received several grants from private and governmental institutions for art projects dealing with transsexuality. I had contributed to multiple research projects on transsexuality and HIV/AIDS, the prison system, social and health care services; sexual assaults, battery, poverty, mental health, drug abuse, etc. I had been employed by the 519 Community Centre as a transsexual community worker and had also worked as an educator on transsexual issues. That had involved developing and facilitating educational seminars for the front-line and managerial staff of over 50 social and health care services agencies in Toronto. This brief peek into my background should be enough to prove that I have always identified publicly as a transsexual. Transsexual visibility had been a constant political priority throughout the nineties and, consequently, I had always, as much as possible, wherever and whenever it had been appropriate, been out as a transsexual. If anyone still questions my commitment in this regard, google my name and you’ll find records of my public transsexual activities dating back 13 years. Everyone who knows me couldn’t, for a minute, believe I would ever deliberately conceal my transsexuality. I have been involved in confronting anti-transsexual feminists for years and so would not have hesitated, had the opportunity presented itself, to tell Carol Adams I was a transsexual. If transsexuality in general had become relevant to any part of our earlier conversation about her slide show, or if she had, for example, alluded to the subject in any way whatsoever that day, I would have immediately mentioned my transsexuality and engaged in a discussion about it. But our conversation had focussed exclusively on her slide show and on her exclusion of the voices of sex working women in her theoretical work —it had absolutely nothing to do with my transsexual history. If Adams truly believed I was self-loathing to the point of hiding my transsexuality from her, for fear that she would use it to invalidate anything I would say in a heated discussion, then, as we say in good old Québec Joual: “A’ s’é fourré un doigt dans l’oeil pis l’aut’ dans l’cul!” —She fucked herself a finger in the eye and the other up the ass!
As it turned out, using my transsexuality to invalidate my arguments is exactly what Adams had in mind. She charged that I had not been raised as a girl in the patriarchy, in a misogynist culture; that I hadn’t walked in her shoes or “swam in the same pond” as her, and that this was enough to account for our different views and positions on pornography and prostitution. She explained that I didn’t have a problem with men buying my body and abusing me sexually through prostitution because I had not grown up as a girl in a patriarchal culture. So I pointed to her embarrassingly limited knowledge of transsexuality. I advised that she should do a little research about transsexuality before requesting from fellow congress attendees that they tell everyone about their transsexuality and before advocating that only upon submitting to such a request, may transsexual attendees be allowed to engage in community and political discussions.
Maybe she would have felt more at ease if large warning signs had been strategically placed around the congress site:
WARNING: All wolves in sheep’s clothing MUST report to the vegetarian feminist headquarters in order to be given an arm band bearing the symbol associated with their particularly problematic sexual status. In order to prevent manipulative individuals from exploiting their gender anonymity for sexual and political purposes, such identifying symbol MUST be permanently worn on the left arm and kept visible at all times during the congress.
An afternoon trip to her local library would have been beneficial. Adams would have learned that not all transsexual women have lived or passed or were socialized as “males”. She would have learned that many received a mixed “socialization”. She would have learnt that sexual abuse, sexual harassment, sexual assaults are not the sole privileges of non-transsexual women. She would have learned that most primary transsexual women (“primary” refers to those of us who transitioned at a young age) who survived growing up as feminine individuals, unable to pass and function as “boys”, did experience sexual harassment and sexual violence. While similar to that experienced by non-transsexual girls and women, the harassment and violence we endure is slightly more complex: it is multi-layered with diverse forms of prejudices and hatred working as one powerful block. Another important difference is that the acts perpetrated against feminine “boys” are often more frequent and brutal. More often than in the case of non-transsexual girls and women, these experiences lead to suicide, murder, or to some other form of early tragic death. Adams had such erroneous ideas and stereotypes about transsexual women’s bodies, sexualities and lives that I was forced to reveal, to her and to her entire circle of groupies, extremely private information, details about my personal and medical history which under no other circumstances I would ever feel pressured to divulge. Carol Adams’ theories about the violence faced by genetic women in the patriarchy might sound good, but I’m the one who can say I have known personally 30-40 transsexual women who have been brutally raped and murdered. Women who have in one way or another been a part of my life. Put the statistics side by side and you’ll see who, between genetic women and transsexual women, are more raped, battered and killed by men in our patriarchal culture!
At some point, I told Adams that she should also be required to reveal extremely private information about herself and about her history. Why should I be the only one having to talk about my genitals and my breasts’ surgeries and my hormonal treatments and my growing up as a child and my history of abuse in order to be allowed to participate in the congress’ political arena? If she claimed my transsexuality was relevant to our discussion on sex work, then I too demanded that she revealed personal information about herself, information which I and others considered particularly relevant in light of her anti-porn and anti-sex work positions. I have met numerous vegetarian lesbians who wondered about her sexuality. They know she is married to a man and that she has borne him one, perhaps even several children. From that they deduce she must have allowed men – or at least one man - to penetrate her vaginal orifice, a pretty problematic act according to some of her role models like Andrea Dworkin. Adams had quoted Dworkin against me during our earlier debate, so I returned the favour, this time putting her and her own sexual practices up for public debate: Was the heterosexual sex she had engaged in dehumanizing? Objectifying? Or just plain gross? And what about women? Did she or not lick pussy? Those are popular objects of speculation amongst older vegetarian lesbians. Are these questions inappropriate? If yes, then why are similar intimate questions about my medical and sexual history not equally inappropriate? If my transsexuality is relevant to a discussion of prostitution, then Carol Adams’ sexuality also has to be. Since she condemns lesbian and gay sexual imagery (queer porn), since she feels she has the authority to judge the sexual desires and practices of lesbians and gays as hurtful, as reproducing unequal relations of power, then I think we are entitled to investigate every inch of her sexual life.
Our conversation had taken a rough turn and we had ceased our efforts to be polite or smile. The malicious sparkle in the corner of her eye had disappeared; she was no longer grinding her teeth in excitement, she no longer needed to contain her spit, her mouth now seemed rather painfully dry, with a white pasty foam shaping into a set of sinuous, ghostly figures that slowly wandered in and out through the corners of her mouth. The groupies had also lost their cute little nervous smiles. They were finally ready to leap onto the stage, to get involved, and even take sides. Every so often, one would nod in agreement while another shook his head in disagreement. This time around, the debate didn’t end very well. She saw she wasn’t getting anywhere and I knew that being a transsexual would from then on invalidate any of my arguments, positions, and experiences. So we split. But right before leaving, I don’t know why —I dislike leaving on bad terms— so I asked her to sign my birthday card within which I had been collecting, throughout the day, the signatures and happy birthday wishes of other animal rights activists. She signed it: “Carol J. Adams”. No “Happy Birthday”, no “May all your wishes come true”, no “It was great meeting you!” She signed my birthday card so fast that I don’t even think she looked at it. Needless to say, there were no kisses following her name.
A few hours later, my boyfriend and I walked down Dundas street, in Chinatown, on our way to our favourite Toronto restaurant, Buddha’s Vegetarian Food. We were relaxing and reflecting on the events we had just experienced. We were trying to figure out if Carol Adams was just a very innocent, naïve, upper-class white straight woman who once very much loved her pony, but who, later on, got involved with the wrong crowd. Perhaps, it was her father’s fault or influence… He was a republican judge and people say they can be very stubborn, grumpy old men. Perhaps there was no library where she lived or perhaps she didn’t have access to the internet… It would explain her ignorance of today’s complex and multi-faceted debates on pornography, prostitution and sexual representation.
One new element that today’s feminists have had to factor in has been the emergence of movements of women who are sex workers, prostitutes and porn actors. These women currently work in various sectors of the sex industry; they have increasingly imposed a completely new paradigm from which to think about these issues. Their approach privileges the voices of women who are currently working in the various sectors of the sex industry and of women who are also activists, women who work with their sex working colleagues to raise awareness amongst themselves as workers, to raise their consciousness of themselves as human beings who deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. And more and more feminists, including those who used to work within a radical feminist framework, are now accepting to listen to sex working women. They are brave enough to reconsider their positions and take political directions from the expert themselves.
In contrast, Carol Adams acts as though she has never even thought about the women she exploits in her slide show. She and other radical feminists can claim that through porn and other popular imagery, women are consumed by men like “pieces of meat”… But those of us with experience in the field know better. The men who watch pornography are rather extremely interested in the real flesh and blood human beings who are featured in the images they look at. Porn models have their own websites with memberships ranging in the millions. While I worked on the internet as a porn model, I received, like the hundred other models working for the same company, daily emails from the men who watched me online. They interacted with me and the other models and very much knew we were real people. They wanted to know more about us, wanted find out what we liked, disliked, what we did besides porn in our lives. They wanted to know how we felt, how things were going, what we were up to… Consumers of pornography go to industry conventions to meet and greet their favourite stars in person, to shake their hands, to get an autograph, a snap shot; they want to tell porn stars how much they love them, how much they find them beautiful, how much they admire them.
In a conversation with Nadja Lubiew-Hazard, co-founder of the Toronto chapter of Feminists for Animal Rights ( FAR), I said:
“It’s the feminists who are anti-prostitution who objectify us and reduce us to tits and asses by perceiving us that way and by propagating the myth that in prostitution this is all we are as prostitutes: vulgar orifices, and that this is all we are really worth. So what I do is turn the tables around and say “You think that our clients or men who watch porn are treating us like animals and pieces of meat? Then if that’s what you think, YOU are the ones who can’t see further than tits and asses and fuck holes. You are the ones [animalizing us] treating us like animals and pieces of meat and your discourses, your campaigns, your theorizing are hurting us and helping create a context where prostitution is seen as a social evil to be eliminated, a context that makes it possible for people to kill prostitutes and think they are doing a service to the community.”
Indeed, anti-porn, anti-sex work feminists like Adams do see us as inanimate, lifeless objects and it becomes clear when we take a close look at the language they use to refer to us. In The Pornography of Meat, Adams writes:
“With pornography, fragmented body parts become sexualized so that someone can get pleasure from something. Yet that something—the woman used in pornography—was at one point someone, a very specific someone.
I underlined certain words like “something” and “was”, for you to notice. I argue that each woman so called “used” in pornography — including all women who appear in the images that Adams uses in her slide show—, I argue that each woman still IS —present tense— today, someone. I argue that each woman was someone in the past, that each woman was someone while participating consensually in the production of the images, and that each woman still IS, today, in the present, someone and that each will continue to exist, tomorrow and in the future, as someone.
Back to Toronto’s Chinatown where my boyfriend and I continued walking towards Buddha’s. We eventually crossed a street only to see, coming from the other side, Carol Adams. We politely said “hello”. She seemed to have been deep in thought. She stopped me again, but less offensively this time. She rapidly said that she thought I had very important things to say. I replied that I would like to organize a sex workers’ panel at an animal rights or vegetarian conference so that sex working women who are vegan and pro-animal rights could speak on their own about the reality of their lives and about any possible link between sex workers’ oppression and animal oppression. Adams agreed that it was a great idea and that I should organize the event. I felt she was sincere and took her suggestion to heart. I immediately thought of the Toronto chapter of Feminists for Animal Rights (FAR), an organization whose board includes Carol Adams herself. FAR was a feminist animal rights organization who claimed to be fighting all oppressions, so I believed they would be a good place to start.
Feminists for Animal Rights (FAR) & the politics of exclusion
I now want to shift the focus away from Carol Adams, from her asparagus, parsley and absent referents and bring it to a broader discussion of the way anti-porn, anti-prostitution, anti-transsexual feminists do business. I want to demonstrate how they exclude, silence, and exert power in the most anti-democratic way all the while preaching the politics of diversity, all the while claiming to be fighting all oppressions.
In an editorial published in the winter-spring 1999 issue of the Feminists for Animal Rights (FAR) newsletter, Michelle Taylor, director of FAR, wrote:
“There are challenges inherent in coming together across differences—in the work of building coalitions between issues and movements. [...] Indeed, we are a diverse group of women constituting a spectrum of choices and beliefs. Yet we come together because of what we do share-our particular grasp of certain connections, and to find and offer community, strength, and support in sharing these perceptions.
While FAR can provide for us a “home”, it is also our job to challenge ourselves and others to face and to “complicate” issues. To “complicate” perhaps evokes negative connotations-to make things more difficult. What I mean is to see more – to intentionally embrace the complexity of who we are, and the issues that are important to us. Dualities, either/or frameworks, do not serve us well as models for understanding or for actions. Dualities silence and make invisible. [...] We are lead to believe that we can take a position between two “sides” and that our choice will accurately reflect either one of them.
Abstractly, spiritually, and emotionally, it is second nature for us to feel connection rather than disconnection. But what does this look like in practical activist terms? As an ecofeminist organization, it is our calling to ask and to answer these questions. [...] The challenge is ours to enact holistic, multi-issue movement. “
In the week that followed my encounter with Carol Adams, I wrote a letter to the newly formed Toronto chapter of FAR. I was friends with the three women who had founded the group and who were still running it; I knew they were trans-positive and sensitive to the complaints women sex workers have directed at anti-sex work feminists. So I told them about what had happened with Carol Adams. I told them that I had concerns about FAR’s unsophisticated and dated anti-prostitution and anti-porn stances, that I was also troubled by the many notorious anti-transsexual feminists who had, at one point or another, been on their advisory board. These included Alix Dobkin, Robin Morgan, Mary Daly and most of all, Janice Raymond. I submitted quotes from Robin Morgan, Mary Daly, and Janice Raymond to them so as to make them understand the level of hatred these individuals direct at transsexual women. I also invited them, in a pro-active gesture, to co-sponsor a sex workers’ event. What follows are excerpts from my letter to the women of FAR-Toronto:
Even though many sex worker feminists have lost hope of ever having anti-porn and anti-prostitute feminists listen to us and revise their positions, I am writing this letter with the hopes of organizing an educational event about these issues for the larger vegetarian/ animal rights/ feminist community. As I mentioned to Nadja, I have found non-sex worker animal rights' feminists in Toronto to be supportive of sex workers' rights in the past. I'm hopeful that an animal rights-feminist-sex worker "speak out!" might spark a long needed discussion within FAR about prostitution, pornography --and also transsexualism...
[…] I want the panel to also address the disturbing presence of Janice Raymond (in the past) and Mary Daly (currently) on the advisory board of FAR. Both are considered vicious hate-mongering writers in the transsexual community.
Janice Raymond published the most virulent and venomous anti-transsexual propaganda ever to see print with her 1979 book "The Transsexual Empire." She claimed that transsexuals were part of a vast male conspiracy out there to eradicate "women-born" women. She even testified in US congress in support of the Reagan Administration's effort to end funding for the medical treatment of transsexuals. The funding was subsequently eliminated. Her book was for almost two decades the ultimate feminist reference on transsexualism and the personal, political and tragic devastation it has caused to transsexual people all over North America has yet to be estimated.
The following are excerpts from Janice Raymond's book for your consideration:
" Male-to-constructed-female transsexuals attempt to neutralize women by making the biological woman unnecessary -- by invading both the feminine and the masculine fronts. Female-to-constructed-male transsexuals neutralize themselves as biological women and also their potentially deviant power."
"Given the historical difficulties in molding both female flesh and energy to patriarchal standards, an alternative is to make the biological woman obsolete by the creation of man-made she-males."
"Can one then view the transsexual 'solution' as the beginning of a world where men not only dominate women but become women and perhaps even try to eliminate and surpass us?"
"All transsexuals rape women's bodies by reducing the real female form to an artifact."
"I contend that the problem of transsexualism would be best served by mandating it out of existence."
Now read the following quotes from Mary Daly's book "Gyn-Ecology" published in 1978:
"Like the eunuchs of all periods of history, they [transsexuals] gain access to women's private spaces and secret meetings, appearing innocuous because of their castration."
"Today the Frankenstein phenomenon is omnipresent not only in religious myth, but in its offspring, phallocratic technology. The insane desire for power, the madness of boundary violation, is the mark of necrophiliacs who sense the lack of soul/ spirit/life-loving principle within themselves and therefore try to invade and kill off all spirit, substituting conglomerates of corpses. This necrophilic invasion/ elimination takes a variety of forms. Transsexualism is an example of male surgical siring which invades the female world with substitutes."
End of quotes
[…]I'd like to organize in the fall a panel made of feminist sex workers who are vegetarians or have some strong animal rights consciousness. They would speak about the problems with anti-porn and anti-prostitute propaganda, speak about the tragic consequences it is having on the lives of women working in the sex industry, and about the patronizing, silencing, and harassment we face as sex workers from some sectors of the feminist movement.
I would be pleased if FAR-Toronto accepted to officially sponsor the event. In the meantime, I'd be happy to meet with any of you to further discuss any of the above..
Whichever wave they’re riding, most feminists have read Gloria Steinem, Robin Morgan, Mary Daly but they rarely recall their transphobic and hateful diatribes. Perhaps it didn’t register as hatred at the time; perhaps it didn’t even register as that bad at all. Perhaps it just went over their heads or perhaps… perhaps… well who knows. But no matter what the cause for their amnesia may be, I try, as often as possible, to refresh their memories. Lauren Corman, Nicola Brown and Nadja-Lubiew Hazard were wonderfully receptive and living proofs that feminism can be ethical, responsible and humane. After meeting with me to discuss the issues at length, they wrote a letter to FAR’s national head office, in the US, first requesting that they clarify their positions on pornography and prostitution. Second, they asked if FAR, as an ecofeminist organization dedicated to connecting and ending all oppressions, had a position supporting transsexual and transgender rights. They also informed the head office that they had started organizing a panel for animal rights/vegetarian feminist sex workers to speak about sex workers rights and animal rights. They subsequently received a letter from FAR’s “Core Group” - a mysterious entity formed by a small number of FAR members who conveniently remained anonymous. Their letter stated that “FAR’s Core Group” didn’t have consensus on transgender issues. But they confirmed that FAR had “a particular and uncompromising position about the issues of pornography and the sex trade, […] this position was a policy, and not a ‘pleasantry’.” They added that FAR groups had to “ensure that members do not campaign or publish materials that support the trade in women’s bodies any more than we would support campaigns or publish materials supporting the trade in the bodies of other animals. […] In summary, to support or condone pornography or prostitution is antithetical to the most basic purpose and mission of FAR.” They warned FAR-Toronto that “convening a panel of sex workers who are vegetarians or who have some strong animal rights consciousness, discussing harassment in the industry, the decriminalization of prostitution, etc. could not be done under the auspices of FAR.” They wrote that “FAR could not accept a position as officially sponsoring the event; nor could FAR campaigns be carried out in connection with any such event. […] Even tangential involvement in this or related events would contradict our central philosophy.” While they refused to discuss the past involvement of Janice Raymond on their Advisory Board, regarding Mary Daly, they offered the following:
“Although the ideas and actions of any FAR Advisory Board member might be controversial, depending on who happens to be making the assessment, it is the position of FAR that all Advisory Board members, including Mary Daly, have contributed in immensely valuable ways to feminist culture and scholarship.”
That was the end of the Daly controversy. The women of FAR-Toronto and FAR-Advisory board member Greta Gaard (an eco-feminist who support trans rights, at least in theory) were never able to find out who, exactly, formed the obscure “Core Group”. They appeared to be the ones in charge of making decisions and of enforcing FAR’s radical feminist agenda. Far-Toronto and Greta Gaard were not able to get any answers from the Core Group about FAR’s decision and policy-making process. The feminists involved with FAR-Toronto finally dissolved the chapter. For some of them, it was perhaps a good eye opener: a huge gap existed between ecofeminist theory and ecofeminist practice. It also provided them with an introduction to the ugly side of feminist politics. After FAR-Toronto was dissolved, Nicolas Brown wrote, in an email to me:
“We are very sad and angered by their reaction to our wanting to support the sex worker panel and their silence around TS issues (which to us, speaks volumes. not taking a stand *is* taking a stand).We have decided that we cannot continue under the banner of FAR.. We want to be part of something that reflects our politics and gives us the freedom to do activism the way we want to do it.”
In their follow-up letter to the core group, FAR-Toronto wrote:
“We are saddened and confused when groups do not take a stand against transphobia (would groups not take a stand against any other oppression, such as racism or homophobia?), and particularly so in this case when we see special connections between feminist and queer and trans- movements. Besides members inherently overlapping, the movements have much in common politically and we can learn from and enrich each other's struggles.”
“Regardless of our stance on pornography/prostitution, the panel is not about unequivocally supporting either industry. Nor is the panel about debating these issues- ones that are explosive and that divide many feminists. This panel is about coalition building- about making links between the many faces oppression shows in our society. This panel is about listening to the voices of women; it is also being put on by self-identified feminist women who believe in animal rights- that is, *feminists for animal rights*. These women are a part of our political community and we support their activism, and most certainly, as women who have been particularly stigmatized and silenced, we support their right to speak to their own experience. We need and want to hear these voices.”
Our animal rights/sex workers’ rights panel never happened. My experience with Carol Adams and the FAR organization stand as two perfect examples of the type of attitudes and treatment we receive, as sex working women, when we try to engage with anti-porn and anti-prostitution feminists. Carol Adams and FAR, probably because of their animal rights connection, have left a particularly painful mark in me. Since my encounter with Carol Adams and since FAR-Toronto’s clash with the US FAR leaders, I always hoped that someone would, one day, take the time to construct a response to the offensive discourse propagated by Adams. I always hoped that someone would, eventually, speak out publicly about FAR’s empty claim as an organization fighting all oppressions and embracing all struggles. But while I meet animal rights feminist activists by the dozen who object to the reactionary sexual politics of FAR and of Adams, none of them has, to this day, deemed the issue important enough to publicly comment about it. No one has challenged publicly their transphobia, their discriminatory behaviours towards women sex workers and their overall authoritative status. Instead, Carol Adams and many of FAR’s prominent members continue touring as the radical voices of the animal rights movement. They have now been joined by a late comer on the scene, Pattrice Jones, a rising activist star in the AR movement. Jones is another aging radical feminist (with all the dusty politics that this entails). She’s an out lesbian and so has become la référence obligée in any discussion that touches on queer issues within the AR movement. While she is politically a touch more astute than the other AR feminists I have discussed so far, Jones’ anti-porn statements make her appear as though she has gone into hibernation in the early 80’s, only to come out once Y2K was passed. I further discuss Pattrice Jones’ later on in a section entitled “The Rhetoric of Diversity”. Like many other activists, she spends so much time talking about diversity and inclusion, that she has none left to actually do something concrete about it.