Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Vegas with a Vegan...and other Woes of Oppression This, Oppression That

Last week, M and I took time off from the world and ventured to the
southwest. Unfortunately, before we got to our destination, we had to go
through Sin City, where what happens to vegans stays with vegans.

I didn't want to hate Vegas -- it's just too easy, too trite. Instead, I hoped to have an ironic, kitschy kind of experience. But I just couldn't pull it off. When I was there, I realized that everything that's wrong with the world was epitomized in this little big town. Being from New York City, I'm used to bright lights and crowded sidewalks, but I like to believe that some people in NY are on their way to experiencing culture and diversity, rather than the unadulterated consumerism, conditioned air, and addictive bait that is rampant all over Las Vegas. IMHO.

There were two stellar parts of Vegas--one was the thrift store outside of
the strip, Opportunity Village. M and I went there for a shop-stop and each got new wardrobes, practically. The other redeeming factor was Ronald's Donuts, a hole-in-the-wall dive located in Chinatown (the only place where a vegan in Vegas could get a decent veggie soba dish), across the street from several gun and ammo stores. Ronald's is owned by a Cambodian Buddhist guy who has been vegan all his life. (The memory of the Boston creme variety still reminds me of the one time in Vegas I hit the jackpot.)

Our main part of the trip was Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, which was nestled in a canyon just outside Kanab, Utah, where a double rainbow in the sky is not unusual. We spent part of the trip exploring the national parks and monuments, including the spectacular Zion National Park, where the
mountains were named after patriarchal Old Testament figures, which was
unsettling to me at the very least, considering the land is more connected
to the Native Americans than to the Mormons. I've since learned that
it was the Paiutes who originally occupied the area, when it was called
Mukuntuweap. Zion--meaning "heavenly refuge"and, I am sure not without coincidence, a big deal to Mormons--became the new name. I bet it wasn't a refuge for the Indians.

It was shocking how so much of my trip through Native American land did not
officially reflect anything about the Native Americans. At Pipe Spring National Monument, which is where Paiutes lived (and still live) and depended upon the water from the spring, the tour focused on the Mormon church--the first white people who were there--who built a house right over the spring (the only water for miles around) on the Indians' land and had shooting-holes in the bedroom in case any Indians came to invade what was rightfully theirs. I guess I could even go further back than that and say that the Indians took what was the animals' land. Humans -- oy.

Let me backtrack... And thanks for dealing with my rantings...

When we were in Vegas renting a car, it was $100 extra to put on an additional
driver (me). While the rental car guy was processing our order, the dude
next to him was helping another couple, a man and woman. The car rental guy
said to them, "You don't have the same last name. Are you married?" and the
straight people said "yes." The car rental guy said "Great, than it's no
extra charge for the second driver," and I looked at M and rolled my

Oppression is so...oppressive. Humans develop these hierarchical systems
based on, what, religion? And they go in and take what isn't theirs to begin
with. Then a gazillion years later, this unfair patriarchal existence is
only rivaled in ugliness by the annoying trend of walking around crying woe
is me.

I'm no exception. I get stuck--way too often--in this yucky cycle of feeling
like the world is out to get me. I take way too much personally (though I'm
getting better at that and rougher around the edges), and though I don't
want to admit it, I think that since I'm a vegan dyke who only wears thrift
store clothes, I should somehow get a complimentary "get out of jail free" card. Before you send me hate mail, let me first say that though I recognize
my habit of crying woe is me, my entire point is that I don't like it in myself, and I don't like it in anyone else either.

I'm oppressed, you're oppressed, everyone's oppressed-oppressed...
I'm depressed, you're depressed...get OVER IT!

It sucks that my partner and I had to pay an extra hundred dollars on our
car rental when those who cash in on the marriage-privilege--something not
available to M and I--don't have to. It sucks that I know at least a
few of you who read this are single straight women who have chosen--for
whatever reason--to not get married, and you'd also have to pay $100 extra
on the car, if you were traveling with a buddy. And we should absolutely
fight for equality, no question. Because it does suck. But it doesn't suck

There are people who are in truly dangerous situations who have to fight to
survive because of who they are. People try to "take their land" constantly,
and sometimes they succeed. Animals fight for their lives all the time, and
almost never succeed. The number 267 is tattooed on my left wrist because
that is the number of chickens who die in this country every second. No,
wait, let me correct myself... It's now 286. I'd get another tattoo, but I
would likely run out of room soon, the numbers are so staggering.

There must be a point when you...or okay, when I... stop complaining and
start recognizing that though it is completely and entirely unfair that I
was charged an extra hundred bucks because my partner doesn't have a penis,
at least we are not fighting for our lives. When I accidentally said out
loud to M, "keep me calm," and noticed the car rental guy staring at me
with confusion, I snidely told him that "we aren't ALLOWED to get married."
He said, "well, I think you should be." He just works there, after all, and that's probably no bed of roses either.

I am not fighting to be alive. And so responding to this stupidity with an
eye-roll is fine, it's acceptable, but the insanity of the extra fee because
I'm not married does not make me a victim (and maybe the real problem is not
that straight people are allowed to get married and gays aren't, but that
the government holds the definition of marriage AT ALL). Rather, it is a
shitty inconvenience, and I will absolutely send a letter to Advantage
Rent-a-Car (irony) stating that the injustice was annoying and unfair. But
it doesn't make me a victim.

The Native Americans whose land was stolen and renamed, redefined...they were
victims. The animals who were killed, who continue to be killed, for no
reason other than selfish greed and ignorance, they, too, are victims. The
gay people in both this and other countries who are risking their lives when
they come out, they are victims, and it is no eye-rolling matter--it is so
way beyond that.

There are so many similarities between gay people and animals--way too much
to write about in this entry, but do see "Coming Out for Animals Rights" on
this page. Likewise, we can find the links between many oppressed groups.But just as we all have things in common, there needs to be a much stronger dividing line between an inconvenient situation and a life-threatening one. The car rental situation is a remnant of a much bigger problem, that is true. But it would be so immoral and uneducated of me to use that as
fodder for calling myself a victim.

That's not to say I don't have really crappy days or moments of weakness
when I weep into my lover's arms sure that nobody in the world is as the blank> as me. But at the end of the day, I usually have enough insight
to slap myself across the face and say "wake up, little girl! There are wars
to be fought!"

So what do we do about it? Well, I have no idea. I'm just a young woman with
a decent-sized vocabulary and a determination to make bitter lemonade out of
old oranges. Go figure that one out.

When I was in Vegas, I got to talking to two of the three owners of Ronald's
donuts (but not Ronald, he's the third one). The woman was telling me that
her brother (Ronald) has been vegan since he was a kid, and that those
values were instilled in him by their grandparents, who were also vegetarian.
When we asked her if her grandparents were here in America now, she looked
down, only slightly distracted and said softly, "no, they were killed in the
war -- you know -- the killing fields." After the war, the remaining family members found their way to Las Vegas, where they now run Ronald's Donuts. Nowhere is there a sign that says the donuts are vegan, but it's commonly known within some underground veg folk that Ronald is pretty hardcore. The vast majority of the donuts are vegan, just ask them. Still, they don't advertise it as such, because they are not after a niche.It simply does not compute to them to include dead animal parts into their
food, into their livelihood. It's amazing how these victims have come out as
survivors, and how completely unflappable they are--and how "woe is me" is
not in their vocabulary.

Whether we want it or not, Viva Las Vegas, and Viva Lost Vegan.