Guest Blog by Paul Burgess
In the interests of you finding it easier to read this here piece, I would like first to explain to you that I write as I would speak. So if you imagine a soft voiced middle-aged fella and drag queen saying this to you in a North West English accent, you’re on a winner.
Hi, I’m Paul, 53 years young, queer, gender fluid, one of Those Vegan Guys with my husband of 13 years and partner of 25 years, Jason, and also one of The Vegan Queens, with my dear friend Stuart.
I wanted to talk about the point where two (or more) issues meet, not necessarily related issues, but issues able to impact and empower one another. I wanted to talk about it because I believe – no – I KNOW that the oppression/suppression I felt as a gay man fed directly into my becoming vegan. It had to. The link was there.
In 2009, Jason and I got married. I say married, it was actually a civil partnership at the time and not convertible to a marriage until 2015, but I digress. We had a gorgeous ceremony, surrounded by family and friends and at last, after way too long, our relationship was recognisable under law. In that same year there was a significant and well publicised homophobic attack on an off-duty trainee police officer, James Parkes. It was a despicable crime, up to 20 youths beat him so badly that he was hospitalised with multiple skull fractures and fractures to his eye socket and jaw. His condition was described as ‘very critical’. This incident had me googling ‘homophobic attacks’. There were so many, the world over, and we had been unaware of them for too long in our own comfort bubble.
That was a massive wake-up call for us. We had simply been living our lives surrounded by people who loved and fully accepted us for who and what we were. Homophobia hadn’t existed in ‘our’ world for quite some time, so it was more than a bit of a shocker to read about this horrendous attack.
A few short months later I came up with the idea of starting a theatre company specifically founded to tackle homophobia. Pink Triangle Theatre was born, and for almost a decade we worked in schools, colleges, prisons, work places, theatres and many other venues with our powerful piece, SHOW ONE! At the time we were vegetarians.
Suddenly, fighting oppression and suppression was a core part of who we were and what we did.
I had vegan friends at the time, in the early twenty tens. Sometimes, they would call me out on my posts about ‘happy eggs’ and such, and I would deny and deflect.
“BUT it says happy right there on the box!!”
I was urged to look a little deeper, but it wasn’t until 2014 that I did. On the recommendation of a friend we watched a documentary called ‘Vegucated’. It took two viewings for the truths to hit, and when they did hit, they hit hard.
I got it, all of it. There was no such thing as happy eggs, or kind milk, they were lies I had been told all of my life and had willingly believed. We went vegan the day Vegucated was viewed for the 2nd time.
How could I fight oppression, suppression and outright cruelty against humans and NOT see it with animals? I was vegetarian because I couldn’t stand the thought of an animal being killed for my plate, yet up until 2014 I had been willingly supporting the horrendous treatment of cows, chickens and so many other beings because I wanted to eat my cheese, eggs, cream and butter. ‘My’!! Now there’s a word.
It was never ‘mine’.
Animals are suppressed/oppressed and so much worse, continually, every single moment of every single day and for what? Human consumption! Worse, UNNECESSARY human consumption.
Anti-hate and anti-violence were a much broader spectrum than I had acknowledged.
These issues had met in the middle for me.
If I truly cared about animals like I always told people I did when they asked why I was vegetarian, then I had literally been kidding myself. I hadn’t been really looking.
Now, I could see clearly, and things had to change.
Our journey into veganism, like so many others before us, was rocky at the start. We felt so limited by what we could safely consume as back then, yes even that short a time ago, there wasn’t the massive choice we have now in every single supermarket. We managed it though, always keeping in mind the ‘why’. We were doing this because we were not able to accept ill treatment and violence for ANY reason against ANY being.
Our ‘issues’ had met in the middle, and what a middle it was.
We started to share our journey, and of course our reasons for doing it, at first only in Facebook posts etc, but pretty soon we would have a YouTube channel sharing our ‘down to earth veganism’ as widely as we could. We do that to this day. We share easy recipes, detailed shopping vlogs, the journey at our allotment and so much more. I even wrote a free ebook, ‘Down-To-Earth Veganism’, to help people on their own journeys. The animals being at the core of all we do and say.
One year after going vegan, in 2015, I was hosting a TV show in Manchester called ‘Now We’re Talking’ and as we got closer to Manchester Pride, I thought it might be fun to do a pre Pride special episode of the show in drag. I had been a drag queen since the age of 13 but hadn’t done it for quite a while at that point. I asked my bestie Stuart if he would do it with me, and we asked two more drag queen friends to join us. It turned out to be an awesome show and we had so much fun doing it. At the end of filming I asked Stuart if he fancied becoming a drag duo, ‘The Vegan Queens’. He agreed, and here we are still going strong, performing at local Prides all over the country. We’ve done bingo calling, children’s story time and so many other fabulous shows. Again, making sure our veganism is front and centre.
I guess the point of this piece is to ask you to look at the issues that matter to you, and to recognise any parallels you see. If you are against oppression, suppression, violence and abuse, then be against it regardless of the being it is being done to.
YOU have the means to be a powerful and incredible force for good, with every action you take and every word you speak. So why not do that?
Activism starts within. It starts with calling yourself out for the things you accept. Every being on this beautiful planet of ours has the right to not be forcefully bred like cows are – the right not to live in foul and cramped conditions like chickens are. Every being has the right to a life without violence, abuse and oppression. EVERY being!
Find your parallels, acknowledge them, and be the enigmatic force for good that the world needs so many of us to be. It’ll be one of the best things you ever did.
Paul J. Burgess