"Building consensus is essential to my identity. Being able to bridge the divide of opinion between farmers and animal advocates is a skill I value in myself, and that carries over into every piece of my life. It's essential to who I am and how I want to move through the world."

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Daisy Freund, 31, works for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. She is bisexual, humaneitarian (75 percent vegan), and lives in Upstate New York with her partner. Photo courtesy of Daisy.

 

At what age were you aware of your sexuality and gender identity?

Sexual orientation began around 18 or 19. I have always identified as female and haven't questioned that much.

 

Did you have any support from friends, relatives, or mentors? were any of them LGBTQ?

My cousin is gay and married to a woman with two kids. I stayed with her and her family for three months at a key point in my exploration of my own sexuality and derived a lot of encouragement from that experience, though I wasn't fully out to them. I knew a lot of gay men growing up, but had no other lesbian or bisexual mentors, friends or family members. Once I left college, I began to explore the queer community in Boston where I lived and developed friendships that were a huge part of my coming out.

 

Did you find representation for your identity?

Yes, online and in media for sure. And in college, I'm a little ashamed to say I semi-stalked every lesbian on campus, fascinated with them and their relationships. And after college when I was out of a relationship with my boyfriend, I leapt into online dating just to meet gay women, and through them I encountered a wider circle of gay women who I studied.

 

Do you feel your sexuality is essential to your identity?

I feel like I'm "technically bisexual" more than I am "essentially" bisexual. I moved between dating and loving men and women until just three years ago, but when I was with women I felt gay, and when I was with men I felt straight. Maybe my ability/desire/propensity to move between those (and other) identities is essential to who I am. But when I think of myself, when I describe myself to others or on paper, my sexual identity would not be one of the early adjectives I'd use. 

 

 

"When I was with women I felt gay, and when I was with men I felt straight. Maybe my ability/desire/propensity to move between those (and other) identities is essential to who I am."

 

 

Does your sexuality and gender identity shape your daily life?

Yes, mostly in that my mother is still very opposed to my sexual orientation generally and my partner specifically. I feel it affecting my friendships more these days as straight friends (the majority of my friends) marry and begin to think about having kids, and I feel that I stand out or that they can't quite relate to my relationship. 

 

Have you been open about your sexuality and gender identity at home, school, and in the workplace?

I've always been open about my sexual orientation in professional settings, even when I was still figuring things out. I used to worked in a corporate PR office and had close relationships with my boss and coworkers. Everything was out in the open, and that continues today. The only exception is when I'm working with farmers or in rural America I'll sometimes opt to stay quiet about my partner.

I have been accepted by my dad, stepmother, and most of my family, and can be open with them, but my mother has not been accepting. While she tolerates the concept, she is clearly uncomfortable with the idea in practice and avoids the subject of my partner, as do I with her.

 

Have you experienced homophobia, harassment, mistreatment, or discrimination because of your sexuality and gender identity?

Other than my mother's remarks and actions and some comments on the street, no, nothing in a professional or public setting.

 

At what age did you stop eating animal products and why?

I went vegetarian in high school (I never liked meat), then I added some meats back into my diet post-college. I became involved in the local Slow Food movement and spent time in Italy, then five years ago raised the standards on all animal products that I eat to a very high level after farming for a season on a pastured farm. As I've been educated about farm animal welfare and become more involved in national and local efforts, I have increased the rigor of that commitment every year since, thus reducing the animal products I'm eating by about 90%. 

 

Did you have any support from friends, relatives, or mentors? were any of them vegetarian?

Most of my colleagues in the animal welfare movement are vegan, whereas my colleagues on the farms eat animal products only from the farm, but then eat butter and cream cheese and other processed products from factory farms. So, I've had trouble finding support for my standards from either camp. My partner shares my perspective, which has been helpful.

 

 

"It's hard to be hard-lined about a gray area."

 

 

Did you find representation for your vegetarianism?

I sought out representation for this in-between identity but have not found much. It's hard to be hard-lined about a gray area.

 

Do you feel being vegetarian is essential to your identity?

Building consensus is essential to my identity. Being able to bridge the divide of opinion between farmers and animal advocates is a skill I value in myself, and that carries over into every piece of my life. It's essential to who I am and how I want to move through the world. I've negotiated the ethics and the cost/benefit of abstaining from animal products to a personal conclusion that my one life can have the most impact by representing a solution, a middle ground, an approachable and relatable model of how to eat and how to treat animals.

 

Have you experienced mistreatment, mockery, or bullying because of your vegetarianism?

I've been called names and attacked online in comments under my articles or on social media when representing the ASPCA, both for not being vegan and by those who assume I am vegan. 

 

Do you participate in LGBTQ or animal rights activism?

I craft animal welfare activism, so on that side, yes. And I participate in occasional marches, online campaigns, petitions, advocacy alerts to legislators. I could and wish to do more, but I haven't felt really connected to or accepted by queer communities or animal rights communities. 

 

What effects do your food choices have on your daily life?

Food is a connecting activity for me, both to myself and others, but when I refuse to eat something in front of someone who has not refused to eat it, I worry about the judgement they may feel. I also sometimes feel depressed and disconnected to myself when the vegan options are highly processed or unhealthy. Conversely, when I invest deeply in a meal and share the story of that food (even/especially when some small part of it came from an animal), I feel really close to myself and to my community and the people I'm sharing the food with.

 

Has being vegetarian functioned differently at home, at school, and in the workplace?

Treading this middle ground has often made people dismiss me, whether at school by the animal rights activists or at work by colleagues who tolerate but don't understand the choice. I feel best about my mode of eating when I'm around the farmers who farm to a very high level. At home with family, there's a sense sometimes that I will judge them for their choices which I am always trying to discredit. 

 

Do you use food to better relate to people?

I use food to relate to people, especially in my work. So when I need to build trust with industry at a meeting and they put out a plate of cookies, I'm the first to take one, especially if they're not vegan. With farmers, I eat whatever they're eating, and especially whatever they raised, to broadcast the fact that I'm "just like them" and that I appreciate their work. 

 

Do you avoid food to better relate to people?

I am extra stringent at avoiding animal products when around vegans and activists.

 

This interview was conducted in October 2016 via online questionnaire and has been edited.