"I think about food everyday; where I go to eat and what I cook. What I feed people at events, holidays, and social gatherings becomes a main feature of my activism and desire to make change. We have to make good food if we want to change the food system, and I take that very seriously."
Joshua, 36, is an instructor of fashion at Parsons The New School, founder and creative director of Brave GentleMan, and founder and editor of The Discerning Brute. He is gay, Jewish, and lives in Brooklyn with his husband and their animal companions. Photos courtesy of Joshua.
At what age were you aware of your sexuality and gender identity?
5, but confused
Did you have any support from friends, relatives, or mentors? were any of them also LGBTQ?
My sister is a lesbian who came out before me, but there was not very much support in family or existing friendships at first.
Did you find representation for your identity?
I moved to Williamsburg, Brooklyn after college and was able to find supportive community, friendships, and relationships.
Do you feel your sexuality is essential to your identity?
Somewhat. I have many other things with which I identify (vegan, entrepreneur, artist, athlete, etc...) and being gay is part of that identity but not necessarily the dominant or primary aspect. I am aware how others tend to want to make being gay my primary characteristic, and I find myself avoiding or challenging their attempts to do that.
Does your sexuality and gender identity shape your daily life?
Yes, I live with my husband and every day we "deal with" being gay vegans in heteronormative and carnist culture. For example, I find that there are places that my husband and I do not feel comfortable or safe holding hands in public. I feel I'm often on the lookout for potential danger due to those who might wish to harm us.
Have you been able to be open about your sexuality and gender identity at home, school, and in the workplace?
Yes, for the most part. If it comes up, 99% of the time there is no hesitation or problem.
Have you experienced discrimination because of your sexuality and gender identity?
I was bullied in high school and called a "fag" often before I was out. I was physically attacked, ridiculed and belittled. My husband and I have had people approach us to call us faggots or have straight women comment "What a waste" when they see us together. My husband works at a restaurant, and when I went to visit him at work and kissed him hello, a woman left a negative Yelp review for the restaurant, accusing us of being "pornographic" and ruining her meal.
"I was 15 when I found out about clearcutting the rainforest to graze cattle and I thought it was terrible. I felt I had been lied to about the entire food system and began researching and questioning it."
At what age did you stop eating animal products and why?
I was 15 when I found out about clearcutting the rainforest to graze cattle and I thought it was terrible. I felt I had been lied to about the entire food system and began researching and questioning it. I took out Peter Singer's Animal Liberation from my high school library and it changed my life.
Did you have any support from friends, relatives, or mentors, and were any of them vegan?
Not at first, but I was involved in the hardcore and punk rock music scenes which had a lot of vegan role models yet, interestingly, was hyper-masculine and not very queer-friendly.
Did you find representation for your vegan identity?
Yes, I sought out activism, started an animal rights organization at Syracuse University, and befriended other vegans and animal advocates. It was a much-needed sanctuary from the indifference I felt permeated the majority of everyone else I knew.
Do you feel being vegan is essential to your identity?
Yes, but again, it's not the only feature. [Veganism] does highlight my values, my pursuits, my passion and my ideals, so I do think it's a more prominent aspect of my identity than my sexuality/gender.
Have you experienced mistreatment because of your veganism?
Yes, there is plenty of ridicule and mistreatment I've experienced for being vegan. I remember during college, my dorm-room door was vandalized because I was an outspoken animal advocate. I've had disagreements with a roommate who purposefully purchased meat and left it in my refrigerator to offend me.
I've been referred to as an extremist and written-off as idealistic, emotional and sentimental. Interestingly, there is an associated with femininity and veganism, and some, especially on social media, will use homophobic or misogynist language to offend me because of my veganism. But things have gotten much better in recent years.
Do you participate in LGBTQ or animal rights activism?
Yes, I feel that everything I do, especially my professional work, is part of my activism to change the culture/society and help animals. I also participate in more traditional definitions of "activism" like protests, marches, and street theater. I am motivated to do this by the potential to reach people and help animals.
"I use food whenever I can, whether it's bringing vegan doughnuts to my students on the first day of class, baking something as a gift to friends, preparing a veganized traditional meal for a family holiday, or inviting people to my vegan wedding. Delicious food makes the best argument for veganism."
What effects do your food choices have on your daily life?
I am always searching for the best, innovative, delicious vegan foods products and restaurants and events. I do find this to be quite an indulgence lately, whereas in the 90s it was more restrictive.
I think about food everyday; where I go to eat and what I cook. What I feed people at events, holidays, and social gatherings becomes a main feature of my activism and desire to make change. We have to make good food if we want to change the food system, and I take that very seriously.
Has being vegan functioned differently at home, school, and in the workplace?
Yes, being vegan in social or professional setting where there are non-vegans is a point of either stress or opportunity. I was once put in charge of meals on a film shoot and I warned the producer that everything would be vegan and most people were okay with it, but the camera operator and I had a huge fight because she claimed she needed meat.
When others have preconceived notions about the quality of vegan food it is often a challenge to dine together. But again, in recent years things have gotten much easier. The mainstream is much more aware of and comfortable with veganism.
Do you use food to better relate to people?
I use food whenever I can, whether it's bringing vegan doughnuts to my students on the first day of class, baking something as a gift to friends, preparing a veganized traditional meal for a family holiday, or inviting people to my vegan wedding. Delicious food makes the best argument for veganism. If something is perceived as delicious or desirable, that makes a memorable impact on people's feelings and associations.
Do you avoid food to better relate to people?
I avoid eating animal products all the time in the interest of others. The others in this instance are the animals.