"I consider my food the same way I consider the work that I want to do in the world... I’m using my privilege and identity to advocate for people who have oppressed identities and get screwed over in the world, which I think really correlates with the way I eat."
Katherine Belcher (center), 32, is a social worker. She is queer and vegan, and lives with her wife & their dog in Denver, Colorado. Photo courtesy of Katherine.
At what age were you aware of your sexuality and gender identity?
I think with my sexuality, I was about 6th grade when I started to understand who I was and how that was different from my peers. I think with gender identity, that’s something I still explore even today. I don’t think I’m at a place where I’m like, Oh my gosh, I know what going on. It’s a more of a fluid topic in my life.
DID YOU HAVE ANY SUPPORT FROM FRIENDS, RELATIVES, OR MENTORS? WERE ANY OF THEM LGBTQ?
No, I didn’t feel like I had anyone at all until my senior year of high school, which was about 6 years later. I lived and grew up in Wyoming where things are incredibly conservative, but I came out my senior year to my cousin who lived in New York.
DID YOU FIND REPRESENTATION FOR YOUR IDENTITY?
I remember reading Melissa Etheridge’s autobiography.
DO YOU FEEL YOUR SEXUALITY IS ESSENTIAL TO YOUR IDENTITY?
As I was exploring and trying to wrap my head around it, it was something I was considering every day. In relation to how significant it was 10-12 years ago compared to now, it certainly affects my day to day but isn’t the most significant part of who I am, if that makes sense.
"The situation in Wyoming is just totally bigoted and people are not out there. I don’t want to say nobody is, but it’s not safe. I came out to my family just a few years ago, but in the workplace I’ve always been out."
DOES YOUR SEXUALITY and GENDER IDENTITY SHAPE YOUR DAILY LIFE?
I think that it certainly shapes my daily life. I’m a social worker, and am pretty often faced with how and whether or not to be out with the youth I’m working with. I’m making choices about that every day.
In the last 6 months, I cut off all my hair and that changed a lot how I interact with the world and how the world interacts with me. I think it has taken me my whole life to be like, Okay I’m going to cut off all my hair. Things have since been really different, the way people look at me and the way people assume things about me. It’s more powerful than I had anticipated it would be.
HAVE YOU BEEN OPEN ABOUT YOUR SEXUALITY and GENDER IDENTITY AT HOME, SCHOOL, AND IN THE WORKPLACE?
Back home in Wyoming, those were the last people I came out to. The situation in Wyoming is just totally bigoted and people are not out there. I don’t want to say nobody is, but it’s not safe. I came out to my family just a few years ago, but in the workplace, I’ve always been out. I found that social work environments are pretty progressive and open. In school, in grad school I was completely out. I had just started to come out in the end of undergrad.
HAVE YOU EXPERIENCED HOMOPHOBIA, HARASSMENT, MISTREATMENT, OR DISCRIMINATION BECAUSE OF YOUR SEXUALITY and GENDER IDENTITY?
I know that I can come up with feeling discrimination, but not necessarily someone saying something. It’s more the context where I feel discrimination against the LGBT community as a whole. In Wyoming, the people that I’m around are constantly using derogatory words around me. I’ll go hang out with a group of people and they say fag and stuff because they’re allowed to. Those are the situations where I’ve felt discrimination. I’m definitely out to those people, but they’re like, Well, you're different.
It’s mind-boggling that people think it’s okay and that they just allow it to happen. It’s just terrifying. It happened last summer and I got super mad at myself for even putting myself in the position where I was hanging out with friends in Wyoming, and speaking up in those situations just doesn’t feel safe—not that I think I’m going to be physically attacked, but there’s just something about saying anything that doesn’t feel like the smartest idea for some reason.
"I think my whole life, I always paired the meat that I was eating with the animal. Even as a kid, like it didn't feel right... I just love animals so much and I felt that it was hypocritical of me to eat meat."
At What age did you stop eating animal products and why?
I became a strict vegetarian when I was about 20 and haven't eaten meat since then, but have moved into a more vegan diet in the past few years. I think my whole life, I always paired the meat that I was eating with the animal. Even as a kid, like it didn't feel right. Growing up in Wyoming, a lot of the food I was eating my dad would go out and kill, because hunting is a big deal, and it always just felt off to me.
It was on the long drive home after college, right after my sophomore year, that I decided to follow through on how I was feeling and not eat it anymore because I felt grossed out when I did. I just love animals so much and I felt that it was hypocritical of me to eat meat.
DID YOU HAVE ANY SUPPORT FROM FRIENDS, RELATIVES, OR MENTORS? WERE ANY OF THEM VEGETARIAN or vegan?
I don’t think I had any friends that were vegan or vegetarian. Definitely not in Wyoming. Even in college, I remember my friends were overall supportive but kind of gave me a lot of shit for it. I remember my mom didn’t really know how to cook for someone who didn’t eat meat, but she had one friend who was vegetarian—she was very health conscious. So, there was like one person, which is so weird especially now when most of the people I’m around don’t eat meat.
My mom has been a lot more open-minded to the idea of not eating meat over the past 5-8 years. My family and my wife are very supportive. My wife was vegan for several years and a vegetarian for a decade. I have dated people who it has been more of a struggle with, but it's been easy with her. She eats meat from time to time, but has adjusted her diet to eat vegan at home. I’d say 95 percent of our kitchen is vegan, but we buy cheese and milk sometimes.
DID YOU FIND REPRESENTATION FOR YOUR VEGETARIANISM or veganism?
I read books and I probably went online. At first, I didn’t eat super healthy; I just didn’t eat meat. But that definitely changed over the years, in cooking and trying to make meals from actual food, and not just eating bean burritos. (laughter)
What was the shift from vegetarianism to veganism?
I think it was a couple of things. I have some minor health issues and had read how dairy might have been contributing, and so I was giving [veganism] a whirl for the health reasons. About the same time I went to an animal sanctuary, Peaceful Prairie, outside of Denver. The person who runs the place was very influential and made a good argument that, as an animal activist, being vegetarian is not enough. After spending time with the animals who were living at the sanctuary, I left that day thinking, Yeah what am I doing? I’m being kind of half-assed. So, it was a little bit more of a natural progression, but happened kinda fast once the seed was planted.
DO YOU FEEL BEING VEGan IS ESSENTIAL TO YOUR IDENTITY?
It just depends on my setting, which I think is the same for my queer identity, too. When I’m in Denver, it’s fairly progressive as far as food options. I don’t have a hard time finding food so I don’t think about it as much, but when I go home to visit my parents in Wyoming, being vegan is kind of a closeted identity—not with my parents, they are really supportive now. They think I’m sort of a rebel and will make food to accommodate me—but going out into the community in Wyoming, I’ll even go as far just eating vegetarian because people are just super weird about it. I consistently feel there that I just can’t go there if I don’t want to offend someone.
It’s such a slap in the face to people in Wyoming when you don’t eat meat, cause ranching is such a big deal there. This is an example of how crazy people are about ranching: I had a boyfriend who I dated all through high school. We had been breaking up for years, and the final straw for him was when I told him I wouldn’t eat meat anymore. That’s what did it for him.
HAVE YOU EXPERIENCED MISTREATMENT, MOCKERY, OR BULLYING BECAUSE OF YOUR VEGETARIANISM or veganism?
No one’s ever acted violently toward me, but people will be sarcastic enough that I can tell that my dietary restrictions bother them. It’s different in Denver. I mean, I’m sure that community exists here but that’s not the kind of community I surround myself with.
DO YOU PARTICIPATE IN LGBTQ OR ANIMAL RIGHTS ACTIVISM?
Yes to the LGBTQ community. I’ve developed friendships doing activism, but maybe more activism in general as a social worker. I surround myself with a lot of social workers. It’s not intentional, it just ended up being who my friends are.
WHAT EFFECTS DO YOUR FOOD CHOICES HAVE ON YOUR DAILY LIFE?
It was probably 10 years ago when I read Gandhi’s autobiography—apparently I’m big on autobiographies (laughter)—and he says something about how you can judge a society by how they treat their animals, and as humans, our role at the top of the food chain is to take care of those that are lower. That really resonated with me and had a lot to do with why I went vegan later on.
I consider my food the same way I consider the work that I want to do in the world and utilizing my privilege—I don’t want it to seem like I think, Oh, I’m a white, middle class woman at the top of the food chain taking care those below me. I’m using my privilege and identity to advocate for people who have oppressed identities and get screwed over in the world, and I think really correlates with the way I eat.
"Being out as a member of the LGBTQ community and being out as a vegan have been similar experiences."