More on Transphobia and Pantheacon
A lot more discussion.
No, seriously. Remember, last time this happened, we had an entire anthology (pic at link NSFW) written about all the talking we did last time. So y'all won't be terribly surprised to hear that I think calls for 'respectful and constructive dialogue' are kind of disingenuous. We did respectful and constructive dialogue, and what happened? Exactly the same thing that always happens when an engine for social change is reduced to 'respectful' and 'constructive' dialogue. Nothing.
Don't get me wrong, I think being able to talk about this stuff without screaming at each other is important. I think raising awareness is important. I think passionate debate is important. If I didn't think that, I wouldn't waste so much of my time (and make no mistake, I really do think that my time, and the time of most trans* activists and allies, has been wasted in this 'constructive discussion') having this conversation. In the words of a writer I deeply respect, All I ever do is try to empty the sea with this teaspoon; all I can do is keep trying to empty the sea with this teaspoon. But as has been true of marginalized groups throughout history, talking quietly and respectfully, the way those in power want you to, does not usually get you anywhere. If you want to get anywhere you have to make people uncomfortable, but that just unleashes a whole slew of BS reasons why your behavior disqualifies you from any consideration. There is nothing the kyriarchy will not do in order to maintain the kyriarchy.
I was reading Gus DiZegera's post on this controversy, and while I respect Gus generally, I felt like tearing my hair out as I read his piece. It's worse in the comments. Like Jadelyn, I don't recommend them unless you have a fifth of whiskey and some tranquilizers handy. I can tell that Gus thinks he's being terribly reasonable! He's striking a position of compromise, you guyz! Can't we all see how wise and calm and respectful he's being when he states that religious belief is totally a great excuse for bigotry? This piece is very indicative of the general state of the blogosphere right now: A lot of people are using intelligent writing and very pretty words and misty-eyed hypotheticals to try to make an abhorrent position acceptable. From "We are asking you to stand outside our circle and be the guardians of our space, and that's totally different from just asking you to stay out of our circle because your kind aren't welcome!" to "Yes, Z is a transphobic bigot, but that doesn't negate all the work she has done to build her traditions.", there's a whole lot of denial and apologetics going on. And I am not impressed. Other examples:
"If Trans* people want spaces they're free to create their own spaces, nobody's stopping them!"
Translation: 'Cause separate is totally equal, right? And we have no understanding of how being forcibly 'othered' like that is emotionally and socially harmful to marginalized people-groups!
"Part of respect means respecting the rites and beliefs of Dianics!"
Translation: This is their religious belief, therefore it is somehow above reproach despite the fact that we don't hold Christian religious beliefs above reproach when they say pagans are one of the biggest threats to the nation, or that gays and lesbians are worse than terrorists!
"You're not helping anything when you get angry about it!"
Translation: If you'd just sit down, shut up, and let us debate about whether you ought to be 'allowed' into cis-spaces, then humbly respect our decision no matter what it is, you'll see that we really deserve to be the gatekeepers of your acceptance!
"Z. Budapest is an elder who's made many wonderful contributions, and since she's never made a secret of her transphobia, we think we should take the bad with the good!"
Translation: Transphobia is not a deal-breaker for us, why should it be for you?
"Look, as long as they're not hurting anybody, why should the greater pagan community have any say over what Dianics do during their rites?"
Translation: We absolutely do not agree that holding such a rite labeled 'genetic women only' and 'women born women' in a public, pay-to-enter space such as PantheaCon could possibly be hurtful to trans* people. Y'all are too sensitive.
Crap like this is the reason Derailing For Dummies was invented. I'm not going to mince words (because I usually don't); it is incredibly frustrating to have to do trans* issues 101 over and over. It is exhausting. It is aggravating. It pisses me off. I'm genderqueer, I'm not trans*, I have only a small yappy dog in this fight. I keep having this conversation because I believe my trans* siblings deserve allies who don't back down when tensions are running high and spoons are running out. If I have their backs, I have their backs no matter how long this argument goes on, long after the greater Pagan community has decided, as they clearly did last year, that trans* acceptance is not important and no changes need to be made and it's totes okay to give lip service to unity and diversity whilst we keep on doing exactly what we were doing. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
What struck me the most about Gus's piece was his assertion that he thinks Trans* rights are political, and therefore have no place in religious discussion. As if religion is not political. As if the personal is not political, and the political is not personal. This speaks to an ignorance of the root of these issues that is so astounding I'm not even sure where to begin fighting it. If Gus, and others like him, do not accept that Paganism can and should wrestle with such issues as trans* acceptance, then Gus and others like him do not think we can and should be a community. Any community, politicized or not, has to wrestle with those issues, because trans* people are people and they exist in our communities. To imply otherwise is the height of naivety. It's the height of privilege, much like "I can't be a homophobe because I have gay friends!" which also shows up in that essay. It means that you think trans* people are too minor and too invisible to be part of a greater dialogue.
There's a whole lot more in that piece that I frankly don't have the patience to address right now, but Gus gives a couple of examples that I think are important to discuss: First, he talks about a maypole ritual which had been organized to place men and women in different roles. Gay men made a fuss, the ritual was adjusted, he felt the intent of the ritual was dissolved. Second, he talks about how important it is that the energy of people involved in a ritual be properly aligned, and that conflicts be kept out of the circle. He uses these as examples of why Z. is not out of line to hold a public ritual using cissexist language to exclude trans* folk ('Womyn-born-womyn' assumes that trans* women are not women from birth. They are.) but I think his argument is flawed at the foundation. Let's imagine, for example, that the organizers of that maypole ritual did not see male and female as poles, but as points on a gender continuum. Let us say they associate different energies with these points, and that the intent of the ritual (which seems clear, if poorly executed, from their original plan) is to fold and wrap these energies around each other in a spiritually significant way. Let's imagine the organizers, rather than assuming 'women's energy' was all alike and 'men's energy' was all alike, instead explained the interplay of energy they desired to the participants. "We want to do this, to create this." Let's say the organizers then allowed each individual participant to decide where they belonged in that arrangement, so that each individual could focus on giving their energy into the circle in the way that was desired.
Nobody would have had to make a stink. The energy raising would have worked just fine. And maybe for Gus this wouldn't have been 'just another maypole dance'. Let's talk about a hypothetical skyclad women's ritual at PantheaCon. This circle is specifically being held to celebrate "Women's Mysteries". It is made clear that the ritual will be skyclad and that all women, cis and trans, will be welcome. Women who are trans*phobic, who cannot withstand the sight of a penis (I am not mocking this as a trigger, btw), or who are uncomfortable with being naked in a group, would not show up... so the energies of those in attendance WOULD be in alignment. I personally wouldn't attend that ritual. I'm more or less a cisgender woman, but I'm genderqueer, and I do not partake in or feel any connection to women's mysteries. By that logic, I would have been welcome at Z. Budapest's ritual. Isn't that kind of absurd? But even though I have the plumbing Z. Budapest demands, I wouldn't take part in her rituals even if she wasn't trans*phobic... because I do not raise or work with women's energy. Because at heart, I'm not really a woman, even though I have given birth and I do manage to menstruate a couple times a year (Yaaaaaay Mirena!). If I need blood for a ritual, I shed it, I don't collect it, and aside from the fact that it's a fun sex toy, I don't have any particular feelings toward my vagina. I don't belong in Womyn's Mysteries. Trans*women do belong, if they feel they belong. That is not something an external person can judge.
So if people (I have heard this from folks other than Gus, I'm just picking on him because he went to such lengths to make all this sound reasonable and intellectual) are really concerned about the quality of energy at a ritual, and think they should discriminate based on this concern, I think they're approaching the issue from the wrong footing. I think making assumptions about peoples' personal energy based on gender roles is regressive and contributes to the same old gender politics. I think Paganism in general has a long, long way to go on this subject. And I would like to have faith in the elders of my religion to keep it moving in an upward and onward direction, towards true progressivism, true inclusion, and just... truth.
Note: I have attempted to find my posts from last year on this issue. I could have sworn I wrote about it. But I have had no luck, and I don't really know why. I can't find my comments on any of the other blogs that were involved either, including The Wild Hunt.