Transgender Inclusivity at Pantheacon

Nothing like a little controversy to get me blogging again.  I’m not sure if this is my .02 cents, but here’s my handful of glitter, for what it’s worth.

There is currently a discussion (some might call it a debate) going on across the blogosphere about the issue of gender and inclusivity at Pantheacon.  This discussion has been going on for a while, but has been brought to the forefront by events during last year’s and this year’s convention.  I was present as Sister Krissy Fiction at some of the events being discussed that took place during the convention this past weekend.  I’ve been processing for several days since then, and have some thoughts I’d like to share, in no particular order:

 Action vs. Protest

On Saturday of the convention, I read a tweet from T. Thorn Coyle that said, ” Gender queers&trans allies: I will sit in silent meditation outside San Martin at 8:45pm Sun. All bodies=sacred. Pass it on.”  I immediately knew that Krissy would join the meditation.  I was not present at the previous year’s convention, but I did read Z Budapest’s previous comments on the issue.  While I have deep respect for Budapest’s role as an elder in the Pagan community and the work that she’s done that has benefitted all of us, male and female alike, I can’t let the comment, “Women are born not made by men on operating tables,” go without providing a more inclusive view.

Most of the comments I’ve been reading elsewhere have been calling our silent meditation a “protest.”  I suppose, on one level it is.  There’s no real way around that.  However, I’ve been using the word “action” instead, because, for my part, I was not there just to say, “You’re wrong.  I’m opposed to this.”  That’s a protest.  I sat in silent meditation to bring awareness to an issue: Transwomen are women.  Transmen are men.  They face exclusion on a regular basis.  Being excluded from a ritual described as for “genetic women” only is just one example.  I took part in the action not just to be opposed to Z Budapest or Dianic Witches, but to sit WITH my trans brothers and sisters.

Perception

Our perceptions color our experiences.  I am constantly amazed at how so many people can be in the same location at the same time and experience the same event, but have vastly different perceptions of that experience.  I was present outside Z Budapest’s ritual space on Sunday evening, along with many others, and experienced the same events as many others did.  Yet I read recaps and comments online and I realize that my perceptions are vastly different from the perceptions of some others.  I have read comments on blog posts that state that those of us sitting in silent meditation were taking pictures of those in line for the ritual.  I’ve read that we were not silent.  I’ve read that we made threats.  One person who joined the silent meditation spoke with me afterwards and stated that he was offended that Hyperion and other gay men (representatives of the Unamed Path) stood in opposition to us.  I read somewhere else that CAYA Coven walked in and stood in opposition to Z Budapest.  None of these match my own perceptions of what I experienced.   My perceptions are that T. Thorn Coyle and those of us who joined her gathered in respect and silence.  I felt those gathered for the Dianic ritual were also respectful.  Z. Budapest made an awkward, passionate statement.  I disagree with some of her perceptions and comments but felt she was respectful.  My perception was that those with CAYA Coven and the gay men from the Unamed Path were there to hold space and were not standing opposed to anyone.  The entire experience was moving and I am proud that we were able to come together as a community with some strong disagreements and do so peacefully.  Those are MY perceptions.

 Self-Identification vs. Stigmatic Guilt

      One of the big discussions taking place is if there should be any kind of “_________ only” rituals or workshops at Pantheacon at all.  Pantheacon is public space and where the modern Pagan community comes together specifically as a community.  Some feel that all rituals and workshops should be open to everyone. Period.  Personally, I have no issue with women only, men only, men who love men only, etc.  It can be powerful and necessary to explore specific mysteries that are unique to specific groups and demographics.  In private space, groups can be as exclusive or specific as they want to be.

My personal opinion is that at wider community events like Pantheacon, that individuals should be given the power to self-identify.  Sure, indicate that a ritual or workshop is intended for gay men, or women, or whathaveyou.  Let individuals decide for themselves if that description applies to them.  By labeling individuals and deciding for them how they should identify themselves, we rob them of power and impose stigmatic guilt on them.  I believe this to be the core issue.  At one point, Z Budapest told those of us gathered together in silent meditation, “I don’t hate you,” and “I support the trans community.”  I believe she is sincere in these words.  I don’t think she does hate any trans people, and I think that she sees herself as supportive of the community.  However, the bottom line is that she does not believe that trans women are real women.  All discussion breaks down at this point.  Stigmatic guilt is guilt and shame that has been placed on us by outside sources, whether it comes from the government, family, society, or representatives of spiritual traditions.  Declaring that trans women are not real women, robs them of the power of self-identification and places stigmatic guilt on them.  As a Sister of Perpetual Indulgence, I took a public vow to promulgate universal joy and expiate stigmatic guilt.  That means that you are not defined by the labels that others place on you.  You are loved and worth loving just the way you are.  Period.  No exceptions.  I will use every chance I can to remind you of this.  This is why I support the right of individuals to self-identify and support a policy that reflects this at Pantheacon.

Perspective

Perspective is a good thing.  We tend to focus on the negative.  There are lots of heated words and emotions surrounding this issue, and reading all the stuff out there on the blogosphere it’s easy to get the impression that this last Pantheacon was all about drama, conflict, and disagreement.  Some have even called for a boycott of Pantheacon until these issues have been resolved.  I don’t support a boycott.  I think that defeats the purpose of Pantheacon.  If we can’t hash this shit out when we come together as a wider community, then where the hell are we supposed to do it?  These conversations are bound to be messy and difficult.  Change, and talking about change, is hard.  Pantheacon should be a safe place to explore these issues, and I believe that Pantheacon 2012 DID provide a safe place to explore these issues.  But let’s keep things in perspective.  My experience at Pantheacon was one of inclusion, community, and growth.  There were many queer-focused rituals and workshops, and many rituals that I participated in that were inclusive of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and bodies.  Walking around the hotel as Krissy I was constantly greeted with warm hellos and hugs.  I always felt welcome, and had experiences in workshops and rituals that were transformational.  The ongoing discussion regarding gender and inclusivity, while an important discussion, was only one aspect of my convention experience.  I will return to Pantheacon next year to experience all the positives that come with the convention experience, as well as to continue to engage in the difficult conversations.

13 Comments

Filed under Paganism, Pantheacon, Queer Spirituality, Sisters, Transgender Issues

13 responses to “Transgender Inclusivity at Pantheacon

  1. j

    I was one of the many who “held space” along side Hyperion and others who refused to take sides because we believed both sides had valid reasons.

    The general consensus is that each side has the right to their own sacred space. That does not, however, excuse the comments made last year that these trans people are nothing more than men who want to infiltrate women’s mysteries and steal them and that trans women are not women. in my opinion, if a person goes to great lengths to change their sex because in their deepest being they believe they are women, then they are.

    As for the unnamed path, which is a path for men who love men, If a woman were to want to enter into the path, that would, from my perspective, not be permitted. a woman does not know what it is like to be a man who loves another man and the things surrounding that. However, that does not say that a woman cannot take the tools of the path to find their own place in their spirituality. The same can be said for Transsexual Women. They can take the tools of the Z Budapest and use them to create their own place in their spirituality. LGBT people are very much that way: they create their own space where none existed.

    After Z retracted to the ritual room, I wanted to rise up and look every trans person in the eye and say NO, you will not let one person tell you that you are not something when you are! You will not be invalidated because you are valid. Do not look to one person for direction when only you know where you are going. Take the tools provided and carve out your place, stake your claim to it and press on.

    blessings

    • Thank you for your comments.

      I actually wanted to participate in the Unnamed Path ritual, but I also felt strongly that I wanted to participate in the action organized by T. Thorn Coyle and I needed the time to “put on Krissy.” I was aware that the ritual was for men who love men, but, from what I understand, it was for self-identified gay men. I don’t have an issue with that. There’s an intended purpose for the ritual, but the power is left with the individual to identify themselves and determine if that ritual is appropriate for them. For me, the difference between that type of ritual and the one that Z Budapest hosted is that she is labeling who is a woman and who is not and is not allowing individuals to self-identify. I personally find that problematic at a public convention like Pantheacon.

      I have no desire to tell traditions how they should conduct themselves as far as membership. If a specific tradition so for just women, or just gay men, or just this or just that, I have no beef with that. I think it may even be beneficial. I would be silly of me to oppose all exclusion of any kind. By saying “this is who we are” we are naturally also saying “this is who we are not”. But I think those are things that should be done within the context of your own group. For me, the real issue is whether those types of rituals should take in public, communal space like Pantheacon. My conclusion Is that the *can* happen, but the power should remain with the individual to self-identify.

      And a little P.S. – I’m very interested in the Unamed Path. I’m going to need to look into it more deeply.

      • Hyperion

        Just to be clear, the ritual at Pantheacon that I led “the Dance of the Dark God” was NOT limited to anyone. It was open to all people of all origins, all genders and all sexual natures. The program clearly stated that. Our tradition IS limited to Men-who-love-men only, but we do not exclude trans-men. Trans men are men. If they love men, they are welcome to study with us. Our public rituals are never limited by sexual orientation nor by gender. Please listen to episode 71 of the Unnamed Path Podcast to hear the official stance on the issue. Thanks for covering this and for clearly explaining how I (Hyperion) and others held the middle space of witness at the demonstration against Z. Blessings and appreciation!

  2. Chris Wloch

    Three points i’d like to raise.

    First, the Unnamed Path ritual to the Dark God at Pantheacon was open to all genders and listed as such in the program.

    Second, not only are perceptions often different, but intentions are often interpreted differently–especially when they are not clearly stated. I hear you stating here that your intention for participating in this action was to stand as an ally to transgender women and I respect that. But that’s not how it came across to several of the people I talked to who were present that night. Because you came in drag, a few people assumed you were there to protest for your right to be able to attend Z’s ritual dressed in women’s clothes. This is part of the confusion that results from the word ‘transgender’ including drag queens as well as transwomen and transmen. If the point of the action is to underscore that transwomen are actually women–not men dressed in women’s clothes– then showing up in drag subtly undermines that intention and adds to the confusion.

    Third, have you considered the possibility that the few women waiting in line for Z’s ritual may have been experiencing stigmatic guilt because of you all sitting there, staring at them? There were only 9 women in line and 89 of you implicitly telling these women that the ritual they were going to was ‘wrong’ because you didn’t agree with it. You can’t dispel stigmatic guilt by standing up for one group of people while inadvertantly inflicting stigmatic guilt on to others who are caught in the middle. I don’t believe it was your intention to make the women in line feel uncomfortable or guilty. I’m saying that it was intimidating for some of the women to face a large group of protesters while they were waiting in line for the ritual.

    It seems to me that instead of protesting right outside the room where the ritual was held, it would have been more respectful to hold the vigil somewhere else nearby and to have a brief “press conference” stating your intentions behind the action. That way, the women could have waiting in line without dozens of disapproving eyes on them. And the people standing as allies for the inclusion of transgender women could have stated intentions for being there while clarifying that you were not there protesting for the inclusion of men dressed as women in sacred women’s only space.

    • Thank you very much for your thoughts and comments!

      My understanding was that the Unnamed Path ritual was intended for men who love men, but was inclusive and open. I thought I had portrayed my understanding of that in the comment above, but I apologize if I was unclear. I didn’t mean to imply that the ritual was not inclusive.

      And back to perceptions… I can understand that if someone is not familiar with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence that they may not fully understand our purpose or unique appearance. I can understand why some might think I was just a man in drag. That is why I try not to make assumptions about people and try to take them at their word. If I assumed that the men from the Unnamed Path were there to support Z Budapest based solely on where they chose to gather, I would have been incorrect in my assumption. Instead, I took Hyperion at his word when he said he was there to hold space.

      The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence is a modern day order of queer nuns. I chose to participate in my role as a nun. I was not dressed as a woman. I was in uniform. My community knows who I am and the work that I do when they see the whiteface and the veil. In fact, I am a gay man. I can see why some might have thought I wanted to participate in the ritual, but I am not a woman, nor do I self-identify as a woman. I have done my best to clarify and understand before I form my perceptions of others. If there is somewhere I have failed to do this, then I am open to correction. If others are willing to do the same for me, then they might better understand my role as a nun for the queer community.

      From the San Francisco website: “The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence® is a leading-edge Order of queer nuns. Since our first appearance in San Francisco on Easter Sunday, 1979, the Sisters have devoted ourselves to community service, ministry and outreach to those on the edges, and to promoting human rights, respect for diversity and spiritual enlightenment. We believe all people have a right to express their unique joy and beauty and we use humor and irreverent wit to expose the forces of bigotry, complacency and guilt that chain the human spirit.”

      I think it might also be beneficial to make a distinction between guilt and stigmatic guilt. Stigmatic guilt is related to placing a stigma or label on others. “You are __________. You are not __________.” I know that the concept of guilt is something of a loaded word in both queer and pagan settings, but I don’t believe that guilt is always a bad thing. Guilt is taking responsibility for things. When confronted with my own flaws, sometimes guilt is the appropriate response. I know I was wrong and will take action to correct that wrong. This should also be distinguished from shame. Guilt should not equal shame. In fact, shame gets closer to what I mean when speaking of stigmatic guilt. I don’t believe that our action of sitting in silent meditation was shaming to the women involved in the ritual. I have been careful in my words, spoken and written, to address the words and actions of Z Budapest with which I disagree, rather than shaming her as a person. On the contrary, Z Budapest’s words that “women are born no made on operating tables” quite simply does attempt to force a label and categorization onto another group of people.

      You do bring up a good point of whether the action could have been done differently. Should it have been done in a different location so that the women in line waiting for the ritual would not have to be uncomfortable? Maybe. I don’t know the answer to that. That’s something that should be part of the ongoing discussion and something I will have to think more about. How uncomfortable should we allow each other to be when there are disagreements? Is it my job to protect those I might disagree with from having to confront the fact that we disagree? Again, something I have to think about.

      Thank you again for your words and the points that you raise. I always enjoy hearing and discussing different points of view, especially when those discussions are done in a respectful way.

    • Peter Dybing

      Hind sight always interesting! yet, there is never foresight as clear.

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  4. Lish

    It’s no coincidence that Z Budapest’s rhetoric reads like a broadside from the feminist movement of the 1970’s. That is when her generation initially fulminated their life-long animosity toward transwomen, and that is why this is at root a dispute between generations.

    For those interested in the actual source of Z Budapest’s ritual beliefs, check out the decades-long controversy over the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. That is the culture she is attempting to insinuate into the Pagan world:

    http://www.fuah.org/MWMF_press-statement.html

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  6. Hi Lazarus,

    I watched the protest, or action as you call it, from the sidelines and felt a mixture of empathic pain as well as relief that everything was so peaceful. There was a dignity to it all despite the differences of opinion of both sides.

    Your plea for inclusion parallels my own:
    http://themagickofalexandria.blogspot.com/2012/02/pantheacon-2012-part-2-of-2-healing-our.html

    Your vow as a Sister of Perpetual Indulgence to love others as they are unconditionally is beautiful. What a wonderful world we’d have if everyone took the same vow!

    Thank you for sharing your perspective,

    Tony

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  8. Missy

    I find your perception of self labeling very true. I as a trans women have been in womyn born womyn circles and events, not being clocked for “different” energy or whatever, and found myself to be quite happy and fulfilled. The other womyn seemed to have the same feeling. I have always said that I was born a women, as I see my gender identity as something I was born with.. hence, I was born a woman trapped in a male body, but born a woman none the less…I was confronted with the issue when a trans-identified woman wanted to come to the same event that I participated in… it got ugly as many womyn who I had circled with expressed revulsion and exclaimed that they couldn’t experience authentic Goddess experiences with a transwoman present… and unknowingly they had already had the same fulfilling experiences, despite their knowledge of my gender history. Did I out myself or stop going? No, as I still see myself as being born a woman or womyn, and until they say I am not allowed, I will continue to go. As for the issue, it will not go away and I pray that peace and understand bring forth fruit that can be shared by all in our community. Blessings to you and to all as we walk this road together… BB, Missy

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