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.
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 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.