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I have pondered…

February 24, 2012

I have pondered this post for quite some time….over a year actually.  Even so I know I’m going to say something to offend someone and I’m going to stumble and probably ramble on a bit.  I am also going to frame this entirely based on me and my personal experience, as it’s the only measuring stick I have, so forgive me if I come off sounding self-centered.

I will also warn that I have many feelings, some of them contradictory on the subject.  I will try very hard to keep my comments focused.

A year ago, at a Pagan convention, there was a community blow out that was based on gender and gender identity. It had a ripple effect that is still being felt.  All year there have been conversations and dialog around gender and gender identity as well as the right to feel safe, the right to connect to Deity and community, about lines and who gets to draw them.

I have not participated in those conversations.  In fact, I have been uncomfortable offering anything into the conversation because of my personal views and realizing somewhere during this entire brouhaha that even here, among the unusual and unique people I find myself with an outside opinion.

To explain that, I may have to drop back a bit.

I am the kind of person who takes people as they are, by which I mean, I see personality and actions long before I see skin color or sexual preference or gender.  I have been in a room where there was one African-American among twenty white women of various ethnic make up and been surprised when she made some statement about being black.  I had to pause and dig out the “different” because in my mind she was “my friend” and it hadn’t occurred to me that she was, indeed, black.

Likewise, sitting in a room full of gay men, talking about a festival they’d all attended, I wanted to attend, to be with my friends, to experience the amazing spiritual things they had…only to realize I couldn’t because I was not, in point of fact, a gay man.

I have had a transgendered person feel the need to point out the fact that she was transgendered, because I hadn’t seemed to pick up on it.  I had, of course (though probably not as fast as some others might), it just didn’t matter to the point of our conversation, or our friendship. 

Now, all of that said, I have also been in a situation where an African American woman who I had been friends with for over ten years call me racist because I disagreed with her on something.  Now, granted, it was a heated argument.  We were both very opinionated women.  Today, I couldn’t tell you what the subject matter was, but I remember that it had to do with something she perceived as a slight against her based on the color of her skin.  I disagreed and said the slight was due to something else, based on my perception of the incident.  It might have even been due to the fact that she was a woman.  When I tried to explain the situation from my perspective, she called me a racist, and said I had deep seated anger issues against black people.  In point of fact, she was wrong.  

However, she could only see the incident, and me, through the lens of her own perception, which was clearly tinted with the color of her victimhood and prejudice.

Likewise, I have been accused of “trans-phobia” and “trans-hatred” for the act of disagreeing with a transgendered individual.  I have been labeled a hater of Christians, Muslims, Atheists.

I don’t hate any group of people, and I find those that do to be selfish and arrogant and ignorant.  I don’t judge people based on their group affiliation, their skin color, their gender, their sexual orientation or any of that window dressing…and to me that’s what all that boils down to.

I am of the opinion, however, that there are times when all of us, like my African-American friend, sees the world through the eyes of our own victimhood, and that leads to quick anger and blame, it makes us judge others harshly and interpret their actions through our own prejudice.

We decide that that person hates us for WHAT we are, instead of WHO we are, when the facts of the situation may just be that they disagree with us, or are angry with us over something we said or did.

Which is not to say that discrimination doesn’t happen.  I know it does.  I see it happen.  HOWEVER, in my experience, battling discrimination is a fight that is not helped when we blow every disagreement with someone who is different than we are into something about gender or skin color or sexual orientation.  In fact, one could even say that the fight is impacted negatively when we throw around the charges of hatred or phobia based on labels without thinking it through.

Sometimes the person screaming discrimination is just an asshole who was denied something based on being an asshole and not because they are Black, Asian, Jewish, Christian, Pagan, Male, Female, Gay, Bi, or Transgendered.

Of course, that’s only a part of this issue.

The other part of this (that I’ve seen, and like I’ve said before, I was not a part of the original incident, the follow up protest at this year’s convention, or any of the dialog in between) is more political and more a part of the make up of Pagan society.

There are those who believe in women-only sacred space, which is where this all began.  The definition of who is and is not a woman within the confines of a ritual designed around women’s mysteries (menstruation, child bearing, etc) comes into play here too.

If, in a public setting like Pantheacon, a ritual leader wants to limit the attendance to those who are physically born with woman parts (ciswomen), is that something that should be acceptable?  Is there a place in a ritual celebrating menstruation or child birth for those who have transitioned (or are currently in the midst of transitioning) from being male to female?  Do we want to continue to hold up and honor a Pagan leader who has spoken out against a portion of our community publicly?

And if we say that our transgendered sisters are not welcome as we honor those things our female bodies do and are capable of, even though they wish to hold space with us and honor our bodies, what then of those among us who have no desire for the roles of motherhood and femininity? 

Some part of me says that I would prefer to stand in ritual beside allies who WANT to honor the things our bodies are capable of, which is why I don’t attend rituals about motherhood and the like.  I have no interest in becoming a mother.  I have no interest in celebrating my menses. 

While I love being a woman, I would be okay if I never had another period.

I think I’m rambling.  Refocus.

To be fair, I believe that everyone should feel safe and wanted in their chosen spiritual path, and in all expressions of that path.  As such, I support the right of a ritual organizer to chose to limit attendance in any way they feel necessary, whether that be to say no children, or no men or no women, whether that be only ciswomen or only transgendered women or only lesbians or only gay men or only cismen or only transgendered men.

However, I will also say that I am not entirely certain a convention like Pantheacon is necessarily a place for such things.  And, I believe that we should expect more out of those who would presume to lead us.

I will also admit that as a bi-sexual myself the idea of limiting my spiritual experience to just one gender has never made sense to me…and again here, I show my bias.  I am a woman who has never suffered violence at the hand of a man, who has never felt discriminated against or harassed because of my gender. Maybe I’m a minority.  I realize that my life has been blessed in many ways.

Which is why I support others where they are in their journey, rather than trying to tell them how to journey…and maybe, in the end, why I haven’t spoken up about all of this until now.  I can’t answer these questions for anyone but myself in the end, and I’m still not sure I know those answers for me.

I’m not even sure this helps in any way, but for having finally expressed myself I feel a little better.

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