(I think we all saw this one coming.)
I heard about PantheaCon 2012 (no, I did not attend though I wanted to), picked up my ten-foot pole, put down my ten-foot pole, and walked away calmly. (Wording stolen from a friend.)
Then I came back screaming holding a blue bucket.
Because apparently, I cannot leave this subject alone. Fair enough; I fight for Social Justice, even so far as to worship two deities for Whom SJ is Their purview (UPG, for the record). And I’m being prodded by someOne to write this post this week.
Basically what I want to talk about in relation to this specific event and the year’s worth of conversation that preceded it following last year’s debacle is discrimination.
It’s been floating around, not only in the blogosphere but in conversations I’ve been having, that it’s religious discrimination to ban Dianics from having cisgendered rituals. Or, if not that specifically, if we ask Dianics to have cis-only rituals outside the main program, then it’s a slippery slope to all sorts of religious discrimination.
I’m putting down my what the fuck hammer for a moment and approaching this calmly. Calmly for me, anyway.
- Gender and religion are — doi — different animals. Gender is an identity; it’s part of us. Religion is arguably a choice — which obviously doesn’t make it ok to discriminate based on religion when, say, hiring someone, or judging their court case, because religion does not necessarily make you a better or worse person and shouldn’t be used as a judgement of your character (as gender, race, disability, and so many other things that fit under non-discrimination laws are used). I’ve been called to the religions I practice, but I could have walked away. And lived a less-full life, true, but I could have walked away. Choice is always present in my path, and I shudder to think that it’s not present in anyone else’s. Being forced to believe or practice something is never right. Gender, race, ability, sexual orientations — these are not choices.
- In fact that’s a big part of US culture, and Canadian to some small extent: freedom of religion (and freedom from). Either we have freedom of religion, making it a choice, or we don’t, and it’s not.
- As I spend a lot of time studying for religion, I view it a lot like college, and being asked not to attend a ritual I don’t share the religious background for is a lot like being asked not to attend Psych 401 because I don’t have the pre-reqs.
- A trans woman being turned away from a ritual that’s purportedly for all women is like being told not to attend Psych 401 though you have the pre-reqs because the professor feels your gender ID is a disorder.
- PantheaCon is an event that people pay to attend. Cis people, trans folk, we non-binary folk, European-American, African-American, Native American, Asian-American, able-bodied, disabled, gay, hetero, bi, Jack Harkness, neurotypical, neuroatypical, fat, thin. You name it. They’ve probably attended, because Pagandom is a very diverse group of people. If there is an event on the main program — subsidized by everyone’s fees — that not only excludes a group of people, but excludes them based on the idea they don’t measure up to the group the ritual is for even though they ID as such, and there is no alternate event (with the same sort of focus and exposure) for those folk is discrimination. Trans folk have paid for PantheaCon. They deserve a space in ritual because they are men and women; they are not some third option that’s neither (unless they ID as trans non-binary). If there is no trans-only event, there can be no cis-only event.
- This has nothing to do with religious freedom. Dianic Wicca is not an organized religion; it does not have this bigotry written into its precepts. The choice to exclude trans women is based on individual choice (and fine, cis women need a space to heal — but so do trans folk, and saying it’s a “genetic women only” ritual is bigoted, plain and simple), not the central precepts of Dianic Wicca. Similarly, if an ADF druid were to hold a ritual and say “No gays,” not a religious freedom issue, because ADF has no central tenets that say no homosexuality. (And if you’re going to argue that it IS the central tenet of Dianic Wicca because Z Budapest says it is, I encourage you to put your brain into Drive.) It’s only in Budapest’s lineage of DW that this cis-only rule exists; there are other lineages of DW out there, and many DW covens disagree with Budapest on this subject. She does not speak for all Dianics.
- Even if it were, in my not so humble opinion if your religion is spouting the hatred Budapest has for the past year, or if your description for your exclusive ritual has language that insults the people you’re excluding, it has no place in the main program of a festival not devoted specifically to it. The hosting of such hate at a major pagan conference and festival implies an acceptance of Budapest’s words within Pagandom. When she cannot even spend the time to learn the word cis and use it in place of “genetic” women only, we know this is not about finding healing space for cis women — it is about bigotry.
I realize I may get ripped apart for these opinions. That’s fine; I’m used to that.
But let me get one thing really fucking clear: I do not care if cis women want to have cis-woman-only rituals. By do not care I mean have at it, with joy and spontaneity and an abundance of vulvas. I have no interest in restricting your freedom to do so, not at PantheaCon, nor anywhere else.
But if I and my non-cis brethren are subsidizing your right to “safe” healing spaces, if it is coming out of our pockets, if it is our hard-earned money that is paying for that space for you, these conditions must be met:
- There is equal space for trans-only [and/or non-binary/genderqueer/fluid/etc] ritual.
- Your cis-only ritual is not led by someone with such blatant hate for anyone not cis.
- You fucking use the word “cis” on your note of exclusion.
- You treat us with some fucking respect.
Anything less than the conditions above is fucking hate and hate speech, pure and simple, and at that point I really do stop caring about your purported religious freedom — because you are invoking something sacred to spread hate, when it does not even apply.*
(If you want religious freedom to apply, make Dianic Wicca an organized structure and put into its central tenets that it’s cis-only. And then go fuck yourself.)
The thing about discrimination laws is they were put into place to protect marginalized people. Which gets tricky to navigate when you get into intersectionality, as women are marginalized but cis folk are not, etc. And so when the combination of cis-only ritual with it being led by a transphobic bigot who uses insulting, bigoted language in her description and then –when people sit in silence outside the ritual– makes a fauxpology about “hurting peoples’ feelings” while not acknowledging that she is in the wrong, while PC staff tape her statement — when this combination of factors appears, the question about discrimination is no longer simple. Because the people in power are being given more power, and while I have heard there were “queer events” at PC this year, there were no trans-only rituals — and thus we see a power imbalance in favour of people who already hold the power. At which point, we’re not looking at discrimination [against those in power]; we’re looking at an event turning unsafe for marginalized folk; we’re looking at a microcosm of how society is; we’re looking at an expression of cis privilege.
Were it a Heathen ritual turning away non-whites, no one would even fucking bring up the idea of religious freedom.** Except, possibly, the ones holding the ritual. It would be explicitly seen as an example of white privilege. Because it is.
But whenever it comes to gender, it seems such a “grey area” to people that they cannot explicitly see or say what is privilege and what is not. Even those who consider themselves allies.
Ally is a word given to you by the people you are fighting for; it is not a word you can claim yourself. Don’t abuse it.
*I feel I need to point out here that I’m not looking to ban cis-only rituals. Not at all. Like I said, don’t fucking care. I’m saying, if they are to be part of the main program, then trans-only rituals need to be there too, and the descriptions must say cis or trans in them. Those are the accepted words, and nothing else will do. This isn’t too much to ask, and it’s not being oppressive.
**Please note I’m not saying all Heathens are racist; quite obviously they’re not. I’m using it as a particular example because it’s a fairly well-known problem within Pagandom, and I’m using it as an example because there does seem to be this disconnect between understanding racism and understanding transphobia (or sexism), not just in this instance but in others, and I wish to address that — because while you can’t really compare the oppressions themselves, you can compare the mechanics by which they work, and that seems to be where the disconnect is happening.