I had considered writing the book review I’m about to post below today in the little bit of extra time I thought I might have; but, it’s actually given me the perfect opportunity to address that review, as well as another emergent news story, all in the same post.
The Wild Hunt reported today that the Amazon Priestess Tribe of Come As You Are Coven has “retired” from the lineage of Dianic Witchcraft founded by Z. Budapest. The CAYA Coven subgroup has changed its name to the Bloodroot Honey Priestess Tribe, and is now part of what is being called the “Pan-Dianic” movement. You can read more from Lady Yeshe Rabbit’s direct statement on this matter here.
As Come As You Are Coven is a tribal ally with the Ekklesía Antínoou through the Communalia ritual, this is very significant news as far as I’m concerned. I know that some people within the Ekklesía Antínoou have remained somewhat ambivalent about our alliance with CAYA Coven as a result of the matters that started with PantheaCon 2011, and which continued in various ways with PantheaCon 2012. But now, I think there should be no reservations on this matter whatsoever…although that decision is up to every individual member of the Ekklesía Antínoou, and not me, to decide for themselves. I look forward to their dialogue and discussion on this matter in the days to come….
I would like to commend Lady Yeshe Rabbit, the Bloodroot Honey Priestess Tribe, and Come As You Are Coven in general for this very responsible and eminently appropriate response to this developing situation. Having been through (or, rather, “instigated”!) a schism myself from a previous group that I co-founded, which was devoted to Antinous, because I felt that the way the ostensible leadership of it (a leadership that, in theory, was to include myself, but increasingly didn’t over time) was taking the group was not where I thought it should go.
And, since June of 2007, when the Ekklesía Antínoou first formed, what has happened? I’ve published three books (with a further one due out within a week of the present writing!); I’ve published essays, poetry, and fiction in many different anthologies (with more on the way as well!); I’ve organized and lead successful and well-attended sessions at PantheaCon 2008-2012; I’ve initiated nine people into the Antinoan Mysteries; I’ve held public rituals in the Seattle area; I’ve done the Communalia ritual with four groups officially; I’ve gained attention for Antinous and modern Antinoan devotion on a much wider level through notifications on The Wild Hunt and elsewhere; I’ve written a column on Patheos.com’s Pagan Portal, and had other things published on there as well; and, I’ve started the present blog. (And that’s just counting the things that have happened publicly in relation to myself, the Ekklesía Antínoou, and Antinous!)
So, to say that the schism was one of the best things that could have ever happened for myself and for Antinous’ modern devotion, I think, would be an understatement. I know that CAYA, the Bloodroot Honey Priestess Tribe, the Pan-Dianics, and Lady Yeshe Rabbit will all go on to do many wonderful and productive things in the future, and I look forward to not only hearing about all of them, but to being a part of as many of them as it is possible for me to do so!
And, to be honest, I think this move comes at a very opportune time. The transphobic remarks of Z. Budapest caused enough harm and upset in the community, but recently she’s written something which I don’t think has had as much attention but that nonetheless has me a little worried that she’s also moved into good old-fashioned homophobia as well: rapists are really just gay men. (Let’s ignore for the moment that it’s not only males that perpetrate rape, sexual assault, and other forms of sexual abuse…) Despite the provisional acceptance of gay men that Z. had expressed in certain situations in the past, this is doing something entirely different. I’ve written about the fallacy that ‘homophobia = homoeroticism’ previously, but this kind of twists it into an even further strange territory. Yes, rapists are horrible people, I think we can all agree on that. But, to make this tautological claim that (male) rapists are really just gay, because that means they’re not “real men” and are kind of even scummier than just “regular men” as a result, is pretty over-the-top in a ton of ways. Unlike some of the commenters on Z.’s blog post, I’m not inclined to see this as anti-men so much (although it is) as much as it’s anti-gay men. Given that this blog post came at a time not long after Hyperion and others refused to “defend” Z. at PantheaCon, I can’t help but wonder if that might be a contributing factor to the overall tenor of her remarks there…
And, dear friends, that brings me to the book review!
The book is Gender and Transgender in Modern Paganism, edited by Calyxa Omphalos, Jacobo Polanshek, Gina Pond, Philip Tanner, and Sarah Thompson, and published by Circle of Cerridwen Press. I mentioned this book several times in my post on PantheaCon 2012 and gender matters, and I highly recommended getting it (preferably in multiple copies), and therefore take the opportunity at the outset to do so again! The Circle of Cerridwen have made it available for free download, and the physical copies of it are also extremely inexpensive and pretty much just cover the cost of printing them. To say that they’re doing this as a public service is 100% right, and they deserve great thanks and appreciation for having done so.
The editors of this anthology, and Circle of Cerridwen in general, have done a fantastic job in responding to a pressing set of issues in a timely and appropriate manner, both with their discussions held at PantheaCon 2011 and 2012, and with this book. They’ve also managed to do something with this book that I, personally, could never have done, which is to be as neutral and “hands-off” as possible in terms of what they included and how the viewpoints within each individual essay were expressed. They deserve further applause and appreciation for that truly unbiased and impartial approach. As a result of this, each contribution to the anthology can only be attributed to the viewpoint of the individual writer of it, and (perhaps) the group or tradition from which they emerge.
Several major contributors to the post-PantheaCon 2011 discussion are included in this book, including Anya Kless and Foxfetch (the latter of whom’s work has been so influential on my own in the past year). There certainly are some other major (in a more wide sense) names in the book: Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone, T. Thorn Coyle, and Raven Kaldera. Thorn’s piece was relatively short (two pages), but it actually told me more about her own personal experiences to a greater degree than anything I’d previously read of hers, and it did so in a very poignant manner. Raven’s piece was also quite unusual in terms of the overall contributions to this anthology, because it was deity-centered: by this I mean it had quite a lot from and about actual deities in it, and what their own input happens to be on this specific matter. While that can be a somewhat dangerous territory to trod–for, so often in human history, “it is the will of the gods” (or, more rarely, “this is what the gods have to say on this issue/this is the opinion of the gods”!) has been used to justify any number of atrocities, most often in the name and by the supposed will of one god in particular (who is actually at least four deities, if not more, in origin…but let’s leave that theological issue aside for the moment!). I am happy to say that Raven’s piece does not remotely venture into that territory.
There are various pieces with which I do not agree–sometimes in vast and irreconcilable ways–but the majority of those don’t bother me in the least, because they were put across in a way that doesn’t make claims on anyone and everyone, and they do not assume an “all-in or else” viewpoint. This is thoroughly appropriate to the overall milieu of modern paganism, in my opinion. (Although it is not just pagans who contributed to the anthology!) I did, however, have problems with two of the essays to a very large extent, and I’ll talk about those at somewhat more length presently.
Michael R. Gorman wrote a piece called “Walkers Between the Worlds,” which is essentially “why the Druids would think what happened at PantheaCon was an atrocity.” One problem I had with the piece is that it doesn’t quite seem as well-informed on the actual situation as it ought to be considering the context in which this piece was being printed. But, another major problem I had was that it couched its argument in terms of a “druids/Celtic vs. Romans” viewpoint, and said pretty much that any voice for discrimination is a voice for the oppressive and “evil” Romans…and that the Romans would have approved of the exclusion of trans women at PantheaCon in 2011! Okay, where does one begin other than “No, no, and NO!“? First off, as someone who is a devotee of, and therefore to an extent a representative of, the best parts of and persons in Roman Imperial history, I can say with certainty that the Divine Emperor Hadrian does not and did not approve of transgender discrimination at PantheaCon in 2011. Yes, perhaps Hadrian was different–he was friends with (though on occasion at odds with) Favorinus of Arles, a eunuch from Gaul (!?!); he also deified more imperial women than any other Roman Emperor before or after, and he even restored the temple of Bona Dea Subsaxana, a temple and a deity that was pretty much exclusively female-directed and oriented. Second, the Roman system was not particularly great when it comes to notions of equality, certainly, and I don’t think anyone would refuse to admit that; however, the system wasn’t “men” against “women,” it was a system in which there were very few “real men,” and then a whole pile of “non-men,” which included women, children, people of other nationalities, slaves, gladiators, actors, and any number of other people (as well as anally and orally passive males, etc.). The Roman system would have lumped all of the “non-men” together, and in that system, a trans woman would have been, by definition, a “non-man,” and thus a Roman probably wouldn’t have seen why two types of “non-men” would not have been allowed into a space that was a “non-men” space. And third, the idea that “the Celts” and “the druids” were this totally egalitarian and wonderful group that is all about freedom of every kind, and that the Romans fought them because they couldn’t stand for any nationality to be that free, is pure and unadulterated romanticist invented nonsense. As well as all of the other factual and interpretive inaccuracies in Gorman’s essay, he suggests that a more holistic as opposed to dualistic viewpoint is necessary and preferable and is the way of his “druid ancestors,” and yet he’s engaging in a very concerted campaign of dualism himself in making the Romans out to be as bad as possible! I’ve written previously about the “Burn Rome” phenomenon in modern paganism, and this essay is a really good example of how misinformed such viewpoints can become.
The other essay I was quite upset by–and for reasons more important than my objections to Gorman’s essay–was that by Ruth Barrett, “Religious Freedom: A Dianic Perspective.” First, let me say that I entirely agree with Barrett’s assertions on the importance of religious freedom, and how the decisions of one group to exclude particular people are really their own to make, even though some people might find those policies unacceptable or even unjust for various reasons. (Gods know, I’ve been criticized for having any sort of mystery tradition at all in relation to Antinous and the Antinoan Mysteries by some would-be devotees who think that it is my job to give them all the information I have about Antinous as they deem fit, for free, and with no work or effort on their part at all, and certainly no thanks!) So, in those regards, I am in perfect agreement, even though I do not agree with nor uphold the policies via which this aspect of religious freedom and freedom of association (and dissociation) is being invoked. However, where I do take major issue is in the many ways and the extended space to which Barrett devotes her essay to ‘splainin’ why trans women are not real women, and in fact are really just men seeking to exercise male privilege; and says that instead of trying to take away her own mysteries, trans women should go and develop their own because it would help them to do so, and in fact it’s hurting them to continue not doing so and devoting any time to paying attention to Dianic practice’s rules in this regard. But, that’s not even the worst of it. Not unlike Z. herself, Barrett then refers to a trans woman with whom she came into contact earlier as “he” and as a man, and then has the audacity to object to when this trans woman said she was oppressive to her. Further, she says that the trans community has no right to call her, or the Dianic tradition she represents, or the language they have used, as “transphobic”:
With our focus on the rights of genetic women, we support the fundamental rights of all humans to be treated fairly and compassionately. Do not confuse our advocating for genetic female space in our religion with trans-oppression or transphobia. Labeling us this way ends the discussion, creates hostility, and overemphasizes divisions within the greater pagan community. It also turns the focus away from the needs of genetic females to gather together, celebrating our Mysteries, our rites and our holy days. Labeling our traditions as transphobic if we do not recognize trans-women as equivalent to genetic females denies our biology and female reality, informed by the very cells within our bodies.
Well, guess what else, Ms. Barrett? Saying that “none WHO ARE TRANS shall pass” also ends the discussion, creates an awful lot of hostility, and emphasizes the very real and important divisions within the greater modern pagan community–divisions which the policies of some groups have created rather than alleviated. Where is the compassion that you’re claiming to uphold as a fundamental human right? Even if your compassion does not extend to agreement to allow trans women into your ritual space, can’t it at least extend to the respect they are due to be called women, even if they do not meet your definition of “female” and “women”? It isn’t the lack of recognition of trans women’s womanhood, or the exclusion of trans women from your ritual space that constitutes transphobia; it’s your repeated insistence that your own definition of what a woman is extends outside of your own group, and your repeated disrespect of common humanity and compassion in referring to trans women as “he” and as “men.” Barrett’s piece rails against people having called the Dianic movement in the 70s “children of Satan” and so forth; how is calling trans women “men” and referring to them as “he” any different than this?
I would also note–though I know I’ve said this elsewhere (though I cannot at present recall if I have done so on this blog)–in relation to what Raven Kaldera said in his essay in the anthology, that at no point do I recall hearing Z. say that all of this is because “the goddess says so,” nor does Ruth Barrett say that at any stage in her own essay. In absence of such statements, one has to conclude that this is a human decision, not a divine one; I do not think that in the monistic view of these particular Dianics, in which pretty much all goddesses are one and every woman is also a goddess, that it necessarily follows that what any individual woman’s decision or any group of women’s decision happens to be is therefore automatically the will of the goddess. It doesn’t have to be the will of a deity of any gender in order for it to be something that people follow and respect, though that doesn’t make it beyond critique either (including when it is the will of a deity). In absence of such statements before this point in the discussion, any statements on such after this point would only look like back-pedaling and excuses of the poorest kind.
As Sarah Thompson makes clear in her “Afterword,” very few trans women these days are seeking to be accepted into Dianic circles that draw on Z. Budapest’s lineage; if any do so after the events of 2011 and 2012, they’re certainly doing so in vain. But, what cannot go on is the continued disrespect, lack of compassion, and dearth of common human decency that is being shown toward trans women by many Budapestian Dianics.
There is a prayer that I pray every day now, the “Prayer Against Persecution,” in which one of the specifically stated intentions is “May my mercy and compassion and forgiveness extend to all.” In the past few days, I’ve seen how important it is to pray this prayer daily (and sometimes several times daily!), as a reminder of the standards I’m trying to uphold in my own day-to-day life and in my Antinoan devotional practices, and in the policies of the Ekklesía Antínoou. I can say with utter certainty that thus far, the Ekklesía Antínoou’s practices have done very well indeed in terms of being as open, accepting, and embracing of many different types of people, and potentially every type of person. I have also managed to be as merciful, compassionate, and forgiving of people in my own life as I can be at this point.
I am extremely upset at Ruth Barrett’s statements, and I’m also upset at Z. Budapest’s; but I’m also entirely serious when I say that I’d be more than willing to do Communalia with them. I don’t think that will happen, for all sorts of reasons, but I also invite them to prove me wrong on that point if they wish to do so.
In the meantime, I also commend Lady Yeshe Rabbit, CAYA Coven, the Bloodroot Honey Priestess Tribe, and the Pan-Dianic movement (I can’t help but feel that the Tetrad would be happy with that new designation!), and I look forward to following their activities, as well as participating in them, with great interest and enthusiasm!