Posted by: aediculaantinoi | November 25, 2013

The Good, The Bad, and the Extremely Problematic…

Ordinarily, on a day like today, I’d say something that some of my friends have heard me say before: “THE NEW PHONEBOOK’S HERE!” (For those who aren’t familiar with the Steve Martin film The Jerk, that won’t make sense…!?!) I often say this when I get a publication in the mail that has something by me in it–even after having as many as I do (not that I’m bragging or anything, but it’s not an uncommon occurrence at this stage!), I still get excited when I know that such a thing is waiting for me in the envelope or box that comes in the mail.

I had thought about the present instance of such within the last week or so, and thus when it arrived, I was quite happy! Then I read it. Not so happy after that…

What is it, you may ask? This:

It is issue #115 of Circle Magazine, the official publication of Circle Sanctuary, one of the most well-known pagan organizations in the United States.

I have an article in it on p. 23: “Inclusive Families, Inclusive Traditions: Supporting Queer Children in Family Pagan Practice.” It was adapted from an earlier piece of writing, namely this column at “Queer I Stand.”

Before I get into what my very major difficulty is with the article as it was printed, I do think some thanks and appreciation are in order (and not of the variety that one can simply ignore everything before the “BUT,” as some people are apt to quip). I have greatly admired Circle Sanctuary and all the various works that the organization has done over the years, including things like the Lady Liberty League, and the ways in which Rev. Selena Fox has advocated for pagan veterans and won some very significant victories in those ongoing struggles. The success and expansiveness of the organization, and its very long lifespan, are a testament to Rev. Selena Fox’s leadership, energy, enthusiasm, and dedication to the work of the gods in the modern world, and their efforts should be applauded and supported wherever possible. I have only spoken with Rev. Fox herself on a few limited occasions at PantheaCon, and was flattered beyond reckoning when she attended one of my presentations there a few years ago, and complimented me on it afterwards–it was one of those “I have arrived!” moments, in my mind, and I was heartened and grateful for Rev. Fox’s attendance, presence, attention, and recognition.

I mean every word of that, and the fact that I have to state it such before proceeding on to other matters is a cause of profound disappointment on my part, I assure you.

When one writes an article and turns it over for publication, what can end up happening to it is almost anyone’s guess. I’ve had articles so severely edited (without any notice given nor approval process involved) that they have become things I cannot stand by any longer; I’ve also had small cosmetic changes made to some articles that are so minor as to be insignificant; I’ve also had the fortunate experience of having had articles changed in certain ways that were undoubtedly for the better, and I’m grateful for that.

Between the first draft and the last one that I saw, there were a lot of changes to the original article I had written, but I thought they were extremely good, and had no problem with them. I just checked that last draft of the article I had seen (from September 25th of this year), and that last draft is significantly longer than the one-page article as it stands in the magazine itself. I am not upset about that in any appreciable way–some examples of the general ideas I was talking about were omitted, and a few further elaborations as well, but I think the article doesn’t suffer too much from those trimmings.

What does very much suffer, though, are two important changes that were made. In my original draft, the following sentence appears:

…love and acceptance may not be enough to fully empower your queer child in their identity or their future spiritual practice and personal development.

This was changed to the following, emphasis mine:

If your child is queer, love and acceptance alone may not be enough to fully empower him or her in their identity, future spiritual practice and personal development.

And, two paragraphs down from that, an entirely new sentence was inserted (again, with emphasis added), to wit:

In fact, doing so before your child is old enough to express his or her orientation can be incredibly valuable.

Does anyone see and understand why this might be a problem ostensibly coming from me, and how it not only changes the meaning of what was intended there greatly, but also serves to erase my own gender identity as the metagendered author of the piece, and that of an untold number of gender-variant children who may not like being labeled as a binary gender?

The ways in which cisgendered people mis-identify and use the wrong pronouns with some trans* individuals can be a profoundly disparaging and upsetting experience, especially when it is done without any thought or realization of how upsetting it is. For people like me, who are gender-diverse in other ways, and might be metagendered, or genderqueer, or pangendered, or third-gendered, or other such identities, binary gender pronouns being imposed upon us after we have represented ourselves as outside of that binary is not only disparaging and upsetting, it is actively erasing, and suggests that our genders are not “real” in ways that the binary ones are.

I don’t think I should have to explain this to most readers of this blog; but, the wider world is another matter altogether.

As avid readers of this blog should know, the phrases “he or she,” “him or her,” and “his and hers” are not in my vocabulary, EVER, unless I am quoting someone else–and even then, I tend to replace it with “[them]” or some other such term a great deal of the time because the phrase does not serve to convey the inclusiveness that it is often intended to when it is used.

This is not a matter of mere grammatical convenience, stylistic preference, or a simple substitution of pronouns: it goes to the very heart of what I was trying to convey, and demonstrates a mindset that is so far from what I actually uphold and practice that I cannot in good conscience recommend anyone read the article, because it no longer represents me as an author.

I literally do not care about all of the other minor (and major) edits that were done on the article to make it shorter, more compact, and more succinct–as far as I’m concerned, they’re entirely fine, and may even represent a significant improvement on the article!

But, a complete and total lack of attention to context, to actual authorial voice (including gender identity and choice of pronouns), and to respect for my own gender identity and the gender identities of those I was hoping to assist and foster by writing this article, has caused a very major disappointment on my part. It appears we have a great deal more work to do before rhetoric, and quite literal word-choice in everyday writing and conversation, matches the espoused ideals of inclusiveness of diversity (at all times, and not just when it is convenient to do so) that many in modern paganism claim to uphold and support.

I stand by every word of the article, thus, except for those six which I emphasized in the two sentences above; those were not my words, and I completely and utterly repudiate them. As long as this becomes a teachable moment and a learning experience for those responsible, I hold no ill-will or grudges toward them on this matter, and I state that in the name of Antinous, the God of Peaceful Connections, as a binding oath and a vow which I intend to keep to its utmost.

For anyone who is offended or upset by reading those limited and identity-erasing pronouns in this article that was designed to be as inclusive of all gender diversity as the title of it seems to indicate, especially where you would not expect to find them given my own well-known positions on these matters, I do sincerely and heartily apologize on my own behalf, even though the fault is not mine–but, because my name is on it, it is my responsibility and duty to do so.


Responses

  1. My guess would be that the changes had something to do with editorial policy regarding grammar and the use of second vs third-person pronouns (to some, “gender-neutral language” still just means using “he/she” instead of “he”), but even if so, that policy is outdated at best. I hope you’re planning to write to them, so they can print a retraction/apology in a future issue–it could also bring an issue to their attention that they may not have been aware of (or aware enough of), so that the next time something like this arises they will know better what to do (or not do). Definitely, as you say, a potential teaching moment!

    • Although, in the first instance given above, what was wrong with just leaving it as “queer child,” I wonder? No need for pronouns at all when there is a very specific (and inclusive) noun instead, eh? ;)

      And, it’s also somewhat ironic–not in a fun Alannis Morrisette way–that the whole idea of the article is to foster queer children’s healthy development, and the surest way to NOT do that is to erase their identity and re-inscribe it along more common, “normative” lines. Mission accomplished, sort of…

      I’m sure they don’t quite realize the implications of this, and I don’t think there was any malice on their part at all; but, there was some genuine ignorance and carelessness (and I don’t think there is any negative moralistic baggage necessary on either of those terms–lots of us are ignorant and careless about a great many things on a daily basis with no malice or ill intent, we simply don’t know and aren’t aware until we are aware and in the know, and there’s nothing wrong with that!), and I do think that needs to be addressed.

      [Incidentally, your book is winging its way to me, and I'm looking forward to reading it when it arrives! I hope to do a review of it for Eternal Haunted Summer for Winter Solstice. Looking forward to reading more of your poems honoring so many of the gods I likewise honor and admire, and hope to see represented more in future devotional works as well as just generally speaking!]

  2. I’m the editor of Circle Magazine. The author alerted me to this situation and the blog post, and I’d like to post a portion of my reply here:

    “I do apologize for this major oversight. You are entirely correct that the use of gendered pronouns is a crucial one, and of critical importance both to you as an author and to the community which our publication hopes to serve. It is not something that should be changed at an editorial level, and I deeply regret that it was in this case.

    It is my goal with Circle Magazine to *increase* inclusivity and visibility for persons of all or no genders and sexual orientations within our community, and I deeply regret that I inadvertently *decreased* that representation with those changes. I would like to apologize to you personally, and to all the readers who felt marginalized or erased by those word choices.”

    In the coming days I will be working to change Circle Magazine’s editorial policies to ensure that something like this cannot happen again, and I would welcome any suggestions from readers of this blog as to how we increase inclusion in this publication.

    • Thanks very much indeed, Florence! I truly appreciate it!

      Keep up the excellent work with all of my blessings!

  3. […] I want to thank Circle Sanctuary, Circle Magazine, the Rev. Selena Fox, and the editor of the magazine Florence Edwards-Miller, for being so fantastically understanding and accommodating on what I posted about yesterday. […]


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