This will be the first of (at least) six posts I do on this blog, beginning with “PantheaCon 2012” in the subject line, that will outline some of my experiences at and thoughts about PantheaCon over the past weekend (as well as some things that happened just before it or just after it as well while I was still in the Bay Area). As this seems to be the topic-of-interest-of-the-moment, I thought I’d better address it as soon as possible, and had been planning to do so.
I will say, as a preface, that I have not yet been able to read everything that has been written on this topic on the wider pagan blogosphere/internet presence (and as I don’t have a FaceBook account, nor do I plan on getting one, there’s huge portions of the conversation that are inaccessible to me). I will be working through some of the posts noted by The Wild Hunt in this linked entry in the near future, and I also have already read a few by Star Foster (though she’s written more entries on this topic that I’ve read recently but didn’t link to there), Lupa, T. Thorn Coyle, and Yeshe Rabbit. I will speak more about the specifics of this situation (i.e. protesting a particular ritual’s presence at PantheaCon) in a few moments, but there are some further dimensions of this topic that I feel need to be put into context first.
There were a wide variety of queer events at this year’s PantheaCon–perhaps not quite as wide as one might (still!) wish, but nonetheless a decent-enough representation. The first event on PantheaCon’s official 2012 program that I attended was one such: the 1:30 PM Friday afternoon event “Queer Pagan Panel: Exploring Unity in Diversity,” organized/moderated by Michelle Mueller, and on which there were three panelists (Michael Smith, Marie Cartier, and Elena Rose). I have to say, Elena Rose was a person that I am very happy to have met during this particular PantheaCon, and I’m glad my introduction to her was through her participation in this important session, as otherwise I suspect I never would have seen her, or if I had, I would not have simply walked up and introduced myself (even though I always hope I’ll have the nerve to do so when I see someone as interesting as she is). Very interestingly, someone in the audience referred to her as “Lilith” in one of her questions, which I heard Elena remark upon later in a somewhat bemused fashion; indeed, she was carrying the boundless possibilities, passion, and power of this goddess quite visibly in a great deal of the encounters with her that I had throughout the weekend. I hope to be in further contact with her. I thank Michelle for having put on this event (and would love to speak further with you, Michelle, when you have time!), and for the other panelists’ participation in it, but I have to say, with honesty and without any intent to offend nor downplay the other wonderful people on the panel and their contributions to it, that Elena’s presence there was the highlight of that particular event for me.
Immediately after that first Friday session was the first of my own presentations, which I’ll be covering in a full and separate entry in this blog in the coming days. Later that day, I also attended the session by Dr. Hayden Reynolds’ (of Circle of Dionysos) on “Lifting the Veil: Exploring Our Own Gender Diversity.” A good event, if for no other reason than that I got to speak a bit more with Rachel Pollack–who I’ve known via e-mail and phone for many years, but was finally able to meet in-person on this occasion–and also met a wonderful older woman during the partner-work that we did in this session. A good bit of the session had a guided visualization in it, and those simply don’t work very well for me, so that tendency continued for me, but nonetheless it was useful to have attended it, and to have witnessed the presence of so many trans and gender-diverse attendees at PantheaCon in a relatively close environment.
Much of Saturday involved either academic things, or some “personal” work of various sorts, as well as participation in a performance/ritual in the evening’s final slot–more on those in future entries in this series. Sunday, however, was into the thick of things once again, beginning with the 11:00 AM panel organized by the Circle of Dionysos called “Queer Rites: Making Meaning for and from Sexual/Gender Diversity.” Dr. Sarah Astarte was our (sexy-voiced!) moderator, and the panelists were myself, Dr. Hayden Reynolds, joi wolfwomyn, and T. Thorn Coyle. I found the panel to be quite excellent, and it will be available on T. Thorn Coyle’s Elemental Castings podcast series in the near future, so I will certainly make everyone aware of that as soon as it comes out–to be honest, I’d love to give it another listen or two once it is available, because there was so much excellent material brought up in it that I was not always fully able to absorb on the occasion itself. Elena Rose once again made an appearance, and her comments and question were so incredibly salient that we were pretty much made speechless at them, so I thank her once again for playing such a positive and important role in that event as well.
I ended up sitting out the 1:30 session (I probably attended the smallest number of sessions of any PantheaCon I’ve yet attended at this particular one, having needed a lot of time to myself, as well as time well spent with friends and colleagues, in order to properly digest everything), but was hell-bent on attending the 3:30 session, “An Open Discussion of Gender and Transgender in Modern Paganism,” with the Circle of Cerridwen, ever since I heard it was going to be offered. The Circle of Cerridwen not only organized the discussion that followed some of the events in relation to gender/transgender exclusion last year at PantheaCon, but also organized and published the anthology Gender and Transgender in Modern Paganism, which was available after the discussion, and which I will be digging into very soon. I highly recommend that everyone who is interested in this topic BUY SEVERAL COPIES OF IT!!! I don’t think any informed discussion of this issue, particularly as it relates to the events of PantheaCons 2011 and 2012, will be complete without it. Having said that, I emphasize again that I have not yet read it, but I will be rectifying that in the immediate future.
The discussion itself, to be honest, was one of the most beautifully and movingly constructed events for which I’ve ever been present at PantheaCon, and all thanks and praise for this goes to Gina Pond, Sarah Thompson, and the other members of the Circle of Cerridwen, who did a fantastic job in every respect creating and holding the energy and space for this event. I honestly wish that the con’ would have allotted a larger room for it to take place in, as the place was full-up before it began, and more and more people entered; it was never crowded, but there were several people standing for much (if not all) of the very useful discussion, and that discussion overflowed the allotted time. Given that the head of PantheaCon programming was present at the discussion, however, that wasn’t a problem…But, I have to say, I’m sad that I didn’t see more of the people who were involved in the situation the year before, or who have sounded off about it since, at the session itself–this would have been the ideal context in which to move toward greater understanding and acceptance of the diversity within our wider pagan community on this matter that have often been expressed in the written statements I’ve seen since, and in which there would never have been questions of motivation, or of opposition, or of any other such thing that has been present in some of the responses I’ve seen in the past few days.
Gina first began by saying that she was carrying the energy of Crow as protection for this event, and she briefly invoked Hekate, the Morrígan, the Dagda, Jesus, Lilith, and a few others I’m now forgetting for their blessings and protection on what followed. The quarters were then called in a traditional fashion, and at last, Sarah rose and spoke that she was carrying the energies of Lilith, Gautama the Buddha, and Jesus in order to help with this event. (Any of you who might cast dispersions on either of them for doing this, shut the fuck up right now, because they brought it completely and utterly, even if this might break some traditionalists’ brains…they did not claim at any point to be doing anything traditional or culturally-exclusive or ancient, and thus they did not misrepresent themselves, nor did they in any way dishonor the deities concerned in their subsequent work, and I will have words with anyone who would suggest otherwise.) Sarah then asked each of us to introduce ourselves, and say whether we were speaking for a particular tradition or group or whether we spoke for ourselves. As each person did this, she then bowed to the person and said “I love you unconditionally, and surrender myself to your compassion.” This took a while, but it created an atmosphere that was not only beautiful and heart-felt and deeply effective, but also entirely necessary in order for a conversation like this to have occurred at all.
I don’t know what bonds of confidentiality I am under for having participated in the conversation–none were made explicit to me on the occasion that I recall–however, I do know for a fact that I cannot convey some of the things that were expressed during that ritual (and it was more a ritual than a discussion or conversation, I think, for reasons I’ll explain in a moment) because nearly everyone, even when they did speak for or from a particular tradition or group, spoke primarily for themselves; indeed, those who did speak for themselves first and foremost were deeply genuine and moving in what they had to say. Those of us who were in or were from groups or traditions, after the introductions were made, were asked to rise, and Gina laid down the staff she had been carrying, and an end to all war and hate over this issue was declared, and a prayer for peace and respect was expressed. We went around the room in a clockwise direction, and a talking stick was given to each person who wished to speak in turn, and everyone who wanted to speak was able to do so. There were no responses, rebuttals, or questions allowed after each person spoke, which made this less of a conversation or discussion, and therefore more of a ritual in which we simply witnessed for and held space for any and all opinions to be expressed. And that, dear friends, was beautiful.
Incidentally, I identified myself as P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, and I said I speak from the tradition of the Ekklesía Antínoou, and on behalf of the gods Panpsyche, Panhyle, Paneros, and Pancrates. The use of the preposition “from” there was very deliberate, because I don’t think anyone from any tradition, but particularly from the Ekklesía Antínoou, speaks “for” it; all of us who are part of one tradition or another have a home within it, as it were, and speak from our own position as stakeholders in the land of that tradition, and the tradition and its gods speak through us, but none of us speak “for” it. As I’m one of the only ones with a cultic relationship with the Tetrad at this point, however, I felt very comfortable saying that I speak on the behalf of those gods, because at this point, no one else really can. I hope that’s understood in what I say which follows, and indeed, in everything I have said or ever will say on the present blog, in my books, or in person in relation to Antinous or the Ekklesía Antínoou. (The situation with the Tetrad, if all goes well, will be changing in the coming weeks!)
Some of the things that were said in that space–including the remarks of Elena Rose (who sat next to me)–brought nearly everyone present to tears. Some of them were greeted with applause, or laughter, or genuine shared joy. Many present also brought the presence of their gods specifically to the proceedings, including Baldr!
I will try to convey what I said on that occasion as closely as possible to how I remember it; the general structure of what follows is exact, but the precise words may not be. In the “story” part of it, I actually had no idea where I was going with the story, and didn’t find out where I was going with it until I actually got to that point in it–and I’m happy about where I ended up, and in fact a few people who were present quoted it back to me the next day. That part of my story was greeted with both laughter and applause, for which I am deeply grateful and was highly pleased–it was not intended for my remarks to have a “punchline,” but the very vivid illustration of my gender journey and identity that it did end up providing was quite suitable and empowering, at least in my own experience and perspective.
I want to do three things in my remarks here.
First, I want to express my thanks to everyone who is here, who has shared their stories and who has brought the presence of their gods to this space and to this very important event.
Second, I want to share a story of my own. As I explained in the panel this morning, my gender identity is metagender. This story happened when I was three years old, and was being sent to a Baptist day care (not by choice!). We were having a parade for some occasion, in which we were all told to make paper hats. We were each given a piece of newspaper and some stickers, and were instructed how to fold those pieces of paper in order to make two different types of hat. After a number of folds, we ended up with a tall witch’s hat, which is what the girls were supposed to make; then, with another few folds, one ended up with a shorter sailor’s hat, which is what the boys were supposed to make. Once I got to the point of having my witch’s hat, I was satisfied, and wanted to wear a witch’s hat. But, I was told by the overseers in the daycare that I had done it wrong, and that I needed to keep folding it to make the sailor’s hat. I didn’t want to, and just wore my witch’s hat. Eventually, the hat was taken off of my head, the further folds were put on it, and it was handed back to me, and then I was expected to march in the parade.
And today, I wear a fucking leopard print fez, with peacock feathers in it.
Third, I want to bring everyone here the blessings of the gods that I represent. They made themselves known to me soon after the events of last year, and the gods ended up working on a solution to some of those problems–in fact, many of the gods who are represented in this room right now had a hand in that solution, more than forty of them in fact. The names of those gods are Panpsyche, Panhyle, Paneros, and Pancrates, and their names mean something that will make sense to anyone who has gone on the path of exploring their own gender identity and gender diversity: All-Soul, All-Body, All-Love, and All-Power.
In that moment for me, the deities were expressing a great deal of sadness at everything they had heard their children convey in the discussion; it was difficult even pronouncing their names because in doing so, their sadness was coming through very powerfully. As Sarah, carrying the energies of the deities she was representing, bowed to me after I finished my words, there was a profound recognition between us–and, I will have more to say on that matter in my coverage of some of the other events at PantheaCon in my future entries over the next few days.
I went from there to get a copy of the anthology, and bought a few extra copies that were left free for the taking for anyone who wanted them–I was representing four deities on that occasion, and buying less than four copies was pretty much not an option as far as they were concerned. From there, I went to have some dinner in my hotel room, and then went to Oracles of the Living Tarot, which is always one of my favorite events at PantheaCon; this year was no exception, for so many reasons.
After that, I had a long-standing commitment that I needed/was required to attend. I had been asked by Yeshe Rabbit a few short weeks ago to attend, and participate in (with the Tetrad!), the Come As You Are Coven Grove of Artemis and The Living Temple of Diana’s “Rite of the Bear Mother,” which would have been wonderful to have attended for so many reasons. Unfortunately, my other commitment was not one that could be shifted elsewhere in time or space, so that wasn’t possible, alas. During that same 9:00 PM time slot, Z. Budapest’s “The Sacred Body of Woman (Self-Blessing)” ritual was also on, and a group of nearly ninety people also gathered to silently protest it, organized by T. Thorn Coyle. I was not at that protest, but several other people who were present have reported on it, so I leave all of you to seek out their stories and their accounts of it.
For me, the wonderful and transformative work around these issues took place at the discussion/ritual that afternoon. That spirit of genuine compassion, respect, and forgiveness existed, I think, for everyone who attended that event, and persisted with me for the rest of the con’ (and hopefully beyond as well). Yes, there were people present who were Dianic and were not in favor of Z. Budapest’s position on things; there were others who may or may not have been Dianic, but who were in favor of having segregated spaces and things for “non-trans women only,” though they have not shifted their vocabulary to indicate that, and were insistent that they love trans women and accept them and so forth. I’m not happy that there is such division and often hatred around these issues in the pagan community, but I’m also not at all interested in making one faction or another “convert” to my own viewpoint simply due to public pressure.
The issue, from the discussion on the last day of PantheaCon 2011, right up until the present, has often been phrased in terms of “trans inclusion” (on one side) and “freedom of religion” (on the other). And, in this, I find myself having some difficulties, because I’m entirely in favor of both, even to the point of demanding it in the events that I have a hand in directing. I am a follower of the Silver Rule–“Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t have them do to you”–and on further reflection about the protest of Z.’s ritual, I cannot say that if I had been free, I would have taken part in the protest against it, even though Z.’s comments and actions are hurtful to my dearly beloved trans sisters, and to me. It would be very easy for homophobic pagans to boycott or protest any of the Ekklesía Antínoou’s events in the future, or for strict reconstructionists to do likewise, or for any number of other people to do likewise; and, I can only assume that it would therefore be possible for any one of us to get a group together and to protest any event at PantheaCon, whether loudly or silently. And, even though the presence of such protestors might not dissuade me from doing whatever it is I was going to be doing, gods, it would hurt to know that anyone essentially objected to my right to be doing whatever it is I was doing, and I would never want to put anyone through that. I know both Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Speech mean that we can object to things we don’t like freely, but given that we as pagans, as queer people, and as gender transgressors (which Z. Budapest and her Dianic followers, and myself, and many trans people, and T. Thorn Coyle, all share as characteristics) have enough trouble from a mainstream overculture that has made its hatred and exclusion of us a cornerstone of their ideology. Thus, I hope we can devise a way forward in all of this that doesn’t involve protests, or empty rhetoric, or isolationism and lack of connection, and that dialogue can be direct whenever and wherever possible.
I’m upset that the only options that are being presented seem to be “ally with Z. and be a bigot,” or “stand for inclusion and dictate what others do.” Certainly, I’m deeply saddened and offended that Z.’s understanding of “women” doesn’t include trans women, but I’m equally saddened that the solution seems to be “she needs to change her mind or face ostracism.” We’ve been hearing, over and over again, that pluralism is one of the potential strengths of our modern pagan communities, but that pluralism seems to extend mostly to deities and to theologies, rather than to practices–and it is practices that we are really “best at” as far as being a religion of practice and of experience. In my reaction to some of Z.’s statements last year in the aftermath of PantheaCon, I was especially offended by the fact that she pretty much dictated what the “proper” rituals and mysteries for trans women should be (which were, in fact, entirely inappropriate); and, in many respects, she’s dictating gender identity, and saying that some people who identify as women are not, and thus her definition somehow trumps theirs. Now, honestly, I’m rather offended that the best solution some people have come up with in this discussion is to do exactly the same back to her and tell her that she should conduct her rituals exactly as we think she should, rather than as she feels most comfortable. Yes, it’s a difference of dictating identity and definitions versus dictating practice, but the problem of “dictating” is common to both, and something that I’m really not a fan of at all. (And this from someone who worships a few Roman emperors!) I never thought I’d say this, to be honest, but now I feel as though I’m defending Z.’s right to do something that I think is disrespectful, distasteful, and destructive…but, I am a hardcore supporter of democracy, free speech, and freedom of religion, a hardcore pluralist, and a hardcore supporter of unity in diversity, so there we are.
So, here’s some observations on some of the various different factions in all of this. While my presence at protests and such was not possible, and thus my “stake” in the issues may seem to be less or less immediate than those of others, because I’m of an atypical gender identity (which is not cisgendered, but also isn’t transgendered), there is certainly a very deep stake for me in these matters. My inclusion and recognition in terms of gender is almost impossible if trans people are not included, and until that particular “fight” is won and completed, I cannot hope for my own inclusion or understanding in the wider community; however, I am not “in it to win it” just because it will ultimately be to my benefit to have trans people’s actual gender and their lives and identities affirmed and accepted, but because it’s the right thing to do, full-stop, from any and every spiritual viewpoint I know of that is worth mentioning and that deserves the term “spiritual viewpoint.”
With all of that in mind:
1. To Z. Budapest. I have never met you, but I hope to meet you in-person at some point in the future, and to know you more directly than I have been able to previous to the present, and to do so in a direct way that is not influenced by others’ accounts of you. I am thankful for all that you’ve done over decades of history to advance the cause of the goddesses you represent, and to advance the cause of women in the world and in spiritual community. I am thankful to all of my goddesses and gods that you have developed a practice that so many women have found affirming and productive and life-enhancing over those many years, and that you have specialized in bringing those messages to a particular section of the community of modern women with which you have developed a rapport. I hope that your work continues in this manner for as many years as it is possible for you to do so in the future. My question to you is: would it be at all possible to continue having rituals and events in which cisgendered women only participate, but also to have some that would actually prove your words about being affirmative of trans women’s sacredness to be true rather than empty rhetoric? (CAYA Coven has done this quite admirably, I think…”both/and” approaches are awfully effective and are usually preferable to “either/or” ones, I think.) Or, failing that, would it be possible for you to sit down with trans people (and people of any/all gender identities), in a spirit of acceptance and compassion and mutual respect, as many of us did on last Sunday afternoon, and at least speak openly and honestly to our faces about your views, and why you hold them?
2. To T. Thorn Coyle (and the Protestors). Thorn, I deeply love and appreciate all the work you’ve done, and am continually inspired and provoked by it. I am profoundly thankful to have sat on the same panel with you on Sunday morning, and to have benefited from your insight and your presence on that occasion. I certainly understand that in your silent protest, you did what you thought was most appropriate in these circumstances, and it is something that you’re known for and have done on other occasions, including in the recent Occupy Movement actions. I wonder if there is some way forward that we can find to actually be inclusive and affirming of our different stances without making our own viewpoints “okay” and those that are different from them “not okay,” even when the “not-okay-ness” is expressed in silence and physical presence rather than in words. Doing things outside other’s rituals that intimidate and dissuade people from attending them–especially since doing so won’t prevent them from happening, nor will they change the minds and opinions of those who are attending or were too afraid to attend–doesn’t at this stage sound to me like the best course of action, but I likewise don’t know what would have been a preferable option at the time, so I’d be interested in hearing more from you on what some further options could be in situations like this in the future.
3. To Yeshe Rabbit, and those who “stood between.” I love and appreciate you deeply, Rabbit, and have done so since those heady days back in the late 90s when we were in college together (even though I was only a lowly undergraduate at the time!). When I swore my oath to you as a tribal ally through the Communalia ritual in 2009, I took those words very seriously indeed, and I plan to continue doing so in the future, until my breath is gone and my heart stops. I truly wish I could have been at your ritual that night, not only because it sounded interesting and because there were people at it that I’d have liked to have met, but because Artemis/Diana is an important goddess to me and to my god, Antinous, who was a “bear-boy” in his own day in many respects. I admire the strength and the courage that you and the others showed in terms of wanting to “stand between” both the protestors and the attendees at Z.’s ritual, as well as Z. herself; in doing this, you embodied Artemis and the fierceness of the bear in so many wonderful ways. Unfortunately, because it wasn’t clear to many people present what you were doing by “standing between,” your actions have been mischaracterized in the aftermath, and I hope that such misunderstandings get cleared up very soon and are not a problem. The human tendency–which I’m as guilty of as anyone–to not always notice the energy or the intent of others when they do something important is lamentable, but is sometimes easily addressed by clear signage.
Now, having said all that, the question–as ever, with everything–is: where do we go from here? I have a suggestion, if anyone would like to be a part of it.
I’m planning on proposing a Communalia ritual next year for PantheaCon. In previous years, the Communalia has been one part of a larger ritual, that often also involves Lupercalia and some echo of Parentalia. But, I think Communalia on-its-own is something that may really need to take place in the future. Come As You Are Coven has already taken part in this with us (as have four other groups), but I’d like to bring in some others as well, and to have Yeshe Rabbit and others present for the occasion as fellow “Communalians.” The Circle of Dionysos has done a lot in which I’ve shared, and I sort of include them “by default” in my prayers for the other groups with which we’ve done Communalia, but I’d like to make that “official” in the future. I am so enthralled with the work that Circle of Cerridwen has done, I’d like to have a Communalia ritual with them as well. I’ve expressed interest to some other groups over the years to do this ritual with us, and I’d like to ask some of them again if they would be interested in doing so. Thorn and Z., would you be willing to do Communalia with us next year, on behalf of yourselves but also on behalf of the communities that you represent and the traditions from which you work?
I’d be very interested in hearing your thoughts on these matters, and look forward to anyone’s responses on the above when they have a few moments to write. I’ll continue with my narrative of the (less-charged!) events of PantheaCon in the days to come!