Posted by: aediculaantinoi | August 5, 2013

Trans Acceptance in Paganism

I’ve just had some very clear proof that homophobia is alive and well in the community where I work–for more info on that, notice the comments on the following

However, as if that wasn’t enough to make one’s blood boil, there are some other things that I’ve heard about recently that don’t exactly make me happy about the state of the world, either–and, it’s a part of the world that I would tend to expect far better from.

When I was hanging out with Aine Llewellyn the other day, we got to talking about various matters having to do with gender, transgender, metagender, and other gender alternatives–when one gets people of these various other possible genders together, such talk inevitably results. 😉 However, part of the discussion, I’m sad to say, had to do with the ways, both small and large, that people of alternative genders get treated by others, and often get disrespected in the process.

While I won’t name names of the groups or individuals discussed, I have to say that the reports on the behavior of such individuals and groups I received has me quite frankly appalled, to the point that I will no longer be associating with the named entities if at all possible. If the people who might be indicted by the matters to be detailed below would like to apologize here in this public forum–whether they were the original ones I was told about, or might be others who have realized the error of their ways–I’d be happy for them to do so, in the effort of taking responsibility for one’s actions, apologizing, and moving forward in a more informed and respectful manner. The opportunity for public catharsis on such matters can be inestimably effective, I think…

So, here’s some of the things that can happen, and that have happened:

1) One’s chosen name (perhaps a name that accords with one’s preferred gender) is put in quotation marks, as if it is somehow false or assumed or in some other way “not really real,” which thus indicates that the person referrign to another in such a fashion doesn’t take their conversation partner’s gender as really real or serious either.

2) Someone is told that, for whatever reason, they don’t “pass” as whatever their preferred gender is, and therefore the person who is of that opinion doesn’t have to treat them like their preferred gender, or consider them their preferred gender, and therefore they also don’t need to refer to them as their preferred gender.

3) Once one explains one’s preferred gender to another, and tells them about their preferred pronouns, they get told “Well, that’s just too hard to do” or “that’s too new of a concept, I can’t really adapt to it.” No–the problem is that person doesn’t want to adapt to it and refuses to do so; we learn new concepts, words, names, and such things all the time, and even if it takes a bit of trial and error to use them or say them correctly, one eventually is able to do it, with effort and willingness to do so.

4) Various other iterations of gender-‘splaining, including follow-ons from #2-3 above that involve the person saying, “Well, to me you look like/seem like/act like a man/woman/whatever, therefore I’m going to keep referring to you and treating you like that.” This would be equivalent to being told, after revealing that you’re a Buddhist, that someone says “Well, you act pretty Christian as far as I’m concerned, so I’m just going to continue asserting that you’re Christian and treating you as such.”

Now, don’t get me wrong: I realize these are larger societal problems primarily, and that their reflection in the various pagan and polytheist communities is just a matter of those communities not being as different or separate from the wider culture to the extent they often think they are. HOWEVER, because paganism in general has said that it is far more accepting of these things than other communities, subcultures, and religions, it really ought to do better on these matters, lest it be just as hypocritical as other religions that it often derides for their hypocrisy.

The fact is, even being a gender-atypical individual myself, I’ve made some mistakes in these directions over the years–not with MTF or FTM trans individuals, but with people who are more genderqueer or in other ways not binary gendered. I have not usually done this “to the face” of those considered, but in my own thoughts and perceptions and estimations I have done so, just because it isn’t always as easy to conceptualize such individuals as more gender binary categories (including MTF and FTM trans) are. And, as a metagender person, that is an egregious error, and one that I’m not in any way proud of, and one that I am now doing everything possible to eradicate from my thoughts and feelings. As a devotee of Panprosdexia, whose name means “All-Acceptance,” I can do no less, and will try to do no less for the remainder of my life.

So, let’s try and do better, shall we?


  1. I can’t apologize on behalf of other people, but I can apologize for any of my own mistakes I’ve made or offense I’ve given. I’m sorry so many cis people are being clueless jerks. We have to educate ourselves and we have to make sure our behavior is ethical to all. It’s a daily battle, internally and externally.

    Thanks for pointing out transphobia when you find it. I wish you didn’t have to.

  2. As a non-transitioning transmasculine person, I pretty much hate the way the larger pagan community treats gender. I have been extremely lucky that, when I started with paganism and polytheism, I was in a community where trans* folks were not only welcome, but a vital part of the community. Now, when I go out into the larger pagan community, I am always shocked that people are ignorant, willfully ignorant, or downright offensive. I can’t seem to get it through my head that not everyone is like myself and my colleagues and peers.

    It gets worse when I try to explain my relationships to my various Powers, which is pretty much your #4. I am specifically a priest of Sekhmet, not a priestess, but people get themselves all in a twist about that. I know I have breasts and that they’re visible, but for the love of all things holy, is it that freaking hard to refer to me with the title I have told you is appropriate and not second guess me? I mean, really. How rude. I don’t tell people they’re wrong when they tell me they are a grand high wizard of the 5th degree of a family tradition that began in Bavaria and came over on a boat to live in central Massachusetts. Is it really that hard to call me a priest? Words are so gendered in our community and I don’t know if there’s a way to fix that, honestly.

    And, mistakes happen. When they are honest mistakes, I don’t much care–I know what I look like and I know how people see me. It’s part of the experience of not seeking medical intervention on behalf of my gender. However, when people KNOW or have been explicitly told my pronouns or titles or what have you and ignore it [not just trip over it–that happens and that is not offensive to me], that’s when I get bitchy. It’s one thing to trip over a pronoun, correct yourself, and either quietly apologize or apologize later. It’s another thing to, once you are made aware, just ignore it.

    • Indeed on all points…people do make mistakes, or may need some time to adjust once corrected. But to be told flat-out that my gender identity is “too hard” to get and they’re just not willing to make any effort? (Which, alas, happened with a trans woman who told me my gender identity was too hard to understand for her, despite her also not having surgical interventions in some areas.) Or, as happened in another case, someone said to me that they wanted me to meet someone else, and that I was the only pagan man in the area, and I said I’m not a man, and she replied “Yeah, you’ll like this guy because he keeps contradicting me about his gender too and doesn’t believe he really is a man.” (Well…fuck you too, then, person!) Crikey…

      I do wish there were terms for family relationships in particular that were not gendered. My sister has a daughter now, and I don’t want her to grow up calling me “uncle”…but what other term is there for sibling of parent that isn’t “aunt” and thus equally not appropriate in my own case? (And same with brother/sister…there is “sibling,” but it ends up sounding very clinical…)

      • One of the people at the TS/TG group I used to meet up with in Ann Arbor apparently suggested that their niece and nephew call them “aunkle”, as in “aunt + uncle”. You may or may not find that appropriate, but it apparently worked for at least one person.

      • Interesting!

        But, since I don’t identify as a combinatory gender, it wouldn’t exactly work for me either…

    • Words are so gendered in our community and I don’t know if there’s a way to fix that, honestly.

      Personally, I don’t think thatthe issue is so much gendered terminology, but instead the minimal gender recognition in Western society.

      • Could you elaborate on that a bit? I am not entirely sure I know what you mean…or if I do, I don’t know it in those words…

      • You know, I’m not even sure exactly what I meant by that, but I guess what makes sense to me is that, with the abundant evidence of several identifiable genders, there ought to be multiple sets of pronouns, rather than only two or one.

      • Fair enough…but, very certainly, I wholeheartedly agree, there are too few options…

        And, to interpret your statement in a slightly different but also accurate and (hopefully!) relevant way, there is a general lack of recognition of how gendered so many things in society are, or have become. It amazes me how much “man” gets used, for example, in everyday talk, and not just for “humanity-in-general,” but for things that specifically refer to individual (ostensibly) male people that have nothing whatsoever to do with anything where gender might be a concern. In Ireland, for example, giving someone the correct change at a store often got the reaction “Good man” from the store clerks, which always bothered me, especially since other options for the same situation included things like “Thank you,” “Ta,” “Nice one,” and so forth…

  3. Even long before I started transitioning, when I was just barely out as a trans man to myself, it was really apparent to me that the modern neo-pagan community was rife with trans negativity and anti-TS/TG bias. “Women’s spirituality” communities alone are obsessed with the menstrual mysteries alone, to the point that I’m not at all surprised that trans women who only know about Turner’s Syndrome from that goddamned eppie of Law & Order: SVU are suspicious that said groups eagerly welcome non-menstruating cis women (a friend from school had it, and no, you don’t look like you’re ten at the age of 18, even with HRT, menstruation is a toss-up and pregnancy almost never happens). And don’t even get me started on suggesting, between 1999 and 2001, what if some-one AFAB transitioned to male? “How dare such a wombyn spit in the face of the Goddess and reject Her divine wisdom?” was probably the kindest of such sentiments I saw, and that wasn’t even from a women’s group (though I’m pretty sure it was from a woman). Don’t get me started on coming out, just before surgery, to a handful of people and how every non-pagan was all “oh! so that’s why you wear men’s clothes. Well, good luck” –but all three pagans I divulged to decided to try and school me on what my gender “really” must be, and how it ran the gamut from simply insisting “you don’t have a manly aura” to “who abused you? were you raped? You can’t run from it with surgical self-mutilation, let me take you to my women’s spirituality group.” (and no, as best as I can tell, I haven’t even been sexually harassed by construction workers).

    Over the last six or seven years, all that really has surprised me about the rampant transphobia in the greater pagan community is that there are apparently pockets of local pagan community that actually accept trans people, and that there are pagans elsewhere who kinda-sorta pay lip-service about pagans accepting trans people.

    I really want to apologise for being so cynical about this, but I’ve had so much negative experience as an androgynous-presenting but otherwise binary-male-internalised trans man of queer sexuality, in the pagan community, that like I said, the only thing that surprises me, these days, is that *now* I’m finding pagans who are claiming the community to be somehow trans-inclusive.

    • I think there’s a distinct difference between “cynical” and “realistic,” and all you’ve reported here, sadly, doesn’t surprise me one bit. Most people have not evolved on their thinking relating to these issues over the last 15 years, I find; some have, and some continue to surprise me as well…but far too many still seem hell-bent on never budging an inch on these issues, or actually listening to any of the reasons why it might be “good” to not be such assholes over trans acceptance, and how such attitudes might actually fit into their existing ethical ideals.

      It seems somewhat ironic that, just as gay and lesbian acceptance for Christians is still an issue (though it has been increasingly better over the last 15 years), likewise many pagan groups are fine with gay, lesbian, or bisexual people, but not so much with trans. Are that many pagans that inextricably wedded to notions of gender essentialism based on physicality and therefore the “god/dess-given-ness” of sex/gender? Apparently so, unfortunately…

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