Women’s Herbal Conference, Glastonbury Goddess Conference, West Kentucky Hoodoo Rootworker Heritage Festival, and other gatherings.
Part One: Waxing to Full
(I originally wrote about these issues--because I believe this to be more than one issue, not a binary--in my personal blog. In the interest of clarity and time, I have taken some parts of that initial post, which most of you have not seen, and worked them into this first part. Please forgive me, long-time readers, if it seems like you've read some bits before.)
I've been threatening to write about this set of situations--really write about it--for over a year. Every time I wrap my head and heart around it, some new information comes to light and I step back a bit, wondering what else I can add from so far away.
I will engage these on-going issues in three parts--Waxing to Full, Waning Moon, and Dark Moon. I hope you will bear with me as I develop my own thoughts, bear witness to what I haven't seen and step into a world that is both mine and not mine.
It's the women-born-women issue, of course--something that has been seething in some circles for a while now. The first large-scale incident, as far as I know, was at last year's Pantheacon, there was a fascinating repeat at Pantheacon 2012 and then we got the coverage of that powerful circle that blessed this year's Pagan Spirit Gathering.
I had been planning to save up my pennies (many, many pennies) to go to Pantheacon this year. Those West Coast gigs look like so much fun but they are spendy for those of us back in the old country on the East Coast. But I figured it would be worth it to catch up with colleagues and friends out there, and to meet people whose work I've followed over the years.
But after the fallout began over Z Budapest's non-inclusive ritual, I got too disheartened to test those waters. I knew if I'd scrimped and saved to go to this cool conference, I would be royally ticked off if I had to spend it fighting with colleagues about a complicated issue about which I have a very, very definite viewpoint.
The reports from this year's con were also difficult to read through and I finally gave up trying to ken the comments that attached themselves, lamprey-like, to every blog-post about the issue. I've been told on more than one occasion that one should never read the comments--sterling advice. But I learn so much about the larger Pagan/Heathen community by witnessing its passion, pain and anger, even if it is often ugly and brutal.
I finally stopped reading them, however, because the level of acceptable classism, sexism and ageism became too much to bear. I was much heartened by my colleague Max Dashu's report on the events. She was present and she wrote so eloquently on the issues I was and am finding so disturbing.
Here's a link, with thanks, to her report:
Z (and Pantheacon) had promoted her ritual as open to "women-born-women" and that means exactly that. Women who had the experience of being women from the time of their birth, had probably experienced menarche, had lived as women under this oppressive set of systems that many of us call "patriarchy." Some male-to-female transgendered folks felt excluded (rightly so--they were excluded) and they protested last year that this wasn't fair to them, as they had always believed themselves to be women on the inside. At this year's conference, there were other rituals that welcomed all who self-identified as women.
In considering the nature of sacred space and ceremony, I can only speak from my own experience as a priestess. Sometimes women need to be in ritual with other women because they don't feel safe with men--even men who are transitioning to being women. This may also be true of men, but that is not my experience. Not only do they not share with transgendered Pagans the experience of having grown up--as women and girls--within this culture, but they simply don't feel safe. I am appalled that so few people seem to get that. They don't feel safe. At a gathering of this size, are you seriously suggesting that women's safety within sacred space doesn't have to be a consideration?
That's short-sighted, mean-spirited and unhelpful, in my opinion.
Here's the analogy I've used with some people--suppose a group of African-Americans wanted to be in sacred circle together, to explore healing through their African spiritual roots. They choose not to be in circle with people of European ancestry because they cannot safely explore the full repercussions of having been enslaved--they cannot safely explore that--with white people present. But then I carefully explain--as though they may not quite comprehend how behind the times they are--that all humans originally came from Africa and so I have a right to be there.
That's short-sighted, mean-spirited and unhelpful, too.
All people have a right to feel safe in a healing ritual circle--that should be a given. Otherwise the work is harder than it needs to be, in fact it may not be possible to do that work at all, if one does not feel safe.
Next--Part Two: Waning Moon
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