Baring the Aegis: Hellenismos
Hellenismos, otherwise known as Greek Reconstructionist Paganism, is the traditional, polytheistic religion of ancient Greece, reconstructed in and adapted to the modern world. It's a vibrant religion which can draw on a surprising amount of ancient sources. Baring the Aegis blogger Elani Temperance blogs about her experiences within this Tradition.
On being safe in your community
I'm so out of touch with the greater Pagan community--especially the American one--that I might as well have been living under a rock the past few months. Every now and again, however, news seeps down to me, and yesterday I was suddenly confronted with the news of Kenny Klein's arrest on multiple counts of possessing child pornography.
I don't know Klein; I've read some of his posts on PaganSquare, and I've heard others talk about him, but I have never exchanged words with him, not even written ones. I can make no statement to his character beyond his now-tainted image. I don't know anything about Kenny Klein, and yet the news of his arrest and the charges for which he will be brought to court have hit me harder than I would have expected it to.
The Wild Hunt has a relatively complete account of the circumstances, so for anyone wishing to know more about this situation, I would kindly ask you to read up there as I feel no need to repeat Jason's hard work. As of this moment, Klein is not convicted of anything, so I won't comment on his guilt--one way or another--but I do want to comment on the greater ramifications of a Pagan Elder being charged with not only possession of child pornography, but also facing multiple testimonies of people who have felt intimidated and unsafe in his presence during festivals. If you read the article, you will see accounts of many people uncomfortable by his push for physical contact despite being told 'no', and one person even testified to keeping an eye on any kids around Klein long before this turn of events on Wednesday.
This is the part where I warn you about triggers for abuse, rape, rape culture and (male) privilege.
The Pagan community is rather huggy-feely. I haven't visited many festivals, but there is always invariably one person--and yes, I'm sorry, often one man--who will continually touch you. I'm a woman, I've learned to control my natural urges to touch and interact in favour of clarity so I won't send out mixed signals and will stay safe, and yet, I'll always find myself with at least one person at the festival who thinks it's perfectly fine to hug me whenever we meet, to lift me up from the ground, to touch my hair or face, or pull me into their lap. In 99% of the cases, it's a man. It's not just at festivals, it happens everywhere; in college, on the work floor, etc. In some variation, there is almost always one guy who does not get that he is not entitled to my body simply because I've smiled at him and have engaged him in conversation. The chances of these innocent touches--because almost always, they are well-intended--increase tenfold at a Pagan festival, and yes, it's worrying, especially when women (and men) subjected to this kind of behaviour do not feel free to speak out. It's even more worrying that they are not believed when they do.
Rape culture in all its forms is a terrible thing--for men and women alike--but it exists. I'm sorry to say this, men, but it's a daily reality for many women. When I go out to a festival, I dress more modestly than I normally do. I would never wear a corset to a fair, nor some nice, tight, steampunk outfit. I applaud you if you have the guts to do so, fellow women, but I come to fairs and festivals for my enjoyment, not to be made a target for showing skin. Before I move on to the Hellenic community, I must get something off of my chest I have been itching to say to the many men who have made me feel uncomfortable for dressing a certain way, acting a certain way, or speaking a certain way: it was never for your benefit; I dressed, acted, and spoke like that for one reason: because I wanted to have a good time, not with you, but with me. I'm gay, I told you I am gay--because that's my number one attempt at repelling you--so stop thinking that just because I breath and move, and laugh at a joke you made, you are entitled to touch me. You are not. Not now, not ever. If I was straight, you wouldn't be either. If you want to touch me in any way: ask and if I say 'no', do not take it personally. I am sure you're a nice guy, but it's my body, and it's not there for your enjoyment.
I promised a link to the Hellenic community; I'm not part of an off-line one, but I would love to be. As much as I would enjoy saying that the Hellenic community is different from the greater Pagan one, it's still a collection of people, and with that comes certain dangers and triggers. The danger of including and embracing someone with less than noble intentions in your community is always there--not every man or woman is a predator, but they could be, either because of entitlement or preference. It's good to have a reminder that even though you may share religious and ethical views, you may not think alike at all.
Many rites and rituals include touch, even if it's just a kiss on the cheek or a hug at the end of it. It's become a part of the celebration and it's a beautiful part--a part of bonding and companionship. To some, however, it can be highly triggering and highly uncomfortable. If you are part of a group of worshippers that comes together regularly--or even just sporadically--it might be a good idea to dedicate a meeting to the subject of safety and triggers one of these days if you haven't already, and to touch bases with everyone on occasion. It's important to make people aware that there is an Elder, a priest, or an organiser available to talk to if you feel uncomfortable in any way--and that it's okay to feel uncomfortable at all. No one--man or woman--should be made to feel uncomfortable by the behaviour of another. These issues need to be addressed openly and in the spirit of safety with both parties before either something happens that cannot be mended or one of the two leaves the group because they can't deal with their emotions and frustrations anymore.
I must repeat this: it is never okay to make someone feel uncomfortable, and it's never okay to make someone feel bad for telling you that you make them feel uncomfortable. Your proper reaction should be to apologize, back off, and mind your behaviour--and not just with them, but with everyone else as well. In fact, I highly encourage everyone--man or woman--to ask your religious community if you have ever made them feel uncomfortable with your behaviour. Yes, it's scary, and the answers may hurt, but I tell you now, you need to know this about yourself and your behaviour. If you get even a single 'yes', check your privilege and anger at the door and work together to pinpoint how and why you have earned this 'yes'. Perhaps the other person is extra sensitive to touch or close proximity because of past events, perhaps it's because you two have history, but perhaps it's something in your behaviour that you did not know was triggering.
For anyone reading this thinking 'but why should I change who I am because someone else is uncomfortable?', please watch this and this and sit down. And if you think this is just one woman's opinion, think again, because this is the reality of many--if not all--women at one point or another in their lives. In fact, the ghost of these events are what causes me to go running in the morning and not tonight when it would be much more convenient--but also more dangerous--this is what causes me to halt when I want to buy some cute but revealing piece of clothing--because someone might get the idea that I am 'asking for it'--this is partly why I don't go out, and why I don't drink alcohol. This is in the back of the mind of every woman you meet, and it should be in the back of yours--whether you are a man or woman--when you interact with anyone else, especially women.
These are things we need to talk about if we want to prevent the stories that are emerging now in light of the accusations made at the address of Kenny Klein from emerging from our own communities. We need to step up and create a safe religious environment for everyone to practice in and that includes open and honest dialogue and the respect of everyone's boundaries. If that means taking a step back and minding your body language to make someone else feel at ease, then that is what you should be doing. In any group of people, your privilege needs to be checked at the door and left there, in the trash, because you don't need to take it out with you into the wide world either.
Religion is as much about respect, love, and safety as it is about the Gods, and if you are not actively working to meet these requirement, you are part of the problem. No one is entitled to my body. No one is entitled to expect anything from me I am not willing to give--be it a touch, a hug, a kiss, or sex. No one is obligated to let their boundaries get pushed. If you do not agree with this, we have a problem, and I will not abide having you in my personal life, let alone my religious community because I am never more vulnerable than when I am in ritual. Don't abuse the good faith of another, mind your privilege and your actions, and listen when someone reaches out to you. Don't dismiss them because you don't like their story. We may be Hellenic, we may be Pagan, but we are also human, and sometimes humanity sucks. That is reality, and we have to deal with it before it dissolves our foundation.
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