Home > Feminism, Gender, Paganism, Transphobia > Truly Inclusive Gender-Based Mysteries

Truly Inclusive Gender-Based Mysteries

This started as a comment on a friend’s blog post on the recent Pantheacon transfail, and it started frolicking into teal deer territory, so I decided to just make it a post here. Beware, this is going to be ranty.

To summarize: a Dianic group advertised a public ritual in honor of Lilith at Pantheacon, which is a pretty big and well-known Pagan con, except they neglected to mention in their announcement that the ritual was meant for ciswomen only. So they ended up turning away trans women and men at the door, after they’d waited in line for ages. Yeah. Cue the usual sort of cissplaining garbage and transphobia from the straw RadFem bigots and their apologists. Wild Hunt has it covered, but as usual, you probably don’t want to read the comments unless you’ve got about a gallon of your favorite adult beverage handy. This response to the issue from a priestess of Lilith is pretty rad, though.

Personally, I’ve done enough hulkraging about this bullshit that I don’t want to rehash it, only to say, again, this is a) why I can’t stand 90% of Dianics and b) why I am solitary, too many privileged assed Pagans out there, and not enough wanting to check their privilege going on. What I wanted to talk about was a comment someone made that mentioned they don’t understand gender-exclusive ritual and don’t agree with it, making comparisons with Odinist white power groups.

Here’s the thing: I don’t think you can put a truly inclusive women-only or queer only ritual in the same box as the white Odinist stuff. Context matters, and history matters. It’s the same reason why it’s not “racist” for college campuses to have affinity groups for black or Asian-American students. Marginalized groups frequently experience life in much different ways than the privileged majority, and having a safe space to deal with those issues and challenges amongst ourselves is helpful and critical for our own well being and for the work we do in anti-oppression. I don’t think spirituality is any different in that regard, but I’m also not one of the people who puts “religion” in one box away from the rest of my life.

Being queer, female, and black in a racist and heterosexist society (much less a frequently racist and heterosexist Pagan community) informs my spiritual experience as much as anything else in my life does. So does my social justice work. I grok that not everyone approaches things that way, and I respect that, but that’s just my deal. I don’t have a choice to ignore my race, gender, or orientation when it comes to my spiritual practice, because the minute I try to, without fail I’ll get reminded of it.

I get reminded of my race when being stared because mine is the only brown face in the circle, or getting accosted in a New Age store by some over-enthused white lady dressed in the entire Pyramid Collection catalog about this or that orisha or how she was an “African shaman” in her past life. Or asking me what the colors on some kente cloth mean. That is when I’m not being followed in the store because they think I’m going to shoplift. (Mentioning that I used to work in an occult shop, as well as loss prevention in mundane retail and telling them that following the brown patrons around just means the white teenagers have a license to steal? Usually does the trick.)

I was sure as hell reminded of my orientation every time I participated in a Wiccan circle where heterosexuality was pretty much celebrated as the central mystery of the ritual, via the Great Rite, even when it was in token. I’m reminded of it every time the discussion turns to sacred polyamory and nothing but heterocentrist models are used. Hell, this could be an entire other post right here.

My gender? Well, that’s a trickier can of worms, but no less relevant. While women may not be as marginalized in Pagan communities as in the larger society, per se, Pagans are still raised in the some kyriarchal mess everyone else is and will bring that to the table as well. And as women, we’re raised and socially conditioned with a very different set of expectations than people who are perceived as male, and we face different challenges and issues to unravel as a result. That’s what Women’s Mysteries mean to me, it’s not about dancing skyclad around a giant paper mache vagina singing about how awesome periods are. It’s not just about biology, or even mostly about biology. Yes, it’s important to reclaim the sacredness of female bodies because they’ve been so denigrated for so long, but that’s not all there is to it, and even on the biological tip, female bodies don’t all look the same. FFS, if we can understand and celebrate that women’s bodies are beautiful and sacred no matter if they’re fat, thin, or disabled, white or brown, hairy or scarred or anything else, why is it such a fucking stretch to include that female bodies that came with different or ambiguous genitalia are also beautiful and should be celebrated? Why is the set of chromosomes we got in the cosmic genetic lottery even relevant to our sacredness as women? It’s why most Dianics make me hulkrage, because I feel they’re missing the forest for the trees.

It’s also why I seriously don’t understand this incessant need to exclude trans people from these rituals, if anything their own unique experiences of transgressing gender expectations only add to the understanding taking place. That’s not to say Magical Trans Women Are Here for Cis Lady Enlightenment, merely that their experiences are every bit as important to what constitutes Being a Woman in every possible sense, and that all women can learn from that. Goddammit, Women’s Mysteries means exploring all the mysteries of womanhood, be it cis or trans, butch or femme, queer or het, white or PoC, young or old, working lady or SAHM, childfree or mama of 5 bad assed kids, and all the awesome gray areas in between all of these labels. Because women are all these things, you assgoblins! Fuck, this is not rocket science. Trans women’s experiences are important to me as a cis woman because even though I don’t live them, they’re just as much a part of the mystery of womanhood as my own experiences. By denying my trans sisters, I’d be denying a piece of myself. By acknowledging their pain and their triumphs, I’m getting new insight to my own, and what it means to be a woman in a world that constantly denigrates that. Trans women represent the full gamut of Goddess archetypes and were acknowledged in our ancestral mythologies and belief systems. This is not new, people. So why act like it is, and shun it? You’re only contributing to your own ignorance in the end, much less the pain and hardships of women who have it rougher than almost any other group of women on the planet. How can you purport to work toward ending violence against women and dismiss our trans sisters, when they suffer violence at a disproportionate rate, particularly trans women of color? How can you pretend to celebrate female strength when it takes a special kind of strength just waking up everyday living your life in a world that sees you as sick, deviant, and broken? Who are you trying to fool here, really?

FWIW, I think Men’s Mysteries are important for similar, albeit slightly different reasons. Kyriarchy damages men too, just in different ways, and I think men can and should be allowed to explore what masculinity means to them in a spiritual context if they feel the need. But that doesn’t mean excluding trans men from that either, because (say it with me now), trans men’s experience is part and parcel of Men’s Mysteries. Because, you know, they’re men. And hell, we should make some Genderqueer Mysteries too, while we’re at it. Do we even have those? Why the hell not, if not?

If you take absolutely nothing else from this post, take this: if you truly hold a worldview that the Divine is immanent, and that everything is sacred because of this, then you must strive to make that worldview reflected in every aspect of your life or else you have entirely missed the point of the path you purport to walk. It does not demand perfection, merely the deepest yearnings for it, and the strenuous working toward making it a reality. If your life does not reflect your practice, perhaps you need to seriously examine both.

  1. March 1, 2011 at 9:49 am

    This is a wonderful article, thank you so much for it! Coming as it does at the same time as I’ve been investigating how my gender identity works with my Pagan faith, I’ve spent the morning reading about the PantheaCon trans fail incident with dismay. And this:

    <>

    is truly wonderful, and it feeds some of the thinking I’d been doing before I heard about anything that had happened at PantheaCon.

    Here’s my stuff:

    http://femmeguy.wordpress.com/2011/01/01/the-spirit-of-solstice-is-still-living-here-part-i/

    http://femmeguy.wordpress.com/2011/02/22/the-spirit-of-solstice-is-still-living-here-part-ii-when-the-sacred-masculine-isnt/

    Thanks again for your wisdom!

    • March 1, 2011 at 11:17 am

      Thanks for reading! Sometimes it feels like tilting at windmills, but it really feels good to find likeminded people out there in what seems like a sea of WTF. Definitely checking your stuff out. :)

  2. March 1, 2011 at 9:49 am

    Uh. Not sure what happened, but those angle brackets were meant to enclose this quote from you:

    That’s not to say Magical Trans Women Are Here for Cis Lady Enlightenment, merely that their experiences are every bit as important to what constitutes Being a Woman in every possible sense, and that all women can learn from that. Goddammit, Women’s Mysteries means exploring all the mysteries of womanhood, be it cis or trans, butch or femme, queer or het, white or PoC, young or old, working lady or SAHM, childfree or mama of 5 bad assed kids, and all the awesome gray areas in between all of these labels. Because women are all these things, you assgoblins! Fuck, this is not rocket science. Trans women’s experiences are important to me as a cis woman because even though I don’t live them, they’re just as much a part of the mystery of womanhood as my own experiences. By denying my trans sisters, I’d be denying a piece of myself.

  3. March 1, 2011 at 2:09 pm

    There are certainly some places where I think we come from a different spiritual perspective but I really liked this piece. Especially the eloquent way you write about the vital place that the trans experience plays in the gendered mysteries. As a queer cis-man I know I’ve learned a great deal about my own spiritual experience of being male from talking to and watching my transmale friends and lovers enter into or embrace man-hood from a conscious and self-aware place.

    As to the Genderqueer Mysteries, we definitely have those, and they are becoming more widely embraced. One person who’s written and spoken on the topic is Raven Kaldera. Also, I believe Lee Harrington has as well.

    • March 1, 2011 at 6:55 pm

      Thanks for the recs. I’m familiar with a little of Raven Kaldera’s work, mostly from friends who rave about it, but this sounds interesting.

  4. Siobhan Phoenix
    March 1, 2011 at 6:29 pm

    As a pago-christian gaelic traditionalist, I don’t really understand all the “Sacred Rites” and stuff, to me it boils down to hearth and home, and being faithful to the high days…

    However I think that if someone had explained them to me the way you have, I might have related or understood.

    I am a transwoman, I don;t usually identify as such, for the most part I am fairly stealth – I don;t hide it, its just not a huge part of my identity, however it is a huge part of my experience. I was locked up 2 years in an illegal abusive institution that was going to “cure” me. I transitioned shortly after that… I have lived most of my adult life as obviously genderqueer or obviously female and experienced the legal, social, and financial impact of that.

    For example, those that transition later in life tend to use their male privilege to get good jobs and invest, and then use that money to pay for surgery.

    I am 36 now, having transitioned much younger, and surgery seems as out of reach as it was back then, despite the fact that I live as a single mom, work as a woman, and barely have a social life.

    I have experienced what transwomen go through when they don;t pass, and I have experienced what women go through when they are seen as sex objects and considered “beautiful” – I have been hit on by men in public, receieved cat-calls, and all of the above. I have experienced workplace sexual harassment.

    I also believe that if cisgender women with a victim complex want their own space, and want to exclude me, its probably not a place I want to be.

    They have every right to have it, but label it as such (can you imagine a sign: “Ciswomen with Victim Complexes only, all others will be considered MALE!”)

    Thanks for this article, it really hit home.

    -Siobhan Phoenix

    • March 1, 2011 at 7:16 pm

      I’m sorry if this sounds trite, but I really appreciate you sharing your experiences. I tend to think that even though we don’t go through 100% of the same things, we have a lot more in common than we realize, which is another reason why I don’t understand shutting voices out. The world at large does that all the time, and I would hope that folks who talk a good game about building community would be better than that.

      And that sign idea is hilarious. If only jerks were all labeled for our convenience! It sure would make things a lot easier. I totally get what you’re saying, too. I mean, I’m not exactly busting down the doors of the “whites only” Norse types, either. They’re free to hold those beliefs, but at the same time, people are free to criticize them. And to be honest, I have more respect for people like that who are at least open about things like that than the people who claim to be welcoming to everyone, and give you side eyes (or interrogations) the whole time.

  5. Thora Drakos
    March 2, 2011 at 1:04 am

    On behalf of CAYA Coven, I would like to say that it is apparent that this is an issue that has hit a nerve for many in the Pagan community. We sincerely appreciate everyone who has taken the time to share their point of view on this, in this blog and others. As we encourage open discussion around this topic, we would like to also offer our own views on gender and ritual space, which can be found here- http://www.cayacoven.org/gender.html.

    Thank you,
    Pax,
    Thora

    • March 2, 2011 at 2:05 am

      Thanks for linking to your side of the story.

  6. Erynn
    March 2, 2011 at 2:06 am

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. These are some beautiful, powerful, necessary words. Blessings on you for putting them out there.

  7. Riverbend
    March 2, 2011 at 1:26 pm

    Just landed here thanks to the link over at Wild Hunt–I thought I was fairly well-versed in these issues but I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun having to look up new terminology. Thanks for a fascinating essay.

    • March 2, 2011 at 3:23 pm

      That’s pretty much the best compliment I can think of. Thanks for reading.

  1. March 1, 2011 at 9:38 am
  2. March 1, 2011 at 5:06 pm
  3. February 27, 2012 at 7:03 am

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