How Are We Any Different? On The Continuing Trans*Fail at PantheaCon

This post deals with the ongoing trans exclusion by Z. Budapest in official con-sponsored rituals at PantheaCon.  Material on last year's issues can be found here.  This is to address this year's ritual and various responses surrounding it.  [TW: transmisogyny, misgendering trans women, genital-essentialism]

The broader pagan community likes to think we are so much better than other religions when it comes to openness and acceptance and tolerance.  It comes naturally out of being a loose conglomerate of vastly varying traditions and faiths, I think, lumped all together under a big umbrella for convenience (and because we do share some underlying traits).  We have to be tolerant and accepting and open, because how else could you have Asatruar and Dianic Wiccans and Gardnerian Wiccans and Chaos magicians and Satanist witches and literally dozens and dozens of other named traditions, not to mention those of us with no trad affiliation at all, all together under the same banner and generic name?  We talk a good game and feel smugly superior to those closed-minded others - usually Christians, whether we say so specifically or not - who aren't quite so enlightened as we fancy ourselves to be.

And yet we are also a community which, at one of the biggest annual gatherings, hosts a ritual/permits a ritual to be hosted and publicized - and then defends having done so - which purports to be about "healing for all women", while specifically being for cis women only.

Anyone else seeing a huge fucking disconnect there?

The relevant ritual this year was "The Sacred Body of Woman (Self-Blessing)" (link goes to PDF of the official PantheaCon 2012 program; event listing is on page 40), led by Z. Budapest, founder of the Dianic Wicca tradition.  Dianic Wicca is Goddess-focused, in contrast to classical Wicca's duotheistic God-and-Goddess approach, and is practiced almost exclusively by women (certain offshoot traditions and some covens accept men as well).  So this ritual, naturally, specified that it was women-only - but not just women-only.  "Genetic" women only.  Which is basically just the newest iteration of the term "women-born-women", a relic of 2nd-wave feminism still in use by certain groups of trans-exclusionary "radical" feminists (TERFs).

Of course, Words Mean Things, so some snarky part of me wonders if they were requiring chromosome test results before allowing people in.  That's really the only way you can tell a "genetic" woman for sure, and if you're going to use weird terminology, you should be expected to follow through on it, in my opinion.  (Why they refuse to use "cisgender" like the rest of the civilized gender-discussing world is beyond me.  Surely linguistic contortions shouldn't be necessary when there's a perfectly good, established term that means "woman assigned-female-at-birth", which is what all the "genetic women" and "women-born-women" bullshit is really intended to convey?)

At any rate, it certainly says a lot about what you believe regarding the gender of trans people - that is to say, that it's clear you don't believe them to be their actual gender, but view them as pretenders who are "really" still their assigned-at-birth sex, which is really fucking shitty of you - when you have a ritual titled "The Sacred Body of Woman", and which has as its described purpose "[honoring] the body of each and every woman present, the beauty and grace of the feminine form in all of her infinite variety" ...but you specifically exclude trans women from the rite.

It says very clearly that you don't feel their bodies are or deserve to be sacred in the same way as your precious cis bodies.  It says you don't think their bodies deserve to be honored alongside your own.  It says, most of all, that "the feminine form in all her infinite variety" is only ever cisgender, that you just plain don't count the bodies of trans women as being part of the infinite variety of the feminine form.

All of this is awful, cissexist, transphobic, misgendering, and truly shitty.

But you know what?  If you were holding a private ritual somewhere, I wouldn't actually bother you about it, believe it or not.  I probably wouldn't be friends with you, and I certainly wouldn't attend your ritual because I don't agree with your determinations of who counts as woman and who doesn't, but it wouldn't really be any of my business unless you asked for my opinion.

It is, however, an entirely different thing when you are holding a ritual at a large public conference that people have paid to attend.  You are holding your ritual in a space rented with money paid by attendees, on con time, listed as an official event in the con program.  To do that, and frame your ritual as a "celebration of women" with a footnote that says (*some restrictions apply) instead of saying outright that your ritual is a "celebration of cis women/cis womanhood", is very very very much not okay.

Z. Budapest argued last year, and likely will continue to argue this year, that it's a matter of "freedom of religion" and "freedom to practice our Dianic tradition/beliefs" to be allowed to exclude trans women from their women-only rituals.  (And I've already seen a good few responses today that take the "freedom of religion" line to defend this year's exclusion, so it's not just confined to her.)

In which case, I would like to know something: what exactly makes TERF-Dianics like Z. Budapest any better than fundies who use "Jesus said so" as a basis to exclude LGBT people from all kinds of spaces and social structures?  I opened this post by pointing out how we pagans like to think we're above that sort of shit, especially when it comes to modern social issues.  But when you have a well-known community elder misgendering trans women and barring them from rituals at a major pan-pagan conference, and then defending those actions based on "because our religion said so" - how is that any different, exactly?

It's not.  It is exactly the same fucking thing as owners/operators of various publicly-available services, for example, such as wedding venues or florists, refusing to do business with a wedding because the couple are the same gender and that violates their religious beliefs.  It's exactly the fucking same as pharmacists who deny certain medications to customers because it goes against their (religiously-informed) conscience.  Not in degree or severity, no - but the principle is exactly the same, that of excluding people based on religious reasons.

Nobody is saying TERF-Dianics suddenly have to be welcoming of trans women in every ritual they do, or that they have to rework their whole theology around "blood mysteries" and menstruation/birth as the defining signifier of womanhood.  Nobody is infringing on their religious freedom (much like nobody is actually infringing upon the Catholic Church's religious freedom in the recent contraception wars, despite aggrieved claims to the contrary).  They can have all the cissexist theology and exclusionary policies they want in their religion.  Knock yourselves out, kids.  

What we are saying is that such exclusionary policies have no place in a major, paid-entry community gathering like PantheaCon.

The other rationalization offered as a shield against community criticism has been the usual "penises are triggering (therefore trans women in the space would be triggering)" claim.  Which has several weak points.

Okay, first of all, some people do have triggers relating to certain genitalia.  Like this woman, for example, who wrote a letter-to-the-editor for a pagan news bureau detailing her history of abuse and how, if she had gone, and any women with penises had also been there, she would have had to leave.  Except that first of all, her phrasing regarding that struck me as being kind of fucked-up: "When we disrobed, if I had seen a penis I would not have been able to stay. Even today I can’t contemplate being naked with a male."  The fact that she's conflating a skyclad ritual with non- or pre-op trans women with "being naked with a male" makes it clear that she does not truly respect the gender of the women she repeatedly refers to as "my trans sisters".  Second of all, look, I sympathize with her hurting, I truly do.  I can't even imagine the trauma she must be dealing with.  But that trauma does not give you the right to pass trauma on to others, in the form of misgendering trans women just because you haven't managed to sort out that gender != genitalia.

My second issue with this defense is that there seems to be the assumption that "safe space" means "penis-free" space.  And I wonder, why is it that "safe [penis-free] space" for cis survivors of sexual violence is presumed to be more important than "safe [transphobia-free] space" for trans women, who may also be survivors of sexual violence and abuse and need the self-blessing and healing work that this ritual purported to offer?

Lastly, let's consider the phrase "genetic women".  It's obviously designed to exclude all trans women, not just pre- or non-op trans women.  Because, um...not all trans women have penises.  Some have had bottom surgery - some are years and years past surgery, and in a ritual-nudity setting you wouldn't have any idea what a given woman's history was.  But "genetic women" and the unspoken-but-clearly-heard, "women-born-women", doesn't take that into account at all.  Which pretty much puts the lie to the idea that this was ever about creating penis-free safe space for survivors, rather than just a rationalization for expressing Z. Budapest's documented trans-hate in a ritual setting.

This is something we should not tolerate in our community, and I am deeply disappointed that PantheaCon organizers gave the green light to another explicitly trans-exclusionary ritual this year, in light of last year's issues.  The theme for the con this year was "Unity in Diversity", as a nod to healing the wounds caused by events last year, making it doubly - or perhaps triply, or more - inappropriate to perpetuate the problem this way.  If you are inclined to send a comment to PantheaCon's organizers on this issue, they can be reached at feedback@pantheacon.com.  Please, if you do choose to contact them, be polite, simply explain that you don't feel anti-trans bigotry should be given official sanction in our community with official rituals at a paid event.

If we want to continue to claim the moral high ground, this is something we need to address.  Otherwise we are no different from the bigots who hide their bigotry behind a veil of "because God said so!" - we've just changed the name of the god.


Sonneillon said...

Thank you thank you thank you thank you THANK YOU.  I've been trying to explain this in multiple venues.  You wouldn't think it'd be that hard: Trans* women are women.  FULL STOP.  OMG.  Not that complicated.  But the transphobic apologia everywhere is incredibly discouraging, especially since I really want to have faith in the openness and diversity of my general religious umbrella category.  It's hard to do when some of our elders are showing their asses so unashamedly.

So thank you so much for writing this.  I needed a friend, and to see other allies, much as I presume the trans* women who are excluded by these ritual practices and entrenched attitude need to see us.

Fern Miller said...

And let's not leave out the idea that a person who wants healing from abusers thinks that going to a ritual led by someone who verbally and emotionally abuses others will help is rather .... bizarre. 

Jadelyn said...

Oh, I hear you on that.  The tumblr pagan community has been absolutely rife with apologia on this for the past day and a half, with the exception of a few people.  It's hard to resist the overwhelming tide on your own.  Which is kind of why I couldn't not write this post, even though it took several hours to wrangle the words into the form I wanted (and explicitly invoking Brighid's help, no less).  I'm glad you are also arguing this - if you'd like some backup wherever you're arguing it, link me and I can come back you up at least a bit.

Jadelyn said...

That, too!  A lot of the defenses I've seen of this fiasco have been "Well it's not hurting anyone" - um, really?  It's like so many cis pagans just don't seem to grasp that transphobic exclusion and misgendering is ACTUALLY HURTFUL and abusive.  This is not a "victimless crime" sort of situation.  There are actual people being actually harmed here.  And I agree, that I don't know how someone could trust their healing process to someone whose whole method of healing relies on harming others.  

Cathryn Bauer said...

It just seems really symbolic to me that Z issues a very generalized, awkward semi-apology, then disappears behind a closed door labeled, "Genetic women only."  I suppose it is progress.  It is not enough for me.  I was really sorry not to be there this year (due to a very recent cross-country move),.  However, I do not believe I will attend Pcon until there is clear policy stated that this type of discrimination will not be allowed, and it has been enforced for several years. 

This is unkind and it is wrong and it does not befit an elder of our movement.  How many of us had to stifle important things we knew to be true all through our young lives -- e.g., seeing fairies, knowing Christianity wasn't for us, perhaps abuse secrets, too -- and if we did speak up, knowing that it would mean persecution or being urged to keep such things to ourselves?  That's kind of a rhetorical question because I think nearly all Pagans have had experience of living in such a state, just like I can't imagine it would be otherwise for people whose bodies feel like the wrong gender for them.  For that reason, I am disappointed not to see a much greater empathy and, yes, identification with transpeople's personal journeys. 

Jadelyn said...

It's funny, I sort of wish she would dispense with even the half-hearted generic apologies.  If you're going to take a bigoted stand, own your bigotry and stand in it, instead of trying to evade and placate those calling you on it in an attempt to just make the hurt go away.  

As to staying away from the con, I agree; I've never attended PCon for financial reasons, even though I live only a little over an hour from San Jose, but I think my absence will be deliberate, rather than longing glances from afar, until this changes.

Sonneillon said...

I really appreciate the offer, but I think it'd be mostly useless, because after coming home from work and going through my blog roll, I discovered many of my comments had been deleted.  So those pagans are no longer on my blog roll.  Sorry, but transphobia, among other things, is a deal-breaker for me.  For the record, these were not screaming, cussing, "you're such an idiot" comments, they were "Z. Budapest has made many contributions to paganism from a feminist perspective, but she is not qualified to say who is and is not a 'real' woman, and this 'genetic women only' business is both ignorant and a slap in the face of trans* people" comments.  In other words, I thought I was being fairly polite, but many pagan writers who I previously respected are silencing all but one side of the controversy.  Several of them are Dianic, but come on - you have a right to bigoted religious views, but you have no right to not have those views called out as bigoted.  Bigotry is bigotry.


Sonneillon said...

When people who are already marginalized leverage the privilege they have to marginalize others, it makes me spitting mad.  Yes, women need safe spaces.  Yes, pagans need fairness and recognition.  Transwomen pagans need these things too.  And if you want to have ciswomen-only rituals, knock yourself out, but don't freaking do it at PantheaCon under a theme of Unity and Diversity.  FFS.

CaitieCat said...

Thanks, Jadelyn.  It is really healing to have feminists sticking up for us; I, of course, transitioned in 1992, meaning right at the height of the second wave. I had many friends who went to the Michigan Festival, while I was excluded by virtue of my past. 

And another subtle aspect: in a sense, they're enforcing passing on trans women who DO want to attend.  They MUST be able to pass, even nude, or be excluded.  Meaning, say, that someone who transitioned late, or had a bad experience with testosterone, might well be excluded even if she's had bottom surgery, just for looking less "female" than other people.

In fact, there's nothing saying they won't actually throw out/exclude some ciswomen who just happen to be really butch.  This kind of exclusion is simple bigotry.

And y'know, I wouldn't even mind, if they'd simply say that the ritual was specifically for cis women.  Y'know?  Because while it'd be still bigotry, it'd be honest about the bigotry.  If you're going to hate me, don't ALSO lie to me and pretend you don't.  Own your bigotry.

So, yeah.  Thanks.  It means a lot to have cis allies on this kind of deal.

Sonneillon said...

*hugs if wanted*  Y'all deserve our love and support.

CaitieCat said...

Thx, Sonneillon.  Dunno about deserve, but sure do appreciate it all the same.  :)

And hugs always gratefully accepted.

J. Decker said...

Thank you.  Very well said.

That Word Grrl said...

FWIW, here's my response: http://notyourteachablemoment.wordpress.com/2012/02/21/when-the-excluded-exclude/

Jadelyn said...

I do what I can - or what I can't not, sometimes.  *hugs* offered, as always.  :-)

That hadn't occurred to me, about butch-presenting cis women potentially being excluded, but I can totally see it.  I mean, when you set yourself up as the arbiter of True Womanhood, who's to say the line won't shift to include presentation as well as history?  

Jadelyn said...

Thank you for sharing that.  It's such an infuriating pattern to see happening again and again, with various groups.  :-/

Jadelyn said...

I saw your post pop up on google when I was looking for other responses to the incident, actually.  Heh.  I like that you, unlike so many others, are outright *mad* about it.  I'm getting kind of tired of calls for calm, reasonable "dialogue" at this point.  

CaitieCat said...

Well, and it has happened.  A cis woman was arrested by the NYPD at one point, and was put into isolation (thankfully!) on the men's side of the jail, despite having ID and being a cis woman.  They arresting officers decided they thought she looked like she might be trans*, so they decided she was trans*, and put her in with the men. 

And what pissed me off the most about it was that when there was a big uproar about it, the problem was that it happened to a cis woman, not that it happened at all.  When it was pointed out that this was basically routine treatment for trans* women, there was a colossal amount of shrugging, as if to say, "Well, you chose to do this, so..."  There's also (TW for sexual assault) a fair bit of the attitude that a trans* woman has nothing to complain about if she's raped, as the woman's experience is what she wanted to have, and if she didn't want to be raped, then she shouldn't have transitioned.

I have been told this myself, both by men and second-wave so-called "feminists", usually separatist radicals.

So yeah...it matters a lot to me when my cis allies speak up here, because it's an area that can be very, very hard to speak out about: we are taught that our safety relies on our ability to blend in, so making a stink about anything goes fully against all the traditional trans* narratives and expectations.

Which, y'know, sucks.

CaitieCat said...

Hi Cathryn - I know it probably seems a small thing, but most trans* people I know use "trans women" or "trans people" (as an example, not an exhaustive list), with a space between the two words.  "trans" is an adjective, and just as you wouldn't say a Black WOC was a "Blackwoman", it's probably more respectful to use the separated forms. 

I use trans*, btw, as Jadelyn does - to indicate that I'm referring to the whole spectrum of trans-ness, meaning people who are in some way not the gender they were assigned as.  That one's by no means quite as wide-spread in the trans* community, for some valid reasons. 

Thanks for hearing me on this.

Sonneillon said...

Right?  Sure, let's talk forever and nothing will ever get done.  There was an anthology published on all the talking we did after last year's incident, and still this year's incident occurred.  It's great to discuss issues and raise awareness, but if we actually care about justice for all pagans, we have to DO stuff.  And frankly, all the calm dialogue is giving me the impression that very few people actually care about the harm and insult this incident gave to Trans* Pagans.  I hear a lot of "But if they're not hurting anyone you should leave them alone" going around the blogosphere and I find it entirely disingenuous... they are hurting people.  They demonstrable hurt people.  That is why we are upset.  Geez.

Sonneillon said...

I made that mistake too, Caitie, and I apologize.  I'll go edit it.

x x said...

I've seen a lot of posts and online material protesting this ritual, and I happen to agree with the protestors.

I do wonder, is there any counterpoint defense online somewhere?  I've not seen any material defending her position, but would be interested to hear such reasoning.

Jadelyn said...

Wow.  Just, wow.  At all of that.  Because holy fucking shit, what is WRONG with people to say ANY of that?  

The bit about passing/safety/not making waves all sort of being tied together, actually ties back to something Budapest herself said about trans women being upset at being excluded, the gist of which was basically "If you were *really* women, you'd understand and shut up and be meek about this - that you're arguing is totally male behavior which just *shows* that you're actually men not women."  So not only is she excluding and misgendering trans* people, she seems to be deliberately trading on the "don't make waves if you want to pass/be safe" thing to silence those who would stand up to her.  What. the. hell.

Jadelyn said...

Thanks for catching that and being willing to say something - sorry I hadn't yet! 

CaitieCat said...

No worries.  Thanks for being gracious about me getting all mod-hat on your thread. :)

And Sonneillon, thanks too.  I didn't think it needed repeating all over the place, and Ms. Bauer was just the first instance I came to.

CaitieCat said...

Yeah, that's one I've seen before too.  They argue that it's a vestige of male privilege, knowing it's the one tool most likely to shut us up, because the last thing a feminist trans woman wants is to be called "masculine" in any sense, especially in an oppressive-of-women one.  It's insidious. 


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