On PantheaCon and "Respectful Dialogue"

[Continued TW for transmisogyny, misgendering, genital-essentialism, and for the love of all the gods do not read the comments anywhere without a stiff drink handy.  Possibly also some tranquilizers.]

I wrote a post about the genital-essentialist Dianic Wiccan elder Z. Budapest's "for genetic women only" ritual at PantheaCon 2012 last week, which was apparently one of the first-off-the-mark posts about the incident.  In following the other posts and commentaries that have run like wildfire through the pagan blogosphere in the week following, I have encountered again and again and again calls for "calm/peaceful/respectful dialogue", asking us all to treat this as a teachable moment, a learning experience, asking us to "work from love" and seek healing for our community.

The problem with that is that we are responding to an act of emotional violence - that it is psychic and verbal violence, rather than physical, does not change the violent nature of the act - that was in no way calm, respectful, peaceful, from love, or seeking healing.  (Calling trans women "transies" and describing them as "men who just won't respect women's boundaries" is pretty much the fucking definition of not-respectful.)

So why is it incumbent upon trans women and their allies to "work from love" and "engage in respectful dialogue" to "bring healing to our community"?  Why is it unacceptable to be visibly, openly angry at this bigotry on display from one of our community elders?  To quote from one of my favorite writers: "When someone engages in divisive behavior, any resulting division is that person's responsibility."  Z. Budapest engaged - repeatedly! - in the divisive behavior of excluding and misgendering trans women, an act which causes explicit mental, emotional, and spiritual harm*.  Any resulting division in the community, then, is her responsibility (and to a lesser degree, her supporters').

So why is there so much tone-policing going on in the form of these calls for "respectful dialogue"?

I am not a Wiccan, and so I do not adhere strictly to their notions of dualistic balance in things.  But I do feel that this is a situation that is terribly imbalanced.  Anger is a valid response, too, just as valid as any calm, reasoned, respectful choice to engage in dialogue, and yet it is being rejected as "making things worse", in favor of framing respectful dialogue as the One And Only True Way to make any progress on this issue.  To add one's voice to the repressive drumbeat of CALM RESPECTFUL DIALOGUE ONLY is to visit a second harm on those who have already been harmed - to add insult to injury, as it were - by saying, in essence, "You are not allowed to be angry at this violation of your right to feel safe in this community.  You are not allowed to be angry at the bigotry and hateful rhetoric this person and her supporters have used to exclude you.  If you want to participate in the conversation, you must choke down your anger, swallow the hurt, and gently, quietly, politely reply, educate, and dialogue with someone who has no interest in being educated or entering in mutually-respectful dialogue with you."

Because here's the thing: quietness and respect are not synonymous.  Z. Budapest may not have raised her voice when she read her statement to those who sat in silent witness on behalf of those excluded at this year's ritual, but that does not make her words respectful.  She may not have screamed in the face of a trans woman "YOU'RE A MAN AND I HATE YOU", when she posted her little transphobic screed in response to the uproar last year, but there was no respect in what she said.  So why, why on Earth are we expected to respond with respectful dialogue and education to someone who has shown no interest in reciprocating?

In particular, in going back through links to the various pieces I've read in preparation for hitting publish on this post, The Wild Hunt's continuing declaration of being "a place where all voices can be heard" struck me.    I respect that, as a large pan-pagan news blog, there's a natural desire to both be and appear neutral on contentious issues like this one.  But the problem with being "a place where all voices can be heard" is that, to be quite blunt, not all voices deserve to be heard.  When some voices are spreading misinformation and causing harm, they don't need to be heard.  To use a worn-out old example, if someone stomps on your foot, and you want to say "Ow that fucking hurt," does a counterpoint "No, it didn't!" really need to be heard, honored, and respected?

Productive dialogue is not always possible in every situation.  And indeed, it is a manifestation of privilege to insist that it should be.  As Sonneillion said on last week's post, we have HAD dialogue.  Tons of it.  Oodles of it.  An entire anthology, "Gender and Transgender in Modern Paganism".  A conference.  And this still happened again.  We are still having the same damn conversation, the same "dialogue" all over again.  It hasn't worked.  What's that saying, about doing the same thing over again and expecting different results?

Respectful dialogue is not possible, will not be possible, until those who have caused this divisiveness in our community, and those who have supported and defended them in doing so, are willing to back down and listen, which they have shown no signs of.

Respect is earned.  Dialogue is not an obligation on the part of the oppressed.  If the pagan community wants respectful dialogue, hold the oppressors accountable to that standard first.

*I have spent the past week and a half watching an acquaintance of mine (you know, that awkward grey space where you're mutual followers on Twitter and Tumblr and have spoken briefly about inconsequential things but never really interacted more directly, even though you actually like the person and think you might be able to be friends), a pagan trans woman, hurting over this.  I have watched her speak on her blog about how psychically hurt and emotionally weary she is, and how much harm this exclusionary bullshit has done to her, while my heart has ached in sympathy for her pain.  So anyone who wants to argue that this kind of public misgendering and hateful statements isn't *really* harmful, or isn't *really* violence, can GTFO.


Teaspoon said...

A lot of pagan communities seem to engage in a number of Geek Social Fallacies.  It's a shame that real people's real pain is being pushed back because so many people are so invested in protecting the feelings of someone who has behaved obnoxiously.

Jayle Enn said...

I suppose the natal women who happen to not have a traditional XX chromosome complement (and this sort of mosaicism does happen) were SOL too-- or not, because 'genetic' is just shorthand for 'what I perceive to be a proper example of man/womanhood'.

This is one of the reasons that I drifted away from paganism years ago. The misandry, transmisogyny, ageism (I recall a screed in one of Starhawk's books railing against teen girls crowding into her clubhouse) and general inability to deal maturely with serious matters like this were other major, disillusioning factors as well.

Jadelyn said...

Oh, wow.  I hadn't made the connection to GSF, but you are totally right.  That's exactly what a lot of this is.  That those who have been rejected by society at large, then categorically define all rejection as evil and wrong, therefore those who are attempting to reject a toxic element of the community are the ones in the wrong because oh noes rejection.

That actually puts a lot of the responses in perspective.  Thanks for making that connection for me.  >.<

Jadelyn said...

"Natal women" is...an interesting term.  It sounds like you're using it to mean something like AFAB (assigned female at birth)?  Is there a reason you use "natal women" as opposed to "cis women" in this context?  

Terminology aside, yeah, I - and a few commenters at Wild Hunt and other places - noticed that about "genetic women" being a terribly misleading phrase, unless she was in fact requiring a karyotype at the door.  And I've heard that while the "genetic women" phrasing was used in the con program, Budapest put up a "women-born-women" sign on the door of the room anyway.

Out of curiosity, what do you mean by misandry in the pagan community?  And ugh, that sucks about Starhawk being ageist - she's one of the few pagan authors I actually reliably like.  >.<

Teaspoon said...

 If only understanding more of the problem lent itself to better solutions!

Sonneillon said...

That is an amazingly excellent point, and I can't believe it didn't occur to me.  But you are so right, and I really appreciate you calling attention to it.

Sonneillon said...

I have noticed that a lot of men feel unwelcome in certain pagan communities.  The emphasis on feminine divinity (which is fair enough in itself as a backlash against a couple thousand years of patriarchal male divinity, but as an end result, not very fair) can make some men feel like they don't have a place.  A lot of modern covens are sufficiently integrated not to have that problem, and I think we can agree that men have a place and plenty of visibility in modern paganism (quite a lot of our prominent dispensers of pagan media are male).  But the fact remains that in many circles, emphasis on the divine feminine means that special space needs to be carved out by men, for men.

Some second-wave feminist spaces (Dianic Wicca, for instance) are blatantly discriminatory.  I have personally heard quite a few male pagans wondering aloud what they have to contribute to a narrative like that when they are feminists themselves, and acknowledge that women need their own space.

Sonneillon said...

I am ridiculously thrilled that you mentioned me.  XD  I'm also, as always, deeply appreciative of your stance.  I've been saying much the same thing - this is the tone argument all over again.  "Be respectful!  Let's have dialogue!"  and the childish part of me wants to say, "Um, no, you're being BIGOTS.  Full stop.  Why should I be polite about it?"

The thing is, I (as a genderqueer person) am trying really hard to have respectful dialogue with other pagans whom I respect, but there is so, so, SO much privilege being expressed all over the place here, and I do not have a stiff drink or tranqs to make it bearable.  Over and over and over again I hear the same arguments plucked straight from Derailing For Dummies.  

"If Trans* people want spaces they're free to create their own spaces, nobody's stopping them!  Separate is totally equal, right?  And we have no understanding of how being forcibly 'othered' like that is emotionally and socially harmful to marginalized people-groups!"

"Part of respect means respecting the rites and beliefs of transphobic Dianics!  This is their religious belief, therefore it is somehow above reproach despite the fact that we don't hold Christian religious beliefs above reproach when they say pagans are one of the biggest threats to the nation, or that gays and lesbians are worse than terrorists!"

"You're not helping anything when you get angry about it!  If you'd just sit down, shut up, and let us debate about whether you ought to be 'allowed' into cis-spaces, then humbly respect our decision no matter what it is, you'll see that we really deserve to be the gatekeepers of your acceptance!"

"Z. Budapest is an elder who's made many wonderful contributions, and since she's never made a secret of her transphobia, we think we should take the bad with the good!  Transphobia is not a deal-breaker for us, why should it be for you?"

"Look, as long as they're not hurting anybody, why should the greater pagan community have any say over what Dianics do during their rites?  We absolutely do not agree that holding such a rite labeled 'genetic women only' and 'women born women' in a public space could possibly be hurtful to trans* people.  Y'all are too sensitive."

This is becoming it's own post (and I've been meaning to post again about this for a while, especially after reading Gus DiZerega's post, which is a particularly egregious example of most of the above, I think.  So a post will be forthcoming).  The point is... I feel like every one of these conversations has to be dragged kicking and screaming back to 101 space.  And that is so frustrating I could scream.

Jadelyn said...

Fair point.  I guess I have felt that, by this point in time, the prevailing trend is that yes, men need to carve out their own spaces if they want them, but there's nothing wrong with that, so I'm not sure I count it as misandry so much.  In the past, most likely, yeah, but not at this point.  (Although I'll admit I don't do much in-person community mingling, so I could be wrong in my perception as an observer-from-a-distance.)

Jadelyn said...

Well, you were the one who said A Really Smart Thing, so I wasn't going to steal the credit, lol.  

But yeah, I've seen all those arguments made, and what's worse is it's often by people I have much respected otherwise who I sort of expected to be functioning at a higher social justice level.  I hopped over to your blog and saw your post on Gus DiZerega's set of logical fallacies, and I really love the way you phrase a lot of it - do you mind if I excerpt and highlight your post here on my blog?  

Oh and btw, I have been meaning to ask - you've mentioned a couple times lately that you're genderqueer, and I just realized the other day that you somehow got sorted into the "female" box in my brain for some reason, for which I deeply apologize.  May I ask what pronouns you use, so I can refer to you correctly in the future?  :-)

Sonneillon said...

You are more than welcome to any of my content if you need it.  And I very much appreciate you asking about my pronouns.  I use female pronouns, but neutral pronouns are also fine.  I'm assigned female, and that doesn't bug me, so you're not really wrong, it's just that on a spiritual level I have no connection to that gender.  I have no feminine energy to contribute to anyone... female perspective, however, I have in spades, having grown up with this set of genitals and all the cultural baggage that comes with it.  XD  So there you go. 

what's worse is it's often by people I have much respected otherwise who I sort of expected to be functioning at a higher social justice level.

THIS.  Exactly this!  I expect so much more of our visible leaders, our media experts, our theologians and our sages... I want more from them.  I want to be able to look up to them no matter what.  And that's probably unrealistic, but at the same time, I feel like I'm kind of chugging happily into the future only to be yanked back by a rope around my waist that I didn't know was there.  And while I'm trying to massage away the sore feeling in my stomach, I'm also staring at the people holding onto the rope, wondering why they're so opposed to just... moving forward like we've been doing.  I thought we were going in the same direction.

Sonneillon said...

I don't think the practice stems from misandry.  I think part of it stems for the need for safe spaces for women, which is part and parcel of this controversy.  Men have dominated the culture so long that women needing safe spaces is understandable.  Any marginalized group needing safe spaces is understandable.  

You know me, I'm not fond of a polarized view of gender in the first place.  XD  What I hope to see, as paganism ages, as children born into the faith grow up and become leaders of the new generations, is that the emphasis on the female divine will ease a little in place of a more flexible, more egalitarian view of divinity in the mainstream.  It may never happen, but that's just what I'd like to see.  I think as we move forward, choosing to emphasize the celebration of diverse gender, among humans and among the gods, will alleviate that imbalance somewhat.

Jadelyn said...

I think that's a very good future to hope for - and I think it's much more likely with those who've grown up in the faith than those of us who converted as adults.  I know I still, even nearly ten years out from the Christian part of my upbringing, have trouble connecting to or conceptualizing the divine masculine, whether in the general sense or a specific male deity, because it sets off all kinds of internal alarms and resistances against the coercive maleness of the divine as I was taught it from my earliest spiritual development.  And of course pagan-raised kids won't be *completely* free of that, at least not in this country with how Christianity is so pervasive even around those who aren't of the faith themselves, but hopefully they will have less of it and be more open to working with the divine in *all* potential gendered - and n0n-gendered - aspects.

Jadelyn said...

Understood on the pronouns!  And I think you and I are both being a little idealistic in our high expectations of our community, but at the same time I think that's totally natural - that of course one *wants* one's leaders and role models to be of the highest caliber, right?

Sonneillon said...

Like you, I converted as an adult (mostly, I wanted to convert when I was 14) and I find myself still struggling to shrug off the residue of my Christian heritage.  Sometimes this affects how I relate to male deities.  But some pagan male deities are just so cool that I can't help loving them.  It helps that they're not meant to be all-powerful creator gods... I speak here of Hermes, Dionysus, Antinous.  While they can't be divorced from the extremely patriarchal society from which they came, many of them show glimmers of qualities that I can appreciate even today, hints that it's possible for gods to love and respect the women they live beside and not be terribly concerned with ruling over them.


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