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.


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