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.


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