Transgender Day of Remembrance, Elder Transphobia

First let me apologize for my long absence from this site. I really have no excuse. I’ve let time get away from me or something. Perhaps practicing some of that self-care that I talk so much about is something that I need to be doing. Anywhoo…


Today is the Transgender Day of Remembrance. A day to remember all of those who have fought hard for the cause of trans rights, equality, and even simple recognition. A day to honor the memory of those who have fought and died, those who have been murdered, and those who have been straight-washed out of trans history. This is a day that saddens me and gladdens me. It saddens me to think of the countless lives that have been lost, shattered, and forgotten. It gladdens me that for so many years the LGBTQIA-etc community has been banding together, to extent or another, to honor and remember those who have gone before us in the fight against transphobia.

I’m not trans. That doesn’t mean I can’t sympathize with those who are. I’m a cis-male. I was lucky enough to be born into the correct body, this time around. I know many who are not so lucky. Many who have had to fight the internal battle to understand themselves long before they can even start to the fight the external battle for rights, equality, protections, and even simple recognition for who they truly are.

A dear friend of mine, an ex-boyfriend actually, is in the process of transitioning. We’ve been friends for over 20 years, having dated briefly back when we first met. She pretty much lives her life as a woman now. She has been on hormones for some time, begun the surgical process to transition, and has started electrolysis to remove facial hair. It hasn’t been an easy battle for her. She’s faced the pain of coming out to her family – twice. First as bisexual and then as a trans-woman. Oddly, I think it was coming out as herself that was the easier for her family to accept. Her biggest concerns, other than being able to finish the transition process, have been confronting misconceptions at work and how to deal with telling her employer that she is a woman.

Another good friend of mine is a trans-man. He was one of the first queer foster parents in the state of Kansas, has been a reporter for an independent newspaper, is a published poet, and a presenter at public events. I met him as him. Never knew the woman he was before. There was even a bit of a romance that could have formed between us. In conversation with this friend I have learned that it can be very difficult to have to cut your family out of your life when you come out as a trans-person. He has also shared that it can quite the joyous thing to be loved and accepted for who you are by those most important in your life. His god-daughter loves him as him. She doesn’t know, understand, or even care at this point in her four-year old life that her god-father was born into a woman’s body.

Sadly, both of these friends have faced many hardships in their transitions. My ex has had to face the self-loathing and depression that often goes along with being something (or someone) that society tells you is wrong. My guy friend has been attacked and brutalized by a transphobic rapist.

These are not the only transgender people I know. I truly hope that I will met and get to know many more in the future. I’ve been blessed to meet those I have, and I hope they feel the same in meeting me.

Transphobia is real and we as Pagans are not immune to it. Just as homophobia, biphobia, misogyny, and racism are a part of the Pagan community so too is transphobia. That has been made abundantly clear several times over the last few years. From Z Budapest to Ruth Barrett to Luisah Teish.

Peter Dybing, Courtney Weber, Erick DuPree, and many others have written about this in just the last two weeks. As Courtney pointed out in her blog not a year goes by, it seems, that some elder or another says or does something that is blatantly hateful and transphobic. This year the conversation was kick started by Yoruba elder Luisah Teish when she made a public statement calling Caitlyn Jenner a man in drag, no true woman. Oddly enough, that same day she announced an upcoming 2016 workshop she is involved in regarding gender and sexuality. Many others jumped on the bandwagon, including Ruth Barrett who reiterated her distaste for transwomen and her fear that a transwoman in a women-only festival would abuse their fellow festival goers. This is something that she has brought up repeatedly during the now defunct MichFest women’s music festival. (I’ve not seen any comments from Budapest, perhaps because I no longer follow her on Facebook or visit her website.)

Was it really 2011 that brought us the unfortunate news that Dianic Wiccan Z Budapest was such a transphobic elder that she would bar trans-women from attending a public ritual at PantheaCon? Yes. Sadly, it was. It is the 21st Century, yet there are many, Pagan or otherwise, who still seem to live in a long forgotten past, where their definitions of who and what a person is are so far from reality that it has caused some to question their mental stability. Less than five years later and we are still questioning that stability. Worse yet, there are many who are otherwise very open-minded and supportive of the LGBTQIA-etc community who are defending these elders and their public statements saying “they have earned the right to sit at the head of the table.” Not my table.

I cannot speak to Z Budapest, Ruth Barrett, or Luisah Teish as individuals. I’ve read much of what all three have written. I’ve enjoyed Ruth’s music over the years (and will probably continue to do so). I once honored and respected all three as influential people on my own Pagan life. Not so much now. I’ve long stopped following what Budapest has to say on social media, I’ve not sought out anything new from Barrett, and I am sorely disappointed in the words of Teish. I still respect what they have done, taught, or shared of their lives that is respectful of other people and their own lives, but I cannot say that I call them elder in my own life. I will look out for any future statements from them on issues of transphobia, racism, etc. I will do so with a heavy salt lick near by to remind myself that they have hurt people in my community with the words and deeds they have shared with the world.

There is hope for the future. There always is. Around the time that Teish made her public statement regarding Caitlyn Jenner a petition was being promoted on to remove the “T” from “LGBT”. This petition was not a Pagan creation. It had been created by transphobic individuals within the LGB(T) community who feel that transgender people are not part of their community and do not deserve the same rights and protections that they have been fighting decades for. (Excuse me…? Yes, that’s what they are saying.) Alarmingly, a woman who I have respected for decades and have had a friendly correspondence with was one of the Pagan elders who signed that petition. She was called out on it by many in the Pagan community.  I am talking about M Macha Nightmare. After some time and long hard thoughts she removed her name from that petition and made a public, though brief, apology to the both the Pagan and the trans communities. I am proud to know her, I am proud that she would make such a public admission of her error. I hope that many more will have the schutzpa to do the very same thing.

Other elders in the community, well respect individuals who have earned (in my opinion) the right to sit at the head of the table, have spoken out publicly against the hateful and transphobic statements of others in the community. Some of them are big names, what I like to call Better Known Pagans; some of them are little known outside of their own circles and local communities. All of them have gained some margin of respect in my eyes.

T Thorn Coyle, #BlackLivesMatter and environmental activist, brings things into perspective with her blog post. We are only human. We are fallible. We can learn, though. We can keep trying to do better. We can encourage those around us to do better.

What we have to do as Pagans and allies to the trans community is step forward, step up, and make a stand whenever and where ever we find someone, regardless of who they are, being hurtful, bigoted, and down right inhumane to a transgender person. We don’t have to know the victim of the transphobic attack, we don’t have to know the person making the attack. We just have to be humane and make that stand.

I know, it is hard. Especially if it could put you at risk of harassment from the one doing the attack or from others who side with them. It can also be thankless task. The victim of the attack may not be in a position to say thank you, they may not even want to acknowledge that they are a victim or that they needed someone to step up and stand with them. Do it, though. You don’t have to be recognized to be a good person.

There is at least one well known and outspoken person in the Pagan community who has fallen victim to harassment and personal attacks because he stood up with his transgender brothers and sisters and called a bigoted elder out for her words and her actions. I am not at liberty to name him, but if you know who he is and can call him friend you are a truly blessed person.

Let those who have spoken out against the harassment and attacks be an example for you. You don’t have to put yourself at risk to stand against such bigotry. All you need to do is say “that’s not right” or “that was mean”. You could go a step further and explain why it isn’t right or why it is mean. You could even further and explain things to the bigot. If you really want to be a hero to your transgender sisters and brothers then you can walk right up to the bigoted person, regardless of who they are, and explain in no uncertain terms just how much of an ignorant fool they are making themselves out to be.

Take it from me, someone who has survived the verbal and physical harassment of homophobes, when someone does any one of those above described actions they are a hero. Don’t do it to be a hero. Do it to be humane. We are all creatures of the Gods.

Last Sunday  I had the pleasure and privilege of spending an hour with a local trans activist on the radio. Natalie Weiss of Lincoln, NE has put herself on the frontlines of the fight for transgender equality and recognition. She joined my cohost and I for Lavender Hill to talk about Lincoln and Omaha area Transgender Day of Remembrance events. If you haven’t had the opportunity, or taken the time, to listen to a transgender person talk about the struggles and heartaches, as well as the joys and successes, of being a trans person in today’s world, I encourage you to listen to the recording of that broadcast.

Updated and new content added, 11/21/15. RK


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About revkess

Rev. Philipp Kessler (aka RevKess) is a simple small town Pagan who has found himself near neighbors with the Nebraska state capital building and the politics of the Cornhusker State. He has been involved with the Pagan community for 20 years. Co-founder and international facilitator of the Pagan Alliance Network, co-owner of Pangaia Metaphysical Store and a High Priest in the Covenant of Cernnunnos Tradition (12 years). He is also a Pagan broadcaster; celebrating four years as a "minion" (cohost) on KZUM's Murphy's Magic Mess, the world's longest running Pagan program on terrestrial radio (20 years in April 2013). Along with KaliSara he hosts the Pagan-Musings Podcast on the Pagan-Musings Podcast Channel, with Zaracon he hosts the Pagan Weekly News also on PMPChannel, and with Corwin he hosts Lavender Hill (Nebraska's first LGBTQ news and talk program) on KZUM.

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