Tag Archives: pagan

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…

Courtesy glsen.org

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. Continue reading

A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment

Sunlight_over_Earth_as_seen_by_STS-29_crew_-_GPN-2003-00025

Fortuitously, my week to post coincided with the Earth Day 2015 release of A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment.  Usually, we post on Mondays, but this timing was too good to pass up.  For the last few months, myself and a few dozen others have been working together on this statement, and I’m both pleased with the outcome and excited to share it with you all.

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Racism, Rape Culture, and Pagan Events

3210478_xl–Shauna Aura Knight

Having just taught workshops at three of the big four Pagan conferences, and having attended a number of large Pagan festivals, I wanted to offer a bit of context for how some of these larger events have handled issues of social justice. While these events don’t represent the entire Pagan community, they do reflect issues and trends that ripple out to Pagans across the globe.

I’ve noticed a definite contrast in how specific events/communities are dealing with issues of racism, rape culture, harassment, cultural appropriation, transphobia, and other related issues. Some communities and events are actively embracing dialogue, and others don’t address these issues at all.

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Racism and Activism at Pantheacon 2015

FB_IMG_1424196654259–by Shauna Aura Knight

Yesterday Pantheacon ended. Pantheacon is the largest Pagan conference and has almost 3,000 attendees and takes place in San Jose every year. I’m posting this a day late because I’ve been at the conference and wanted to write about activism within the Pagan community and specifically on activism-related issues that come up at Pantheacon.

Several years ago, Pantheacon was rocked by the exclusion of transgender women from one of the women’s rituals, and that controversy rippled out (and is still rippling) across the broader Pagan community.

This weekend I was proud to be part of a panel discussing racism within the community. Unfortunately, that panel began on a sour note as I learned that there had been something hurtful and racist written in one of the various newsletters distributed at Pantheacon.

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I’m a Racist

iStock_000001291278XSmall–Shauna Aura Knight

Hi, I’m Shauna, and I’m a racist. No, not one of the ones clearly defined by the pointy hats and white robes. And not one of the racists clearly identified by hateful invective.

In fact, I’m in some ways the more dangerous kind of racist; or at least, I was. Once upon a time, I was the kind of racist who didn’t realize how bigoted I was. I still struggle with my own blind spots and how much this impacts my thoughts and actions on a daily basis.

How did I come to be this way? This kind of racism is systemic. It’s ambient. If you’re raised in it, you can’t see it any more than you can see the air you breathe. But just because you can’t see the air doesn’t mean you aren’t breathing it in.

I used to believe I lived in a post-racial society, that I was “color blind.” And then…I used to believe that Pagans couldn’t be racist. Yet within the broader Pagan communities, we do unfortunately have problems with racism just like the dominant culture does.

But what do we do about it? Because #BlackLivesMatter .

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Orthodox Pagan Food

I’m an avid reader. Books, blogs, and HuffPost articles feed my unquenchable hunger for more information. The genres I read lend toward nonfiction: science, memoirs, and of course, Pagan books. Religion is something I have deep interest in and not just my religion. I love to read books by and about Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and any other religion. My favorite stories are religious memoirs, books written by people who came from some sort of orthodox life who “escaped” and are now making their way in the world. Some of my favorites include Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots, The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf, and The Namesake.

Whenever I read books on this subject an envy deep in my soul grows a little bigger. The envy is for the the connection many of the community members have: living in tight knit communities, sharing space and lives and sometimes bloodlines, of actually *knowing* your neighbors, of being able to trust those around you to have your best interest at heart.

Of course, the authors don’t paint the rosy picture my mind wants to see. Instead, they talk of oppressive patriarchal hierarchies so tightly knit together they can be almost impossible to rip back. They speak of deep loneliness, of feeling “other” all the time, not being able to trust their families and peers for fear of being shamed for wanting something other than maintaining whatever the cultural and religious norm there are.

Our religion does not fit into the above description. We Pagans tend to flee when we see the words “rules” “restrictions” “regulation” “responsibility” because many of us came from religions which had far too many of these “r” words. We bristle at the very thought of anyone having power to tell us what to do and what not to do. I’m one who bristles at the very thought of someone telling me anything. But I see there is a need for some rules. Paganism is not a free-for-all religion. We have responsibilities to ourselves, our kin, and Mother Earth.

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Dogmatic Foodies

roundtableHere at Pagan Activist, we cover the issue of food frequently. That’s because 100% of Pagan Activist authors eat food.

Author’s here have a variety of diets. I eat paleo. Jason eats vegan. Soli eats traditional. Debra avoids GMOs thus avoiding processed. Our commonality? We all want to eat as healthy as we can.

Whose health are we talking about when we use the loaded word “healthy”? If the discussion is about Earth’s health, some argue eating meat isn’t healthy for Mother Earth. Some argue eating grains is the real detriment. Still others lament at the high carbon footprints of trekking vegetables from below the equator to above it to feed the wealthy north is the real culprit.

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Homophobia in Paganism

gay triple goddess pentacle

~by RevKess

Homophobia. Biphobia. Transphobia. Each term implies an irrational fear of someone or something that is different. That’s just it. Irrational fear. Unfortunately the Pagan community is not immune to such fears. They are present in the Pagan world just as they are in every other aspect of human civilization. Unlike arachnophobia, which can be founded in something real – a person bitten by a brown recluse may be very afraid of all spiders afterwards – these phobias are more a result of cultural influence than anything real.

Personal experiences: I feel lucky that in my early years as a Pagan and an openly gay person that I did not face these phobias from within my new community. I came out of both the broom closet and the gay closet at the tender age of 14 while attending a small rural high school. I was harassed in school for both my beliefs and my sexual orientation, but did not have to deal with the Pagans in my life being mean or vile towards me because of who I was attracted to. Other than the first two Pagans I met, thanks to a local dial-up BBS, the Pagans I met in my first months on the path were met through a locally owned new age shop, which also happened to be the only GLBT owned bookstore in Lincoln, NE.

Aradia’s Arcane/Arbor Moon was my introduction to a lot of things. I am so grateful to the owners that they created a safe atmosphere for not only the Pagan community but the gay community in my area. The woman who was to become my initiated high priestess introduced me to the store and to many wonderful people, many of whom would become my new family. It wasn’t until five years after my first stepping out of the closet that I encountered these phobias within the local Pagan community.

My coven had all but transplanted itself to Colorado, I and a few others associated with the group chose to remain in Nebraska. I was searching for a new group to work with and find community in my life again. A bisexual couple introduced me to a meditation and study group that was open to new people. The high priestess of that group was very open and loving of most everyone who came through her door. Her husband and the group’s high priest (we’ll call him P) on the other hand was not so open and loving (at the time). A recent transplant from southern California (ironically), he expressed some views that were rather conservative and sometimes hateful. He took umbrage to my being gay. He didn’t out right say anything that would be clearly homophobic, but he did make things uncomfortable. At first I wrote it off as him being “superior” to my 19-year-old self, not appreciating that I was as informed and honest as I was at that young age. I was wrong. In later years he made a woman, also a transplant from southern California and a lesbian, feel so uncomfortable in his home that she has refused to even be in the same room with him.

Many years later P found himself in a situation in which he had no choice but to come to me for help. He’d divorced his wife and was battling depression, lost his job and his house was being foreclosed. His ex-wife asked me if I would be willing to take in his cats while he was seeking treatment for his depression. I wound up offering him crash space in my home. Yes, the same man who despite being educated and a high priest was homophobic. I took him in and gave him a place to sleep, a safe place for his cats, and introduced him to my mother coven from Colorado. I do not know if it was my actions and willingness to provide him a place to live or if it was his own personal evolution, but his attitudes changed over the course of the few months he resided in my home. He now lives two doors down from me and is much more open and accepting than he was when we first met 17 years ago.

My own personal experiences with homophobia in the Pagan world are limited, thankfully. I’ve never felt fear for my life from anyone in the Pagan community because of their fear and hatred of my sexuality. I’ve been blessed that no one has refused me admittance to a ritual or gathering because I am gay. But that is not always the case for others.

PantheaCon is just a few weeks away. Many of us may remember what happened at that event in 2011. But for those that don’t know….

The Dianic Wiccan tradition started out as a safe haven for lesbian Pagans, for women who had been harmed in some way by men, but primarily as a means for lesbian Pagans to gather and celebrate the Goddess in their own way. According to my friend LesBiCris (name changed for anonymity, and I paraphrase her comments), Z’s tradition hosted lesbian Pagans to the exclusion of all other women, looking down their noses at bisexual women and straight women alike – as anyone who would allow a man to touch them was not worthy of the love of the Goddess. The inclusion of transwomen was never even a consideration. Over the years and decades since bi women and straight women have been embraced into the tradition. Perhaps because of a waning in interest or because of pressure from within to allow all ciswomen to worship in the Dianic tradition. LesBiCris has her own opinion and many anecdotes that could argue either way. But transwomen were still not welcome.

Cover-web.jpg

An example of transphobia: At PantheaCon in 2011 the issue came to a head. Members of the Circle of Cerridwen and other groups and individuals had been experiencing ill feeling from Z’s form of Dianic Wicca at the event. Transwomen were not, even in other groups and circles, fully welcome in certain activities. An unfortunate truth even in the gay community (for both transwomen and transmen).

Gender and Transgender in Modern Paganism, an anthology of articles that resulted from the debacle at PantheaCon 2011 in which transgender women were refused entry to a women only ritual hosted by Zsusanna Budapest. Transwomen were turned away at the door to the women only ritual. Why? Because they were born with a penis and were not “real women”. From what I remember, not being at PantheaCon myself, the ritual was a skyclad ritual, one in which the women were encouraged to let go of the “pain caused by men”. Many transwomen are in transition and may still have the male genitalia they were born with.

I can understand the issue when it comes to skyclad ritual. Many women who participate in a ritual as described above may suffer flash backs or other such psychological trauma when seeing a penis, whether it is engorged or not, and this would have adverse effects in such a ritual setting. But it is not the fault of the transwoman that she has a penis.

You can hear my thoughts, and the thoughts of my cohosts on PMPChannel and directly from some of the people involved, either at PantheaCon or as transgender Pagans, in episodes of Pagan-Musings Podcast and the Pagan Weekly News.

What happened at PantheaCon in 2011, and the resulting attempts in 2012 and 2013 to rectify the situation, are just one small example of how Pagans can be homo and transphobic. Biphobia is another story all together. In 2013 the organizers of PantheaCon changed their guidelines to preclude such exclusionary rituals and events. They may still take place, but they are not part of the official PantheaCon schedule. In 2012 a similar ritual took place, again hosted by Z Budapest and her tradition. A silent ritual protest was staged in the hall outside the event room. A panel on diversity was also held in 2012. Z Budapest and many Dianic Wiccans decided not to attend in 2013. What happens this year is yet to be seen. I hope that the Pagans who are transgender who attend this year find a much more open and welcoming atmosphere than they did in 2011. At least one “new” tradition has branched off from the Dianic since these events occurred.

What can we do to combat homophobia, transphobia and biphobia?: Whether it is within the Pagan community or not, the easiest way to combat these phobias is through education and openness. Easier said than done. A bigoted person, no matter their religious/spiritual persuasion, is naturally resistant to education. Telling a homophobe that their hatred towards people who are gay is unhealthy (for both the gay person and the bigot) is about as useful as trying to squeeze water from a rock – difficult even under the best of circumstances. Repeated, calm, rational, and caring education/openness is essential when combating these phobias. Will they work on every ‘phobe? No. They will work on those who are willing to listen to a contrary opinion.

I’ll draw on personal experience again: Years ago, when I was around 18 or 19, I was hanging out with a diverse group of people at a Saturday night modemers’ coffee club. Some of my age peers had never met an openly gay person before, or at least didn’t know that they had. One of these young men was rather fascinated by the world of Paganism and liked to talk to me about spirituality. He knew I was gay, and that part made him uncomfortable. Over the course of several discussions he learned that I wasn’t all that much different from him. Not only did he later become Pagan, but he willingly admitted that he was wrong about gay people. He even asked me and my (at the time) boyfriend to be involved in his wedding.

P, whom I spoke of earlier, is another example of how time, patience, and compassion for another can help lead a phobic person to be more open minded, even to change their view of homosexuality. I’ve encountered many such situations with people who later became good friends of mine. I’ve also had experiences where no matter what I did or said the person remained phobic, even some of the Pagans I have encountered.

I wear a pentacle every day, it is a ring on my left hand. I wear two rainbow wrist bands every day, one on each wrist. When people meet me, if they see the bling, they might know that I am Pagan and that I am gay. These are two very simple ways that I go about my daily routine as an open Pagan and an open gay man. Not everyone can do this. Those who can in some small way show their Paganness and non-heteroness are champions for both communities. When I am asked about either the ring or the wrist bands I always answer openly and honestly. Sometimes that leads to an uncomfortable silence. More often it leads to a smile and a nod or a “good for you!” comment from those who ask. Rarely, but it does happen, does my response lead to an adverse reaction. When it does, I move along (when at work) or I try to counter their reaction with rational and compassionate thought.

More to the point of this discussion, how do we deal with homophobia, biphobia, transphobia within the Pagan community? Some traditions are going to be more conservative. Some paths are apparently opposed to non-heterosexuality. We cannot change the minds and hearts of those who strongly believe that being gay or bi or trans is against their religious or spiritual beliefs. We can show them, however, that gays, bis, trans people are not all that different from them. We are all children of the Gods (or the Goddess, or the One, or whatever Divine title). Many Pagans profess to worship or work with Gods of ancient cultures, from different pantheons. Almost without exception these ancient cultures acknowledged, even embraced, their non-straight members. As LesBiCris reminded me the other night, most aboriginal cultures paid special honor to their “two-spirit” members. Sometimes elevating them to a higher or spiritual status above those who were “normal”.

What do you do to combat these phobias, whether within the Pagan community or elsewhere? Please share your thoughts and experiences with me and those who read this blog.

Dietary Tribalism

1360016977Recently I attended a multiday event which included a lot of physical activity and required endurance. Knowing the participants would need to be fed, the organizers sent an email a few weeks prior asking participants about diet restrictions and food allergies. I responded with “paleo” then listed my food allergies and what happens to my body when I eat the foods I’m allergic to.

The midday meal consisted rice and bean burritos with some tofu wrapped in wheat tortillas or peanut butter and jelly on either wheat bread or “gluten free” bread. Dinner was rice and beans, chili made of beans and corn, lettuce with apples, and bread. I can eat none of these foods yet because these were the only meals offered I ate what I knew my body would negatively respond to.

By this time I was very worried about the days to follow. I went to bed yet found myself unable to sleep due to frequent trips to the bathroom. When morning came I was not only completely exhausted from not sleeping and all the physical activity of the day before but I was also extremely hungry. I had to make the decision as to stay with the group or travel home. Not only was my body undernourished my brain didn’t have the fuel it needed so decision making wasn’t easy.

I talked with a volunteer, a lovely young woman in her senior year of college, who said “meat was never going to be provided. The majority of people here are vegetarian.” I asked her “if you were the only vegan with a bunch of paleos wouldn’t you expect to be fed?” She responded with “Oh, I didn’t think of that.” She also stated the volunteers and organizers had seen my diet requirements when I emailed the form to the organization. However, no one made any attempts to communicate with me. I was informed by the volunteer “it was on the website.” Prior to leaving my home I saw the menu on the website. I wrongly assumed* my dietary needs would be met.

I then went to the organizer, a young woman in her early twenties, who said to me “buy your own food.” When I explained I had only enough money to get back home via public transportation she shrugged and walked away. My tired, hungry brain bubbled over into emotional tears. I felt devalued, unwanted, poor, and so … dismissed. That’s when I decided to return home.

It took almost four hours for me to get home via public transportation. During that time I got some animal protein in my body and was able to nap on the bus. I started to feel better but knew I wouldn’t return to myself until I slept in my own bed and ate food my body is accustomed to.

Food Tribes

More people are realizing the Standard American Diet of highly processed, refined foods is not “healthy”, thus creating dietary tribalism: paleos, vegan, and everyone in between. Whether intentional or not, food tribe members are imposing their personal morality and individualistic dietary requirements on others and it’s causing conflict and, worse, exclusion. After the 24 hours I spent eating vegan I felt so marginalized that my trust in the group deteriorated to zero. Thankfully, after my belly was filled and my body rested I was able to think rationally and realized this was a time for non-accusatory dialogue. But I’m still struggling with that.

Events designed to bring people together can, and do, have the opposite effect. One can bring their own food but doing so can insult the hostess which leads to more conflict. What one person eats as a staple may cause anaphylactic shock in another. Gone are the days when a BBQ of dogs and burgers, slaw and salad feeds 100 people. Family functions have become fraught with peril. The dietary needs of paleos and vegans — not to mention the multitudes with severe food allergies — are often left out at large functions when providing an abundance of food as cheaply as possible is the goal.

Economics

The Second Great Depression is making it tough for everyone. Personally I’ve been affected by an inability to find gainful employment. My fulltime job is looking for a fulltime job. The lack of employment has effected every single aspect of my life. Most discussions start and end with “I don’t have the money.” There are lots of events I don’t attend, conference calls I can’t join, and spend much of my time home alone, isolated away from the population because of the economy. Even my familial relationships have been affected. One member of my family will no longer talk to me because I could not afford to attend her wedding last year.

Because money is so finite, I pick and choose what I will spend greenbacks on. I have to weigh the options carefully: is what I want to do financially feasible? Will it throw my budget completely out of whack? How long will it take my bank account to recover from spending money on _____.

I planned to attend the event for months. All I needed was a small amount of cash to get to the departure point and home from the end point.  I decided the cost of the bus tickets was worth the event. I knew my meals would be provided so that was something I didn’t need to worry about.

I was very wrong.

Planning for a large group of people on a finite budget isn’t easy. Choices have to be made as to what is economically feasible for the group. Budgets have to cover the plan and if the budget does not, the plan has to be reworked. As someone who has done a multitude of event planning I understand this fully.

The group didn’t get the funding they were anticipating so cuts had to be made. But as the volunteer said “we were never planning on providing meat”. So even if the food budget had been slashed, my meals were never going to made available to me. And that was never directly communicated to me.

Solutions

There just doesn’t seem to be a happy medium in which everyone’s dietary needs are satisfied. A vegan may not want to watch a paleo eat chicken. Individuals allergic to nuts may not be able to attend public events where nuts may be in attendance. A celiac can not eat anything with grains in it, often excluding that person from eating grainy salads on the table. Bringing ones own food may insult Grandma who spent hours planning, shopping, and preparing a meal.

So what’s the solution?

Not imposing dietary tribalism of one group onto another.

Just as a group of paleos wouldn’t consider forcing vegans to eat meat, vegans should not force paleos into eating grains.  To look down one’s nose at someone who is eating as their body calls for is silently imposing dietary tribalism. The last thing I want when I’m eating lamb is for snide, rude comments, dirty looks, and a holy-than-thou attitude from someone sitting across from me. It’s just as easy for me to make disrespectful comments in attempts to shame someone into eating the way I want them to. For instance, I could say “Grains are converted into sugar and we know there’s nothing cancer cells love more than sugar!” just like someone could say “That lamb had a face! Meat is murder!” Neither attitude is appetizing. Leave your inner Judge Judy at home.

Finding Commonalities

There are lots of commonalities between paleos and vegans. Both tribes, generally, want to avoid processed foods, artificial ingredients, false sugars and genetically modified organisms and other forms of chemical engineered food. Both want organic, nutrient dense, low carbon footprint foods grown locally. Both groups focus on their health and feel, as individuals, they are feeding their bodies the best possible diet for optimal health. Focus on those commonalities instead of the differences.

Avoid Exclusion

“We were never going to provide meat” the volunteer said.
“Buy your own” said by the organizer.

Both statements made me feel other, marginalized, unwanted, and disrespected. Both reeked of economic privilege and offended me to my core.  Those two sentences made me not want to work with the groups who organized the event, nor with the two young women I spoke with. I realized the two women who spoke these words were young and what they need is education about privilege and how the choices they made as individuals and as a group affected me quite negatively.

What the organizers and volunteers planned to do about the exclusion of my dietary needs once it was pointed is the crux of the problem. Obviously they had no idea what to do so their response was to make what they overlooked into my problem. By shrugging off my concerns they dodged responsibility. This is not an acceptable solution. In short, their solution was exclusion.

Social movement want inclusion. In order to do so organizers must plan for all dietary and economic needs. Otherwise entire groups of people will be deliberate excluded to the detriment of the movement organizers are trying to recruit for. Basically: don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.

Communicate

A few weeks before the event, I sent in the questionnaire regarding my dietary needs. The volunteer said “oh, we saw that” but the group never communicated to me their unwillingness to provide the requirements of my diet. The response I received when I brought this up was “it was on the website”. Putting something on a website is not the be all, end all in communication. By saying what she did, the organizer dodged responsibility essentially saying “it’s your fault. Go home.”  Being contacted when the organization first received my questionnaire should’ve occurred. At that point I would’ve been able to make a decision as to whether to attend, save money, prepare meals, and ask friends and colleagues for donations to help me procure appropriate food in order for me to succeed in completing the week long event — something I had looked forward to, and trained for, for months — was feasible.

What I learned from this experience was to be inclusive of all eaters. The next event I plan will either have food for all or require all to bring their own food. I do not want anyone to feel the way I did, not even for a second.

If you’re inclined, I often foodgram.

*Assumptions make an ASS out of U and ME.
**Emphasis mine

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