It’s a sad truth that harassment and discrimination occurs within the Pagan community. However, I want to call some positive attention to several Pagan events that have adopted safety and anti-harassment policies at their events. While a lot of Pagans tell me, “Duh, of course we’d kick someone out for racist comments/sexual misconduct/gay bashing,” the truth is, this is not always the case. And further, some issues–such as discrimination against transgender people–have only recently become something that more Pagans are even aware of, much less working to address.
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.
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.
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.
- Sun Goddess – Moon God: Gender Bending Spirituality Aired 4/2/2011
- Transgender Pagans Revisited Aired 5/14/2011
- Pagan Weekly News #30 PantheaCon-Z Budapest-Transgender Aired 2/20/2012
- Pagan Weekly News #33 – Transgender Pagans and Witch Hunts Aired 3/12/2012
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.