Inspired by a comment posted on Trans Is A Teacher For All Of Us, I posted the following status update to Facebook:
“I wonder how my Wiccan friends might respond to the idea that the Lord and Lady gave us our form, or that a trans person transitioning is the greatest insult to them.”
The feedback I received to this one status update was proof to me that we need more discussion about gender essentialism in Pagan communities.
[Full disclosure: I’m not a Wiccan, nor am I a believer in deities who, in any literal sense, gave us form. I’m also the parent of an amazing trans kid who just underwent top surgery, so I’m biased.]
Below are some of the responses to my status updates. I’ve left people’s names off of this post to keep the emphasis on the ideas.
“I am not Wiccan, but I find it incredible hubris to think that we could decide what is the “greatest insult” to any deities. How does that person know what the wyrd of a trans person is?”
“The presence of a hard and fast gender binary in Wicca was kind of a turn off for me. In the Radical Faeries in DC we expanded this concept into recognizing God-Forms as Male, Female, Both, and Neither. When theology fails you, change your theology.” (emphasis mine)
“As a Wiccan, I find that idea very belittling.
We have a way of working in Wicca that makes a heterofocal use of sex differences. And personally, I love it – connecting with the way male-female pairings are how the natural processes that give us people (including trans people, gay people, straight people with no interest in ever reproducing, and so on) and food (again, eaten by the lot of us) is a very powerful thing to me.
But to take that way of working, and turn it into a single minded view on sex, gender, sexual orientation, and/or sexual expression I don’t just find bullshit in itself for its quite obvious disconnect with reality, but also an insult to that fertility focus that I love in its implication that others of us who find spiritual expression in focusing on it share their inability to see beyond it. The wonder of fertility is in the fact that we *can* see beyond it – that it leads to things beyond itself. Otherwise it would just be an interesting machine.”
“Personally, I think a trans person making the physical transition is taking the path they were meant for. Each soul has its own journey of discovery and growth, and trans people have a harder road than some other people. They should be nurtured, welcomed, and accepted for who they are. I may not understand the trans person journey, but that isn’t required for me to be supportive and caring, one human being to another.”
“Trans is the manifestation of analog gender. It’s produced by nature. I wonder how animals manifest it, for it must occur in them. And as below, so above.”“This is what I love & honor so much about trans & two-spirit nature. They destabilize so many fixed notions. They make everything more complex & interesting. Fundamentalists of all stripes are forced to gracefully bend or clumsily break.”
“When my spouse of ten years came out to my as transgendered, I stayed. The small community where we live views us a different, some of the people most offended by the transition now are great supporters. If nothing else Andrea has shown people that we are all the same deep down just in different wrappers. I’m pagan, she is working on her own spirituality.”
“Any theology that doesn’t take the realities of both biology and human social structure/culture into account is just superstitious nonsense. Saying that any deities “made” us a certain way and have some sort of “plan” for what we’re supposed to do with our lives is just nuts and might as well be fundamentailist *xian* thinking re-packaged into a dualistic concept of deity. Harumph and phooey.”
“My theology is that of co-creation with the Gods, not submission to their will. If I were to embark on that kind of change, I would consider it a dance of co-creation with the Gods, not a defiance of them.”
“Many of us pagans converted from religions in which the godform(s) were authoritative rule-givers and have a hard time giving up that paradigm. Personally, I don’t have much truck with deities who demand obedience or subservience to their will; if that’s what I wanted, I’d have stayed with the religion of my birth.”
There is a lot to sort through here, and admittedly I don’t have the space or perspective to work through it right now. But, that doesn’t mean the conversation can’t continue!
Please share your thoughts about gender essentialism, its connection to Pagan traditions, and how you think it needs to be embraced, adjusted, or rejected altogether.
Then, after you’ve updated your feed, show your love of this newly independent blog by sharing this post on the social network of your choice!
(P.S. Thank you to everyone who sent love and prayers to me and my family. We really appreciate it.)
It was my first time being fingerprinted and I couldn’t stop giggling.
I wasn’t drunk. I wasn’t being arrested, either. I was in the police station by choice, and the man who was gently rolling my inked fingers across the regulation fingerprint-card was taking it all in stride.
“You know,” I said, “this action, when taken out of its normal context, is totally neutral. It typically has so much stigma attached to it, but it’s really nothing!” (giggle) “This is actually kind of fun!”
I don’t imagine this was a typical conversation for the policeman. I couldn’t help myself, though. I was beginning a process of transformation right there in the police station, my hand being guided by his, and I couldn’t help but be a little giddy.
Once we’d finished, I took the two cards in my ink-stained hands to the front desk, paid the nice lady her $18, and walked out of the station, one step closer to being fully me.
I’m changing my name.
For most of you reading this, there will be no need for adjustment. You won’t have to update your RSS feed or your address book. Nothing will change for you. You’ll continue to see my posts on the blog, or my musings on Twitter and Facebook. Everything will continue as it has since you first stumbled upon my writing.
But, for a few of you, and for my friends, my family, my bank, the Post Office, and just about every other institution I’m currently involved with, things are going to be very different.
You see, I’m not changing my name from Teo Bishop to something else; I’m legally changing my name from something else to Teo Bishop.
Simply put, this decision is an outward sign of my personal commitment to my spiritual and religious path. Changing my name is me owning up to the fact that the person I am when I call myself Teo is the person I’ve been at my core for all of my life, and the person who I wish to continue being. It’s not simply a commitment to being a Druid or a Pagan; it’s a commitment to being introspective, pious, inquisitive, passionate, and compassionate. It’s a commitment to nurturing my relationship with the Gods, with the Spirits of the Land, and with my Ancestors.
It’s me coming out as me.
Coming out is a spiritual experience. Whether you’re claiming a new name, being open about your gender identity, telling your family you’re a Pagan, accepting, publicly, that you no longer believe in God, or performing any other act which affirms something true about you that may have been unseen or unknown by others, coming out is willing your life to be different from how it was before. For all the magick workers out there, you recognize the power embedded in this language.
To be called by a new name, in my mind, is not to deny what I’ve been before. It’s simply to reassign my focus; to place the emphasis where I feel it truly belongs. I write these words as a cisgendered man, but I can’t help but wonder if this feeling of aligning one’s outer self with their inner self is an experience that my trans sisters and brothers could speak to.
When coming out, there’s cause to feel giddy–I think–even in front of an unsuspecting police officer. Coming out is worthy of celebration. Every moment we claim possession of our own life, our own identity, our own journey, we channel the power of creation; the power of the Divine. By being true to ourselves, we are honoring the Great Mystery, and we consent to participate in it.
Needless to say, I’m throwing myself a party once the FBI processes my fingerprints and feels satisfied that I’m not a dangerous criminal.
There are many of you reading this who have experienced coming out in one way or another. Some of you are a part of the Alphabet Community (LGBTQIA…), and many of you have come out as Pagan to your friends or family. Some of you might even be on the fence about coming out, and are seeking some words of encouragement or guidance.
I invite all of you to take a few minutes and reflect on what coming out means to you. If you feel comfortable, I encourage you to share your story here in the comment section, and reach out in support and compassion to your fellow commenters. Then, feel free to share this post with anyone who you think might have something to contribute to the conversation.
I brought my little tin-can altar to Pantheacon, and set it up in my hotel room on the glass, circular end table next to the lounge chair. The conference program was rather stern about not burning incense or lighting candles anywhere in the hotel, but I chose to believe that the rules didn’t include small tea lights and mini-tapers on end tables. Honestly, if I’m standing naked before an altar I can guarantee you that I’ll be the first to notice if something catches on fire.
Bringing my altar with me provided a feeling of continuity at the start of the unfamiliar experience, and doing ritual this morning offered a similar sense of familiarity as I try to make sense of all that’s happened over the past few days. I’ve resisted posting platitudes about Pantheacon, either on my blog or on Facebook, because the experience of this gathering was profound for me. It’s worthy of more than a quick summary.
I recognize that there is a great deal of controversy stirring about online regarding the Z Budapest ritual, and I’m going to give myself a little more time before I write about that. I was at the scene, seated with Thorn and the other 89 silent protesters, positioned directly across from Z when she emerged from the conference room to speak at the group. I wrote furiously in my little notebook to capture as many details as I could, and I intend to put a post together that not only describes the scene of the protest, but also reflects on some of the subtler points that we miss beneath the cacophony of internet chatter and bickering.
I think it’s important to remember — not only for me, but also for those who were unable to attend Pantheacon — that this conference was much more than a single controversy over gender identity and the policies of inclusion and exclusion to ritual. Those dialogues did occur, and are worth unpacking even further. But, we must try to place a single conversation in its proper context, even if we believe that the message at the heart of that conversation is revolutionary, or urgent.
Pantheacon was, itself, a kind of ritual. We gathered in a hotel, sanctified the space, and proceeded to seek knowledge, explore community, and challenge our assumptions about who we are, what we believe, and why we practice as we do. It was a complicated ritual, and, as with most rituals, there is always room for improvement.
Pantheacon was a dynamic and enriching experience. Participating in it affirmed for me a number of things, not the least of which is that I have no qualms about identifying as a Pagan anymore. The discussion about that word, while fascinating for a time, is much less important to me than it was just a few months ago. Not only am I comfortable using the term “Pagan” to broadly identify what I do, I make the distinction that what I do is not all of who I am. Moving into this awareness is liberating.
I intend to explore these revelations in the coming days, as well as to describe what I discovered about my relationship to ADF Druidry, OBOD, and Celtic Reconstructionism, what it felt like to invoke the spirit of Inspiration into ritual space, and what immediate challenges I believe have been presented to me for my own spiritual growth and development.
I’m not going to try to do this all at once. I don’t feel an immediate urgency to understand Pantheacon, right now. I’m going to take my time, let it steep for a little longer. After all, the energy raised in a ritual truly begins to serve its purpose once the ritual has ended, no? If that’s true, then the real effect of Pantheacon begins now.
Rather than become overwhelmed by that truth, I approach my altar and light a candle. I center myself, call upon Those who I call upon, and carry on with my life. I hold on to the thread of continuity which led me to Pantheacon, and I trust this it will lead me to more enchantment, more challenges, and more opportunities to serve my community, my land, my Gods. I do all of this with a deeper sense of self, a burgeoning belief about my purpose as a writer, a teacher and a creative soul, and with the feeling of profound gratitude.
That is where I begin on the first day after my first Pantheacon.