Essays at the intersection of spirituality, activism, and radical psychology.
Do we celebrate diversity, or do we simply tolerate it?
Mitchell stares at me intently as he asks the question.
Mitchell has helped bring trans awareness into Bay Area paganism, particularly Reclaiming events. So I had to stop and think. Do pagans really celebrate gender diversity and transgender people’s experience?
Or do we simply tolerate people who are permanently seen as “other”?
Mitchell has been part of the Spiral Dance ritual in recent years, when the “trans deity” invocation has certainly felt celebratory.
But he’s also been part of rituals that practice inclusivity by invoking “both goddess and god,” or that do gender work which recognizes only two groups, often defined by how we were labeled at birth: male and female.
It’s hardly a celebration of diversity to add as an afterthought, “Oh, and trans and queer people can form a third group if they want.”
Trans folks are the cutting edge of our awareness of diversity and personal freedom. Our ability to celebrate that diversity is a gauge of our willingness to liberate all of our society, and to step into that liberated space.
Part of the beauty of living in a diverse society is getting to celebrate other people’s liberation and cultural affirmation. It’s like a holiday every week – we’re all invited to Chinese New Year, to Dia de los Muertos, to Gay Pride, to the Spiral Dance...
Whenever one person or group steps into liberated power, it radiates out to all of us. That’s worth celebrating!
Celebrating Self-Identification / Celebrating Inclusion
“Celebration” has to begin with unconditional inclusion. If we are going to celebrate the trans experience (or that of any other subgroup), we first have to ensure that people feel welcome and included in all our activities, and are not marginalized or defined out of participation.
I’m going to use Reclaiming as an example, because it’s a community I know well. Let others see what they will.
Around Reclaiming, we speak of each person being their own “spiritual authority,” and generally accept that each person gets to define their own experience.
To me, that means that if a “gendered” event has the name Reclaiming attached, all who self-‐identify as part of that subgroup are welcome. Definitions such as how people were born, what gender their parents or other authorities assigned them, whether their bodies look or act a certain way — these are not distinctions we use to exclude people.
Clearly anyone can host a private event and invite whomever they wish. If I want to circle with “men who were raised as boys,” I can do that on my own time. If a woman wants a ritual for only those women who have wombs, it sounds like a great occasion for a private event.
Closed groups have their places — affinity groups, circles, birthday parties, Thanksgiving dinners. These are personal events, not community gatherings.
What I don’t think works is publicly-‐announced events at which organizers empower themselves to assign genders to those trying to attend, or enforce distinctions that exclude sincerely self-‐identifying people.
“Public” means open to all who self-‐identify as the given gender(s). Anything else is a closed, private circle.
Nuances & Exceptions
A nuance I can see around gender and other issues is a “year-‐and-‐a-‐day” clause: To
“self identify” means having done so for some period of time. I can’t just declare that I am “self identifying as a woman for the evening” and insist on admission to a red tent ritual. We can have a minimum expectation of dedication to and experience with a path.
Self-‐definition has complexities and exceptions. An exception I can think of is age — for legal and ethical reasons, we can’t have adults “self-‐defining” as teens or kids, regardless of how they live or perceive themselves.
I also think self-‐identifying around race or ethnicity is very complicated, and probably includes some element of how we were raised and how others perceive us (ie, what privileges or penalties our upbringing or appearance grants us, regardless of our self-‐identification).
But around gender, the meaning of inclusivity seems fairly straight-‐forward. I’d like to be able to give Mitchell a clear, crisp, answer:
Yes, we celebrate diversity!
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