The Pagan net has been abuzz after beloved and noted elder, Luisah Teish said some not so polite things about the trans-community on Tuesday. Some took offense, others defense, while those who took no side were in for quite the show. In the end it wrought in its wake a lot of old discussions and old wounds. Before I knew it I was left feeling like we (the community) dropped the ball and that we failed to protect our own.

 

I have been involved in the US Pagan community for over a decade. In this time I have donated to pagan causes, volunteered hundreds of hours to pagan causes, have sat on the board of directors for multiple major pagan organizations, and head my own tradition with students worldwide. I have over 200 hours of audio floating around for free via my podcast and I have worked in the metaphysical industry for over thirteen years. Needless to say, I’m invested. I’m invested in this community and what it means to be pagan.

We are all invested in our own ways and perhaps that is why we go head to head when things flare up in the community. We know we face age gaps, experience gaps, leadership gaps, economic gaps, and even gaps in spiritual values but yet we are all thrown under this umbrella called “Paganism.” What we can all agree to is that we are the freaks, the geeks, and the often outcast of society. It’s our job as the current caretakers of this movement to do right by those who have joined it; that includes trans people.

The issue of transphobia in paganism is live and real. Sometimes this is something that we see outright, like with Ruth Barrett and Z Budapest a few years ago, and other times it is more casual and all the more shocking like with Luisah Teish. The way we respond to this as a community is, I feel, often with a lack of understanding regarding the true crystalline nature of this issue. This issue means something different for everyone involved, which means the arguments are layered, complex, and often lack closure.

To the elders who have been called out recently; the issue is not your want for private cis-gender space. No one wants to take away your right to circle together, explore your mysteries together, and bond without the intrusion of those who could never truly understand the journey you undertake in life. I think I speak for just about everyone when I say that your work has been and still in invaluable. Not just to the women you help, but to their daughters and sons as well. We as a community respect, encourage, and honor the work that you do.

We just want you to be aware of, and to adjust, your behavior towards the trans community within paganism. These people are members of our community and whether you like it or not they wont be going anywhere so perhaps there are better ways for us as a community to deal. When you are an elder, people look at you as a spiritual authority so when you share hate propaganda it is interpreted as a full endorsement both emotionally and spiritually. This is especially disturbing when you casually bring up a transgender person as a joke while doing so.

You can’t bring up a sensitive topic publicly and not expect for it to become a big deal. Chances are, if an entire group of people is upset over something there might be a teachable moment.

Hosting a panel after one of us sticks our foot in our mouth has become the pagan equivalent of going to rehab after getting too drunk at the office Christmas party. Why not just actually start with an, “I’m sorry.” Luisah Teish still hasn’t apologized for saying what she said, she posted a story, invoked the power of tradition, and then avoided the real issue that was right there. All she had to do was apologize. No one will take you seriously if you don’t actually apologize because they will be too busy waiting for you to give them a human response.

In the end the fault and the fall out lays at the feet of each of us as a direct result of our inability to act appropriately the last time this ugly beast reared its head. We failed at taking care of this the first, second, third, and fifth times this has happened in the past four years! We are now to blame. Not just these elders who are being called out, but us as well. Because we let them get away with it.

The truth is, whether you’re transgender or not, in the older camp or younger camp, no matter if you are new to the scene or have been here for a while; how we handle our own, how we choose to handle the ugly parts of our society, is all the outside world will know of our ethics as a people. Not only are we setting a horrible example as to what the actual values of our strange little subculture are, but we have drifted far away from our origins.

There appears to be a major difference in the way the elders in our community and the younger generation want to address this topic (as well as many others.) One group fights to leave things alone and to carry on in the name of tradition. The other fights for progress, equality, and shared dignity. It wasn’t too long ago that the former was in the shoes of the latter so you wont be surprised when I say that I’m confused as to how it has all come to this.

In the past twenty-four hours I have lost a good friend, a network of people I adored, have been called a hypocrite, and have watched friends of mine be bullied for standing up for a the victims of bigotry. All because yet again; a beloved elder said something nasty. Its exhausting, it’s a waste of time, and its embarrassment to us all.

This is a teaching moment for all of us. For those of us who haven’t made it to elder status, we get the chance to demand a new way of being, where we actively pursue spiritual growth and acceptance as a community. It is a chance for our elders to stand up and show the rest of us that maturity and compassion will always prevail. It is a chance for us as a people to rise to the occasion.