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Is "your paganism" really that accepting of the TS/TG community?

I don't know why this seems to be a pagan blogomeme again --at least when Zsuzsana Budapest is running her mouth, it makes sense-- but I guess maybe the stars are aligned that way again, but it's kinda happening.

PSVL made this post, and if you've been reading my primary polytheist blog, Of Thespiae, or at least Sannion's since he's been back, you probably have an idea of what I'm up to, and I know I've seen other posts over this last week, but I guess I've lost track of them.  Oops.  Sorry about that.

Now, don't get me wrong:  I firmly believe that the physical is as spiritual as anything we credit to that mushy grey stuff between our ears, or anything outside ourselves, be it corporeal or (as best as we can tell) otherwise.  I therefore believe that there are spiritual differences between the sexes and between people who present other different or atypical physical or aesthetic manifestations of their gender. That said, I don't think it's a bad thing to have the existence of some gender-exclusive spirituality groups, nor do I think it's a bad thing for those groups to be restricted to only men and women and others who have gone through certain physical changes:  The problems I see inherent in those groups is not in the spiritual mysteries they can lead a person to, but in the way that individuals in those groups, especially those who have somehow earned authority within those groups (or perhaps simply taken), can pervert those mysteries and present them as the only things that define a gender category.

I say "gender category" because while in most social circumstances, things are encouraged to be "easy" and "easy" was somehow determined to be a binary, in terms of gender, but in reality, I don't personally see gender as that clean-cut.

I think most people have adapted to a gender fluidity, in this modern age.  A mother is a different kind of woman from a socialite or a nurse (especially when one considers that, like nuns and Sisters, nursing was often regarded as a "calling" until about the WWII-era), though often there is overlap.  I would argue that each such woman (and yes, I know that there are male nurses) has such a unique perspective on her role in relation to her gender that it renders each role its own unique variant as a gender.  Likewise, a soldier may also be a father, but it's generally regarded as unbalanced, in most societies, for men to allow the role of the soldier to cross over into the role of the father, or vice-versa; thus, two very different kinds of men, even if they may inhabit the same body.

That said, not all women get to be mothers --not all women want to be, either.  Nor do all men obtain fatherhood, be it biologically, or as an active role in his life, nor do all desire to.  In modern culture, these "lacks" in traditional parental roles are often presented as choices --which is perfectly acceptable, if that's a choice one wants to make.  On the other hand, there are still often enough preventatives to these roles, on a physical level.

Having no interest in baring or rearing children, myself, it's not my place to say whether or not depositing my seed into a womb would make me that much different from donating to a sperm bank, or hiring a surrogate, or going out for adoption, as to affect the kind of man i am.  I do know, though, that my inability to do so, even if I wanted to, does make me different-enough as to qualify as a different sort of man.

To some pagans, the fact that I can't is enough to make me not a man.  To many of those same, depending on what circumstances render this inability, I might even be a woman, in spite of a lifetime of internalised experiences that assure me I am not.  Don't even get me started on the horrors that pagan women of similar circumstances can relay --but trust me when I say that there is no shortage of these personal stories on the Internet.

I wish i could say that this surprised me, but I've been in and out of the on-line pagan community since the mid-1990s, and I've been a traditional Hellenist since 2006 and been more-or-less regularly active in the pagan community since 2008 or '09.  That's quite a bit of years, when compared to the average kid on Tumblr who read some "intro to sociology" paper their big sister's best friend wrote and now thinks they knows everything about "social justice".  I gotta say:  Pagans are obsessed with the gender binary and other people's genitals. 

And, in all honesty, the TS/TG community is no less obsessed with the gender binary, especially in pagan groups.  After that Pcon/Budapest drama a couple years ago, I couldn't help but wonder why so many women who never have and likely never will (at least, not in this one's lifetime) menstruate, want so badly to be invited to menstrual mysteries?  For those who that wasn't the goal, what was it?  To deny that those mysteries even exist, if only for the sake of maintaining an illusion of an uncomplicated relationship to one's own gender?  Just as an apparently cisgender woman with Turner syndrome very likely lacks an uncomplicated relationship with her gender, or an apparently cisgender man with Kleinfelter syndrome* would similarly lack an uncomplicated relationship with his gender, I have never met a single trans peron, self included, who can honestly say they lack an uncomplicated relationship with their gender that can relate back to their condition of being TS/TG.

Just as the rites of passage for men and women have been robbed from people cisgender people, Western trans people, too, have been robbed of our rites -- and yet, the only trans people who advocate restoring to us our rites of passage and our spiritual mysteries (which, last I checked, that list was mostly populated by Raven Kaldera) regularly get chastised on the Internet by other trans people for doing so.  Why?  Because of the illusion of "trans people are no different" that the TS/TG status quo seems really dedicated to maintaining.  At risk of seeming a bit tacky, that reminds me of "the paper bag test", which still affects many within the African-American community, cos some people assume that if one is no darker than a brown paper grocery bag, they're "light enough" to succeed in white-dominated society --but when you look at how the racialised social complexities actually work, it's little more on-target than a craps-shoot; ergo, trans people hoping to maintain the "no difference in gender" illusion are likely setting themselves up for failure in spite of certain levels of "passability" gaining one a slightly better chance of getting a toe into privileged waters.

So cisgender pagans are more interested in telling TS/TG pagans what our genders "really" are than actually building bridges toward acceptance, and TS/TG pagans are more interested in pulling the wool over their own eyes and those of others cos they've bought into some misguided notion that it's the only avenue toward being accepted in certain pagan circles. 


* While this is probably the most common Intersex condition, not everyone who is or may be clinically "intersex" necessarily identifies as anything but the gender they were raised as.

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Ruadhán J McElroy is a Helenic polytheist recon (Boeotian traditions) currently living in Lansing, MI, and maintains a blog focused on Boeotian religion and his own Neo-Cyrenaic Pluralism philosophy that blends the fragments of Cyrenaic Hedonism, the pluralistic philosophy of Empedocles, and some proto-Hedonism from Democritus. He also writes a series of fiction focused on the Mod subculture, has a shop on Etsy, and occasionally works as a DJ of Mod Revival and Ska music.


  • Jamie
    Jamie Friday, 09 August 2013

    As someone who has an uncomplicated understanding of his own masculinity, I appreciate this thoughtful analysis on an issue which has great relevance to our communities.

    Z Budapest might possibly be a man-hating communist, but in my opinion that has little bearing on whether or not her teachings have spiritual value. Artemis/Diana has touched Budapest's and her followers' lives. As a fellow worshipper, it would be impious for me to condemn something which in Her holy name has brought healing and peace to many a damaged soul.

    That doesn't mean that I agree with her religious or political beliefs. I think you 've made a good point that gender identity is a complex issue. The tent really is big enough for all of us, and will still remain so if we recognize that trans people might actually (sometimes) have different spiritual needs due to their distinct gender identities.


  • Ruadhán J McElroy
    Ruadhán J McElroy Friday, 09 August 2013

    There are spiritual needs that are specific to the TS/TG experences, and then there are some gendered spiritual needs that can overlap -- there are times when people feel compltely uncomplicated, and there are times when those little differences that are typically easy to avoid become illuminated and need to be confronted on certain levels.

    A cisgender woman who cannot conceive a child and wants to is going to have that overlap of experience with a trans woman who never had even a sorry excuse of a womb, no matter what other differences there are, but that doesn't mean those differences are irrelevant on a spiritual level.

    Rereading what I initially posted, it's jumbled as hell, and I think I'll go back and revise it when I have the time, bt at least I'm glad that you were able to skim off that gender is a HUGE tent, and it's not as cut-and-dried as a lot of people in modern Western society, be they cis- or trans-, like to portray it. A Vestal Virgin didn't have the same experiences of gender as the average Roman working- or slave-class mother, and a wealthy Greek hetaera didn't have the same experience of her gender, either, yet we'd call all three women? Many TS/TG people, nowadays, would include the Gallai priestesses of Kybele as women, a sort of prototype transgender women who went through ritual castration to take on a feminine role as priestess --if we accept casting the Gallai as women, then it's quite ovious that their experiences of that gender is going to be different, and carry signifcantly different meaning for them.

  • Amarfa
    Amarfa Sunday, 11 August 2013

    I originally thought that the controversy around Z Budapest at Pantheacon was simply about attendance at a womens' ritual. I didn't know it was all about menstruation. (maybe I"m reading this wrong.)

    Oh boy is this a hard situation to detangle! I'm a ciswoman who is bisexual, married to a cisman, who hangs out with pagan Transfolk, and myself and one other ciswoman talked once about having a "women's hut" at Beltane this year. (primarily because there's a lot of phallic imagery around the 'bonfire' let's say). Needless to say, it didn't happen. I was really torn because I've never had that experience. However, being part of a group that has a large proportion of transfolk, I thought it would be ridiculous to exclude ANYONE at all from the women's hut. I wanted to specifically discuss women's issues from womens' perspective, and a really awesome way to do that is to ask the Transfolk how their lives changed after becoming women, or becoming men; how the concepts of authority and gender play out, and to have a dialogue, specifically for women to speak and men to listen, about what it means to be female and all the work it takes to keep everyone's lives in order at the same time as your own. And then we have our periods. And then we have babies. And after that we're not our own people ever again. I am not my own person even now, and I don't have a family yet.

    I think Transpeople are absolutely perfectly situated to explain societal expectations, since they've been on both sides, and can translate the gendered language we so often rely on that the other gender just doesn't understand or takes for granted.

    And I still want the "menstruation" red tent experience, too, with just ciswomen and no men or transfolk. There is only one reason that both of those kinds of 'women's huts' can't exist - selfishness and inability to live and let live.

    Transfolk are not the same as cisfolk and that's why there are different words for it. It's just the way things are. No bad, no good. The situation exists, and It's okay. The trouble we get into is when we start casting each other into roles that we don't want to play=aggressor and victim, and THAT's the problem that happened at Pantheacon. Someone cast Z Budapest as an aggressor, and mob behavior grew, so that she was vilified and humiliated for something I don't think should have been an issue.

    There should not be any maltreatment of anyone based on any reason. It is cruel and false to accuse someone of maltreatment because they want to have a ritual with only certain people; for example, do Pagans knock on the Gardnerians' doors because they're having a private ritual that we non-initiates weren't invited to because Pagans didn't meet the criteria of initiation? Not something I've heard has ever happened.

    Did Transfolk knock on Z Budapest's doors because she was having a private ritual that non-menstruating women weren't invited to because they couldn't meet the criteria of non-menstruation? Yes. Does it mean that Z Budapest hates transfolk? No. I don't think so. Does it mean that Gardnerians hate Pagans? I don't think so.

    But why didn't a mens' ritual get picketed? Why was it a womens' ritual that got the attention? Think about it.

    I'm just angry that there was blame and negativity where none was meant to be.

  • Ruadhán J McElroy
    Ruadhán J McElroy Sunday, 11 August 2013

    I originally thought that the controversy around Z Budapest at Pantheacon was simply about attendance at a womens' ritual. I didn't know it was all about menstruation

    I wasn't there, but I was under the impression that the ritual was intended to be related to menstrual issues, which wasn;t explicitly clear in the description, but the language about "natural women only" or something didn't make things any better to the activists.

    Transfolk are not the same as cisfolk and that's why there are different words for it. It's just the way things are. No bad, no good. The situation exists, and It's okay.

    And that's pretty much where I'm at. For a couple years, I pulled the wool over my eyes, pretended "there's no difference", and the truth is, best case scenario, that's only sometimes true, and it depends on the individual and the circumstances. That's why there is absolutely no such thing as a trans person with a genuinely uncomplicated relationship with their gender.

    The trouble we get into is when we start casting each other into roles that we don't want to play=aggressor and victim, and THAT's the problem that happened at Pantheacon. Someone cast Z Budapest as an aggressor, and mob behavior grew, so that she was vilified and humiliated for something I don't think should have been an issue.
    Eh... To be completely fair, Zsuzsana Budapest *is* an aggressor toward the TS/TG community, and has been for some years, and makes no apologies for it. The fact of the matter is, she doesn't believe that cis women and trans women should ever share spiritual spaces, because in her mind, trans women are just men made woman-like on operating tables. She's no better than Mary Daly was, and Daly pretty much said those exact words on many occasions. The attitude that many trans people have toward Budapest was not born at Pantheacon, it has formed over literally years, at least twenty of them.

    But why didn't a mens' ritual get picketed? Why was it a womens' ritual that got the attention? Think about it.
    As far as I knew, the men's ritual allowed trans men to be present. The Budapest ritual got the attenion it got because the language in the ritual catalogue was seen by many trans women as intentionally divisive.

  • S. Rune Emerson
    S. Rune Emerson Monday, 12 August 2013

    I was going to comment, but my comment turned into a blog post, so I'm just going to share your link and post my thoughts there.

    Well done, btw. :) Thank you for the thoughtful and realistic approach on gender diversity.

  • Ruadhán J McElroy
    Ruadhán J McElroy Wednesday, 14 August 2013

    Thanks! Glad you appreciated it.

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