Numinous and Concrete
Gender, Paganism, and Finding Our Way
She also spoke of problems with the medical establishment performing surgery on people to impose normalization and to make money. This might be true in some cases, and has certainly had severe ramifications on the lives of intersex people, but it fails to address the men and women who seek out hormones and surgery to better fit their psyches with their physical bodies. How can we celebrate a multiplicity of genders and gender expressions while making room for a variety of choices around gender, including changing one's sex? I would have liked time for discussion on these sorts of points.
In general, there didn't seem to be space for ciswomen with separatist practices to sit in dialogue with men or transwomen about the very real pain of exclusion and the blindness of privilege as well as why they feel a spiritual need for separate space. Some presentations allowed room for interchange, but others ran out of time. The whole subject of gender, normativity, fluidity, and polarity felt like it needs a lot more breathing room.
During the conference, a ritual of healing and forgiveness was offered and I didn't attend for two reasons. The first was practical: people were hanging out to talk after my presentation and I wanted to be present to that. The second was feeling that in order to attend such a ritual, I first needed a forum to discuss, face to face, the ongoing pain people still have at feeling excluded, maligned, or misunderstood. It doesn't feel like it is yet time to heal and move on. It feels like we have barely begun the necessary work. I do hope the ritual ended up being another step in that direction.
In hindsight, I realize that my own presentation barely touched on some of the issues I raise now. Instead, I spoke to the teaching and trouble that comes with binary thinking, focused on our personal connection to the cosmos, and addressed the way that magick workers hold the ability to bring all the intersecting Venn diagrams we call polarities into a cohesive whole, creating new culture if we choose it. I might have done better to have started out by more clearly stating some of the issues many of us are struggling with regarding the ways polarity, sex, and gender expression affect us.
The things I would add to the conference—in an attempt to foster greater discussion of issues of gender, inclusion, exclusion, and becoming better allies to each other—are roundtables and panels. They feel essential to the growth of our understanding of issues of gender in our communities, and in the culture at large. In writing that, I think I hit upon what was really missing: it seems to me that the presenters—myself included—mainly focused on gender in culture. Perhaps we need to talk more about gender in our communities, what it means, how we hurt each other, or how we get along, whether aggression or tears have a place in our rituals, what makes someone a woman, a man, or some other possibility, what are our Mysteries and who is invited? The list could go on.
As one of my Solar Cross cohorts said, perhaps we were a bit too sophisticated in our topics. Perhaps next year we can include more nuts and bolts. If we reprise the theme of gender, we could make sure to not only offer presentations, but to have breakout sessions where we can discuss some of these issues, or listen to panels or round-tables as a group at large. Skilled facilitators could offer tactics to navigate difficult or divisive issues. We are not yet ready—I am not yet ready—to only listen to speakers on a variety of topics. I need—and think we all need—a chance to be in one big room for a few cross-pollinating discussions or strategy sessions. Deeper understanding requires it. True healing requires it.
The more we can do this work, the greater our chance of becoming a coherent force for cultural change. We have that chance within us, but we need to work together. In order to work together, we need to be able to speak with one another, to increase our comprehension of how we harm, and how we can help.
I applaud the Pagan Alliance for seeing a need, and moving to address it. One conference cannot meet all needs nor solve all problems. That said, I still want more and will do my best to help make it happen.
T. Thorn Coyle is an internationally respected visionary and teacher of the magical and esoteric arts. The author of Make Magic of Your Life, Kissing the Limitless, and Evolutionary Witchcraft, she hosts the Elemental Castings podcast series, writes the blog Know Thyself, and has produced several CDs of sacred music. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook!