In my last two columns, I examined many of the contentious issues around sacred sexuality and the teaching of sex magick. This week I discuss open festivals. You can read Part One and Part Two at these links.
Continuing from the end of Part Two:
Freedom vs. Security
Here’s an awkward topic, and we’ve been talking about it a lot over the past several months. How do we assure that we have safety in our small, already odd communities without losing our inclusiveness?
We are hampered from dealing with it effectively as a community for several reasons. One is the Curse of Pagan Niceness. We try to be so inclusive and “live and let live” about things, that we can provide an excellent space for a predator or a mere jerk to run rampant over us. Sometimes the right and proper thing to do is to tell someone to take a hike because their garbage is not welcome here. We can be inclusive and still have healthy boundaries. As is so well-expressed in this article, “sex positive” does not justify being a creeper.
There are two forms of coercion. One is overt, in which direct pressure is applied to encourage people to do things they might not otherwise do; and the other is covert, in which indirect social pressure shames or embarrasses people into doing things they might not otherwise do. At a sexually open event or within the confines of a coven practicing sex magick, there’s a thin line to be walked here.
In my experience, the only way to be sure that there is no coercion involved is a combination of transparency in groups and individual discretion.
A group or an event that involves open sexuality needs to be up-front about its purpose and intention. If you’re going to hold an adult-oriented Beltane, make that very plain. Also make plain that no one is required to do anything at all that they do not wish to do. Be sure to talk to your participants in an opening speech to emphasize that just because some rules of sexuality and nudity are relaxed here, the rules of politeness and respect are not, because some people will walk in, even among Pagan circles, expecting the orgies of Bacchanalia (which is fine too, as long as you don’t take that literally!).
Another problem is overreaction. We tend to attract a lot of people with issues around sex and sexuality. As I said before, I include myself in this group. It’s important for us to create a safe space; but this does not necessarily mean a hermetically sealed space devoid of situations that may be confronting. It’s unrealistic, and more than a little unfair, to expect everyone else to anticipate our issues and not do anything at all that might be vaguely triggering; any more than it’s fair for me to attend a gathering and expect that all meals will be cooked in a gluten-free kitchen without any milk products (though I’d hope for some gluten-free options). Nor would it be fair for my husband, with his artificial leg and mobility issues, to go camping and expect that there will be complete wheelchair accessibility to every part of the site (though we expect that there will be reasonable attempts at accommodation). If we accept that our emotional trauma is just another form of injury and our mental illness actually is an illness, we do have some degree of obligation to take responsibility for ourselves and our own difficulties; just as the community has a responsibility to try to accommodate them.
One might ask, “But what if I see something going on that’s unethical?” It’s my contention that the Curse of Pagan Niceness wrongly suggests that we should put up with unethical, pushy and rude people when we otherwise shouldn’t be tolerating their behavior. I say that you need to ask yourself a few questions when you see a situation you don’t like. First of all, is anyone actually getting hurt or do you just not like it? And second, is it your right to interfere? If you think that someone’s behavior is inappropriate or ill-advised, you have a right to express your opinion, and if you think harm is being done, you have the right, and duty, to bring it up with the organizers of the event.
Our final problem comes in when lifestyles rub up against the raw edges of each other. There is no such thing as a common “Pagan sexuality.” Making assumptions that we have a common ground in this, when we include traditional monogamous heterosexual Asatruar, lesbian Goddess-worshippers, radical fairies, BTW nudist swingers, kinky goth-witch dominatrix vampires, and eclectic polyamorous Wiccanate neo-hippie family constellations (to name but a few) is not only foolish, it’s counterproductive. Many of us do things that others in the community do not approve of. Here we have an awkward dynamic tension, but the solution is not in “siloing” and exclusion.
Let me tell you a parable. There was a Pagan event that I enjoyed attending for many years. Originally created as a family-friendly festival, there was also a small group who liked to have a good party (ideally, separated from the rest of the group so as not to bother them) and a certain degree of sexual license in specific locations (an Aphrodite’s Temple, intended for romantic encounters and friendly trysts, and a Pan’s Lair, intended for alternate sexual practice often involving groups) where children were forbidden. As part of the balance, particular areas were designated as strictly and firmly family-friendly. There was a constant tension between the needs of one group or another, and from year to year things leaned in one direction, then the other, for a long time. Then the “serious crowd” got control of the event, and they strictly forbade the “party crowd” from doing their thing. So the party crowd got together and created a party event. The result? After several years, the serious crowd’s event is going broke and often cannot secure enough registrations to make their festival happen; and the party event is doing well financially but has degenerated into a drunken revel with nothing more than a passing nod towards spirituality. I don’t find either result desirable. Both events have lost something in the division.
A safe space means a safe space for everyone; both the sworn virgin and the sacred whore. Prudishness and sleaziness equally violate that safe space.
Next column: The conclusion – some practical tips for practice.