But We Have a Queer!

This is one of the many issues that has been on my mind lately: the idea that you can ‘prove’ that there are not problems of heteronormativity, monosexism, and cisexism in the Pagan and polytheist communities because, “We have queers!” Any critical thought shows that for the poor argument it is, but I still see it time and again…and again…and again.

Modern Pagandom has a pretty clear, obvious, and historical problem with dissent. Or, at least, dissent that isn’t painted in a flowery, “I disagree but we all bleed red,” sentiment. Directly calling out homophobia and trans*phobia will earn you…interesting reactions, to say the least. The community goes through these spats every few months when a minority within the ‘wider community’ tries to assert itself and is pretty heartlessly told to shut up for the sake of solidarity. (After all, we don’t know what we really are, or what heteronormativity really is, or what trans*phobia really is, and how dare we be so mean to the elders that are engaging in this behavior?!) The excuses/reasoning is the same every time, for every issue. Sometimes there isn’t even an attempt at the ‘we have an [x] person with us!’ and it is flat out stated, often against what the minority or frustrated group will tell you, that Paganism is ‘so welcoming to everyone’.

Yes, because modern Paganism is so accepting of Pagans who incorporate Christ into their practices. Yes, because modern Paganism is so accepting of Luciferians (those who identify as Pagans). Yes, because modern Paganism is so good at respecting cultural boundaries and fighting appropriation.

Well, if that’s what modern Paganism really was, I might be able to tolerate calling myself one.

Let’s face it: Pagan and polytheist movements aren’t perfect, and we need to stop pretending they are. We need to stop pretending that it’s only ‘extremists’ who do crappy things. We’ve very, very competently created our own monsters; we’ve done it so well that nobody wants to accept they can engage in behavior like homophobia or misogyny (“We’re a GODDESS religion!” come the shrieks). We’ve been so unchallenging of ourselves that, for the large part, it is still worse to be called homophobic than it is to actually be homphobic. It’s worse to be caught pointing out problematic language and ideas than it is to promote those ideas.

(And don’t think this behavior is limited to homophobia or trans*phobia. Try having a discuss about mental health and see where that takes you.)

I’ve seen this picture over 9,000 times (almost always called the ‘Pagan God and Goddess’)

If you’re promoting the gender binary and gender conformity and gender essentialism as ‘how the world is’, erasing thousands of people, you shouldn’t be too surprised when people point out that, actually, there’s more than two genders. I can hear the biological ‘gender’ arguments now, off in the distance…and you’re still wrong. It’s a bit disconcerting to hear people expound on how they are a nature religion yet go on to state that there are only two genders when that just isn’t true. Not to mention, in nature there is hardly an ever-present assumption that male=powerful and female=submissive (oh, wait, we’re using ‘active’ and ‘passive’ now aren’t we?).  But wait, there’s more! The idea that often goes with this gender binary/conformity is that of male-female creating the perfect balance, again often said to be ‘natural’. Except, again, a nature show on any station would prove that such isn’t really true.

I’m not saying your theology is wrong and you have to change your religion. I’m saying you need to stop acting like it is the ~truth~ or that nature (don’t even get me started on the romanticization of that) is stuck in a heteronormative binary.

But back to what I really want to focus on: just because you are friends with a queer* person, or there is a gay person in your coven, does not magically make your heteronormative gender binary…not a heteronormative gender binary. You’re still describing it as ‘god’ and ‘goddess’ and coding it as ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ and placing on emphasis on needing those ‘two genders’ to create [whatever you're creating]. If that’s your religion or theology, fine. But own it. Stop trying to magically say it isn’t because ‘we have a queer!’

People are still going to take issue with it, of course, but if you actually want to change so that it isn’t a heteronormative gender binary? You have to actually change something. If you don’t want to change it, don’t. Just don’t lie about what it really is.

Menstruation Ain’t (Always) Female
Monday Tarot: the High Priestess
Sex, Pleasure, & the Sacred
About Aine

Aine Llewellyn is a 20 year old girl creature currently mucking about in southern Arizona. She enjoys the winters and rain but can’t stand the heat. She is a difficult polytheist that natters on and on about her faith.

  • http://www.goat-willow.com Urban-Pooka

    Here here!

  • http://www.facebook.com/dsalisbury David Salisbury

    Cheers to this!

  • http://dashifen.com David Dashifen Kees

    You win the Internet today. Congrats!

  • Christopher Scott Thompson

    Not being a Wiccan, I don’t see a binary “god/goddess” theology as being a necessity, but not all such theologies have the same set of assumptions. In Shaktism, the feminine force is active and the masculine force is passive. Or another way to put it is that the masculine force is inert until activated by the feminine force. Newberg and D’Aquili argued (in “The Mystical Mind”) that we tend to come up with mythological binaries for neurological reasons. But which binaries we come up with depends on the assumptions we make.

  • http://daoineile.com Aine

    And some of us don’t have mythological binaries.

  • Christopher Scott Thompson

    Or we don’t put as much emphasis on them- I think Newberg was arguing that we basically can’t help organizing how we see the world into binary sets of ideas, but that there’s also a tendency to try to transcend or unite the opposing binaries through myth. I’m not saying that’s scientific fact, but it’s an interesting possibility and would explain a lot.

  • http://daoineile.com Aine

    Or…some of us don’t have binaries at all. Not ‘less emphasis’. Do not have. Just because some people do organize their ideas and perceptions into binaries doesn’t mean that everyone does – I’m really not sure how to make this any clearer. I am telling you right now that my religion does not have this ‘mythological binary’. Not that it doesn’t have little emphasis on a binary but that it actively does not have one.

    That some religions do is fine. But saying we ‘cant help it’ is a cop out and not true.

  • http://aediculaantinoi.wordpress.com P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    Very nicely stated! I shall publicize this entry on my blog…

    Tokenism strikes again, frequently, in modern Paganism, alas…

    Here at Patheos, I’ve had comment exchanges with people telling me that “they have a horse in this race” because they have a queer friend, but still they will happily vote for anti-LGBT political candidates, and thus I can’t call them abetters of homophobia. Nonsense.

    Perhaps I should just get some worthless coins made up, that say “TOKEN” on each side, and hand them out when this sort of behavior goes on in the future…?!?

  • Christopher Scott Thompson

    So there are no concepts such as light/dark, cold/warm, up/down or underworld/this world in your religion? If that’s the case, that’s the case, but is that what you’re saying? I’m not the one asserting everyone has these binaries- . I was passing on the information that a neuroscientist named Andrew Newberg thinks we all have these binaries. I am not remotely qualified to asses the validity or lack thereof of his research.

  • http://daoineile.com Aine

    Ha, we could definitely use those coins.

  • http://daoineile.com Aine

    Since when does ‘no binary’ equal ‘no concepts’? Those concepts aren’t binaries in my theology. (Heck, they aren’t binaries in reality either.) They can’t be described in binaries. Attempting to describe my gods or my practices or principles in binary ways makes them break down so all meaning is lost.

  • Christopher Scott Thompson

    Well, there aren’t really any binaries in reality, right? I mean, spring and winter are not really two objectively-existing realities, they’re just categories we’ve created to describe the weather. But- to use a somewhat artificial example- there’s a Scottish story where the Cailleach imprisons Bride in Ben Nevis all winter, and when Bride gets out the spring returns. I think that’s what Newberg’s talking about as a mythological binary- a very complex weather/climate situation gets symbolized mythologicaly as “winter goddess imprisons spring goddess.” I’m not commenting on your belief system because I don’t have the facts to do so, but I can certainly think of a lot of examples like that in world mythology, many of which are not based on heterosexual relationships but some other binary such “winter/spring” or “underworld/this world” or what have you.

  • Charles Butler Neto

    Looking through these normatives, I identify as a cisgendered gay man whose spouse is a transgensdered woman who currently has male-identified plumbing. Our presence anywhere puts people in a tizzy, because to us we are basically a happily married couple, and that is all that matters. However, in our mixed religious household, my wife is Mambo named She Who Walks Between and the entire discussion has been about those who walk the many boundaries. Saying that there are no boundaries is foolish, celebrating that we can traverse them in various ways is always a delight. Some Native American tribes embrace four genders, but theologically they do not know exactly what to do with gays, as gays, in modern culture, seek each other rather than a hetero-identified male or female. Different cultures make different assumptions. There is no one, true, pan-Pagan identified truth. You are of your tribal assumptions, or you creating something different for yourself and those you gather with you. Just be honest with yourself, find the myths that bind you, and be clear on where your boundaries are. I will never be able to be a non-gender specific person, I am happy with my self-identification, what another person’s journey is must be defined by them, but don’t ever tell me that I cannot be a cisgender male person married to a transgender female person with all of those identification choices. You make your choices, I make mine, but I will not identify myself as “non-gendered binary”. Binary and opposite is what, for me, gives meaning to my life. The fact that people, and nature, varies in all sorts of ways is the point. If one doesn’t like a binary, then create words for whatever you identify yourself to be. Don’t tell other people they have no right to identify themselves for themselves as part of their celebration of difference.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/sermonsfromthemound/ Yvonne

    Awesome article, agree totally (and have been banging on about this myself for ages, and getting flak for it).

  • http://daoineile.com Aine

    I’m -not- telling people they don’t have a right to identify as they want, and I’m really not sure how you got that out of the post. I’m saying we need to be -honest- about what sort of paradigm we are working in and promoting. If you want to address that point we can dialog, but if you’re going to misunderstand there isn’t a point to discussing this with you.

  • http://paganlayman.wordpress.com Soliwo

    Very recognizable. In my country homosexuality is very much accepted, yet most still think in gender polarity. It’s the “you can be gay as long as you are a real man/woman” view. Not rarely I hear people say ‘I have a friend who is gay, and he is completely normal. See? I am not homophobic’.

  • Azarian

    Statements such as “That some religions do is fine. But saying we ‘cant help it’ is a cop out and not true”, are rather contradictory.

    The implication being that they SHOULD help it because it doesn’t jive with YOUR experience and realm of comfort.

    As a queer person, as a witch, as a non-Wiccan, non love and light, non-binary ascribing individual, I realize that we function in a realm where the bulk of people aren’t going to, at the outset, fully understand my experiences and my personal views and philosophy. I am comfortable with that. However, as opposed to behaving as the raging and indignant walking wounded, I endeavors to engage in and encourage lucid dialog as opposed to launching discussions on the attack.

    There is a difference between “calling out trans and homophobia, and launching off in a pissed of tirade about it. There is also an indignant, sense of entitlement that all should immediately understand YOUR perspective, YOUR experience, YOUR pain, and YOUR expectations without having exposure to them. Too often the first exposure the heteronormative, cos, binary “enemy” finds is a pissed off queer as opposed to a person who is willing to engage in a real dialog and educate as opposed to attach.

    I find it tiresome continually hearing arguments based on a dialog of the wounded raging against the machine so to speak and painting the world as being a terrible place where the heteronormative overlords exist specifically to cause them misery. It’s such US and THEM martyrdom and serves more often as a wall rather than a bridge.

    Though it is far from being all inclusive (um, and NOTHING ever will be all inclusive) the larger pagan community is much more likely to be willing to engage in a dialog on such matters. Having “a queer” believe it or not, does indeed inspire the dialog, unless of course, said queer is foaming at the mouth and red in the face. It certainly does take more time to educate than it does to rage, but if you’d truly like to effect change rather than just preach to the choir, you may consider the concept.

    You also may consider working to understand more fully the perspectives of those whom you’d like to enlighten, truly understand them. Not as the enemy agenda, but as a perspective colored by their life experiences, just as you’d ask they understand your experiences and perspectives.

    You had an opportunity here to educate. You could have used this space to speak, with actual examples, as to how nature isn’t binary, speak, with examples, about how deity needn’t be binary, speak, with examples about your experience. Instead this is a not so veiled rage post against binary focused people and practices and is more likely to be seen as white noise to those whom it could actually inform.

  • http://daoineile.com Aine

    Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize that I needed to be in a position to educate (yet again). Of course, I can’t just have a time to rant – I have to keep in mind all those poor hetero folk who just want to ~learn~ but can’t learn how to use google or educate themselves. But thanks for painting me as foaming at the mouth – it’s good to know yet again that anger is so ~not okay~. I’m not going to tone myself down or ‘speak pretty’ for people. That’s not who I am.

    But keep denying my experiences. It’s not actually going to change my experiences or my opinion, but you can keep doing it and telling me to be ‘nicer’. We’re just not going to get anywhere – and you know that.

  • Azarian

    Exactly as I’d expected.

    Interesting to see how you yourself deal with dissenting opinions. You might want to do some introspection on that dear.

    There are those of us who actually work to educate others and effect real change. As opposed to behaving like an entitled brat and bitching about something yet doing nothing to further ACTUAL dialog and diplomacy.

    Who’s denying your experiences exactly? Just because someone points to the fact that you might consider a different approach doesn’t mean they are “denying” you or telling you to shut up. However, such an assumption certainly illustrates a certain perspective.

    Enjoy being pissed off and preaching to those who already agree with you. Hope it gets you far in life. Gods know it doesn’t do much to solve the actual issues you’re angry about.

    However, working towards a real solution doesn’t afford one the luxury of playing the marginalized martyr now does it?

  • http://daoineile.com Aine

    So you came here to… what exactly? Make yourself seem more enlightened? All you’ve done is personally attack me, which is cool dude – but stop pretending that you were doing anything other than that. Tone policing won’t get you far with me.

    (I love the dichotomy that I can’t be angry /and/ working for a solution. But I already stated I knew pagandom has problems with people not speaking pretty. You’re trying to silence me. It’s not going to work.)

  • http://yaburrow.googlepages.com yvonne

    There have been many many articles on the subject of gender, trans* experience, lesbian experience, gay experience, bisexual experience. There have been polite articles and raging articles; articles that address newbies, articles that address the experienced. And still there are people who say “oh but we have always done it this way, why should we change?” So it is hardly surprising when those of us who want to expand the Pagan paradigm and smash the gender binary get frustrated and angry that no-one is listening, and even stick their fingers in their ears and go “la-la-la, I can’t hear you.”

    I know there’s shed-loads of information on the internet and people can’t be educated about everything, but even when you draw it to their attention politely, they still can’t or won’t hear. So the next step is to get louder. But face-to-face dialogue is the best way forward – it’s all too easy to get into a flame war and mutual misunderstanding in a web conversation.

    Here’s a bunch of articles on sexuality that I have collected.