Gender Mumblings (Again)

I’m a bit biased against Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which isn’t fair at all considering that many of my friends love it and I’ve never even seen the movie myself. The reason I twitch a little when I hear mention of it (and I have heard much mention of it the past week) is because it was first introduced to me because a friend refused to believe I was trans, and the movie showed that I had ‘no idea what I was talking about’. I had no idea how the movie would make her think that, but it made me want to throw a vase into a wall. Thankfully, I was in high school at the time and there were no vases around, just her and me and my shocked expression.

It wasn’t the first or last time someone had flat out denied my reality, but it was one of the moments that remained with me most.

Though I usually see the Dierne as a white peacock, he also represents all gender variance and play possible.

I felt very alone, identity wise, when I first learned about Pagandom. It was the usual neo-Wiccish fare that colors most of our books, especially the ones that are easy to grab off the shelves of a big bookstore. There was one goddess and one god, and that was good because of balance and polarity. When I began to hesitantly explore non-binary and heteronormative experiences in Pagandom I met a lot of continued talk of balance and polarity, just internal. That didn’t ring true to my experiences, and I still didn’t find any non-binary and non-stereotypical images of the one god and goddess.

A lot has changed, a lot was changing then, and now it seems that our communities are usually more open to gender discussions. That doesn’t change that last year a group attempted to have me play the female half of a female-female great rite ritual, even though the organizer knew I am a man. Apparently my plumbing was more important than my identity, or even the energy I would bring to the ritual.

But a lot has changed, and I don’t feel alone as I did years ago, even if I still get angry at some of the things I’ve seen and heard thrown about in our community. After all, we’re all growing and changing, and change can be slow. It can be difficult. When we’re confronted with living, breathing, flesh and blood proof that our completely inclusive ideals are excluding people we can get uncomfortable and dig our heels in rather than accept the person in front of us. That person is Other. (But if they talk about being Other they’re just being difficult, right?)

For some, gender is going to be unimportant or even a nuisance, like sex is for me. For others, gender is going to be vital to their religious practices, and my gender and my understanding of it is important, especially as I approach and write myths and stories for my gods. Where things get sticky is when we start making assumptions. Pagandom still needs to work on its assumptions about sex (and the pretty much nonexistent discussions about asexuality and the a-spectrum), but we’re moving forward with gender. Our discussions are getting more complex and nuanced. There are still a lot of assumptions we make – that everyone exists in a binary, that balance is necessary, that gender is important to everyone – but that’s part of what makes us human. As is change.

I’m going to start reading A Transmythology later tonight once I’ve settled back home, which will give me a lot of ideas to write on and hopefully a post reviewing the book as well. Whenever I feel myself getting worn down at the repetitive and continuous assumptions about gender, my gender, my life and existence and those of my friends, I think of that book, and other books exploring ‘differently’ gendered gods and spirits and people in modern Pagandom, and some of the tension eases out of me. A lot of people are doing great work and speaking eloquently on the subject, and for that I am eternally grateful.

As a last note, though, and shamelessly taken from P. Sufenas Virius Lupus: Hail, Thanks, and Praise to Panpsyche, Panhyle, and Paneros on this, their natal days! Hail, Thanks, and Praise to Paneris as well! Hail, Thanks, and Praise to all of the parents and grandparents of the Tetrad!

Sex, Pleasure, & the Sacred
Menstruation Ain’t (Always) Female
Moving Forward
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.

  • Fluffernutter

    You have a great way with words. I have a great deal of respect for what you’ve shared here, and I agree with you on a lot of the stuff you’re saying about gender and gods and non-binary things. You say a lot of people are speaking eloquently about gender, gods, non-binary things, and so on, and I think you should include yourself in that lot, because you’re quite eloquent with your gender mumblings, too :)

  • Aine

    Eee, thank you :) That means a lot to me.

  • The Other Lee (from tumblr)

    And I thought I had a horror story about a clueless highschool friend. That’s… wow. And the ritual thing is just… I CAN’T. I WANT TO FLIP TABLES BUT I DON’T HAVE ENOUGH AVAILABLE HERE.

    Thank you for writing about these things. There’ll always be people wanting to tell the likes of us to shut up and go stealth like ~true transsexuals~ are supposed to – but forget them. You’re my favorite angry queer.

  • Aine

    <3 Thank you.

    That's nothing compared to what my mother said, though, hahah. That is a real horror story D:

  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    I look forward to hearing your thoughts and experiences on and with the Tetrad and the book!

    It’s really unfortunate that your friend was so misguided when it comes to Hedwig–it’s a wonderful movie, but as much as some people would like to think it is about trans people, it’s not; it’s about gender-variance most certainly, but it isn’t about trans people. It kind of just goes to show how confused and uncertain many people are about trans-ness and other gender-variant identities, and for that matter a lot of queer matters…as much as I think we should make common cause with one another, likewise the general public still thinks of trans-ness, in many cases, as a kind of “extreme” form of homosexuality or something, which it most certainly isn’t…crikey…

    Also, I’m glad you brought up asexuality. One of the new members of the Tetrad group is going to have more to say on that, actually, and it’s come up recently in some of my wider circles as well. I, personally, think it might be useful for the overall conversation on this matter to start framing asexuality as not a “refusal” or “absence” of sexuality, as I’ve heard some people describe it, but instead as a particular way of expressing one’s sexuality in ways that simply don’t involve other people/beings/etc. When people hear “absence” or “refusal” or what-have-you, then they automatically assume “repression,” “fear,” and all sorts of other things that have resulted from the bad constructions of celibacy (particularly amongst Catholic priests, etc.) and the negative and unfortunate consequences that have resulted from that. If we use the “Four Powers of the Sphinx” analogy here, since so many people are talking about it due to T. Thorn Coyle’s new book, then asexuality is the sexual position of “To Keep Silence,” which is just as valid and necessary as any other expression of sexuality, I think. But, this is an important further discussion to have at some point, and now that I’ve said a bit about it here, I suspect there will be a full blog post on it at some stage over at Aedicula Antinoi! ;)

  • Aine

    I look forward to reading your thoughts on asexuality! And I think you make a very good point – while my own place on the a-spectrum is complicated (isn’t everyone’s sexuality that way, though?), it certainly isn’t a ‘refusal’ of sexuality. I suppose it’s that my sexuality is more emotional and abstract, and I don’t see anything wrong with that.

    Thank you for the comment, and I look forward to meeting the new members of the Tetrad :3

  • 12stepWitch

    Hedwig is a fantastic movie, but I wouldn’t say it is about transgender people exactly. But regardless that movie s not responsible for her stupidity.

    Hey, I am a cis straight woman and *I* get sick of the blah blah blah about the Lord and Lady and polarity. Sorry my entire understanding of the universe is not defined by my vagina. It really turned me off to Wicca and fertility traditions in general. Ecstatic traditions like Reclaiming and Feri and the tools they use are MUCH more interesting.

  • Daniel Grey

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on this! Even before I started identifying as genderqueer, the gender binary in Wicca and in the Wicca-ish groups I ran into (ESPECIALLY at my first college) were incredibly alienating and heartbreaking. At the time, I didn’t have the words to describe my experience and could only say that it hurt to be shoved into this Goddess box when I didn’t feel at all like a goddess myself. I much preferred the Horned God anyway, but those negative reactions were what firmly drove me away from Wicca and in search of other Pagan paths. Right now I’m primarily ADF Druid with a smattering of Kemetic and Hellenic interests (and very active in my local UU church).

    Thank you also for bringing up asexuality. For a few years, I identified as asexual and suspect I may be partially demisexual. THAT was alienating too — I was told to my face that if I hadn’t been raped, I couldn’t really be asexual. Among other things, erasing my existence and experience. One of the things I’m interested in building for myself is a theology that really celebrates queer identities and kinda flips the bird to binarist modes of thinking that get forced on other people. I know others are also exploring ideas of queer Paganism and I’m really hoping more good things come of it.

  • Christopher Scott Thompson

    I can see why Wiccan theology in its most common form would be alienating to you. I’ve never been interested in the “balance between the god and the goddess” concept solely because I am almost exclusively drawn to worship goddesses. I don’t think anyone should need a theological justification to approach the gods in whatever way they are called to do so.

  • Aine

    I definitely lean towards ecstatic traditions. Well, I actually don’t want anything to do with fertility traditions, but. I agree that no matter what, the focus and constant lord/lady stuff is tiring if you don’t relate, or if your life isn’t focused around your genitalia.

    I think my friends lack of understanding in this area came from thinking herself well-educated on every subject, which made it hard for her to adjust when confronted with someone that broke her expectations. Which I think ties into how many Pagan groups approach the issue as well.

  • Aine

    Well, any Wiccan theology is a bit alienating to me, since I’m not Wiccan P: But I agree. We all approach the gods differently, and we don’t need to explain all the reasons we do so.

  • Aine

    ADF actually gave me a crash course in how to mess up REALLY badly in concern with gender issues, as well as ritualizing, but I think that was because the people in the grove were not, let’s say, the best. Still, it burned me bad enough that I won’t touch anything with ADF on it.

    Reactions to asexuality are…really gross, as you’ve displayed :/ I hope that there will be more awareness and understanding as we move forward, but I know a lot of people get stuck at the ‘can have sex but not be sexual’ bit. It is still most prevalent in my experience to hear people say ‘everyone likes sex’ or such in Pagan discussions and circles, or to place an emphasis on sex (regardless of if it is in a fertility or ecstatic fashion) without any regard that sex is more complicated. Books I’ve otherwise loved had talked about how it’s ‘unhealthy’ to not have sexual attraction, and it bugs the crap out of me – I’m not spiritually deficient because my sexuality is different.

  • Christopher Scott Thompson

    Me either, so yeah. But Wicca has a lot of variety, so I didn’t want to make an overly sweeping statement- nothing gets you in trouble quicker in social justice conversations!

  • Kris Bradley

    Having read this post, I have so many thoughts rolling around in my head. Goes to show how great a post something is when it really makes you think.

    I’m glad more folks are speaking up about this issue. For those who work with others in ritual, we need to be open to deities that *everyone* in our group relates to. I’m not completely sure what the answer is here – working with multiple deities for ritual? Rotating who leads the ritual so that more people’s real ideals are expressed and understood? Whatever the answer is, we will all need to come to the table with open eyes and open hearts.

    I very much look forward to reading and learning more about this issue through your posts.

  • GarlicClove

    I’ve never heard of the a-spectrum. Can someone elaborate on this? Sexuality vs. asexuality has always been presented to me as another binary. I’d be interested in learning more.

  • GarlicClove

    I like of want to laugh every time I hear someone say “everyone likes sex!” right before I want to cry.

  • Aine

    Ooh, okay. I can’t speak for asexuals, obviously, though I fall somewhere near there. Basically, as I understand it, there’s a whole plethora of asexual and asexual-ish sexualities – demisexual, where one is sexually attracted only after building an emotional connection; asexual aromantics, who aren’t interested in romance or sex; asexual ‘something’-romantics, who are interested in romantic relationships, just not sex; grey-asexuals, who are just sort of…inbetween. For me there is a lot of fluidity in my sexuality but I identify as asexual for a multitude of reasons, one being that it makes it clear to my partners that sex is off the table at the start and may only be put on the table after a lot of consideration.

    (I should note that I’ve heard people tell me that those are all normal for sexual people to experience, but for me I experience my sexuality or non-sexuality in a fundamentally different way than sexual, so I am not comfortable referring to myself as a sexual person.)

  • Aine

    Oof, tough questions! I agree that group rituals need to be open to such deities, but that’s a complicated thing in practice. Especially since some people protest working with multiple deities or rotating leadership…but I think both of those things can help with diversity and openness.

    I agree about coming to the table with open hearts. If we really want to dialog and interact and grow and learn from each other we have to be open to that, which is a really difficult thing – from all sides.

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  • BlackSphinx

    I just wanted to come here as a fellow ace and give you a huge around of applause for your post. Yes, the asexual spectrum is almost non-existent in Pagan discourse; I’ve only ever seen it come up when we stand up and talk about our own experiences. And even then that can be dicey depending on the circumstances. :/ (This whole assumption-of-sexual-attraction-in-religion-doctrine thing also doesn’t come up very often in asexual circles, probably because a large portion of visible aces are also atheists so…)

    (I also hate the whole, “but *sexual people experience not wanting sex too!” derailment. It shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the definition of asexuality and the asexual spectrum.)