Briefly: Identification

I used to be a boy. Was a boy for the majority of my life, until this year when whatever makes gender do what gender does switched and tumbled and turned toward ‘girl’. Which was weird and disconcerting and terrifying, honestly.

My expression of myself – lace, ruffles, obnoxious colors, dresses – all stayed the same. Which was off-putting to plenty of people but wonderful to me.

When I first felt myself sliding into girlhood, I resisted. Partially because I knew what being a boy was and enjoyed that. Partially because I didn’t want to be called a fakey faker of fakeness.

I stopped caring about the latter reason.

After all, I was a boy, now I was a girl, that was that, gender was weird.

But, self-identification is insufficient, so I guess I wasn’t really a boy after all. (And am I really a girl? I just don’t know! I can’t identify myself! Help, help, help!)

This whole mess of ‘identity politics’ seems to be brewing all over again. And that’s all it is – a mess.

My identity isn’t actually politics. It’s who I am. If someone can fathom the individuality of gods but not the individuality of humans, there may be a problem.

We can argue and suss out religion and religious boundaries. We can’t go back and change decades of history. And we shouldn’t ignore the human component of religion and religious identification. If we do, we’re failing to understand a huge part of religion. Religion doesn’t exist in an untouched-by-human-hands vacuum.

I’m not interested in theoreticals that have no place in daily life, or ideals that ignore the human factor. I live in the real world, where everything, everything is messier than it looks on paper – including identity.

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.

  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    You’re a wonderful person, and that’s what matters the most. ;)

    • Aine

      Thank you ;-; Compliment very much needed today, and to receive it from such an excellent person makes it all the more awesome.

  • Julian Betkowski

    That is a disturbing oversimplification. Quoted from my own blog,

    “For example, a man who only has sex with other men, even if it is then only covertly, but identifies as heterosexual because of social pressure would not reasonably identified by an outside observer as heterosexual. Someone who identifies as Catholic, but does not follow any of the doctrines of the Catholicism or attend church services, but continues to identify as Catholic because they were raised in the church and do not want to disappoint their parents, would still not be identified, by an outside observer, as Catholic.”

    Being transgendered goes beyond self-identification and I’m surprised that you would reduce it to so little. There would not be diagnostic criteria for something that reduces to, “because I say so.” The psychological disturbance experienced by a transgendered person for being misgendered is a point of fact, not of subjective preference.

    You are equivocating two very different things.

    • Aine

      I don’t fit the diagnostic criteria. I’m actually pointing out that you’re cute little statement…doesn’t work very well.

      BTW – your point about Catholics also means that…half the Catholics I know are suddenly ~not Catholic~, though, for some reason, the rest of the ‘real’ Catholics around them don’t call them fakey fake Catholics, nor do anyone around them who isn’t Catholic. (Imagine that! People respecting how someone identifies.) And have you done research into men who have sex with men (but don’t identify as gay)? Cause…again, way more complex than how you’re presenting it. (Like…essays and tons of writing done on this issue. It ties in with subcultures, other identities that a person might hold – it’s not as easy as you want it to be.)

      Just because I don’t fit the ~diagnostic~ of what a trans* person looks like doesn’t mean that I was suddenly never a man. That’s not even factoring in the problems that we have, culturally, with approaching gender and gender identity. Plenty of people didn’t think I was trans* enough when I was a man, because I didn’t dress ‘like one’ or ‘act like one’. I was still an adorable guy though.

      What I’m surprised at is, well, a lot, but that you think I’m reducing myself. No, I’m painting myself…as I am.

      Self-identification is a /huge/ part of communities, and you’re trying to just ignore it because it makes life more difficult. It makes Paganism more difficult.

      I’d rather deal with the role that self-identification plays. The difficulty adds more fun.

      (Your ‘outside observer’ stuff also borders very close on the ‘unbiased opinion’ which has its own host of endless, endless problems. If I want an unbiased opinion, I’ll seek out an alien.)

      • Julian Betkowski

        I’m not trying to ignore it, I am saying that it is not enough on its own. I doubt that you just woke up one day and decided that you were a different gender. There must have been a process and reason, and not just a temporary preference.

        I don’t care about your presentation, that was never an issue. And I agree that gender and gender presentation is a tangled issue in America. And it is reductive to say that the real pain and suffering experienced by trans* people is simply a matter of self-identification. There are, as you know, complex social and psychological issues at play. It is not merely a matter of saying the words, but also recognizing the underlying experience.

        But you are still equivocating.

        If you don’t like my Catholicism analogy, how do you feel about my sexuality analogy? Both work by the same principle. Is a gay man only gay if he says he’s gay? A gay man can say he’s straight until he’s blue in the face, but that doesn’t effect his underlying sexuality in any way shape or form. Self-identification does not determine the shape of reality.

        Your Catholic friends may think of themselves as Catholic, but would another, devout Catholic so recognize them?

        • Aine

          Yes. I actually /said/ that other Catholics – who are ~real~, whatever that means – consider them Catholic. It’s amazing. It’s like religious identity is more complicated than you’re trying to paint it as.

          As is sexuality. I would not consider someone who doesn’t identify as gay to be gay. Again, the issue is way more complicated.

          It is a matter of self-identification. You just don’t seem to realize that self-identification is a huge deal. People didn’t respect me because of the way /I identified myself/ because of my experiences and who I was. It doesn’t matter if I had every reason or if I had no reason. If I woke up and decided I was a different gender, tough luck for everyone else – they better respect that, regardless of my ~reasons~.

          All of your analogies are /wrong/. They ignore reality – you know, that weird place where emotions do matter, where subcultures, ~identification~, who a person is, why they are who they are, why they use the labels they do, matter. Self-identification sure does shape reality. It shapes groups, it shapes our entire lives, it can effect what jobs we apply for or get, it can effect our hobbies, what secrets we keep, everything.

          What your little ~self identification is insufficient~ statement seems to ignore is that, you know, there’s an experience behind the identification. That doesn’t mean, though, that you’re entitled to know what that experience is. Once the True Pagan and True Polytheists figure that out, y’all are gonna have an easier time. You really think saying ‘no no you’re not a pagan!!’ is going to change anything?

          It’s totally not. Identity is a lot more complicated than that.

          • Julian Betkowski

            My analogies are not wrong because you declare them so, nor are do they ignore reality. If anything, you are the one who is privileging personal experience over the collective experience.

            While that gay man has the right to identify however he pleases, that does not mean that he has the right to be taken seriously. It is not ignoring reality to suggest that behavior should match the identifier.

            I understand that self-identity is important and that there are emotional attachments involved. I never said there weren’t. However, emotional attachments don’t determine reality. And, you will note that I acknowledged experience. However, this kind of self-identification involves communal identity, as well. It is not unreasonable to expect that a man who identifies as heterosexual share the experiences of the heterosexual community, and relate to his sexuality in a heterosexual manner. You are essentially stripping collective meaning from words with these arguments.

            I never said these topics weren’t complex. What I have said is that self-identification is not the only factor.

            I never spoken of True Paganism or any such nonsense. All I have done is urge us to examine ourselves and our relationships to both the community and our communal history.

            It’s becoming apparent that we aren’t actually talking to each other, or that we’re going to change each other’s opinions. I do apologize for causing such a fuss about something that obviously affects you deeply.

          • Aine

            No, I just think you’re wrong and aren’t researched on any of the things you’re using as analogies.

            As for not speaking on True Paganism – that’s not true. Your entire post was about who is really a really real Pagan and who isn’t. So…that’s not talking about real and true Paganism…how? Seriously, how? Cause that, I totally don’t get. Your analogies, I get why those don’t work when you look at the actual communities you’re talking about (and you’re showing you don’t actually know about collective experience when you mention them – you’re clearly not part of or studied in either Catholic identity or men who have sex with men without identifying as gay), but claiming that you’re not talking about real Paganism when that’s /exactly/ what you’re doing baffles me.

    • fey paz octav

      as a trans* person trust me, gender is fucked up and changes every fucking day. or at least it does for me. thats the whole point. gender is different for everybody. its not about being the Right Kind of Trans* Person it’s about being whatever the fuq gender you are. i wont be getting a dysphoria therapist and the only surgery i will be getting will be a breast reduction which is also because of practical reasons. sometimes i dress in feminine clothes other times i wear shorts and baseball caps and act like a bro. that doesnt make me any less trans*. it just makes me not Your Type Of Trans*. and you know what? i am so fucking sick and tired of seeing your right type of trans* plastered all over the place like its the fucking gospel truth. just a reminder: DOCTORS ARE OFTEN PIECES OF SHIT WHO DONT GIVE A DAMN ABOUT THEIR PATIENTS. THE CRITERIA IS OFTEN USED AS AN EXCUSE TO KEEP TRANS* PEOPLE FROM THE SURGERY AND MEDICATION THEY NEED. just because my gender changes and dysphoria works differently for me than others doesnt mean im less trans*.

    • Qweird

      “Being transgendered goes beyond self-identification”

      Who appointed you gatekeeper? Who appointed the medical community to be gatekeepers? The psychology community? They are gatekeepers because they are built upon oppressive power structures that benefit from pathologizing every single experience outside of the heterosexual, cissexual, thin, able-bodied, neurotypical, nondenominational Christian, Western, hegemonic experience. I do not require a cis doctor’s diagnosis to tell me that I have no gender. I do not need to assimilate.

      • Julian Betkowski

        This comment is slightly out of context, since trans* isn’t the real point of my comments. Since this blog is in the Patheos Pagan channel, I came to it through that context and read it first as a commentary on identity in a Pagan context.

        I never claimed to be the authority on anything, my comment was only meant to illustrate that there is more to any identity than just saying the words. I have no desire to judge who is and who is not trans*, I was simply saying that there is more to identity that just words. I understand and respect the trans* community wariness of doctors, but my point was only to illustrate that trans* identity is a concrete experience that even the medical community is coming to respect, as demontrated by the fact that that trans* was only just added to the most recent revision of the DSM.

        All that I have been saying is that people self-identify for all number of reasons, and so self-identification alone is insufficient for judging membership to a community. It can be a place to start, but we can’t always take things on face value, and we do occasionally need to exercise discernment.

        • Qweird

          I have several dozens of different minority identifications, am active in a number of different communities for those identifications, and if I had a nickel for every time I’ve seen someone say that self-identification is insufficient without giving a reason why, I’d be able to pay off my school loans.

          I have thought long and hard about these “arguments” (oftentimes they are not arguments, but baseless opinions justifying themselves with circular reasoning because the individual in question cannot imagine a world in which the line between in- and out-group isn’t rigorously defined), and every single scenario in which I could imagine some semblance of hurt done unto the community–and this is pretending that simply adopting a label makes you part of a community by default–by “nothing more” than self-identification, following each one to its logical end results in literally /nothing of meaningful consequence/.

          If you can give me 3 reasons why self-identification in and of itself is toxic behavior that don’t all lead back to depriving people of their feelings of entitlement to micromanage the membership to their “clubs”, then I’m all ears. If not, then you’re not actually contributing to this conversation in any meaningful way.

          “there is more to any identity than just saying the words”


          “self-identification alone is insufficient for judging membership to a community”


          “we can’t always take things on face value”


          “we do occasionally need to exercise discernment”

          In this context, why?

          These are not self-evident whatsoever. You actually need to show me how you arrived at 5 when given 2+2 to solve here.

          • Aine

            Aaaaaaand obviously you should be blogging here instead of me, because this comment is everything I wish my post had been. Thank you.

          • Qweird

            Nevar! There’s a reason you’re here. ;)

          • Julian Betkowski

            First off, I never said self-identification is in itself toxic, you are charging me with things that I am by no means guilty of. Saying that self-identification is not the only marker for membership into a community is hardly the same as saying that it is toxic. You are demanding that I prove an argument that never made.

            As has actually been covered in some of the comments here, there is real damage that can be done to communities when we rely solely on self-identification. Cultural appropriation is one of the big ones. When people from outside a community claim the privilege of speaking in and for that community, they can silence and crowd out members of that community. Native Americans have had issues with this for years, when people who are not members of their traditions claim to be and then go on to mislead others. Hence the term “plastic shaman”. Cultural appropriation is a big bad, but the underlying idea of the ability to speak for a community can still be important even when cultural appropriation isn’t a threat.

            Behavior and performance are central to queer theory. Judith Butler’s ideas of performativity have deeply influenced queer theory and queer politics. Identity goes beyond speech, and incorporates behavior and presentation. She controversially claimed, for example, that she became a lesbian at the age of sixteen, when she began performing the role.

            Further, identifiers have meaning because they attach to certain communal experiences. Words like trans* and gay carry weight because they speak to shared experience. Consider those within the queer community who take umbrage at heterosexual allies claiming the queer label. There is fear that these identities can become diluted and begin to loose their meaning. Identities have political ramifications, as is obvious in the case of queer rights. When those labels become diluted, they lose their political power.

          • Qweird

            For the record, I’m talking “open” identities. Identities like “shaman” or “two-spirit” are more complicated. I could talk about them, but I’m not going to here.

            First off, appropriate behavior and performance are NOT a requirement to claiming a label. To continue with the theme of LGBT+ identities, see asexuality, which continues to be contentious for many reasons, one of them being the constant conflation with celibacy. Asexuality =/= celibacy. You cannot be reductive with identities, because then it becomes a question of what requirements must be met to adopt it, and who gets to decide what those requirements are.You said it yourself, actually: “shared experience”. What qualifies a shared experience? Where is the line between, say, being the victim of verbal child abuse, and just being the child of a parent who raised their voice a lot? That line is subjective. That line is a gray area. The people who populate that gray area are only there because they made the decision to be there, because they feel they count /just enough/ but may or may not have had the “full” experience of being verbally assaulted.

            What makes a Christian? What do all Christians have in common besides bearing the label of Christian?

            There is no “shared experience” of being trans* beyond having a different gender identity than the one you were assigned at birth. That’s it. Seriously, do you even talk to trans* people? We literally have nothing in common beyond that. There is no action or behavior necessary to validate that feeling.

            The problem I have with your reasoning is that it’s No True Scotsman. Which is very, very easy to twist around into not taking responsibility for the people that actually DO make up your community and your label. Feminists do this all the time, actually. Writing other feminists off left and right because they disagree with them makes it impossible to actually address the ways in which feminism is problematic, and react to the feminist voices that are doing real damage. Because if they’re not -really- feminist, we don’t have to do anything about them, right? Just ignore them.

            I don’t personally subscribe to any single theory of anything. I am against assimilation, full stop. If you call yourself queer despite being cis and having nothing but heterosexual relationships under your belt, I’m going to fucking respect that because I have /no reason not to/. I’m not going to check your queer cred. I’m not going to review your browser history to make sure there’s some gay porn in there. I’m not going to say “nope, not queer enough” because you don’t have an HRC sticker on your car. I want fucking /everyone/ to be queer. I want people to be OK with calling themselves queer–because let’s be honest here, it’s not like it’s a harmless, trendy word–I want people to queer it up. Because hey, fake it ’til you make it. If you call yourself queer or trans* and do nothing but start /looking at the world through the lens of something outside of cisheteronormativity/, you ARE queer. But I don’t think changing your frame of reference is what you mean by “behavior” or “performance” here; it’s too subtle.

            If you’re going to bother with having an opinion about what something isn’t, then you’d at least better have a strong opinion of what it is. That way I can point out all the people who defy your explanation.

  • rhyd wildermuth

    I would kindly state that identity, including gender identity, -is- politics.

    There are vast communities in large cities (Seattle and Portland both being good examples) of *trans and gender-queer folk who are fighting (political) battles against (political) oppression of their gender expressions. They’re great people and might be a great resource if you’d like to learn more about identity politics.

    Also, many of them are involved with radical spiritual groups (like the Radical Faeries), and have years and decades of wisdom regarding the fine line between claiming identity and embodying identity, particularly in their work with the spirituality of First Nations (who, themselves, have been fighting hard to show how claiming identity is not only in some cases insufficient but actually appropriates their own right to create identity). They’re great people, and quite inclusive if you were looking for elders who’d share their wisdom.

    • Aine

      Very valid point. I’ve been most familiar with ‘identity politics’ as a term that degrades identity, as a frivolous or unnecessary thing. So thank you for adding this comment.

      (I don’t know how comfortable I am knowing that my existence and self is…political, in that way that you’ve discussed above, but it is an important point. I should have written much better on what I meant!)

      • rhyd wildermuth

        One of the most helpful ways of looking at it, from a Queer Theory perspective, is that gender and sexuality are both already political constructions (just like class). A lot of power goes into maintaining the binary gender division, and the very act of stepping outside it is a (revolutionary) political act. Same with sexuality. One need not necessarily “take to the streets” to be enacting radical politics. Embrace it–you’re revolutionary. :)

        Also, identity, including gender identity, is co-created, which is why so much political struggle is put into getting recognition of trans* folk in legal and social settings. Asking which pronouns someone prefers, etc., is one of the ways we socially create identity, relying both on the self-identification of the person and also all the inherent meanings of those words (and, not to complicate it further, but the political constructions of those genders).

        Many of my friends who use “ze” have chosen to do so specifically to signal that they identify with neither gender and are instead claiming a new one. They rely upon their community and friends to help construct that identity, and their friends rely on their signals to determine what that new identity means. And there’s equal responsibility on both sides for the co-creation, both clarity in the self-identification and understanding in the community response. It’s a constant political negotiation, which sounds depressing when written down but is actually more like (and always should be!) a beautiful dance in real life.

        There are plenty of parallels with Pagan identity, which I suspect is what Julian was getting at. We’re all collectively co-creating what it means to be Pagan, but lack of clarity (and anger, much of which might actually be displaced from external oppression, turned on allies instead of foes) has increasingly made the dance of co-creation seem more like a storm of knives. :(

        • Julian Betkowski

          That’s pretty much exactly what I have been trying to say. You put it eloquently, “the dance of co-creation seem more like a storm of knives.”

          • Aine

            Except your post wasn’t really asking for co creation, Julian. If that’s what you were going for, it did not come off that way at all. (You can’t really sensibly ask for the community to handle critique by opening a post complaining about critique. The post was talking down, not talking with.)

          • Julian Betkowski

            The difference, Aine, is that I was complaining about the kinds of critique. People were not responding to things that I said, but instead attacking an imaginary position that I did not take.

            My post was largely critiquing the prominence of equivocation, ad hominem, and straw man fallacies that are thrown around in the name of dialogue. I full well admit that the tone was aggressive. I have never denied that, but I never attacked anyone person or position in my post, nor did I claim to be a central authority on Paganism nor did I claim that there must be one.

            I was voicing frustration over the fact that critique in the Pagan community is often met with charges of fundamentalism and bigotry. It is then distressing when those making the charges then demand that they be taken seriously or are oppressed minorities and demand civil conversation.

            I never once advocated a particular theological position in that post, nor did I denigrate one. I selected a quote that highlighted behaviors that I saw as troubling, and then critiqued those behaviors. It is possible to critique a form of critique, which is what I was doing.

            I was critiquing behaviors which I saw as inhibiting co-creation and shutting down dialogue, and I do believe that I made that perfectly clear.

            As for talking down, you have doing the same thing to me in the entirety of this conversation. Your post was written from a place of anger and frustration, as was mine. However, I felt as though you misunderstood and misrepresented the argument and allowed your personal offense to overwhelm your critical thinking.

            Further, when I tried to end the conversation politely, you responded by calling my uneducated. You have to see how that kind of behavior is troubling.

            Edited to add: It is also worth noting that if you find this particular post so objectionable, you may want to read some previous articles wherein I am actively calling for co-creation. This current post does not contradict anything else I have written, since I have always said that we need to resist the urge to take personal offense at critiques and move past our own prejudices. My call for coherent definition is largely an outgrowth of my prior thought, and I have always maintained that this work must be done communally.



          • Aine

            Again, I’ll point out that a portion of your argument – which relies on ‘unbiased opinions’ or ‘observers’ – is problematic. Of course I allow my personal feelings influence my argument. I’m a human being, after all.

            And you /did/ display that you aren’t very well studied in what you were using as analogies. I’m sure we could both learn from each other, but the analogies you were using aren’t all that useful. Plenty of Catholics are Catholic even when outsiders don’t consider them as such. Sexuality and the labels we use to identify our sexuality are complex. And your approach of forcing a label on someone (in the name of ‘reality’) does /actual/ harm to communities that, for whatever reason, resist labels like queer or gay. What is far more helpful to the stability and health of those communities (and individuals) is finding terms that can be used, as well as opening up communication – which requires that we allow people to find their own words and come to understand how labels fit with them. The issue isn’t ‘a gay man is ignoring the reality that he’s gay’. It’s so much more complex than that. As is any religious label someone uses or adopts.

            I agree that poor arguments are very common in Pagandom… And yet, I rarely see actual personal attacks called out for what they are. Instead, they are lauded as good debate tactics.

            Also, about so many people claiming to be oppressed – you and I must be reading different blogs. I’ve seen people write that they felt offended, or felt a post was problematic, and then those who they were critiquing began mocking them for claiming oppression, even when that word was never used. Of course, we do frequent very different blogs and areas online, so you must be exposed to more of this oppression olympics crowd. But pointing out a post is hurtful or offensive? That’s not claiming oppression.

            I’m not oppressed because of what you wrote. I’m irritated by it, and I don’t understand it, and I think some of the ideas you put forth are faulty or rocky.

            And, because I enjoy reading a variety of works, I have actually read posts on your blog about this and other issues. I don’t usually agree with the conclusions you draw, but your writing always makes me think.

            But – thank you for continuing to comment and post here. I still don’t agree, but thank you for talking with me.

          • Julian Betkowski

            I agree with you that claiming that something is hurtful or offensive is not oppression, but in my experience, people seem to think it is. When I said that we don’t have the right not to be offended, that is exactly what I was getting at.

            I’m not sure how you think that an outside observer is problematic. I am not denigrating personal experience nor demanding complete neutrality. I simply saying that others may not recognize or agree with one’s self-identification if that identification doesn’t align with the behaviors or statements of the individual.

            My position is identical to Rhyd’s, which you agreed with, when he explained in relation to First Nations speakers, “have been fighting hard to show how claiming identity is not only in some cases insufficient but actually appropriates their own right to create identity.” The only difference is that in this case, gay or catholic is replaced with Medicine Man or Indian Princess. I have, in fact, written about just this thing here on Patheos:

            I never said that these things were simple. I agreed with you that these issues are complex. My analogies do not concern themselves with the feelings of those involved because for the purposes of the argument, they simply don’t matter.

            Some motivational speaker may feel that he has every right to the term Medicine Man because of his own personal feelings and experiences with the word, even though he does not have a drop of Native American blood in him, nor has he studied with or been initiated by a Native American spiritual authority. That doesn’t make him a Medicine Man, nor does it validate his claims. He, of course, has the right to call himself whatever he pleases, but that doesn’t mean that he must be taken seriously or respected. The same principle operates in each of my analogies as is at operation here.

          • Aine

            Perhaps you should have chosen analogies that don’t have incredibly high minority/non-white people in their ranks, then?

            That a man may not want to call himself gay for cultural and many other reasons is /not/ the same as a person of privilege and power demanding that they be respected as they strip the culture from an oppressed people. It’s not.

            And again – this ‘identification doesn’t match up with behavior’ is…still not a good argument. Because, in that case, the collective experience of ‘men’ should have overrode my identity as a man, because I didn’t ‘match up’ with the behavior or presentation.

            Someone who identifies as Pagan but, say, has an important place in their practice for some pop culture entity is not nearly the same as a person of privilege appropriating oppressed cultural terms and practices.

          • Julian Betkowski

            No. My analogies were fine. You are showing some bias in your reactions to them. I chose homosexuality because I am a gay man, and I have personal experience with the community. There are lots of privileged, white, upper middle class gay men. The category gay still intersects with a bunch of other points of privilege, as does Catholic. Simply because there are minority members in either community doesn’t invalidate my points. Anyway, the issue wasn’t privilege or minority rights.

            A researcher studying heterosexual male behavior would not include a man such I described in their sample. Words mean things, and it is dangerous to insist that they only mean the things you want them to, when you want them to. Some words relate to social constructions, like gender and sexuality, and so those things can be played with, but they still, at the end of the day, attach to specific meanings.

            You may wish to gain access to the male community, but you have to conform to the community standard to at least some extent to be accepted into that community. Simply saying “I’m a man now,” and doing nothing else isn’t going to cause anyone to recognize you as such. It is equivalent to saying, “I’m a pony,” and continuing on with your life. I am not trying to denigrate your experience, but you must admit that there was more to your experience of maleness than just changing your pronoun.

            And I, again, never advocated a theological view in my post, merely identified behaviors that I saw as problematic.

            And again, I did not say that the ramifications of all of these situations were identical, merely that they all illustrate why self-identification is an insufficient marker for membership to a community. All of them operate on the same principle, even if you don’t like them.

            And, again, I did not say that Pop Culture Pagans are evil cultural appropriators and oppressors. All I said was that self-identification is not the only qualifier for entrance into a community. In other posts, I have made my feelings plain regarding Pop Culture practices, but I did not do so here.

            It is also entirely possible for people to be Pagan, but to do things which may not actually be Pagan. A Pagan can incorporate non-Pagan elements into their personal practice, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that those elements reflect the larger community.

            It may very well be that in the ongoing attempts to understand Paganism that I, and those who think like me, are the ones who end up excised. Honestly, I don’t have much problem with that. The issue, though, is that the community is becoming so diverse that it is increasingly difficult to have any kind of discussion. As Rhyd said, this fractiousness is making “the dance of co-creation seem more like a storm of knives.”

          • rhyd wildermuth

            I wonder if maybe the problem is more that something is fundamentally broken in the interplay between self-identification and community-identification. On the one hand, subaltern folks (queers, trans*, non-whites,non-privileged groups) have to claw their way towards a sense of identity against great resistance from their communities (even the ones they attempt to identify with–I’m not a very good, “typical” gay man, and I’ll never attain middle-class status, nor am I always recognised as queer by many others, either). People in such situations learn very quickly that the initial act of self-creation is specifically the declaration (and in a lot of cases, that declaration has to be FIERCE in order to withstand the immediate backlash). Many of us pagans fit into this situation, and have had to work really hard just to carve out space for ourselves in the outerworld.

            On the other hand, there are people working on building community who’ve already gone through the initial process of self-identification, who have identified the need for a common framework based on common types of shared experiences (what I tend to call the Other), and have realised that without community our experiences cannot affect the world. Though they are otherwise theologically opposed on most things, people like Julian and John Halstead (and a few others like them) are attempting to build such a framework. And it’s vital that they do so, I think, because even the most solo of solitary practitioners sometimes needs someone to understand their experiences. And self-identification is almost never purely an individual act (the mystery of independence coming from acknowledged inter-dependence).

            Your experience, Aine, is precisely the sort of thing that I think those working on building community are attempting to work with, though from different viewpoints and with different building tools. Each individual experience informs the community on how to understand their own experiences, often defining what it means to be part of the community, but sometimes also defining what the community cannot be defined by. I use crystals, but I don’t expect my experience with crystals to become part of what it means to be Pagan, only part of what it means to use crystals. Also, I’m a leftist, and though I think leftist politics is endlessly vital in helping to shape my Pagan beliefs, I’d be wrong if I demanded that Paganism must mean attempting to abolish the State (even though I really think we should!).

            I’m not sure the way past the “storm of knives,” but maybe acknowledging that we’re all seeking a common way of talking about our experiences of the Other, that we may have to exclude certain types of experiences as personal expressions as opposed to shared experiences, and also acknowledging the communal value of individual experiences might be a useful place to start?

        • Aine

          Have little to say, other than you have my thoughts turning…Especially since pagandom seems like such a scattered community. but! Thank you for your comments. I have much to think about.

  • Nathair /|

    All that really matters is that you are Aine and Aine is a glorious divine being.