Missing PantheaCon and a Ritual of Exclusion

The only thing worse than not attending an awesome event, is seeing all the posts from everyone who is attending on social media.

PantheaCon is awesome. It’s like a big diversity fair showcasing the full spectrum of the Pagan community. There are really fantastic classes, presentations, rituals, music and people.While I can’t make it this year, I do look forward to attending next year, and seeing all the amazing people that I only run into on the West Coast.

This year I know a lot of people are angsty about inclusiveness. This year’s theme is “Unity In Diversity” and PantheaCon strives to make a place at the table for every type of Pagan. Last year there was a bit of a ruckus over transgender women being barred from a women’s ritual, and this year there are rituals labeled as being for genetic women only.

I just don't feel comfortable sharing sacred space with blue mugs.

I don’t agree with rituals being exclusive in such a way (would a ritual for genetically Caucasian people be allowed?), but I am glad that people are being clear about who is excluded from ritual space. It makes it easier to plan, minimizes confusion, and lets folks know where you stand on inclusivity. Straight up, such a label on a ritual in my program pretty much guarantees that not only will I not attend, but I likely won’t attend the facilitators other presentations and rituals.

In fact, this idea of excluding people has given me an idea for a ritual. An exclusive ritual. One in which each person interested in attending is challenged at the gate and found unacceptable. A ritual only for people just like me.

Do you have a penis? Yes? Then you can’t attend.

Is that your natural hair color? Yes? Then you can’t attend.

Do you live outside the Southeast US? Yes? Then you can’t attend.

Are you taller than 5’4″? Yes? Then you can’t attend.

Are you slim or athletic in build? Yes? Then you can’t attend.

Do you have children? Yes? Then you can’t attend.

Are you in a serious relationship? Yes? Then you can’t attend.

Do you have brown, hazel or green eyes? Yes? Then you can’t attend.

Do you like white chocolate? Yes? Then you can’t attend.

Do you have a tattoo? Yes? Then you can’t attend.

Are you GLBTQI? Yes? Then you can’t attend.

Are you over 30? Yes? Then you can’t attend.

Are you a college graduate? Yes? Then you can’t attend.

Eventually all comers would be turned away, because this ritual is only for people like me, who can understand and share my experiences. People I will feel absolutely comfortable with and who won’t challenge me. Which means I would stand in the circle alone.

Of course, I’ve been trained too-well in Wiccan principles to leave it there, so then the process of inclusion and connection would begin. Each person would step forward again and I would find something in common with them. I would find something we both share.

You like Monty Python? Join the circle!

You love the smell of rain? Join the circle!

You have a scar? Join the circle!

You like to chant? Join the circle!

You’ve been hurt by people you love? Join the circle!

Eventually everyone who was excluded would be admitted as I work to find a connection with each person. Because it’s easy to write people off. It’s easy to draw dividing lines. It’s easy to say that someone can’t understand you or connect with you because they are different. The hard work is forging connections. The human work is forging connections.

If you exclude someone from your ritual space, it should be for a good reason. It should be because the person’s behavior is unacceptable. Because the person has stated an intent of ill will towards the participants or has made it known they intend to disrupt the ritual. Because the person is dishonest, dishonorable, disrespectful and disruptive.

There’s a strange idea floating around that someone having a penis automatically makes them unsafe in ritual. It’s an idea that is actively promoted and nurtured. It feeds on itself, creating a cocoon of circular logic. It invents a devil, feeds him, and keeps him menacing outside the circle’s edge. It prevents real healing and growth. But a penis doesn’t make someone unsafe anymore than having a vagina makes someone nice, emotional, nurturing and safe.

I’ve said all this before. I’ll likely repeat it again at some point. But if you ain’t inclusive, then I don’t wanna boogie ’round your balefire. I think there are more people who feel like I do every day. I think these exclusive viewpoints that make a demon of the Other are fading into the past. I think the future is bright.

So have fun at PantheaCon and be certain to post updates and pictures to make me green with envy! I’ll see y’all next year!

As I have been accused of propagating rumors, I’m including this statement made 9 months after the original incident at the 2011 Pcon. I leave it to you to judge which version of the incident seems to be reasonable and accurate:

Unbeknownst to me, several gender equality activists had pre-planned a protest at PantheaCon regarding the issue of gender-and-sex-exclusive spaces. Unbeknownst to me, this group had already contacted the Pagan Newswire Collective letting them know that they planned this action. Unbeknownst to me, they were outside protesting our ritual while we were figuring out our technical difficulties, and saying that we excluded trans women. THE AMAZONS HAVE NEVER TURNED A TRANS WOMAN AWAY AT THE DOOR OF ANY OUR RITUALS. We believe in personal integrity. We believe that in women’s culture, if a woman sets a boundary about her preferences, other women will honor that boundary. We believe that if any woman is in need of healing and is prepared to participate respectfully, lovingly and kindly in a ritual for such, she should have it. We do not do penis-checks or pat-downs. WE DO ASK THAT ALL PARTICIPANTS AT AMAZON RITUALS BE ABLE TO BE NAKED AND ALLOW THEIR YONIS TO BE PRESENT IN THE RITUAL SPACE for the purpose of a particular type of visceral experience, much the same way others hearken to the witches rune and gather naked at their own rites for their own purposes. There are many women, both cis- and trans-, who struggle with public nudity. There are many women, cis- and trans-, for whom this type of ritual might be triggering. There are also many women, cis- and trans-, who do not feel called to this particular type of worship. We support thoughtfulness and personal responsibility in the matter of selecting the rituals that will be most personally helpful, creating the necessary boundaries for any specific type of work one feels called to do, and respecting the boundaries of others, whether we share those boundaries and agree with them or not.

About Star Foster

Polytheistic Wiccan initiated into the Ravenwood tradition, she has many opinions. Some of them are actually useful.

  • http://www.myownashram.wordpress.com/ My Own Ashram

    Oh, how I would love to be turned away from that ritual! What a great idea! Really.

    I too am missing PCon, physically and in spirit, but I’ll be going next year. Perhaps we will finally be able to meet up and chat in the flesh then.

  • sunfell

    Are you agoraphobic?

    Um, yes.

    Oh. …never mind.

  • Ocean

    I’d like to include another perspective here Star, if I may….people with disabilities. Granted, PantheaCon is more accessible than some (particularly the outdoor) events are, but if we want to talk in general concepts, a lot of people with a disability – whether it be deaf, blind, wheelchair-user or whatever, also find themselves excluded. 

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

       This is true.

  • Lady GreenFlame

    So – if a group of pregnant women, for example, wanted to do a ritual for pregnant women only, so they could bond over that shared experience of being pregnant – that would be a bad thing? Substitute “menopausal,” “menstruating,” etc. as needed. Or, let’s do another topic. Let’s say people who are recovering alcoholics want to do a ritual only for and with other recovering alcoholics because of shared experience. Or anorexics. Or Gulf War veterans….I think “Unity In Diversity” means that I should be able to choose to have a ritual with whoever I want to have a ritual with, whatever subgroup or subcategory I affiliate with, without other people getting their feelings hurt. Yes, that includes race. Maybe I want to have a private ritual with other people of predominantly European descent to explore the pain of having ancestors who died in the Black Death, or who perpetrated violence to the native peoples of this continent — trying to clear those ancestral lines, as it were.

    Exclusion is not automatically a synonym for some sort of bad -ism. 

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

       Pregnant women only, no expecting fathers allowed! And no trans women “expecting” a child through the process of adoption!

      Trans women will never be able to understand menstruation or menopause, and thus aren’t real women and aren’t welcome!

      Those are things trans women hear a lot in Paganism.

      PSG has 12 step meetings open to non-alcoholics. I’ve been invited to them.

      If you’re anorexic, having a chubby girl like me in your ritual might be helpful to both of us.

      If you’re a vet, having a civillian like me hear your stories helps both of us.

      Exclusion is bad. It’s why I’m Wiccan. If polarity means anything, it means that opposites belong together, working together, and learning from each other.

    • Cara

      I agree with this.  I detest the idea that everyone must always be included in everything or you’re a bad person.  If people want to have a men only ritual or a crone only ritual or a virgins only ritual (heh, not many attendees on that one) it’s no skin off my nose.

    • Katie Berger Tremaine

      Do whatever you want in private space, on your own time. Do it with my blessing. But don’t carry your petty bigotries into the public sphere. I’ve had it about to here with this Patriarchal attitude of “Excluding and hurting anyone I want is my religious freedom!” We’re supposed to be different than that.

      Outside of the privileged space of religious interactions this same “I can’t be confronted by anyone whose body might be unfamiliar!” attitude causes trans women to die, at a rate that far exceeds that of any other group. To suffer sexual violence at a rate that far exceeds any other group. To be homeless and to resort to survival crime at a rate that far exceeds any other group. I’m a relatively privileged middle-class trans woman. I “only” face objectification, petty discrimination and potential violence from others’ bigotry. Pretty much in that order, too; violence is a fairly remote possibility for a tall, pretty woman who looks like she can handle herself if things get ugly. Poor trans women face eviction, rape, beatings, murder, sexually transmitted illnesses and imprisonment.

      Exclusion of an oppressed minority IS “a synonym for some sort of bad -ism.”

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1567623630 Karen St John

      Is it not possible to have exactly the same rituals, without “erasing” someone else? It’s true that trans women do not moonbleed, and rituals based on those experiences would not be appropriate for a transsexual women such as myself, and I don’t seek to attend them. I know in my heart that celebrating the blessed rituals given by the Goddess to those women who are predisposed by nature to moonbleed, serves to affirm the Goddesshood of those women, by healing the denigration of bringing forth life, that the Goddess and her daughters have foreborne. But when we add in notions of who is “real” or “not real”, erasure, not healing, is the unintended result. The words of Lady Z Budapest regarding the 2011 Lilith ritual erased our experience, and set up an alternative, threatening experience that simply isn’t in our spirit. The spirits of some others, perhaps, but not ours. I truly believe we hurt the Goddess in not listening to our sisters. We felt silenced by her words. We also felt words were added to our silence that were not ours. This years’ silent protest was in fact, all about that terrible misapprehension.

      Trans women are different daughters of the Goddess. There are transsexual women such as myself who call to the Goddess to help us find the her Blessings in our own womenhood, and heal our own hurts that come from society’s denigration of the Goddess within us. These are different blessings, but blesssings nonetheless. We would love to share them with any women who would work with us to heal our own experiences. Would you circle with us?

  • http://about.me/CosettePaneque Cosette Paneque

    I’m sorry to hear you won’t be attending. I was hoping to spend a little facetime with you again this year. You’ll be missed.

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

       I know! We’ll have to grab lunch next year!

  • sindarintech

    I saw absolutely no problem with the gender-restrictive ritual last year. What I *did* have a problem with, though, was the public shaming of the group that had put in the work and time to organize and do the ritual in the first place. They also allowed themselves to be shamed for weeks after PCon, because some folks wanted to politicize their particular social agendas and make an example of them.

    Here’s the deal: if you want a trans-friendly ritual. organize one. There is absolutely no reason why Dianics or anyother group should be guilted or peer-pressured into doing something that they don’t agree with. For a group that spouts off a lot about individual rights and freedoms, pagans sure do have a tendency to act like a high school popular girls clique when their collective panties get knotted up.

    Here’s a good rule: Do what you think is right, and let me do what I think is right. If we don’t agree, that should be OK… 

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

       The problem last year was miscommunication. They didn’t specify it was a bio women only ritual and there was a ruckus at the door.

      That said, I didn’t attend that ritual last year because even without that disclaimer, I felt it was exclusive. And Wendy Rule was performing at the same time.

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

      sindarintech, you’re missing the point. The ritual last year (just like the ritual this year) is for women, yet is excluding transgender women who are just as valid in their womanhood as anyone one. Women-only spaces are wonderful, as long as all women are included. A women-only ritual specifically for trans women is “seperate but equal” in this case. Trans women shouldnt have to have a separate ritual “over there in the corner” or wherever. They should be welcomed to anything involving women…again, because they are women.

      • sindarintech

        No I’m not missing the point… I’m disagreeing with the point. Just because trans ‘women’ have convinced themselves that they are women doesn’t actually mean that they are. But I’m going by the genetic definition of female, not the psychological pseudo-science definition.

        What I saw last year was sickening. A few loud and obnoxious ‘outraged at the injustice’ people organized to make a point. And the people who had organized the ritual, for WOMEN, became the scapegoats. I read the description in the schedule and quickly came to the conclusion that it was born-woman only. Others chose to not be respectful because they had a political agenda.

        • Ci

           Why is this disgusting, transphobic comment going unchallenged?

          • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

             Because I have to sleep on occasion.

        • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

           I’m going out on a limb and guessing you don’t know any trans people. Just like homophobic people tend to not actually know any gay people, transphobic people tend to not know any trans people.

          I have met trans women who are more feminine than I am. Who are more “womanly” than I am. I’m not talking about drag or appearance, but in how they think, express and comport themselves.

          We’re not talking about science. We’re talking about real human beings. If you don’t know them then you can’t speak for their reality.

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

          Wow sindarintech, you really need to educate yourself. Trans women do not need to convince themselves (or you) of anything relating to their true gender. Just because you are uncomfortable with the fact that gender identity and expression is fluid, does not mean it doesn’t happen. There is a difference between political agenda and practicing human decency. 

  • Fern Miller

    For ME: I don’t care if there are rituals for this or that group happening on the planet.  But – again for ME: the point of rituals at festivals/conferences is to introduce the group to everyone at the festival.  If it is on the festival schedule, and I PAID to attend the festival, I damn well better be able to attend it.

    That’s not to say that for ME thatwhile at the festival this, that, or another group can’t get together and have a ritual for them alone – but that’s in their rooms/tents/whatever, not on the festival schedule, and NOT sponsored/promoted by the festival.

    • sindarintech

      Fern, it’s not that kind of ‘festival’. Some rituals required participants to wear white clothing, because that was what their trad demanded. Those who didn’t were turned away. Though I was disappointed, I dealt with it like an adult. Not everything at PCon is intended for everyone. And that should be OK.

      • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

         There’s a big difference between not having a white outfit and being told that you are not a woman.

        • kenneth

          What they did is no different than if they had a ritual for white people with accompanying criteria for who would be considered “white enough.”  Or a veteran’s ritual but only for those whose service was considered “hardcore” enough. 

          • http://www.blackpagan.com/ blackpagan

            Something I’ve wondered: 

            If transgendered people born biologically male who now identify as women are beginning to gain acceptance as such from the larger community, does that mean that I — a black American with Irish ancestry on both my mother and father’s sides — can now claim to be white? And be taken seriously? (Since Irish are now considered to be white unlike during the period of mass Irish immigration to America in the 19th century when the Irish were not considered white?)

            Not meaning to be snarky here, I just find the ramifications of such fluidity to be interesting.

          • http://kauko-niskala.blogspot.com Kauko

             It’s my understanding that the notion that the Irish weren’t considered ‘white’ in America in the 19th century is a huge misconception. They were, in fact, in every legal sense considered white, as essentially all European people were in America. They did face discrimination, however, due to their Catholic religion and general negative stereotypes about them.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Definitions_of_whiteness_in_the_United_States

          • kenneth

            They were legally and ethnically considered “white” but on a deeper level, “white” was a pejorative for “civilized.” In that sense, the WASP establishment didn’t view the Irish, or Italians or others to be “white” in the true sense. They sort of gave all immigrant groups that treatment until they had been here a few generations and the “old country” had been assimilated out of them. 

          • http://kauko-niskala.blogspot.com Kauko

             Certainly, the whole issue can be complicated because historical notions of whiteness, blackness, etc were, well, complicated themselves.  So, as you say, these people were ‘white’ but not, perhaps, as white as the people who’d been here a while.

        • sindarintech

          Guys with penises AREN’T women. All of this PC-speak is just tiring.

          • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

             Right. But trans women, intersex women and people who live as women are.

            If you dislike the PC speak, then you should likely avoid this forum, as I’m not likely to stop writing about gender and GLBTQI issues in Paganism.

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

            Star- I feel blessed that you arent ever bullied into being filtered. Thanks for boosting the signal on this important topic. 

          • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

             I don’t know if it’s a blessing. It often known as foot-in-mouth disease.

          • kenneth

            The willingness to call one’s own out is a much-needed gift in our community. We don’t maybe need guys who shoot laptops, but a dose of tough love and honesty is needed. I’m thinking more like “Red” on “That 70s Show.” ! You’re much kinder on the eyes than Red, but you get the job done!

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

            My response to that is “haters gonna hate”  :)

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

    I think people are too fixated on the idea of “exclusion”. There is also such a thing as “freedom of association”, which means being free to decide who you choose to associate with. And another thing: any ritual where any kind of important work is actually done must be exclusive on all planes.

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

      Drawing a sacred boundary in space is different from excluding people from a public ritual.

      I do agree with you about association though. I chose not to attend the exclusive ritual for the one put on by a GLBTQI group. I think I made a good choice because the ritual put on by the Ekklesia Antinouu was fantastic!

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Lamyka-L/649965363 Lamyka L.

      I agree where you say some are confusing ‘exclusion’ with ‘freedom of association’. If a group wants to have ritual with only black wiccans, or transgendered lesbians, etc. I’d first only ask why. More out of respectful curiosity than a need to decipher if I should be judging them.

      As @1bf9f93d4947eebe5c09b5fb8306dc91:disqus would say, no skin off my nose. Would their ritual perhaps benefit by what they did NOT allow in? Maybe. For Hawaiians we all go through (or never leave) that moment when you want to scream, “How much more can you take from us?!!” when we see people who aren’t Hawaiian parading our culture. And in some instances it’s justified to say such a thing and be ‘exclusive’–to abusers. However, I’ll also never forget that if not for a few good white Christian missionaries’ daughters, Queen Emma’s Summer Palace, Hulihe’e Palace, etc. would have been bulldozed in the early 1900s.

      My only overall message here is as cousins-in-faith it is both our duty to push and if need be back off from each other, and let us live with our own decisions.

    • Katie Berger Tremaine

      Freedom of association does not mean freedom from criticism.

  • kenneth

       Do they have the right to hold an exlusive ritual? Of course. But we also have the right to call it out for the disgusting and bigoted action that it is, and not to underwrite it at a public event with our presence or fees.  This dynamic behind this ritual is no different at all than that which informs the Westboro Baptist Church or any of the ugliness anywhere in monotheism which poses strict “loyalty” test to determine who is “Christian/Muslim enough.” 
        The insistence that participants be naked is pure cult abuse. It’s sexual harassment, plain and simple. It would be recognized as such in any other context we can imagine.  Forcing someone to strip as a condition of entering a space is an indignity we reserve for convicted criminals. 
        Even if I were a born, genetic woman, I would never attend such a ritual for another reason.  The organizer have demonstrated themselves to be completely ignorant about the metaphysical nature of gender energy and polarity. If they truly believe feminine energy or identity rests in external genitalia or chromosomes, they have nothing worthwhile to teach about the subject. Nor would I ever partake in a men’s ritual which refused trans-men, for the same reason. Not only won’t I attend any of the programs by the facilitators of such an event, I would not attend any conference that would be party to such a thing. 

    • Limnaia

      This is pretty much where I stand on this, as well. I understand freedom of association and gods know, I understand how nice it is to be around people who understand where you are coming from without having to explain yourself first. It’s why, for example, I have polyamorous friends who I can call when I’m having issues with my love life.

      That said, I think that exclusion like this, while presumably well intentioned (if there can be such a thing) is something that seems incredibly wrong, to me. I could never attend a rite like that.

    • Phoenix Rose

      Well said!

  • http://www.facebook.com/kargach Rob Henderson

    Personally, I have no interest in attending any kind of ritual where anyone is excluded based on some personal attribute that they can’t choose, such as race or gender.  And I really don’t care what kind of amazing experiences I’m missing, as people keep assuring me I’m doing.  As a wise man once said, “Sewer rat may taste like pumpkin pie, but I’d never know ’cause I wouldn’t eat the filthy (expletive deleted).”  Exclusion comes from a filthy place and I ain’t eating it.

    • kenneth

      Pulp Fiction, like Cool Hand Luke, contains within it most of the wisdom one needs in this life, if one is willing to listen! :)

  • http://ladyimbriumsholocron.wordpress.com/ ladyimbrium

    This is a very strange conversation for someone who is gender-fluid. Even though I’m physically female there are days when I “feel male” and days when I “feel female” and I’ve been pretty comfortable with both groups for my whole life. If someone chooses not to associate with me because I make them uncomfortable then that is their loss. I agree with you, Star, in the idea that we are made better by sharing experiences and stories. On the other hand, if I knew full well I wasn’t feeling particularly “male” at the time, I wouldn’t be too interested in attending a men’s group. It’s more about the energy at the time than about any need to feel included. At least in my case.

  • Ci

    Hmm. I agree with pretty much everything you say, in that the group in question conducted themselves quite questionably and there was a lot to criticise.

    I’m not *quite* sure I agree with the idea that all exclusive rituals or events be judged. They should be critically examined, I think, but with an open mind. I’m thinking of groups I’ve attended that have been “queer only” and “people who have experienced misogyny only” and have found them to be the only places I’ve ever felt truly comfortable. I can see how this would extend to religious ritual work.

    I think it’s a matter of position and, definitely, marginalised experience. A “men only” ritual I would be less capable of giving a slide, but I can understand a “queer only” ritual far more. I know that we queers, especially within the pagan sphere, are often very much in need of safe spaces. They’re important. They’re valuable. And I am sympathetic. I do not find a “women only” ritual to be *inherently* problematic – only in their definition of woman, which here did not include transwomen. I also would like to know if they’d be willing to admit someone they perceived to be female but who did not identify as such? I doubt they’d check for /that/.

    [speaking of, it's a liiiittle weird how you keep saying 'biologically female', etc.! what does that mean? I have breasts and vulva, but my body is mine. I am not female, thus my body was never biologically female. it is biologically me. I understand that it's difficult to find an alternative for what you mean, though female-assigned-at-birth works a lot better.]

    • http://ladyimbriumsholocron.wordpress.com/ ladyimbrium

      I guess the difference is between sex and gender. Sex refers to the chromosomes you were born with. Gender refers to your identity- however you have chosen to express that. Masculine or feminine energy varies widely and I wouldn’t begin to try to pin that one down. Just my opinion of course.

      • Ci

         I am aware of popular distinctions between sex and gender! My point is that ‘female’ as a gender identity is culturally linked to certain physical and biological characteristics, and it’s damaging to non-binary people to continue reinforcing this link as inherent, rather than arbitrary.

        I do allow that terms like ‘female-bodied’ might seem the best fit at the time, though. There needs to be more discussion on how to deal with this issue, and more importantly, there needs to be the promise to pay attention.

      • http://ianphanes.livejournal.com/ Ian Phanes

         Sex is not only chromosomes.  Phenotypic sex may or may not correlate with genetypic sex.  Some individuals with androgen insensitivity syndrome have a Y chromosome yet are female-bodied their entire lives.  And that doesn’t even begin to deal with XXY, XYY, and some of the other genetic combinations.

        Also, given our society’s tendency to privilege the physical, I’ve moved away from contrasting sex and gender.  These days, I prefer to describe both genotypic and phenotypic aspects as “biological gender”.  In my opinion, that points out that these are simply aspects of the complexity of gender, rather than treating “sex” as objective and “gender” as subjective, as so often happens.

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

       As a cis woman, my language in this area can be awkward. I’m still learning.

    • kenneth

      I don’t think all exclusive rituals are necessarily as problematic as this one. There can be some good reasons to have rituals or workshops specifically for men or women. I question how much of an emphasis there ought to be on those kinds of things at public cons, but some good work can get done in such circles. 
         The problem I have with this “women’s only” circle is that the organizers are taking it upon themselves to decide who is “woman enough”. They are doing so using criteria which are completely arbitrary and rooted in absolute ignorance of medical and scientific understanding of gender, and as I have said earlier, ignorance of metaphysics. They propose to say that the whole thing is binary. If you are a “born woman”, than you’re “real” or at least real enough for their workshop. If you’re a trans-woman, then you’re the other kind. 
         Then, they take this ignorance to new heights by drawing the distinction of “genetic women” with no understanding of what that means.  To enforce this genetic purity requirement, they resort to a strip search. Let’s not pretend this was some invitation to be skyclad to honor goddess thing. It was a strip search. “If you want in, we need to see what you’re packing, and if you aren’t comfortable with boundaries, maybe we’re not for you.”   This takes us right into laughable yet pathetic territory. First, I guarantee that they couldn’t flag most post-op trans-women this way. I have a friend of mine from way back in high school who transitioned some years ago. She could walk into that circle skyclad, with a spotlight on her pelvis, and no one would be the wiser.  Even sillier, a FTM transgender person, who has the mind and spirit of a man, but the outward features of a female, could join their “real” woman’s ritual.    The real palm-to-forehead moment for me comes with their presumption that strip searching someone constitutes a genetic test! Ogling will screen out obvious pre-op trans folks, but it doesn’t begin to determine whether someone is genetically female. To do that, they’d need to take tissues samples and perform karyotyping, staining and lining up all of a person’s chromosomes to see if they have an “XX” or “XY”.     Even that, by itself, proves nothing where gender is concerned.  In reality, it settles the question for most of us walking around in daily life, but there are so many exceptions to the rules that the intersection of biology and gender is hideously complex.  People can have a mix of these gender pairs in their chromosomes. There are women, real women, walking around, perhaps even among the conference organizers, who have an “XY” pair throughout their body but developed as women because the Y-chromosome activator gene was defective. There are people walking around with a “XX” who still virilize and look very male-like due to hormonal abnormalities.    There is a bewildering array of mismatches between genotype and body type. Some have features of both genders, partially developed features of one gender, or body features radically different from what their genes say they should be. It’s also clear that “gender” is in large part a construct of social conditioning. There are people who are very physically and/or gentically ambiguous who decide to identify as one gender based on how they were raised, how they feel inside etc. 

      • Katie Berger Tremaine

        Other than the cringe-inducing use of “real women” (I am as real as any other woman, thank you very much), I agree.


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