Affirming One Is Not Erasure of Another

Affirming One Is Not Erasure of Another July 1, 2016

It’s been a busy month for me, with two road trips (the 40th anniversary of my karate school and the Free Spirit Gathering), plus some stressful changes at the day job — which have in turn prompted me to get some other projects moving. So I’m a little behind on the most recent blogosphere brouhaha.

Apparently next door at “Alone In Her Presence”, Erick DuPree published an interview with Ruth Barrett, regarded by some as a “trans-exclusive radical feminist”, or “TERF”. Erick has since removed the interview, so I can’t comment on it (and this is why I object to controversial posts being removed, creating memory holes in the public discourse), but Barrett is apparently of the opinion that trans acceptance means “erasing” the female.

At Common Tansy, Pat Mosley has responded with a series of interviews of transgender Pagans. Pat asked one such Pagan, named Jean-Marie, “Do Pagans who believe that affirming the gender of trans people = female erasure accurately represent Paganism?” Jean-Marie replied, “The silence of other Patheos bloggers on speaks loudly to this accuracy.”

I don’t want to be part of that silence.

noterasure2There is a fundamental confusion at work in many people’s notions about their identity: that allowing other people the right to explore their selves, including areas that may overlap with your self-notion, somehow degrades your own right to explore and define yourself. And so others must be excluded from certain self-identifications or actions. “You can’t be a Real Such-and-Such, because I’m a Real Such-and-Such and am or have or do so-and-so and you don’t! Only those who are so-and-so are allowed to be Real Such-and-Suches, it’s a key part of our identity and culture and those who don’t have it or do it or aren’t it aren’t allowed in!”

Examples: “You’re not a Real American because you’re not Protestant Christian!” “You’re not a Real Man because you don’t eat meat!” “You’re not a Real Intellectual because you don’t prefer the music of Bach to that of Jimi Hendrix!”

And conversely, “You can’t do or be or have so-and-so, because I’m a Real Such-and-Such and you’re not! Only Real Such-and-Suches are allowed to so-and-so, it’s a key part of our identity and culture and we have to prevent others from doing it or being it or having it!”

We went over that one during the “cultural appropriation” kerfluffle a few months back.

And so we have, “You can’t be a Real Woman, because I’m a Real Woman and I’ve experienced menses and that’s what makes me a Real Woman! Only those who’ve experienced their moon are Real Women!”

And, “You can’t be a priestess in this rite! Only Real Women are allowed to take that role, it’s a key part of our religious identity!”

As if allowing someone who had never menstruated (which, by the way, includes some persons born with XX chromosomes and female sex organs and labeled female at birth and self-identified as female throughout their life but who experienced various medical conditions) to claim the label “female” would change your own experience of your body, or allowing someone else to play a role in ritual would change the experience you had when you took that role.

It speaks of a troubling weakness in one’s own sense of self that one must exclude others from certain labels, roles, and behaviors.

Now, affirming a person’s right to be how they are, to explore their existence, doesn’t mean agreeing with them. I don’t concur at all with Jean-Marie’s statement “I hope society abandons the idea [of gender] all together.” While there are many problems with our society’s gender roles and norms, the existence of some social construct of gender seems a natural and inevitable response to the biological reality that most (not all!) humans fall pretty clearly into one of two biological sexes.

Nor is this meant to gloss over some of the complex issues about trans acceptance. I don’t give a darn about the genitalia of the person in the bathroom stall next to me — so long as anyone using a urinal is able to aim, using natural or artificial means, let’s all leave each other alone to answer the fundamental calls of biology. That ginned-up controversy seems a genuine attempt to erase trans people from public existence.

On the other hand, the presence of transgender people in shared showers and changing areas raises fundamental questions about the whole notion of gender segregation, which at the very least need to be acknowledged to be deep and complicated. (Though for the record, I personally don’t care who I see or who sees me unclothed.) So I don’t want to be overly breezey

But the idea that accepting one group’s existence means erasing another group is entirely wrong-headed and must be vigorously rejected.


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I’ll be presenting at the Starwood Festival later this month.

If you do Facebook, you might choose to join a group on “Zen Paganism” I’ve set up there. And don’t forget to “like” Patheos Pagan and/or The Zen Pagan over there, too.

Also, Why Buddha Touched the Earth makes great summer reading!

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