I certainly have my own tales of #metoo. But I don’t feel the need to share my stories today. My guess is that your Facebook feed has already been filled with people referencing #metoo and the Kavanaugh hearing. The pagan community has had scandals like Kenny Klein and Issac Bonewits. We all know local scandals too. Those are smaller and less publicized, but no less horrible in scope for those involved. I’ve had to help people get away from abusers. I’ve done magic to keep them safe. I’ve confronted people and told them to get out of my community. I’ve accepted that we cannot count on our justice system to help us when it comes to sexual abuse and assault. We need to watch out for our own.
We cannot afford to ignore these issues and we need to take action within our own local communities. My own local pagan community and international community of druids have struggled with these issues in a very real way. Last year much of the ADF leadership and priesthood took the Pagan Consent Course from the Cherry Hill Seminary, and since then I’ve been giving consent workshops and continuing to deepen my own knowledge.
My Journey to Action
As I have studied and thought about these issues, I have come to see how toxic our society is. We have all been damaged and have accepted damaging models of gender and sexuality. For me, the moment came when I re-watched Empire Strikes Back a year ago. I loved that movie, and grew up idolizing both Princess Leia and Han Solo. Back then she was one of a very few good role models for powerful women. Seeing how their romance proceeded I kept thinking how awful the whole thing was and how I wished they’d both be more honest. Consent training ruined that romance for me. I’m glad about it. My own partnerships are stronger and better for what I’ve learned. My life is more honest, my needs are better met by those who care about me and I am more able to meet their needs, or hold my boundaries in kind and supportive ways.
Consent is it’s own kind of sexy.
Putting Predation in Context
We are building this culture from the ground up. It means that there aren’t many textbooks for how to do this. Movies don’t model healthy behaviors. We don’t have good traditions to support safe, sex positive spaces. It’s only been in the last few generations that we have begun to grapple with these issues. The Boomer generation gave us the gift of “Yes” with free love and the sexual revolution. Only after we had a real yes could we learn the importance of “No.” That came along in the eighties developed first in the kink leather communities. We are still learning as we go. This list is my own small contribution to the project of building a better, truly sex positive culture. These ideas are built from my own hard won experiences. It’s certainly not exhaustive. Please feel free to comment with ideas built from your own communities.
What your Community Can Do to Protect People
Be obnoxious. Especially here in the midwest we are polite. Sometimes too polite. Don’t do that! Don’t politely walk away when you see people at a festival engaged in sexual activity. Check in, make eye contact and ask if everything is okay. If you think it’s not, hang out and be that “cockblock” It’s okay to cockblock. Think about that phrase for a moment and realize how ridiculous it is, and yet it’s totally commonplace.
If you’ve ever said or thought that someone “Led them on.” Get rid of that thought. We need to build mental models that support having boundaries and the ability to say “No.” It is okay to make out and not want to have sex. It’s okay to dance topless and not want to get felt up. It is okay to have boundaries. It is okay for those boundaries to change. We were all raised in a toxic culture. Unless you’ve spent a lot of time thinking very carefully about what and how you think you’re probably making toxic assumptions about what is appropriate sexual behavior.
Just like you don’t let people drive drunk, don’t let people sex drunk! It’s okay to go up to someone and say, “You’re not in control of yourself. Let’s get you to your own bed/house.” If tomorrow they still want to have sex with that person, great! It doesn’t hurt to wait a bit and make sure that in the light of day it still seems like a good idea. Alcohol lowers inhibitions, which can be a social lubricant, but absolutely should not be involved with something that needs conversations about STIs, birth control, and may well involve triggers and other delicate matters.
Communicate with your interlocking communities. Predators often leap from group to group in order to not be called out. Because of politeness and reserve we don’t talk about predators, but we must! As a leader in a community you need to know the other covens, circles, groves, and organizations in your local cities. Reach out if you have a question about a person. This can be helpful with all kinds of issues, including predation, mental illness, or just that a certain person is kinda high needs.
Have a plan for how to boot someone out of your community. Bylaws are good for this, but you have to be ready to have people who can say “Leave and never come back.” This can be very scary. Make sure to have at least two leaders in any conversation about such things. Make sure to follow your rules, but do so effectively in order to protect your people. If your rules are such that you can’t boot a dangerous person, you need to fix your rules. Now. If you have to kick someone out because they are violent, abusive, molesting children* or dangerous you need to make sure you’re communicating this to the other leaders in your community so that they don’t just take that person in. Make sure you’re doing all this with compassion in your heart, but don’t let that stop you from telling a predator to leave. Make sure that if you are a mandated reporter in your state you get the information you need and report. Even if you’re not required to report, you still can and still should. Learn your state’s laws.
Run consent workshops on a regular basis. Learn what consent actually means. Read books, get training, and practice it! My grove has committed to providing free yearly consent workshops to our community. We’ve run them out of our suite at Convocation. We have pins that say, “Ask me about Consent!” Be a model for a better world. There are better options than what we all grew up with.
Hold space for victims. Firstly this means believing them. Believe them. No, for real, BELIEVE THEM. Then listen. Invoke your active listening skills. This is hard and exhausting work. You may need to ask others to help you afterward. Some of the most challenging work I’ve ever done as a priest is listen to stories of sexual abuse. I’m no therapist. But I do listen and comfort. That’s the thing: unless you’ve listened you don’t know what their triggers, needs, and boundaries are. You can’t be helpful. You have to listen first.
Consider whether you ought to be holding space for the perpetrators. We live in a toxic society. Men have been taught for generations to ignore their emotions, to take what they want, and to value brutal success over working with others. This means that not every person who breaks consent is evil. Not every man who did a creepy thing is unredeemable. This can be really really hard to navigate because we live in a society that gaslights us all the time about men who truly are predators. Yes, I say men. Yes I know that there are women perpetrators too. Remember how I didn’t share my personal #metoos? Yeah, one of them was a woman. But the statistics are there, and frankly my experience shows that a vast majority of the people who commit sexual assault and abuse are men. That does’t make all men bad, or make manliness something unworthy. It just means that’s where we need to focus our attention for change.
Look for patterns, and talk to people about consent, boundaries, and respect. Some men will use this as an excuse to continue abusive behavior. If you are a leader in your community you have taken on the responsibility to try and figure out if someone is an abuser or just misled. Is this easy? Nope. But I have seen men do things that later they are ashamed of. I have seen men who have stepped up to become the protectors of their community. I have seen the good and healing that can come from a man recovering from crossing boundaries and causing pain. I have seen men learn how to ask, how to accept a no answer without pain, and how to build a community of caring and safe intimacy. This is a deep and powerful healing too.
Learn how to exist in uncomfortable situations, because all of this is uncomfortable. We have all been raised in a toxic society. Living and and succeeding in our society means that you’ve internalized those lessons. It’s no fun to undo centuries of bad patterns, but that is what we all have to do. Be gentle with yourself when you fail, because you probably will. But don’t let that stop you either. Just keep trying.
This isn’t going to be over any time soon. Learn to accept that. It took three generations of women fighting their whole lives just to allow women to vote. Three generations. We are part of a long battle. We will pass this battle to our children. We live in a society where rape is normalized and abuse is standard. Keep fighting. Take breaks, do self care, and then keep fighting some more.
I am slowly learning what a sexually healthy society might look like. I have a dream that it could be a space where we honor many kinds of sexuality: where no one is shamed for wanting multiple partners and likewise no one is shamed for wanting none. I dream of a world where people who are making out in a corner get asked, “Hey, is everything okay?” and they giggle, give two thumbs up and say “It’s better than okay, it’s great!” I want a culture where we don’t allow predation in order to have freedom. It’s not an either or proposition. I want a culture where we have true freedom say to both “Yes” and to say “No”.
Resources for Further Reading:
*Edited to add information about child molestation. Thanks to Rev. Kathleen Pezza for pointing out the omission.
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