Despite cosmetic differences, Paganism and LGBTQ+ Leather culture have quite a bit in common, in that:
- There are a lot of people named Raven.
- Everyone thinks that everyone else is having more sex than they actually are.
- The gossip is made to order and always served scalding hot.
Rumors and rumors of rumors abound in both communities, to the point where it’s not improbable that a Druid in Oregon and a Daddy in Delaware are, at this very moment, each saying to someone, “Well, that’s not what I heard.”
My favorite Leather rumor went down a couple of years ago, during my club‘s annual fundraising weekend. The event culminates in an Officer’s Luncheon, where we all dress in our finest, formal fetishwear and gorge on Southern breakfast foods, and I was just about to tuck into a plate of biscuits and gravy, when a random dude ambled over and sat next to me.
“So, your president quit, huh?” he said.
“Pardon me?” I asked.
“I heard your president quit.”
“Oh. Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but he didn’t.”
“Not only that, I heard he rage-quit.”
“That would be the opposite of true.”
“Rage-quit in the middle of a business meeting and abandoned you guys.”
“He’s literally at the front of the ballroom introducing our keynote speaker.”
“Well, that’s weird. What with him quitting and all.”
“Please stop talking.”
The rumor traveled from Houston to Dallas and back before its origin came to light: One of our pledges (who, unsurprisingly, did not work out) was trying to impress a potential paramour with his intimate knowledge of the local Leather scene and told the guy that our president was secretly planning on resigning. That guy told someone else, who told someone, et cetera, et cetera, et telephone game, until the story morphed into its lurid final form and made it back to me.
Our pledge wanted to make himself look good, so he said something untoward about someone else. And this is worth noting, because it’s the motivation behind every rumor in the history of Western Civilization. While rumors do occasionally start accidentally, their only real purpose is to contribute to imbalances of power: Somebody ends up driving the bus, and somebody else ends up underneath it.
Enter the Stool Pigeon
Every community has at least one: that person who will repeat any rumor, no matter how far-fetched or unfounded, without provocation. We’ve got a few in Houston, and I honestly kind of appreciate them, because I’d have no idea what I was getting up to if they didn’t call me every couple of weeks to fill me in.
“I heard a rumor about you,” they’ll say.
“Well, I certainly hope it’s true,” I’ll reply. And I usually leave it at that, because I’m really not that interested in what people have to say about me. (As Oscar Wilde once averred, “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”)
Stool Pigeons, in my experience, rarely start rumors themselves — rather, they draw a sense of self-worth from collecting and disseminating (albeit inaccurate) information that’s already floating around. And this makes them easy to manipulate. If you want to cause trouble for someone and don’t have the resources to take out a billboard, just touch base with your local Stool Pigeon, and it’s all anyone will be discussing by the close of the business day. Plus the blame for spreading the allegations will land squarely on the Stoolie, who more than likely won’t remember who put the fake news in their ear in the first place.
From Leatherbound to Oathbound
All things considered, Leather rumors are fairly humdrum: A contest was allegedly rigged; a donation was purportedly embezzled; a boyfriend was almost certainly misappropriated. Pagan rumors, on the other hand, tend to lean toward the ludicrous, which makes them a lot more entertaining.
In my neck of the pre-Christian woods, the rumors always seem to involve people cursing each other, or using magic in ways deemed unethical.
“I heard she psychically pushes people to buy her books during lectures,” someone once hissed to me about a popular author. “We can’t support her.” Or, during one particularly long-running feud, “We heard that they were going to cast a rain spell on our campout, so we cast a spell that would make it rain on their campout, but only if they really did cast a rain spell on our campout first.”
As I recall, it rained on both campouts. Texas has its own kind of weather magic.
As much as I (uncharitably) giggle at the hearsay flying about in general Pagandom, it’s decidedly less amusing when rumors start festering within initiatory Traditions. Initiates should (at least theoretically) be able to trust one another. When gossip-mongering disrupts that trust, the entire Tradition suffers.
I’ve only had one rumor spread about me within a Tradition, but it was a doozy: definitely a situation of quality over quantity. I’m not going to rehash the gory details, but the long and short of it is that I shared some personal things with a fellow initiate, and they embellished the story and shared it with other initiates in order to make me look bad.
It feels petty and Mean Girls-esque to write that last sentence, but it’s the truth: Someone saw an opportunity to shine at my expense, and they took it. And while the situation was quickly remedied, and the appropriate apologies issued, it sucked to have to defend myself. It was painful to learn that there are people within my Tradition who can’t be trusted. And it colored how much of myself I was willing to let other initiates see, which in turn hobbled how useful I am to the Tradition as a whole.
I’m watching two of my favorite Witches go through something similar right now, and it’s aggravating AF. Individually, they’re lovely, helpful, fabulous people who are profoundly not fond of each other, which is fine, really — there’s no law saying we all have to be BFFs. But they both keep getting fed rumors about what they’re supposedly saying about each other, which keeps fueling the flames of their mutual animosity.
Personally, I don’t believe that either of them is saying anything about the other. But I also suspect it benefits an anonymous someone if they both think the other is talking trash, and aaaaargh, yes, I know how insidious that sounds. But I can’t shake the feeling that someone within my Trad is reaping some kind of reward by screwing with people I care about. And that is a very infuriating thing to contemplate.
Listen, I know we’re all human. Initiate or no, we’re all going to inadvertently talk out of our asses every now and again, or accidentally hurt someone with careless statements. We’re all wrangling with personality quirks and character defects, and we’re going to make mistakes. But within a Tradition, when one person knowingly takes on the Greyface role and starts using rumors to pit family members against one another for personal gain, we all get burned.
I wish I had some inspirational wisdom with which to end this post, but I don’t. All I can say is, don’t be Greyfaced, and don’t feed the Pigeons. And if you don’t have anything nice to say, just throw on some leather and come sit by me. I won’t want to hear it, but I also won’t repeat what I’ve heard about you.