Transgender Issues in Pagan Religions

Transgender Issues in Pagan Religions March 1, 2011

I did not attend the Lilith ritual at PantheaCon. I was busy drooling over the insanely gorgeous and talented Wendy Rule. So I don’t know what happened at the entrance. What words were used, what tone was used or what went down in general. So I can’t speak to that specific incident. It seems to be mainly a case of mis-communication where difficult interactions had to happen at the door. My impression of CAYA at Pcon was a good one, and so I hope this is just one unfortunate incident in the midst of all their good work.

Courtesy Transguyjay via Flickr CC license

Yet although the issue of transgendered folk in Paganism isn’t a new one, this incident has sparked a riot of discussion regarding how transgendered folk fit into our communities. Indeed, I don’t think I can ever recall there being this much serious discussion regarding transgender issues in Paganism on such a broad scale before.

Here’s a sampling of some of the more interesting comments on the issue bouncing around the web:

Psychopomp Valentine writes:

We are using “cis” language in here to indicate that both groups of women are marked cases, but this isn’t so, at least locally to me, with Dianic circles.  They are for “women,” not “cis women,” and therefore people who aren’t welcome in are necessarily “not women.”  I don’t believe comparing/hierarchizing oppressions is very useful, but as a queer woman, I am trying to imagine if they said they were for “all women” but turned away queer women at the door, and what message that would send.  As a woman of color, likewise, I am pondering the notion of a religious group/ritual/space that said it was for “all women” but turned away any women who weren’t white.  After the fact, you can say “this is just for the group of women who share a given experience,” and find an experience the excluded women don’t share to cite, but the semantic and symbolic damage is done.  As students of magic, we all ought to know how powerful naming is.  These groups all name themselves as for women, full stop, all women welcome, and then exclude some women.  It is disingenuous, I think, to take the after-the-fact justification “we consider trans women to be women–just a different kind of women who don’t share some experiences that we consider universal to women!” at face value–especially when cis women who do not share those experiences, like childbirth, are welcomed in.

Z. Budapest comments on this post:

This struggle has been going since the Women’s Mysteries first appeared. These individuals selfishly never think about the following: if women allow men to be incorporated into Dianic Mysteries,What will women own on their own? Nothing! Again! Transies who attack us only care about themselves.
We women need our own culture, our own resourcing, our own traditions.
You can tell these are men, They don’t care if women loose the Only tradition reclaimed after much research and practice ,the Dianic Tradition. Men simply want in. its their will. How dare us women not let them in and give away the ONLY spiritual home we have!
Men want to worship the Goddess? Why not put in the WORK and create your own trads. The order of ATTIS for example,(dormant since the 4rth century) used to be for trans gendered people, also the castrata, men who castrated themselves to be more like the Goddess.
Why are we the ONLY tradition they want? Go Gardnerian!Go Druid! Go Ecclectic!
Filled with women, and men. They would fit fine.
But if you claim to be one of us, you have to have sometimes in your life a womb, and overies and MOON bleed and not die.
Women are born not made by men on operating tables.

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus pointed out that this issue isn’t limited to transgendered people:

Gender-diverse and gender-queer people are even more in that category, and it sucks to be challenged on such issues whenever they come up. As one example, you might have a listen to the discussion from PantheaCon ’10 on “Earth-Based Religions: Are We Really?” which T. Thorn Coyle had with Z. Budapest, amongst others, and when Thorn identified as a masculine woman or “a gay man in a woman’s body,” she was immediately contradicted by several other people on the panel…see how this works? It sucks, and it shouldn’t have to be like that. But, for many of us, it is.

I’m a straight woman and about as square and conventional as they come. I’m also a Wiccan, with that infamous gender polarity as forming a core part of our religion. I’m probably the type of person least expected to be concerned about this issue. Yet I am concerned. Very.

To begin with, the language being used to exclude transgender women implies that women are all about their anatomy. If you don’t bleed monthly, give birth or go through menopause, are you any less of a woman? It seems to me feminism was meant to free us from being typecast by our anatomy, yet some of the language is confining us by that anatomy. I’m happy to have a uterus, but it doesn’t define me and I refuse to be caged by it. I am concerned about whether some forms of feminism have a stake in keeping us oppressed to some degree so we need their ideologies. A perpetration of victimization. This genuinely worries me.

Also, when we dismiss people’s reality or punish them for it, how can we call ourselves the loving bastions of tolerance? We don’t dispute people who say they are called by Odin, or who say they find more efficacy in casting squares than circles. We embrace so much, shake our fists at those who would seek to limit and define us, and then presume the right to tell someone the truth of their own body/spirit/mind? I tend to accept folks at face value. I’ve known transgender women for months without realizing they were MtF, and completely accepted them as fabulous women. Because they are. It wasn’t even a case of there being a question of their “femaleness”. If anything, they were more female than I.

I resonated with Thorn’s being “a gay man in a woman’s body” because I’ve had that said about me as well. At first I found it funny, but I’ve recently begun to embrace it as my own personal sense of “otherness”. Polarity is easiest to explain as male/female, dark/light or wet/dry, but I’m beginning to suspect that in essence it’s about the “Familiar” and the “Other”. Which has a rather Witchy ring to it, I think. Of course, it’s likely different for everyone, but I’ve come to see the square, straight, “mom-jeans” conventional Star as the Familiar and this strange Queerness in my soul as the Other.  Maybe it doesn’t have anything to do with gender, but I find the language and awareness of the GLBTQI community useful to process this understanding. I’m not lesbian, bi or transgendered, but I know I no longer feel comfortable in the category called “female” and all that implies.

Yet having a womb that sheds blood without wound makes me welcome in some circles even though I am uncomfortable with the whole “Goddessy thing”, and lacking that excludes someone who identifies more wholly with the whole concept of femaleness. From my perspective the whole idea of women’s circles doesn’t make sense if it doesn’t include people who fully inhabit and embrace the idea of femaleness, because I can tell you right now that that wouldn’t include me.

I think it’s an anachronistic waste of time for Pagans to be worrying about whether or not someone has a Y chromosome. Regardless of our sexual orientation or gender identity Pagans are already a “queer bunch” and to restrict, place unreasonable expectations on or punish folks for being a few degrees “queerer” is ridiculous. A woman is as a woman does. A man is as a man does. A human is as a human does. Christianity lost a lot of amazing female and GLBTQI spiritual leaders, writers, musicians and organizers by excluding them. If you’re concerned about the vitality, sustainability and continuity of your faith, maybe you should consider whether your biggest and most active supporters lie in communities and identities you exclude.

Personally, I’m very happy and content to be part of a tradition that emphasizes mixed-gender rituals, embraces people of different sexual orientations and ethnicities. We may call down a God and Goddess, but for me the God is Familiar, the Goddess is the Other and both are concerned with the quality of my character and the rightness of my action rather than my chromosomes.

I am pretty doggone sick but felt compelled to write this anyway. If I have erred or put my foot in my mouth please kindly point it out and “Puck will make amends”. Thanks.

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