There has been a lot of response already to the AFA’s most recent public post. I won’t share it here because I don’t believe in giving them more airtime (though I am signatory to one of the responses, Declaration 127). Most of us have seen this ad, and it’s not hard to find if you want to.
The ad directly targets gender-variant folks among others. It’s been saddening to me that most of the reaction has been to the AFA’s racism (when our community has been so frustratingly cautious about calling it out before) when the ad specifically targets those who step outside of their natally-assigned gender roles. The Troth and some other organizations have specifically called out the attack on gender identity in the statement, which was very heartening to see.
A few people asked me to make a statement about this as a Heathen who is transgender. I’m not sure that I can, exactly. I’m not going to tell other Heathens that they’re doing it wrong. Like with most religions, the documents that we base our beliefs off of can be twisted any whichway we please. I was raised among people who loved to throw scriptural verses back and forth at one another; while I feel they have value, I’ve seen how easily they can be used to prove whatsoever you wish.
There are people that bring up Loki. Yes, Loki was a mare and gave birth, hahaha. Physically altering your body with magic may have analogies to medical transition but it’s not exactly what we do. More importantly, it’s not what trans folk are, either. I’ve written before about my discomfort with assigning gender identity to Gods; a lot of it has to do with cultural context. Being transgender means not identifying with the gender assigned to you at birth – who can claim to know what Loki was assigned at birth? If you follow at least one interpretation he was born as a wildfire (child of Farbauti/lightning and Laufey/tree). You’re talking about a being that isn’t really human – do these things even mean the same thing for them? I can see why gender-fluid and other nonbinary people might identify with him for those reasons, but not all trans people are non-binary; I’m certainly not. Nevertheless, people told me that I should honor him because I’m trans, which actually pushed me further away from him.
People bring up Thor cross-dressing. Again, not transgender. People bring up Odin learning women’s magic. Again, not transgender.
One person brought up Thorberg from the Saga of Hrolf Gatrekkson – a human being, and very much seems to be a transmasculine person. Well, that’s better than nothing, I suppose, but it hardly is any kind of be-all or end all. I’d honestly never heard of that saga until someone shared the afore-linked article with me.
So how do I make a statement about this as a Heathen? I will share with you my experiences being transgender and Heathen, and the places where they intersect.
(Trans Pride Vanatru symbol by Ember Cooke.)
I used to talk about my spiritual experiences in a more public fashion, but I’ve learned that that’s not always the best idea for a lot of reasons. (Not that I won’t share bits of gnosis, but the in-depth stuff is reserved for the right circumstances and company). Regardless, a Heathen experience was the first thing that encouraged me to come out as transgender.
In 2009, I attended a blot in honor of Freyja. After the blot, there was a quiet meditation to “meet” the Lady. She came to me, as the guided imagery suggested, on Her chariot across the shining sea. She made landing and dismounted and I introduced myself and She immediately challenged me. “Why are you trying to lie to me? You can fool them – some of them – but you can’t fool me.” I asked Her what She thought I was lying about. “Being a man.” was Her no-nonsense response. She framed it in terms of integrity and loyalty – my kin didn’t truly know me, so how could they truly love or respect me? How could I love or respect myself if I was lying to everyone around me?
There was more to that meeting and what it set in motion in my life, but the Lady calling me out on my closeted life as a lie and breach of trust and foolish on our very first clear communication changed how I thought about my gender identity. I now bore a responsibility for being dishonest to folks around me, and trying to be dishonest with a deity.
That doubled the weight of keeping myself a secret. It’s hard enough not sharing something that is a large part of who you are for thirty-some years. It’s even harder when you know that in doing so, you’re effectively betraying the trust of your kin. Four years later I watched Lana Wachowski’s HRC award acceptance speech, and felt that weight even more heavily. Not only was I responsible to those close to me, but other people in the same position that I was in were not benefiting from my silence. It was time to be brave and honest, to make right with the people I cared about and to be one more trans person that people knew, one more humanizing face. One more person that closeted folks could look to and say, “Well, she’s okay. Maybe it will be okay for me, too.”
I had mixed encounters in various Pagan circles. I was made to feel distinctly unwelcome in more Eclectic and Wicca-oriented gatherings. Polytheists and reconstructionists like the ADF folks were far more nonplussed and accepting. Wellspring 2015 still stands out in my mind as the first time I was consciously aware of not having to worry about gender-related stuff for close to a week (there was a spot of worry, and it was more than soothed over). Though my spirituality was already heading more in that direction, it would not have been as easy a road if I hadn’t felt welcomed. There is the difference between inclusion and hospitality, between tolerance and acceptance.
(Trans Pride Mjolnir by Xan Folmer of Hugin’s Heathen Hof)
One group I never had an issue with, period, was Heathens. At the time most of the Heathen folk I knew I ran into primarily at festival space. One year, I used a different set of pronouns and had a different presentation (I’ve been Laine in a lot of circles for a long time so the name thing wasn’t an issue; it’s a delightfully unisex name) and that was that. Frankly, no one seemed to blink an eye or treat me any differently except in the ways that we socialize differently with people of different genders.
I was a little surprised there, and I realized that it did fit in well with some Heathen concepts and ethics. I was my deeds. I spoke, I told people who I was, and I acted on it. Nothing I did contradicted that. No one treated me like a man, or a psycho, or an idiot. People gave me exactly as much respect as they gave me before, and in some cases a little more for having the guts to come out.
As I spent more time around Heathens I realized that it wasn’t just the folk I’d already known; it was just about everybody. People accepted me as a woman without question (at least to my face, and I’d never heard otherwise, nor do I care to; if someone can’t say it to my face it’s not worth my time) and if they did decide to give me trouble I was prepared to respond, but it never came up. I realize that my experience is not the experience of every transgender Heathen (I meet more of us all the time) but my experience has almost been a non-experience, as it has generally been a non-issue. No bathroom or shower or group issues, no exclusion at rites or discussions for women, none of the things that I’ve encountered in society at large, and specifically in the broader Pagan community.
Now, I know other transgender Heathens that have had negative experiences, and own that I’m lucky in that regard. By and large, though, most of what I’ve seen and heard is Heathens treating us like anyone else of whatever gender we happen to be. Tiresome assumptions about Loki worship and practice of seidh are about the only things that have come my way, and the irony there is that both are things that are true but not for the reasons that people assume – being transgender has nothing to do with either, for me. I’m not trying to paint a rosy or perfect picture of being a trans Heathen, but I will say that I’ve had far more acceptance in this community than any other faith community I’ve been in.
Nor has being transgender really affected my practice in any way. There are no special secret trans Heathen rites. There are no Gods or Powers that I’m more necessarily drawn to because of it (though the support of Freyja and the Disir has been invaluable), nor anyone I’ll avoid venerating because of it, either. There are no rules for it because our ancestors really didn’t think about gender in the same way that we do. While an argument could be made for trying to match their thoughts on gender to more fully get into the Heathen Mindset ™ that’s just not a thing I care to incorporate for obvious reasons, along with slave-taking, bog sacrifices, and food preparation methods that make me queasy thinking about them.
If you are good to your word and generally do good things with your life, most Heathens will respect you. If you do honorable things like share a difficult truth, or brave things like exposing yourself to ridicule, loss, and potentially violence out of integrity, many will respect you even more. Whether or not they respect you, they will still generally treat you as who you are – I was greatly surprised that none of the kindly folks on Reddit who have torn apart my writings in the past have misgendered me or otherwise insulted me for my trans status where on almost any other forum that would have been one of the first things to happen.
(Trans Pride Irminsul by Xander Folmer)
The Heathenry I know has been accepting of me. The Heathenry that I’ve experienced has been accepting of other trans folk as well. It’s disappointing that there are some who feel that we have no place there – we will keep being born into this world, and some of us will be drawn to this faith, so we’re not going away. It’s very heartening to know that many Heathens support us and don’t think twice about our differences.
For the trans Heathens who are experiencing discrimination in their communities: your presence, online and in your communities, is an act of bravery and integrity. You help other Heathens to humanize us and know who we are. You help other trans folks to know that it’s okay to be Heathen. You have allies and others like you in the Troth and the other signatories of Declaration 127 (and many others besides). You have your Gods, and they’ve not a one said anything negative about trans folk that I’ve heard of. As we become more visible and present in our communities we will be known and accepted. It’s hard work to be on the forefront of that battle but it’s worth it; I’ve done that work in the broader world and know from experience. Seeing the results is worth it.
For cisgender (not-transgender) Heathens who are interested in knowing how to interact with or deal with us, it’s very simple. Treat us as who we are, call us by the names and pronouns we request, and give us the space to be ourselves. Trans folk tend to be very loyal when presented with a truly hospitable space; we’re used to rejection and fear, and when you give us a chance you’re doing better than most other people are. I’ve not dealt with any Heathens who need to be told this so far, which is telling, and part of the reason that I’m sticking around.
(Trans Pride Urglaawe Sickle by Xander Folmer)
All graphics in this article are free to use under Creative Commons. The Vanatru Boar images were created by Ember Cooke, and the rest by Xander Folmer. For more Trans Pride and Rainbow Pride symbols, visit: