Frost Said: I Had a Lover’s Quarrel w/ the World. I Have a Lover’s Quarrel w/ Modern Paganism. But I Am Not Frost


I commented recently on the conflict at Pantheacon over the desire of some Dianic Witches (full disclosure: I am a Dianic Witch) to hold rituals for cis-women (full disclosure: I am a cis-woman in an overwhelmingly male world and male profession).

I’ve been interested to read the continuing conversation (from conversat, pp. stem of “con versari”: “to live with, keep company with,” lit. “turn about with,”) over this issue. At least in comment threads, the issue often seems to break down to some people asserting that “women have a right to their own rituals” (I agree) and to others saying, “transwomen ARE women and who is Z. Budapest to decide who is and who isn’t a woman?” (I agree.) There’s a lot of noise and anger. Maybe it’s my (and I know that this makes me thrice-cursed) training as a lawyer, but I think that the problem comes, at least in large part (as we lawyers think that most problems do), from an imprecise use of language.

Much of the problem seems to me to spring from the failure to use the term “cis-women” when describing certain rituals offered at Pantheacon. (If you hold a ritual for “women” or for “genetic women” and exclude trans-women, you certainly appear to be defining trans-women as somehow less-than, even if that isn’t your intent.) It ought to be possible to hold a ritual for cis-women without denying the womanhood of trans-women (just as it ought to be possible to hold a ritual for women from the African diaspora without denying the womanhood of women from Celtic or Hellenic or Kemetic Reconstruction traditions). As I suggested in my earlier post, I see high value in rituals held by and for women, both cis-women-only and cis-and-trans women. (And we certainly need some of the latter, as well as some of the former.) And we can hold as many rituals and cast as many circles as we need to hold and to cast. This is NOT an either/or situation. We’re Pagans; we don’t need to allow the overculture’s enchantment to cast a spell over our eyes and cause us to see the world in terms of dichotomy. (I can envision a lovely ritual that begins with cis-women only in one space and trans-women only in another space and that ends with all of them dancing around the same cauldron, the same bonfire. (You may saaaaayyyy, I’m a dreeeeamer, but I’m noooootttt the onnnnnllllly one.))

I’ve been particularly impressed today by two posts by prominent Pagans on this topic. First, P. Sufenas Virius Lupus (who does some amazing and serious work and whose scholarship always leaves me in complete awe) has a rather longish post and the entire thing is worth reading. Here’s the part that I found especially important:

The issue, from the discussion on the last day of PantheaCon 2011, right up until the present, has often been phrased in terms of “trans inclusion” (on one side) and “freedom of religion” (on the other). And, in this, I find myself having some difficulties, because I’m entirely in favor of both, even to the point of demanding it in the events that I have a hand in directing. I am a follower of the Silver Rule – ”Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t have them do to you” – and on further reflection about the protest of Z.’s ritual, I cannot say that if I had been free, I would have taken part in the protest against it, even though Z.’s comments and actions are hurtful to my dearly beloved trans sisters, and to me. It would be very easy for homophobic pagans to boycott or protest any of the Ekklesía Antínoou’s events in the future, or for strict reconstructionists to do likewise, or for any number of other people to do likewise; and, I can only assume that it would therefore be possible for any one of us to get a group together and to protest any event at PantheaCon, whether loudly or silently. And, even though the presence of such protestors might not dissuade me from doing whatever it is I was going to be doing, gods, it would hurt to know that anyone essentially objected to my right to be doing whatever it is I was doing, and I would never want to put anyone through that. I know both Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Speech mean that we can object to things we don’t like freely, but given that we as pagans, as queer people, and as gender transgressors (which Z. Budapest and her Dianic followers, and myself, and many trans people, and T. Thorn Coyle, all share as characteristics) have enough trouble from a mainstream overculture that has made its hatred and exclusion of us a cornerstone of their ideology. Thus, I hope we can devise a way forward in all of this that doesn’t involve protests, or empty rhetoric, or isolationism and lack of connection, and that dialogue can be direct whenever and wherever possible.

I’m upset that the only options that are being presented seem to be “ally with Z. and be a bigot,” or “stand for inclusion and dictate what others do.” Certainly, I’m deeply saddened and offended that Z.’s understanding of “women” doesn’t include trans women, but I’m equally saddened that the solution seems to be “she needs to change her mind or face ostracism.” We’ve been hearing, over and over again, that pluralism is one of the potential strengths of our modern pagan communities, but that pluralism seems to extend mostly to deities and to theologies, rather than to practices – and it is practices that we are really “best at” as far as being a religion of practice and of experience. In my reaction to some of Z.’s statements last year in the aftermath of PantheaCon, I was especially offended by the fact that she pretty much dictated what the “proper” rituals and mysteries for trans women should be (which were, in fact, entirely inappropriate); and, in many respects, she’s dictating gender identity, and saying that some people who identify as women are not, and thus her definition somehow trumps theirs. Now, honestly, I’m rather offended that the best solution some people have come up with in this discussion is to do exactly the same back to her and tell her that she should conduct her rituals exactly as we think she should, rather than as she feels most comfortable. Yes, it’s a difference of dictating identity and definitions versus dictating practice, but the problem of “dictating” is common to both, and something that I’m really not a fan of at all. (And this from someone who worships a few Roman emperors!) I never thought I’d say this, to be honest, but now I feel as though I’m defending Z.’s right to do something that I think is disrespectful, distasteful, and destructive . . . but, I am a hardcore supporter of democracy, free speech, and freedom of religion, a hardcore pluralist, and a hardcore supporter of unity in diversity, so there we are.

So, here’s some observations on some of the various different factions in all of this. While my presence at protests and such was not possible, and thus my “stake” in the issues may seem to be less or less immediate than those of others, because I’m of an atypical gender identity (which is not cisgendered, but also isn’t transgendered), there is certainly a very deep stake for me in these matters. My inclusion and recognition in terms of gender is almost impossible if trans people are not included, and until that particular “fight” is won and completed, I cannot hope for my own inclusion or understanding in the wider community; however, I am not “in it to win it” just because it will ultimately be to my benefit to have trans people’s actual gender and their lives and identities affirmed and accepted, but because it’s the right thing to do, full-stop, from any and every spiritual viewpoint I know of that is worth mentioning and that deserves the term “spiritual viewpoint.”

With all of that in mind:

1. To Z. Budapest. I have never met you, but I hope to meet you in-person at some point in the future, and to know you more directly than I have been able to previous to the present, and to do so in a direct way that is not influenced by others’ accounts of you. I am thankful for all that you’ve done over decades of history to advance the cause of the goddesses you represent, and to advance the cause of women in the world and in spiritual community. I am thankful to all of my goddesses and gods that you have developed a practice that so many women have found affirming and productive and life-enhancing over those many years, and that you have specialized in bringing those messages to a particular section of the community of modern women with which you have developed a rapport. I hope that your work continues in this manner for as many years as it is possible for you to do so in the future. My question to you is: would it be at all possible to continue having rituals and events in which cisgendered women only participate, but also to have some that would actually prove your words about being affirmative of trans women’s sacredness to be true rather than empty rhetoric? (CAYA Coven has done this quite admirably, I think” “both/and” approaches are awfully effective and are usually preferable to “either/or” ones, I think.) Or, failing that, would it be possible for you to sit down with trans people (and people of any/all gender identities), in a spirit of acceptance and compassion and mutual respect, as many of us did on last Sunday afternoon, and at least speak openly and honestly to our faces about your views, and why you hold them?

2. To T. Thorn Coyle (and the Protestors). Thorn, I deeply love and appreciate all the work you’ve done, and am continually inspired and provoked by it. I am profoundly thankful to have sat on the same panel with you on Sunday morning, and to have benefited from your insight and your presence on that occasion. I certainly understand that in your silent protest, you did what you thought was most appropriate in these circumstances, and it is something that you’re known for and have done on other occasions, including in the recent Occupy Movement actions. I wonder if there is some way forward that we can find to actually be inclusive and affirming of our different stances without making our own viewpoints “okay” and those that are different from them “not okay,” even when the “not-okay-ness” is expressed in silence and physical presence rather than in words. Doing things outside other’s rituals that intimidate and dissuade people from attending them – especially since doing so won’t prevent them from happening, nor will they change the minds and opinions of those who are attending or were too afraid to attend – doesn’t at this stage sound to me like the best course of action, but I likewise don’t know what would have been a preferable option at the time, so I’d be interested in hearing more from you on what some further options could be in situations like this in the future.

To her credit, T. Thorn Coyle has recognized that her silent “protest” (not her word, but her actions were taken as a protest, which was a not-unforseeable consequence of her actions; it was certainly how I took her announcement when I read it on Twitter) had unintended consequences.

An Open Letter to the Women Attending Z’s Ritual at Pantheacon 2012

Sisters, I did not decide to sit across from you in that broad hallway Sunday night in order to intimidate you. Though advance word had gone out from Z that she needed protection, I was never there to cause harm to her or anyone else. Never was I even calling my actions “protest.” I was meditating in silence as counterpoint to what I and some others consider to be hate speech on the part of our common elder, Z Budapest.
. . . Just as you sisters have felt wounded by our common overculture, so [trans]women have, too. I heard that one of you did not attend the ritual because you feared us. I’ve written in comment to your letter that I feel badly you weren’t able to receive the healing you needed. For my part in that situation, I deeply apologize. . . . It has been pointed out to me that I could have been more clear – could have provided a statement for Pantheacon staff to read, for example. In hindsight, that may have been a good idea. As it was, in the midst of a packed Con schedule, I was trying to highlight the pain caused by Z’s words in the least confrontational way I know how, and wrote about my reasons on my weblog. I would not disrupt a sacred ritual. I would not speak words of anger. I would sit in prayer and silence, with love.

* * *

Why did I do this? Why didn’t I do something else? The Pantheacon community has been in dialogue around these issues for the past year. The only words Z contributed to the dialogue sounded like hate speech to me. I did not even know she was attending Pantheacon this year, and when I saw on Saturday morning that her one offering was a ritual for “genetic women only,” after all her words that transwomen are not women, but Transies and infiltrators, in my heart, gut, and soul, I knew that this could not stand unmarked. I would sit because of the confluence of this ritual description, at this time, by this person.

* * *

We all want a place to be seen, respected, and loved. There is more than enough pain to go around. There is also enough joy and power. We can, I hope, learn to lift one another up, to change culture so that everyone feels they have a place at the table, and a place to heal. It is truly my hope to learn to better build Beloved Community alongside you. I do not wish for the eradication of your sacred rites. I only wish for greater respect to be shown to our community by those who lead those rites.

I take Thorn’s post to mean that her issue was with Z.’s earlier words (which, Goddess knows, were ill-chosen, at the very least, and which I would agree with Thorn were hateful towards trans-women) and not with the women who wanted to attend Z.’s ritual. I appreciate that clarification, because if I walked into a ritual that had silent and disapproving people sitting outside it (a rare, if not unprecedented event at Pantheacon, from what I understand), I’d rather rationally assume that they were protesting both the ritual and my attendance at it. As P. Sufenas Virius Lupus notes:

Doing things outside other’s rituals that intimidate and dissuade people from attending them – especially since doing so won’t prevent them from happening, nor will they change the minds and opinions of those who are attending or were too afraid to attend – doesn’t at this stage sound to me like the best course of action . . . .

I’d similarly be less than enthusiastic about a bunch of people sitting in silent “prayer and silence [for you]” (no matter how “broad” the hallway) (which is also what the Christians say when they attempt to intimidate Pagans or when they attempt to intimidate women seeking abortions) outside a ritual for trans-women only, or outside a ritual for only those who come from the African diaspora, or outside a Heathen-only blot, or outside a ritual only for members of a family trad, or outside a ritual only for initiates of a particular tradition, or outside a Voodoo ritual that sets aside menstruating women and does not allow them full participation.
As Lupus explains:

It would be very easy for homophobic pagans to boycott or protest any of the Ekklesía Antínoou’s events in the future, or for strict reconstructionists to do likewise, or for any number of other people to do likewise; and, I can only assume that it would therefore be possible for any one of us to get a group together and to protest any event at PantheaCon, whether loudly or silently. And, even though the presence of such protestors might not dissuade me from doing whatever it is I was going to be doing, gods, it would hurt to know that anyone essentially objected to my right to be doing whatever it is I was doing, and I would never want to put anyone through that.

I think that Thorn’s final (and excellent) point is likely the one most crucial for we Paganii at this point in time:

We all want a place to be seen, respected, and loved. There is more than enough pain to go around. There is also enough joy and power. We can, I hope, learn to lift one another up, to change culture so that everyone feels they have a place at the table, and a place to heal. It is truly my hope to learn to better build Beloved Community alongside you. I do not wish for the eradication of your sacred rites. I only wish for greater respect to be shown to our community by those who lead those rites.

Here, now, on the cusp of the Age of Aquarius, the Occupy Movement is doing deep and (I hope and believe) lasting work concerning consensus decision making. And the American Pagan community appears, will we or nil we, to be doing deep and (I hope and believe) necessary work over how to handle disagreement, over how to incorporate both “Unity” and “Diversity.”

I believe that Thorn’s statement is a v. good place to start. “We all want a place to be seen, respected, loved.” We can’t have that if prominent Pagan elders engage in hateful name-calling (and “Trannies” certainly falls within that category, for me. And, look, I’ve certainly typed things onto the internets tubes late at night that I wanted to edit the next morning. But the thing to do when that happens is to show up, apologize for having said those things (not for the fact that people got their feelings hurt, as if the fault was theirs), show (with your actions) that you intend to make amends, and to move on)). Nor can we have that if prominent Pagan leaders fail to focus their disapproval and, instead, behave reactively by gathering a crowd to sit disapprovingly outside healing rituals that some women need and long to attend. We can have it if we all commit, again, today, to wanting that for all of us.

We need to remember that, polytheists that most of us are, our true strength comes from our diversity. We are more at risk from the overculture than we are from each other. (How much energy, over the past year, has been directed at Z and how much has been directed at the overculture?)

As Thorn wisely says, “There is also enough joy and power.” I’d love to see a month’s worth of blog posts devoted to Thorn’s important suggestion that we “learn to lift one another up, to change culture so that everyone feels they have a place at the table, and a place to heal.” I’m going to commit to sitting at my altar for at least a few minutes every morning sending energy towards this goal. (Hel, what’s another few minutes of getting up early?) I’m going to commit to putting up some posts over the next month focused on finding ways to “change culture so that everyone feels that they have a place at the table,” (a goal I work on constantly with my own Shadows) “and a place to heal.”

As Robert Frost says, I shan’t be gone long. You come, too.

I’m going out to clean the pasture spring;
I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away
(And wait to watch the water clear, I may):
I shan’t be gone long – You come too.

I’m going out to fetch the little calf
That’s standing by the mother. It’s too young,
It totters when she licks it with her tongue.
I shan’t be gone long – You come too.

Modern Paganism seems, to me, to be the little calf that’s too young, that totters when its Mother licks it with her tongue. Let’s go fetch her; let’s go clean the pasture spring and rake the leaves away (I’ll be long gone before you stop to watch the waters clear, you may. But I’ll be there smiling, nonetheless.)

Picture found here.

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15 responses to “Frost Said: I Had a Lover’s Quarrel w/ the World. I Have a Lover’s Quarrel w/ Modern Paganism. But I Am Not Frost

  1. Confession: I haven’t had time to read thru this yet. But I had never heard that Frost quote before, and it is so … perfect!

  2. I deeply resent the use of the word cis woman. This is not a word created by women to define our gender. It is a word created by men to blur the distinctions between women and trans sexuals. It is not clear as to its meaning and unless one was indoctrinated there would not be anything in the word to describe what it means. The women I know reject it. To use it is to accept male definitions of women. It is male identified to use the word. All throughout the patriarchy men have defined women: bitch, cunt, chick, dyke, bird, fox, etc., I am a woman. A woman born of woman.

    Hecate this is your blog and you have the right to define your own terms but i will not be back as there are enough insults to women here in this post to last me the rest of my life. I do not need the encouraged male insults to women couched here in ever so civil tones for my spirituality.

    • Greenconsciousness, the problem with this statement is that you are not understanding that “cis” applies to EVERY person, man or woman, who is not trans. Its purpose is not to “blur the distinction between women and transsexuals,” its purpose is to define a distinction between those who were correctly gendered at birth and those who were misgendered at birth.

  3. So sad. These are the kind of divisive actions and issues that are commonplace to organized religions across the board. It is so disappointing to see this happen amongst people I thought represented the alternative. Ego has reared its’ ugly head and left a mess in its’ wake.

  4. The core issue isn’t whether or not to use the term “cis women.” It’s whether trans women are accepted *as women*–Greenconsciousness, commenting above, obviously believes they are not. Z Budapest believes they are not. No amount of good and careful phrasing can hide that essential denial, although it can mitigate some of the damage caused.

    The issue would’ve been just as strong if Z had said “Cis women only” instead of “genetic women only”–because the ritual was supposedly to honor “all feminine beauty.” Saying a ritual is for “all women” and then saying “but not THOSE people, because I don’t think they’re women” is the cause of the hurt, not the words used.

  5. I do love what you have written here , but I personally do not like the term cis women, and I also do not accept it . I do agree that if the invitation to the ritual had been couched in other terms , that may have had an ameliorating effect .

  6. This IS an excellent post. And I agree with Elf’s and Swanspirit’s comments. I dislike the term “cis woman”; I had to have friends explain it to me, and it’s just another label (like “transwoman”). However, I’m not offended when people need to use labels in trying to explain why things happened, as you have done, because it’s usually very difficult otherwise. I also believe that it was the contrary meanings of the words Z used that caused the most hurt; a host/facilitator can’t invite ALL “varieties” of womyn to something while excluding one specific “variety”. “Everyone — oh, except YOU” is always hurtful, no matter what words are used or what reasons are given.

    I look forward to a day when all womyn and men are considered just “womyn” and “men” AS THEY IDENTIFY THEMSELVES, regardless of their physical birth gender situation. And since there are those who identify as neither, let’s make room for them, too. I’ve heard of more than one culture that recognizes three or even four genders, so why not us as well? There’s room for everyone!

  7. Thanks very much for this, Hekate!

    I hope to find further ways of doing what Thorn (and you!) have suggested, i.e. lifting people up rather than tearing them down.

  8. Very well put article. One that fills me with hope that we can find common ground.

  9. I have to admit I find it odd that so many people have a problem with the term cis woman. Gender is a tricky subject (pick up a scientific book that goes into much detail and tell me it isn’t). Did you know that the two gender system is scientifically inaccurate as there are really more than two genders so trying to be more specific is a good thing. Also, if it is bad because a male might have coined the term (we don’t actually know who coined the term and since the sciences that would concern themselves with the term have more women than most people think it could have been a woman and I have encountered more women using the term than men) than you might consider not using the term WOMAN as it was probably coined by a male.

    Great post btw, difficulties with terminology, I believe, are the biggest contributing factor to most hotly debated subjects.

  10. Excellent post Hecatedemeter. There is nothing I disagree with here. I completely support your approach, and hope others would feel inclined to do the same.

    I also agree with Einar about the term cis-woman, which is essentially saying people with female reproductive organs and identify as such but not in so many words. So how is that offensive? This is the second time I’ve come across the term (the first being the last Pantheacon debate), and upon understanding the meaning can easily identify as one. From what I understand of it all, the ritual was intended for just such individuals, and saying cis-female would clarify that (hopefully with a detailed definition so those who were not previously exposed to the term would understand it). And because it is based on having been born with female reproductive organs, those who would fall into different sexualities would presumably be not turned away, i.e. bisexual, pansexual, homosexual etc. so long as they identified themselves as female. So with one term, all misunderstandings can be resolved. Gender is indeed a very confusing subject and specific terms are a great aid to this. This becomes especially apparent when you consider that inter-sex individuals (people who have both male and female physical organs, including the brain) are as common as redheads. For those opposed to using “cis-female” I recommend watching national geographic documentary Gender – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ScgvPvauKE

    With Pantheacon being about celebrating diversity and supporting struggles for equal rights and freedoms, that is what would be expected. There are many very different ways of doing things for different reasons that we may not agree with, but it is their right and freedom to do so (the examples Hecatedemeter use are a perfect representation of this – but no one gets up in arms about them). With the diversity of doing things you can have a trans, cis, or whatever else ritual, go for it. If you want one that isn’t there have dialogue about providing that or do one up yourself with people you know. But to force a group to do something they don’t want to do is not productive. So long as there is respect for each group then all should be fine and dandy.

    The stemming issue appears to revolve around a choice of words. “Genetic women” is very misleading as the brain can be genetically female but have male reproductive organs, which the provided link on the NatGeo Doc of Gender explains well and thoroughly. That is why the suggestion of cis-female makes a lot of sense and would resolve this particular issue.

    I think ensuring a way to facilitate complaints (like a complaint box) in a timely fashion to Pantheacon organizers that is readily available and known about by all participants will help prevent future friction too.

  11. The stemming issue appears to revolve around a choice of words.
    The issue isn’t about the words, but the concepts behind them. Z and her supporters are very much aware of the term “cis women,” and refuse to use it–because it implies that trans women are also women. They want to find a word or phrase that means “REAL women” to mean cis women, rather than one that admits that real women can have very different kinds of bodies.

  12. I agree with you Elf, and truthfully fail to see how it is not about choice of words as that is exactly what your post addresses. By refusing to acknowledge a more appropriate choice of words, people are demeaned who deserve proper respect like anyone else. There are many different kinds of women and that is something to be celebrated and respected. Hence be saying that anyone against the term cis-female should watch the documentary linked to understand the reality of it, instead of believing and spreading a false dichotomy.

  13. I was unfamiliar with the term cis-female until a few weeks ago, and still don’t think I’ll be using it except when the opposing term trans-female (or similar terms) are also used, as I find both sets of words divisive. (Though if TS/TG people want to use it of themselves, who am I to complain.) I prefer to us the simple term “woman” for all persons who self-identify as female. To me, if you say you are a woman, you *are* a woman. SageWoman has, and always shall be, a woman-only magazine/community, but it’s not as if I ask for a DNA sample (which wouldn’t work anyway, as many have pointed out) in order to submit work to us. (Full disclosure: I am a cis-woman, married to a man, with three grown biological sons and a transgender sibling.)

  14. Pardon the typos in the post above; hadn’t had my coffee yet and didn’t read aloud before posting! (Face-palm.).

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