Holding the Center: Privilege, Pain, and Pantheacon

So many have been made aware in the past few days of the actions and controversies present at Pantheacon this year centering around gender exclusion and derogatory speech. For those who are not, I point you here, here, here, and here for some different points of view. Because I see all of this as part of an evolving process I am reticent to jump on anyone’s bandwagon of which there are several, preferring instead to cultivate a stance that is centered on loving everyone involved. If those words compel you to judge me one way or another, I invite you to hold that judgment as I am a fallible person just like anyone else. In presenting my words and actions I am decidedly not asking others to adopt my worldview; fully recognizing the necessity of many different approaches. I also humbly ask that you at least entertain the notion that this situation is actually very complicated, though some have chosen to “boil it down” into simplistic notions that, in my opinion, actually threaten the common goals that we all share, which I believe are equality and acceptance.

There is more than one issue at hand; this is far more than simply a case of gender exclusion, although that is a part of the argument for some. For others it is about what has rightfully been called “hate speech”, and a prime perpetrator of such who has held a position of honor and even of reverence to some within the Pagan community. For others it is about tradition… for others, fear… for still others, it is about that invisible privilege that those of us in our communities might share and take for granted. And along with all of this there is anger. Some anger is righteous, but some is just hateful and quite frankly beneath the common principals of human dignity, an extreme position that some might be surprised to find exists on both sides of this great divide.

But even as I speak of opposing sides I am reminded that even this is not that simple. Duality is the very thinking that got us here in the first place and we crossed that boundary long ago into new territories of pluralism and multiplicity.

While Z Budapest, founder of the women’s-only[i] branch of the Dianic tradition, was scheduled to lead her ritual for “genetic women only”[ii], another Dianic ritual was also scheduled, and one that was inclusive of all genders, orientations, and lifestyles. “The Rite of the Bear Mother” was conceived by Devin Hunter, founding member and Head Priest of the Living Temple of Diana, and Yeshe Rabbit, founding member and High Priestess of CAYA and the Grove of Artemis. This ritual was conceived as a means to bring healing to the community after the events of last year. Together these distinct manifestations of the Dianic tradition (the female-only Grove and the gender-inclusive Temple) came together in the spirit of love and cooperation to open to the presence of the Goddess as the ‘Bear Mother’; that fierce and compassionate force of wild nature that protects Her cubs with every last ounce of Her indomitable being. But the very core of that fierce protection is a core of love; the love of mother for child, the love that would give its life for the life of Her child… the love that heals all wounds, that sooths all pain.

As we gathered for our ritual we were told that Z was going to be making a statement about the events, and it was decided that since our ritual was one of inclusion and healing that we would be remiss if we did not open our ears and hearts to what showed promise to be a significant step forward, and one that was not expected. It was decided that we would move into a space aside from both those who sat in silent and respectful protest, and those who had elected to participate in Z’s rite, honoring both for their decisions and projecting a sense of love in the hopes to remind us all that beyond our hurt, our pain, our joy, and our gender, we are all one in the eyes of the Goddess.

Shortly after we arrived, Z did as well, along with another group which included Rev. Hyperion, and they moved into the space across the protestors to stand alongside those who were waiting to participate in the ritual. Z assumed at first that we (along with the other group standing across from the protestors) were standing in support of her; an assumption that was quickly corrected when both Rabbit and Hyperion spoke on behalf of the individual groups, stating unequivocally that they (and we) stood neutral to hold a space of love and to bear witness to the events about to take place.

Some have expressed confusion as to what the different groups were doing there, and I must admit that the presence of the other group at first confused me as well. Where people expected just one group aside from the ritual participants, we were given three, and we were all there for different, yet overlapping reasons. Much like the Occupy movements across the world, there was no central authority, no one position that was being expressed by all. It was spontaneous, organic. It was also loving, raw, peaceful, and authentic. The meditating protestors openly beamed love and thoughtfulness while others openly wept and shared their pain, also a tremendous act of love for the community. I was struck at the bravery of those who chose to sit in respectful silence to show to Z –and to everyone else—just how important these issues really are.

While some have argued that our decision to hold that liminal space of neutrality is akin to “siding with the oppressors” (a stance that I find dangerously close to Bush’s “You’re either for us, or against us”) I think it’s important to point out that a neutral space is a necessary part of the process of rendering justice; we need the space of calm thoughtfulness in order to ensure that everyone is heard. Only then can we engage in right action. Only then can we see the whole picture for what it is. We were there to project love to everyone and to hear and witness Z’s statement. I hold that space in order to hear what transwomen and everyone else has to say. This is a process that requires listening, dedication, and thoughtfulness.

Neutrality does not mean that we have no opinions. I certainly have them. I have been an outspoken critic of Z for some time. I feel that her words have been hurtful –even hateful—and have no place in the new paradigm of love and acceptance that we have been collectively creating as we move into the Aquarian age. She is a Pagan leader and as such she needs –needs— to be held accountable. But she is also an old woman. When I saw her emerge shortly after we arrived on the scene, I saw a woman who was hurt, scared, and defensive. She was confused and very much reacting. I was not pleased with her apology which seemed to me to be more about being sorry for how others reacted to her, rather than for her actions themselves. To me, that is not much of an apology. I was disappointed, but I also felt that this was all we were going to get. Disappointed… but also hopeful, since this was in itself actually a huge step forward. Not enough… but a step.

I don’t think that the answer is to vilify Z. I have seen much anger in the past year, and much more so in the past few days, that is directed toward her. Some of this anger is righteous. I myself have anger on this issue. But I also know that anger and violence (of action as well as of word) will only serve to escalate and infect those wounds that we share. Do not mistake love for apathy. Do not mistake thoughtfulness for inaction.

What is the answer in this? I know only of the first step: listening. It is a theme that has come up for me again, and again. In order to truly heal our wounds we need to be heard, we need to know that our feelings have been truly witnessed. I was there to bear witness… to Z… to the protesters… to those who chose to participate in Z’s ritual. I was there to witness them all… and to them all I send my love. I will not choose the road of hate. While that is an easy road to follow I know all too well where it leads. I choose the road of love.

But even this is just part of a larger process; there will come a time in the very near future where the information has all been gathered, the stories will have been heard and the time then will be to act. But it usurps the process if I were to declare what that action should look like. For now I continue to hold that space of love for everyone who has been hurt as I meditate, gather my feelings, and take a deep look at everything that has come up.

One of the things that really struck me while we were processing into the space was a sign that one of the protestors (who is also a friend) was holding. It read, “ALL women are Real”. This, I think, encapsulates a very important argument that needs to be carefully addressed by those who are more educated on the subject than I am. I am not a trans-person. I cannot speak to the pain, to the joys, to the mysteries of that particular manifestation of the Goddess… what I can speak to, however, is the commonality of the heart. And what I felt was pain. And that pain needs to be addressed, along with ways to ensure that it will not happen again. Z hurt these people… with her words (a powerful tool for a witch, to be certain), with her actions, but most of all with her ignorance. But it is ignorance. And instead of vilifying her for it I will remember one of the most important messages that I have learned in my tradition: to have compassion, even for weakness. I hold a space of compassion for Z, just as I hold that compassion for everyone involved. I will hold that compassion even as we move into the space of action. Perhaps that action will include boycotts, or policy changes, or declarations, or Gods-knows-what, but right now –in this moment—I simply don’t know the answer. We’re still talking about it and trying to figure it all out. All I know is compassion is all I really have to offer right now. And it is my hope that compassion will serve as a foundation upon which we can collectively build a future together in which everyone has a space at the table. Evohe! Blessed be.

Storm Faerywolf
F(a)eri(e) priest, BlueRose
Dianic priest, Living Temple of Diana
2/22/2012


[i] It seems obvious at this point that a better description might be cis-women’s tradition, a term that refers to non-trans women. It should be noted that not all who are downline of Z adhere to the cis-gender criteria.

[ii] This term appeared in the official description of the rite as advertised in the Pantheacon program guide.

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2 responses to “Holding the Center: Privilege, Pain, and Pantheacon

  1. Thank you for the links and for the write up, Storm. I was at PantheaCon myself and noticed a lot of similar wording on rituals and signs and thought it oddly in opposition to the theme of the convention this year.

    There was also much talk that occurred about racial privilege and exclusion in the Pagan communities, which is what I mostly took part in. I am now going to investigate these others further, so thank you.

    Blessings.

  2. Thank you for noting that I (Hyperion), and several other members of the Unnamed Path held the center – not taking either side – and were there as witnesses for healing and compassion. The organizers made up stand apart from you, Devin and Rabbit, much to my disappointment, which confused many protesters as well. While I have many opinions and will be voicing them on a future podcast, I did not take any side and feel that it is more important that we bridge gaps in our community and work toward healing. Thanks for your wisdom and perspective brother. Love you always!

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