If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. ~ Desmond Tutu
The words and feelings I share here are my own and I fully and honestly admit upfront that they are clouded with my world view and my emotional and moral base. I also honestly acknowledge that my wording is awkward. Please know that I come from a place of Love when I write this.
This year at PantheaCon I participated in a silent protest organized by T. Thorn Coyle in front of the room where Z. Budapest was holding a Dianic ritual for “Genetic Women Only.” The purpose of the protest, as I understand it, was two fold. First, to provider a space for those who wanted to make clear statement that the words of Z. Budapest about Transgender women, which she has not retracted, were and are out of step with what the greater pagan world view. Second, to offer a venue of solidarity for the our pagan community to manifest the theme of the conference – “Unity in Diversity.”
I am a gay man who knows very little about what it means to be a woman.
I do, however, know Trans and Inter-sexed Men and Women who personify what I believe it means to be a man or a woman more so that many Cis-Men or Cis-Women.
I also believe that Trans-Gendered Men and Women are not a new manifestation. Transgender men and women have been part of the physical and spiritual fabric since the beginning of life on this planet.
I also believe that Trans-Gendered Men and Women have always been part of the ancient and modern spiritual traditions of our world. Simply put, there have been Trans-Men in Men’s spiritual traditions and Trans-Women in Women’s spiritual traditions. These traditions have not crumbled nor have they lost the meaning of their purpose.
The hours prior to the protest were some of the most emotional of a PantheaCon I had ever experienced. It began at 3:30 when I attended the Open Discussion of Gender and Transgender in Paganism discussion facilitated by the Circle of Cerridwen. I had been thinking about what session to attend and while I was aware of the evening’s protest, I honestly struggled with the thought of attending this workshop. I struggled with the question of “Is this topic relevant to me?” My mind was saying “You are enlightened on this topic, why waste your time on something you already know when you could go attending something more interesting or enlightening.”
My mind was full of bullshit. I knew I needed to be there. I needed to sit with my own personal awkwardness around the issue of transgender identity and to allow myself to come from a place of Love and vulnerability to hear the stories of those who deal with this everyday. Who like I as a gay man are judged and prosecuted every second for being who they are because it is out of the dominant paradigm’s definition of what is “normal.” I also know that there is a strong unease among gay men and trans-men. I needed to be there to listen and learn.
I ended up being the first speaker! I spoke about my experience as a gay leather man and the controversies that have surrounded the gay leather community and the issue of trans-men in play spaces. I acknowledged that I had been part of a title contest that had purposely been anti-trans by only allowing “Biological Men” to participate. I acknowledged that my beliefs had changed and that this conversation is more than just a conversation about a particular ritual at a particular conference. This conversation is about a wider world view about connecting with the spirit of man and women and how we do that. This is not a conversation that ends, but will go on continually, and the more we have these conversations, the more we learn and grow and the more we change how we relate to each other.
I can not begin to relate the power and emotion of those who followed me. It was respectful, but intense. Loving, but raw. Soulful, but physically jarring. At the very end, as time was running out, the woman who had been excluded from the women’s only ritual the previous year spoke. She spoke quietly, almost to the point of a whisper. A few times the group asked her to speak up. She spoke about her pain from last year. She spoke about being initiated into a Dianic tradition. And then, as she began to speak about the violence she has experienced in her life her voice raised to a scream and she threw down the talking stick to the ground. She continued to speak for a minute more, but I had lost focus on her words and had fallen into myself. I realized that while there was no physical harm that had been done to her. Her experience last year was a violent act. She had been torn away from her community. She had been beaten by the fact of her existence. She had been emotionally and spiritually raped by a community in whom she was every bit a part. The refuge from violence and the safe space that had been established for women had in turn been manipulated to serve the very purposes that it had been established to fight.
After taking some time to ground, I went to the Dance with the Dark God. This was a ritual conducted by members of the Unnamed Path, of which I am an Initiate. This was also a ritual dance to connect with both the Ancestors of Men Who Love Men, but to also connect with my patron deity in the Unnamed Path – The Dark God. The ritual involved drumming and shamanic work and a treading of the mill to go to the Underworld to connect with the Dark God and speak with and ask questions of him. The Dark God spoke about calling people out on their shit. That when we see injustice we need to speak out. We need to say that something is wrong when it is wrong. My God had spoken to me and I now had to choose what to do and how to act. I decided to join the protest.
I ran to my room and changed my clothes and ran back to grab an elevator to head down to join the protesters. The elevator was filled with a few folks and as we descended I began to contemplate what might ensue over the course of the next 10-15 minutes. I knew that I wanted to be at the protest, but also knew that there was a panel on Queer Celtic Gods that was occurring at 9:00 as well. I rationalized that I could go to the protest, express my solidarity and then head off to the workshop. I was rationalizing that I was doing enough by even being present for a short period of time. At that moment the elevator stopped, doors opened and in walked Z. Budapest.
I wanted to say something. I wanted to yell. I wanted her to know. She has hurt people. I wanted her to know that for as much as she has felt pain that she too has inflicted it. I wanted to tell her that I was disappointed in her and ashamed of her. Instead, I stood there, silently, and sent her Love. I knew that she was hurt and that more hurt is not what she needed. She like all of us needs Love. The elevator arrived at the ground floor and Z and her party exited from the elevator with me following. I sprinted from the elevator knowing that I needed to be at the protest before she arrived.
I rounded the corner of the hall near and viewed one of the most beautiful sights. There, sitting in silence, lined up the entire length of the hall were folks of every background. The energy was indescribable.
I made my way down the length of people and made contact with my first Druid teacher Michael Gorman, who I had learned had spoken to Z and whom she had asked to be present to provide neutral space between her and the protesters and to serve, as Druids have historically done, as a mediator. I let him know that Z was on her way. Michael was joined in the effort to provide Neutral Space by other folks. I am not sure if Z had approached all of them as well. Storm Faerywolf, members of the CAYA Grove of Artemis, Hyperion and some of my brothers from the Unnamed Path formed a gauntlet standing opposite to the peaceful protesters. I took my place with the protester and sat silently.
Z had during this time passed by and was standing in front of the door. I was only able to hear part of what was being said but do clearly remember her saying, apparently in response to a question of who these other folks are, that “these folks are here for me.” Neutral Space had been neutralized. The image, maybe not the intended image and not the want of those participating, was a line of mainly gay men standing over a long line of sitting peaceful protesters. I find the imagery ironic.
Z continued to speak. I had learned that she was going to read a prepared statement. Z chose to say more than what was in the statement. I can not recite the exact words she chose to use, but her tone of voice was not conciliatory nor did it have any hint of coming from a place of trying to understand. The energy was anger and fear and hate. The energy was so palpable that it rolled down the hall and many sitting began to weep and cry openly.
One thing had become apparently clear. Z was a shell of the women that she had spent so many years projecting. Any aspect of being a teacher, community leader, elder and torch bearer who was an advocate for personal empowerment and fighting for the rights of self-expression had been extinguished. The torch has been passed and the fire relit by those who sat there quietly, in peace, while rage was expelled at them. The pagan community had come to a turning point. A new era had begun.
The folks holding “Neutral Space” began to chant a chant from Z and a chant from T. Thory Coyle. They did this, as was later explained by Storm in a statement posted to his Facebook page:
“Tonight, the Living Temple of Diana together in solidarity with the CAYA Grove of Artemis, held the sacred space in between Z Budapest and those organized by T. Thorn Coyle who chose to hold a silent vigil in counterpoint to Z’s hurtful statements made last year regarding the invalidation of trans-women. We bore witness as Z issued a statement about the issue, and we sang “We All Come From The Goddess”, by Z, and “Beauty and Darkness” by Thorn. We hold the space in between to show that there is, in the words of Rabbit, “no ‘them’, only ‘us’”. Let us heal as a whole people. Let there be love.”
Unfortunately, the chanting had the opposite effect, it confused the issue and made it appear as an effort to disrupt the silent protest that was occurring. While the words of the chant had healing intent. The effect was jarring and only served to further disorient and confuse the situation. The singers remained for only a few minutes before they left en-mass. Leaving only the silence periodically interrupted by the sounds of crying and sobbing. Various feelings rolled over me as I continued to sit in silence, anger, sadness, confusion. I knew however I had been part of and witness to a transformative experience. No one who had been there and sat there could walk away unaffected and unchanged.
I centered myself and recited the Druid’s prayer:
Grant, O God and Goddess, Thy protection;
And in protection, strength;
And in strength, understanding;
And in understanding, knowledge;
And in knowledge, the knowledge of justice;
And in the knowledge of justice, the love of it;
And in that love, the love of all existences;
And in the love of all existences, the love of God, Goddess and all goodness.
The protest ended with a brief statement of thanks and love from Thorn and we many migrated to the mezannine near the ballroom of the hotel for continued dialogue and to be there for each other as we processed the experience.