- Created: 31 December 2016
- Written by Awo Fa'gbemiro (Scott Reimers)
This is the long version of an article I wrote in 2011
In 2011 there was a large conversation regarding people being turned away from rituals at Pantheacon due to gender. This was made more difficult because of a lack of clarity regarding requisites for attendance.
I intuited that one of the rituals which caused consternation only welcomed women; You rarely see AMAZONS hold a Skyclad (naked) "ecstatic, undulating, life-affirming ritual in honor of Lilith," and assume that men are welcome. On top of actual theological reasons, fears of lechery abound and whether or not those fears would manifest, the very worry about it by female participants could block their effective involvement. Thus exclusion is an intelligent choice.
Later that night there was a non-skyclad ritual to Hecate that in no way implied that Men were unwelcome, and I was turned away at the door. My complaint? Not that I was unwelcome, but that I DIDN'T KNOW that I was unwelcome. The poor lady at the door turning away man after frustrated man was pretty unhappy with the lack of communication as well. ;-)
Why wasn't I unhappy at being excluded? Because while inclusiveness and "An it Harm none" are great guideline, sometimes you have to weigh benefits against costs. Sometimes exclusion is necessary to help define ourselves and provide a safe space for work we need to accomplish. Most of us learn that not everybody can be on a sports team as children; some people will need to be turned away. If we are healthy, we learn to differentiate the denial of participation from a denial of personal value.
As long as exclusion is from love and with good purpose, those who are welcome receive full benefit while those who are not should theoretically support others from a distance without feeling "put down" due to a denial. Unfortunately... this isn't always what happens.
Surviving disagreements about who should and shouldn't be welcome
The women only ritual excluded men, and here's where a deep danger arose: the ritual defined a woman as having had been born with a uterus. If you were born with testicles you were not welcome. This poured salt into hopeful Transgendered attendees open wounds.
Can you see the battle lines forming in your mind's eye?
On one hand you have women facing the darkness of the abuse they survived, oftentimes from the hand of Men they should have been able to trust. These survivors need a safe space to heal away from anybody they consider to be a potential threat. This is a HUGE issue. My wife said the following between grief-stricken sobs with tears streaming down her face, “Men can't understand what it's like to grow up feeling like property, expected to sacrifice our identity and become 'our Husband's Wife.' Additionally anyone born a man really can't understand the 'Moon Mysteries.'” This are authentic needful arguments why “being born with a uterus” may be important to allow connection among a group of women trying to heal past abuse caused by our societies patriarchy.
On the other hand Transgendered persons face a constant battle to be recognized consciously and fairly. They do not fit into the simple boxes straight men and women occupy, and rather than attempt to openly discuss where they fit into a group or role, many communities simply ignore the issue and exclude by default. The emotional scars of this warrant raising the issue when excluded, especially in a space they considered safe and welcomed (the convention where this occurred).
This exclusion led two separate groups who both need opportunities for healing to face off as one group's self-protective exclusions triggered a desire to be recognized and honored in the second group.
Both sides expressed a righteous fury, and words became more and more hurtful until one elder expressed such vitriol that both sides reeled away from the debate in shock and horror. This Elders comment shared a deep loathing of men which objectified us and silenced transgendered women with statements like “you are just proving that all men only care about getting their way,” and other equally hateful declarations which prohibit further effective discussion.
Healing amid the Pain. Hate has its place.
It may surprise you to hear, but I still support this elder despite her horrifying remarks. There is a healthy need for this Anger and Hatred. Anger and Hatred are necessary and important emotional steps as one seeks to overcome Shame, Despair and Fear. The ladder of emotions needs to be climbed little by little, and while one can skip one step, they can't leap from the bottom to the top. People like this elder hold space for women in deep pain to journey through the anger, hatred and pride into the emotional places they need to go.
I deeply honor this Elder's soul for her choice to provide this space. Living in Anger and Hatred is an agonizing thought to someone who has experienced pride, courage or above. Some may be tempted to look down on her for choosing to stay there, but I honor her strength in holding space to guide women through those emotions on their way to additional healing and joyful lives.
Most of us agree that what was said isn't loving and caring, but what happened in response didn't help lift anybody up either. The largest response was to try to shame the elder and her community. If you look to the image of the ladder of emotions to the side, that's not exactly supportive of healing.
We can learn from what happened and change our decisions moving forward. How could we support both sides of this debate? How can we support the need for Women to have safe space to get angry and find pride on their way toward courage, while still honoring and supporting the equal needs of the LGBT Community.
Both sides are sometimes finding their way up from shame, guilt and despair. The powerful work that those women are doing is perfect for those Women and the methodology is probably a great fit for some Gay, Bi and Trans persons as well... but depending on the group, having a person who was born a man can interfere with the healing work the women are doing for their prime demographic: Women who were born a woman.
Potential Solutions to these and similar Issues
T. Thorne Coyle proposed that new rituals could be designed and shared which could include all. While I respect her intent I'm not sure I see a healthy place where everyone can be welcome and still receive effective healing together. That would take more wisdom and inspiration than I can imagine, but if anybody can do it I believe she would be on the list of people who can.
Until we find those rituals, I propose that case separation may be our healthiest option, but that it should be done in love (or at least respect). I propose that the greater community should support BOTH the right for the women to practice by themselves and a Transgendered community effort to create/recreate a mystery for their needs. They could even incorporate the aspects of practice which provide such a wonderful healing space for women who attend workshops and rituals by Z. Budapest and other similar healers of deep abuse.
While it’s fun to celebrate sharing things, there is a place in deep emotional and personal work where my problems are going to trigger your problems. We BOTH need healing and attempting to heal both in the same space at the same time is just going to make things worse. Thus, I propose that while sometimes it is powerful to come together; sometimes it is necessary and healthy to define boundaries.
Tolerance is not Universalism, tolerance is the ability to celebrate what we share AND what differentiates us... and sometimes tolerance requires permission to exclude.