Attacking Trans-Phobic Elders

Today a colleague whom I respect very much sent me a link to a petition advocating that Cherry Hill Seminary reconsider having a woman on staff who does not support transgender inclusivity in rituals. I don’t know the woman in question but I’ve been seeing a lot of posts lately stating that “an elder who believes X is not my elder” and in some cases condemning the whole idea of having elders in the first place. I very much support transgender inclusivity and the idea of discriminating against someone because of their gender just boggles but, sadly, I had to decline signing that petition and I’m going to tell you why.

Firstly, to say that we do not need elders is, in my opinion, flat out misguided. For a tradition to be sustainable inter-generationally we absolutely do need our elders. They are tradition keepers, trail blazers, and provide continuity, memory, and strength as a tradition grows and evolves. For a tradition to have a hope of lasting and growing beyond one or two generation, elders are essential and to dismiss the idea because we have issues with hierarchy is just flat out foolish, but this is an article for another day. The purpose of this post is to discuss how equally misguided I find attacking elders whose positions we disagree with to be.

I don’t think we should be shaming and attacking those who are de facto elders in our respective communities. Period. There are ways to educate and gently challenge and dialogue, dialogue, dialogue (and just maybe that should be coming from other elders and peers). If someone has a sincerely held belief about a social issue relevant to actual praxis, I want to know why. I want to hear their theological views. I want discourse. What I don’t want to see is thought-policing someone into silence. That’s not social justice, it’s fucking McCarthyism.

What really does not sit well with me here is the idea that there needs to be some sort of social or political litmus test for who can be part of the Pagan or Polytheist community. Whether we like it or not, some of the people being attacked have made serious contributions to their various communities, involved, crucial, and in some cases foundational contributions. Are we going to throw that history out because we have suddenly come to a crossroads issue wherein we disagree?

Now let me be clear, personally I can’t stand many of the people being vilified, but my objections rest on theological grounds (and wouldn’t it be nice to see people arguing that instead of social shit?). Still, I wouldn’t attack them for their views, though I might challenge and pick apart those views and ideas. I’d rather see people involved in dialogue, however heated, and coming to understand the issues involved without being bullied into it because that’s precisely what is going on : bullying.

In academia (as another person involved in this discussion pointed out), the solution would quite possibly be to bring in other instructors who held opposing viewpoints. There would be dialogue, argument, critique, and probably more argument but eventually something fruitful would hopefully emerge. That to me, is far more preferable, than damning someone into silence wherein we know their views will not have changed.


Posted on November 15, 2015, in community and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. I completely respect your opinion. We may have received this petition from the same person. I hope you don’t mind if I tell you why I did sign.

    I believe, like you, that we need our elders; they are the carriers of our traditions. Without sacred writ, our traditions are – despite the books we have – carried by persons, by individuals. The person we are speaking of is respected – and has my respect as an elder – despite the petition.

    The problem, as I see it, is that many have sought dialog with this person. And often, she will say how she respects transgender women, how she has no animosity, no bigotry. But always in other circles, calls transgender women “men”. Her words depend entirely upon whom she happens to be with.

    The petition seeks to ask an organization to ask for her resignation from an educational institution that claims to honor everyone – their non-discrimination policy specifically includes transgender individuals.

    I chose to sign, not because of this person’s faith, not because of this person’s views on gender, but because of this person’s apparent duplicitous nature and public defamation of transgender women.

    I chose to sign, because this person publicly signed a document asking LGBT organizations to no longer support the rights of transgender individuals – a petition that asked LGBT organizations to “Drop the T”. It accused us of, among other things, causing harm to children. An elder who signs onto a document that would say such things is troubling.

    I believe that we all have a right to our own sacred space, and we all have a right to choose whom we permit in those spaces. Groups for Womyn born Womyn are fine, and this person has every right to seek out and organize such spaces. But I do have a problem when a leader, a recognized elder, would suggest that I am not a woman. I have more of a problem when an elder claims to seek dialog, says that she will honor everyone, but then in other circles, calls transgender women “men”. Had she changed this attitude after many opportunities to do so; had I seen hope that she might engage in real dialog in the future, I would not have signed. But even in her most recent public statements, she at once claims to support a world where we are all safe, where we have mutual respect, but continues to paint transgender women as men – suggesting that only those who were born women are true women. The problem is that one cannot claim to support trans rights (as this person claims), but still call transgender women men.

    I find it problematic that an individual who has such a history of demeaning transgender women holds a position with an organization that claims to support civil rights for all people, inclusive of gender identity. Our words are important, and the documents we sign can be important. Again, I respect your choice to make up your own mind, and I don’t fault you in any way for not signing a document you found objectionable. But if you choose to make this response public, I thank you.

    Personally, I would love to establish a REAL dialog with this person. I don’t expect that to happen, but I would welcome it.

    Liked by 4 people

    • I thought long and hard about signing it, but i’ve been on the receiving end of too many witch hunts by Heathens who find my veneration of Loki or my practice of ordeal, or the way of honor Odin objectionable, that I really balk at doing that to someone else. I find her actions foul, absolutely foul, mind you, but i don’t know her and i’ve had no interaction with her at all. Moreover, in the states more and more it seems like there is a certain ideology expected from Pagans and Polytheists with little room given to any dissenting political voice and that deeply concerns me. Were I on the board at Cherry Hill, were i faculty, i might make a different decision and I might take this woman to task in person.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. For some of us, this isn’t *just* a “social/political issue.” My relationship with certain Deities (e.g. Antinous, the Tetrad++ and especially Paneros, etc.) is premised upon my acceptance of all people regardless of their gender identities and sexual orientations, and in order to serve those Deities cleanly and in a proper devotional attitude, if I were to demean or reject someone for any reason based on their gender identity, I would be rejecting those Deities I serve, as well as rejecting myself.

    I agree with your idea that elders are necessary and important; but, I also find myself in the odd position of being just under the age of 40, and yet being the ranking “elder” in a particular lineage and tradition. I personally balk at the notion that anything I say or do *must* be followed and never questioned by those within my tradition (and people outside of my traditions question what I say and do all the time, but who cares?). This is why I have always said, in the past, that I speak from the Ekklesía Antínoou’s tradition, not *for* it. Elders are subordinate to the traditions they uphold, and any elder who didn’t acknowledge that would be in error, I think. Thus, if something a particular elder does or says or suggests is ultimately against and not in the best interests of a given tradition and the Ancestors of that tradition and the Deities who guide it, then they should absolutely be questioned and critiqued. (If one’s tradition has trans*phobic Ancestors and Deities, well, then that’s another issue, but I don’t know that any of these individuals have claimed that yet.) That is a huge and complicated topic, granted, and would be deserving of further posts on the matter, I think…

    But, the nature of this issue is getting lost in the quasi-infallible estimation of eldership that some people expect applies to them. If someone doesn’t have a horse in this race–which, if one is cisgender, I’m sorry to say, one doesn’t (and, sadly, I’ve seen no end of self-proclaimed allies to queer and gender-variant folks claim “I have friends who are ___, but” and sell us down the river at the first chance that they see such an alliance might inconvenience them in some way)–then hiding behind questions of religious freedom, eldership, and so forth to defend discrimination is simply not good practice, and needs to be called out as the discriminatory bullshit that it is.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Like i said above, PSVL, I’ve been on the receiving end of too many attacks and witch hunts, including attempts to get me fired and expelled from my academic department because people had a bug up their ass about my work (that I do ordeal mostly). Dog piling like i’ve been seeing really bothers me.

      i’m all for confronting the people in question directly (and I think this should happen actually) but I’m not signing a damned thing condemning someone that I know *nothing* about, save what other people have told me. I’ve been on the receiving end of that too many times.

      I don’t think this issue is getting lost in the discussion of eldership, i think people are using this issue to condemn the idea of eldership.

      beyond that, i personally don’t get why someone would be exclusionary to anyone based on gender. It stunned me when i first heard about it happening at pantheacon and it continues to leave me flabbergasted. I would expect that of certain communities but not ours.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I also am very much for transgender-inclusivity but am wary of the increasing black and white thinking that has become the norm in social media. Dialogue is better than silencing people, and one elder has already changed her mind. I think there is another ism which is the one never mentioned these days, which is the subtext of some of these communiques: ageism. Again the pagan communities are mirroring the overculture here. I don’t think calls to do away with elders can be detached from that. Traditions without elders can’t really hope to survive.

    I haven’t said much about this because at first it seemed so much of a Pagan thing as opposed to a Polytheist issue, but I find that no matter how I try to walk away from the ‘umbrella’, the ‘umbrella follows me. But the attempts to shut down discourse on gender by either side is one that will impact many of us.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This issue is sensitive and challenging, but it is also very important. To be upfront, I am cisgender however the frustrating amount of time that I spend on the margins of American society due to others of my identities – Black, woman, bisexual, Pagan – has called me to share my perspective on this issue.

    When I consider Pagan eldership and what it means, to my thinking it is one part acknowledgement of a person’s substantial contribution (i.e. service) to Pagans, and it is one part recognition of a person’s significant relationship with divinity and/or deity. Elders serve the community and they serve the gods. They do both. Elders lead, guide, and teach and they also conduct devotions and public rituals and the like for the gods. The Elder role has many moving parts, all of which should be appreciated and respected by the community. The Elder has been entrusted with the spiritual security of their community as well as the integrity of traditions. But I think it is problematic to imagine that the Elder is not also required to offer appreciation and respect to the community as well.

    An Elder who marginalizes, discriminates, minimizes, and invalidates members of the community they serve is in violation of the social contract that the position of Elder depends upon. The spiritual security that the Elder is charged with is in danger in this situation. Do all women, cisgender and transgender, not have a right to feel safe and welcome in the spaces that they support with their time, energy, and devotion? An Elder who rejects the community that they lead, guide, and teach within has opted out of an important aspect of the agreement. An Elder so delinquent in their duty needs to be confronted, and if they are unwilling to return to right relationship with the community then they may be deemed no longer fit to fill the role of Elder. I agree with you that Elder means something and communities need them but if the community is rejected by them, where does that leave us? Transgender women are women and to leave them out is to leave all of us out. Would it be acceptable for the Elder to exclude me as a Black person or a bisexual person? One cannot lead, guide, and teach women without leading, guiding, and teaching all women. The Elder in question agreed to serve the community and then failed to do it. This is a professional issue and a social issue in addition to being a religious one. It is all of them. I think it is problematic to cherry pick the issues. The failure by this Elder in any of these areas presents a significant problem in all of these areas.

    I agree with your point that witch hunts are unacceptable. The personal witch hunt example you gave based on your deity relationships and practices as ordained by Them indeed constitutes a witch hunt in my mind. The transphobic Elder in question here doesn’t strike me as the victim of a witch hunt because her personal beliefs and practices are not in question beyond the degree to which they interfere with her ability to fulfill her role in the community and in Cherry Hill. This Elder seems to me to simply be the recipient of the transgender community’s overt refusal to be mistreated and invalidated within spaces that have been presented as inclusive. As I said above transgender women are women and to reject some of us is to reject all of us. If the Elder had a theological reason for said rejection, good for her, but she would still be unfit to serve in community space where that theological view demands that she deny a portion of the community due services. That kind of socially, spiritually, and professionally unacceptable behavior is deserving of a candid conversation, and a boot if necessary. The Elder’s willingness to serve the gods and serve the community within the expectations of inclusivity espoused by Cherry Hill Seminary is of critical importance.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I agree with a large part of what you had to say – we should not cut off our nose to spite our face when it comes to elders in general. And when there is a problem with an elder, action needs to be direct and attempts should be made to open dialog, because even elders still need to learn.

    But I think the moment anyone speaks hateful about a group of people, anyone shows bigoted hate speech, they do more disservice to their community than good. I am cis-gendered, but I will never follow anyone who marginalizes my sisters (and brothers) in the trans community.

    If someone has been spoken to, if dialog has been opened, and they continue to spew hate – which is what calling trans women “men” is – they have forfeited their right to a place of honor. They have decided that their prejudice comes before the community.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I want to thank everyone for sharing their thoughts on this and yet doing so courteously. I know it’s a painful and highly charged topic and it’s nice to see that we can dissent on some things (how to respond) but still be decent to each other. thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

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