Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Lilith Rite Redux, Reduxed: Responding to Hate Speech

Like the Energizer Bunny, this particular issue just keeps going and going and going. In the comments to Anya Kless's post on the topic, Califried said:
I spent quite a lot of time arguing with various Dianic Wiccans in the aftermath of CAYA’s Lilith ritual. My point was (broadly) that Dianic perpetuation of the narratives that underlie cisgender privilege (the main one being that transwomen are not women) is experienced by transwomen as oppression. As such, my view is that critique of their choice to exclude transwomen from Dianic circles is warranted and necessary.
Having said that, I’m not sure I’m prepared to insist that all event organizers exclude Z, Ruth Barrett, Wendy Griffin, Amadea and others. As I wrote in response to Amadea several times, pluralism does not demand silence when worldviews conflict. Having said that, I also don’t believe that insisting on their exclusion from broadly inclusive events is necessarily the best policy. To be perfectly clear, I believe that the divide between women and transwomen claimed by some Dianic circles as “authentic” elides and erases the very real differences between the formative experiences of cisgendered women based on class, race, creed, geographic location, and immigration status (among others). I also believe that insisting on the authenticity of this divide is experienced by transwomen as oppression. Event organizers, however, should be free to invite (or not) presenters as they see fit. On the flip side, event organizers cannot be expected to enforce restrictions that are simply unenforceable – anyone expecting to hold a public cisgendered women-only ritual needs to be aware that there is literally no way to enforce that restriction. In my view, that’s the best balance we can reasonably expect to strike for the moment.
I think the issue here is not so much about free speech as about taking responsibility for hate speech.  There is controversy about whether the "womyn-born-womyn" circles are inherently oppressive toward transgendered people.  I would hope there is no controversy about the need to treat fellow human beings with respect and to avoid hateful epithets like "transies."

There are (or were) Traditional Witchcraft circles which were only open to heterosexuals:  they feel/felt theirs was a fertility religion, and homosexual sex doesn't lead to babies.  While I might disagree with these taboos and question the reasoning behind them,  I accept their right to follow their religion.  I would even be happy to attend a workshop given by members of these traditions and listen respectfully to what they had to say.  

Now let's suppose a well-known member of one of those traditions went on an online rant about "disgusting faggots," suggesting they were sick and perverse and ending with an observation that AIDS was the Goddess's punishment for their "unnatural behavior."  What about a practitioner of Slavic Paganism who referred to Starhawk, Margot Adler, Judy Harrow and other Jewish witches as "a cancer on our native religion" and "Zionists trying to profit from our culture." Would these people be welcome to present at Pantheacon?  And would they be welcome to hold a rite wherein they announced ahead of time that only heterosexuals were welcome or that only those of European and non-Semitic descent should attend?

To put this in a personal perspective: several of my good friends are scratched (initiated) in Palo Mayombe and other Reglas de Congo (Kongo-influenced Cuban religions).  I'm far too queer ever to be initiated in Las Reglas de Congo - the taboo against initiating homosexual or bisexual men is universal within those traditions. Yet I remain friends with these people, respect their devotion, and even go to them on occasion with questions on Kongo culture and practices.  They are not homophobes by any useful definition of the word: they are just following the tradition as it was passed down to them.  

(And I should add that none of them would be so foolish as to try holding an exclusionary ritual at a public forum. They would recognize immediately the potential for ill feelings and misunderstanding and choose to avoid the issue rather than presenting themselves as victims of "gay activists" spoiling for a fight).

So no, I'm not saying that Dianics should be shunned from all public events.  I'm saying that people who make hateful statements should be shunned.  Z Budapest not only refuses to recognize transwomen as women but to acknowledge them as human beings deserving of respect.  Until she is willing to apologize to those she has harmed, I see no reason why right-thinking people should give her a forum.  This is not about her sincerely-held religious beliefs - we can disagree on those as siblings.  This is about her vile words aimed at a disempowered minority.  In attending Budapest's events, or in allowing her to present at ours, we give our approval to those words - or at the very least say that they are not so wrong that we actually need to do anything against them.