Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Yep, Even More on the Lilith Rite at PCon 2011: for Miss E

In response to the continuing discussion on the Amazon Priestess Tribe's ill-fated Lilith ritual at Pantheacon 2011, Miss E said:
I've been following the issue a little on Wild Hunt, and I read your blog regularly (I guess this is the blog version of "long time listener, first time caller!")
You're making me feel like the bastard child of Al Franken and Janeane Garofalo here.

Seriously, I'm glad you have enjoyed my blog so far.  Given that you are a fan of  John Kennedy Toole's Confederacy of Dunces - arguably the greatest book ever written about New Orleans - it's obvious that you have good taste.  Looking at your comment, I suspect we are more in agreement than it might seem at a cursory glance.
There are loads of issues to tease out, it seemed like the primary one was the suitability of such a ritual for Pantheacon - but it always seems to segue way in to a sort of debate on the theological legitimacy of Dianic religion. I'm assuming the inflammatory comments by Budapest prompt this - but I suspect it would happen even without them, and I wonder how that element of the debate grapples with the traditions that having sub sects, rituals, and roles that differentiate between sex and/or gender. 
I've tried very hard to limit my discussion to "is a ritual which excludes transpeople appropriate at a public convention?" I recognize the Dianics' right to free association and to define their thealogy as they see fit.  Whether I agree or disagree with their conclusions is irrelevant: I am not a member of their community and have no interest in joining.  I felt that, for the purposes of working through the issue at hand, discussions about Dianic theology would only serve to derail the problems which could actually be solved by the Pantheacon organizers.

That being said, I think every religion is, and should be, subject to questioning about controversial tenets.  The Roman Catholic Church is regularly called to task for its refusal to ordain women and married men to the priesthood.  Islamic authorities are often questioned about the meaning of "jihad" and what it requires when an individual's perceived duties as a Muslim conflict with hir duties as a citizen of a secular state.  Often these questions are critical: sometimes they are put forth by people with hostile agendas. But they are part and parcel of an open society. While the Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of religion, it does not promise you a cheering section.
The whole situation, in several writings, feels laden with a sort of "Oppression Olympics" flavor, perhaps that's inevitable.
Unfortunately, there is a disparity in privilege and cultural capital here. While this may cause discomfort for some people who prefer to think themselves innocent victims of the Evil Patriarchy, it needs to be dragged into the light.  Here's Sarah Thompson talking about her experiences:
I am, as it turns out, the second transsexual woman in my family. My first cousin committed suicide about 20 years ago as a direct reaction to the negative responses of my own family to her coming out as transsexual. My family’s response to her death was to remain absolutely silent – I didn’t find out for many years what had really happened. Her death, and the guilt that it incubated in my family, meant that I had a slightly easier time – all they did was disown me. 
Some people say that transsexual women possess male privilege, and that they seek to use that privilege, consciously or otherwise, to oppress other women or to gain access to women’s space. Some say that transsexual women aren’t women at all, twisting the argument into one over the mere definition of a word, rather than honestly owning up to their bigotry. 
I can say, quite categorically, that transsexual women do not have privilege over other women. In practice, I have found that, when someone doesn’t know that I’m transsexual, I’m discriminated against just like any other woman. When they know, or suspect, that I’m also transsexual, this typically causes further discrimination. I’ve been thrown off a D.Phil programme at Oxford University, survived a violent attempted murder that was ignored by the police, been fired from several jobs, denied many job interviews, been paid less than my male (and cis-female) counterparts, all specifically because people knew I was transsexual. I’m lucky. I have a bitter privilege that was denied my cousin:  
I’m alive.
I may add that Sarah is not only more fortunate than her cousin: she is more fortunate than those honored each year at the International Transgender Day of Remembrance.  Transwomen are regularly beaten, murdered and discriminated against: as an SPLC report put it, many consider them to be "Disposable People." Given this, it behooves the Dianics to recognize that their trans-exclusionary policies cause pain to a group which has no shortage of detractors and enemies.  If they feel their theology requires this exclusion - and I recognize their right to exclude whom they will for any reason or for no reason at all - it would be fitting for them to at least acknowledge their privileged position in this particular state of affairs.
I'm certainly not a Dianic, or even a Wiccan for that matter, but I am a humourless feminist, and as such, I've just been marveling over your last paragraph! So, by finding value in physiological, biochemical experience of being female, women are somehow reducing themselves to...yeah, wow!
As I said in the original post to which you responded, "Since a number of women have chimed in with testimonials about how Dianic Witchcraft has had a positive effect on them, I presume at least some people are getting something out of it. It's not my thing, but it neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg if a bunch of people want to get together for dick-swinging or Yoni-worshipping." I don't get it, but that is not surprising.  As someone said once in a Usenet .sigfile "the things which I do not know are part of an infinite set."

My major objection to "moon-blood mysteries" comes when they are used like literacy tests and poll taxes in the Jim Crow-era South.  Invariably when pressed I've heard that yes, a cisgendered woman who had never experienced menarche for medical reasons would be welcomed at a Dianic "moon-blood celebration," where a transwoman would not.  At which point the argument shifts to questions of "socialization" and "childhood experiences." Frankly, I think that this convenient use of one's mysteries to keep out "the wrong sort" is far more blasphemous than grunting misogynistic jokes.  The fratboy who makes jokes about women being "life support systems for vaginas" acknowledges his vulgarity and profanity. He doesn't try to express his bigotry in religious terms, or claim that it is his sacred duty to objectify those whose bodies are different than his own.
Personally I think all feminine identified should get the opportunity to celebrate that embodied experience if they feel called to it. Unfortunately, I doubt the current atmosphere is conducive to discussions of shared and disparate experiences with the nature of physicality between women of all identities.
I think the major issue is whether an exclusionary ritual should be held at a public event. There is some chance we will be able to come to some resolution of that problem. The value of exclusionary "womyn-born-womyn" policies and their inherent oppressiveness or lack thereof will probably get solved around the time the Catholics resolve the issue of ordaining women... in other words, I ain't holding my breath. But as with many conundrums, I think there is value in respectful discussion even when there is little or no hope of coming to universal agreement.