Sunday, February 26, 2012

It's Commentary all the Way Down: for Chas Clifton

Commenting on one of my earlier posts, Chas Clifton says:
Again, the modern Pagan movement decides to eat one of its elders, and the only question is with which sauce. 
I foresee that in some not-too-future year, after Z Budapest has passed on, they will call her name among the Mighty Dead at the Bay Area Spiral Dances, and I wonder if the people trashing her now for being a bigot will pause and recall her decades and decades of priestesshood. 
Right now though, I am seeing all these bloggers saying stuff like, "I'm a Dianic but I no longer consider her an elder." Really, do you get to choose your elders?

Disclaimer: I do not know Z personally, although I have known of her since the 1970s, and we know a lot of the same people. Her vision of the Craft is quite different from mine. But still .... 
As for P-con, people have "private" rituals at "public events" all the time. It happens at virtually every festival that I have attended. But hey, let's throw Z in the dumpster because some folks' feelings were hurt.
Let's not pretend that Z Budapest didn't bring a good bit of this shitstorm down on her own head. She has had a year to apologize for 2011's hateful remarks about "transies" and to acknowledge that transfolk are worthy of respect even if she does not choose to circle with them. She has not done so: instead, she has accused those who have called her on her vile behavior of "threats," "intimidation" and "bullying."  Chas dismisses the whole thing as "some folks' feelings were hurt." I wonder if he would do so had she made an equally offensive rant about Jews, blacks, or some other marginalized group.

The fact that Budapest is a respected elder in the community does not justify her words: rather, it makes them more heinous.  Her history gives her words a weight far greater than the words of some random Internet troll.  Until such time as she apologizes for her hate speech (and yes, that was hate speech, no matter how she or her followers try to justify or minimize it) her history will be forever tainted with an ugly stain that may well outweigh her very real achievements.  There is a whole generation of Pagans out there who weren't even born when Budapest was establishing her branch of Dianic spirituality.  They are going to remember her not as a pioneering leader but as a nutter who said hateful things about transgender women.

Yes, I expect she will be celebrated in Spiral Dances after her passing, until those who remember her glory days firsthand die off as well. Then I expect she will be left by the wayside as a quaint embarrassment.  And no, I don't rejoice in that: I think it's a damned shame. Z's brand of second wave separatist feminism, for all its issues with class and race and all its inability to deal with transfolk, was one of the most interesting things to come out of the movement. The most visible parts of contemporary feminism focus largely on "getting our share of the pie from the patriarchy." Budapest and her peers wanted to remake the culture from the ground up. If their effort was doomed from the start, it's no less heroic and tragic for all that. And to have all that good will squandered over an intemperate posting and a pig-headed refusal to own her prejudice and apologize is a great loss to all of us.

I should also make it clear that I do not seek to encourage Z to circle with transgender women.  I am not a part of her religion and I neither have nor want a say in its thealogy.  Z is free to offer or withhold her Mysteries as she sees fit.  But I question the wisdom of allowing her a public room and a space on the Pantheacon calendar when it is abundantly clear that many people find her trans-exclusion to be as hateful and bigoted as black-exclusion... and when it is abundantly clear that there are still hard feelings about her 2011 rant.  And so yes, in answer to an earlier comment from Rose Weaver, I do hold Pantheacon and its organizers responsible for much of this mess. Had this ritual been held in a private suite as an unofficial event, there would have been far less hurt feelings.  As this was handled, it looked uncomfortably like a slap in the face to trans people and their supporters by Pantheacon.  And the subsequent refusal of PCon to issue an official apology - or at least an official statement - isn't helping matters at all.

Do you choose your elders? I might answer that question with a question: are you within your rights to reject someone because you find their politics and behavior intolerable?   Those who find Z's present behavior revolting are certainly within their rights to shun her until such time as she makes amends: there is definitely historical precedent for declaring somebody "outlaw" or blotting their name from memory.  You may not feel that Z's words rise to the seriousness which would warrant this action: you may not feel the anger caused by her ritual was justified.  (You might want to consider the fact that reports suggest protesters outnumbered attendees by at least 4 to 1 and possibly as much as 10 to 1 ... so it appears many more people find her behavior intolerable than deem it acceptable). But that is each individual's decision to make, not yours.