Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Still more on Pantheacon and Chas Clifton

I haven't been ignoring you, Chas: it's just that between changing diapers and writing about electroconvulsive therapy for my latest book. Both these tasks are arguably more productive and enjoyable than rehashing the now-infamous "Z Budapest Show" -- but I hate to leave things unfinished.

From Chas:
Let's try a thought experiment.

Hypothetically, at P-con, a Cheyenne spiritual leader named Elk Woman holds a ritual only for people who can demonstrate First Nations/Native American ancestry.

"No wannabe Indians," she says, "only genetic Indians. The rest of you have plenty. This is for us. Don't try to take away our spirituality and magic."

Would she be condemned the way that Z Budapest is being condemned? Would there be a demonstration in favor of the non-Natives who felt that they qualified spiritually and emotionally to participate?

What a lot of people do not realize is that this
is a "cultural appropriation" argument. Z and some of the women who influenced her argue that there are women's mysteries that only "woman-born women" can experience.

You may or may not agree, but that is there the issue begins, and it goes back about forty years, at least.

Consequently, transwomen are seen as "male invaders" and wannabe women. They disagree violently. But that is the starting position of Z and people who share her position.

I agree with you that Z & Co. are of the opinion that trans women are "male invaders" and "wannabe women."  I would go further than saying that this is their "starting point" - I'd say it's their final word on the subject and they're not likely to change their minds at any point during this incarnation. I also see your thought experiment and raise you another thought experiment. 

Let's pretend a fair number of black Indians - people whose ancestors escaped slavery and lived among the Indians - were among the attendees at Pantheacon.  A few black Indian tribes (most notably the Lumbee of the Carolinas) have been recognized, but most black Indians lack federal or state recognition and frequently face prejudice and discrimination from Indians without black ancestry. 

Now let's suppose Elk Women had explained that "one drop of black blood is enough to keep you off the red road" and further gone on to explain that black Indians "want to ruin our tribes the way they ruined the inner cites of America."  Do you think the black Indians - or anyone else attending the conference - would feel comfortable having Elk Woman perform her ritual on or off the Pantheacon official calendar?

Let's further suppose that in 2011 a Native group had held a "Natives only" ritual that excluded black Indians and Elk Woman had made her comments in response to that controversy.  Now, in 2012, Pantheacon gave Elk Woman her own room and slot on the calendar to hold a "genetic Indians only" ritual.  Do you suppose the black Indian attendees would see this as a slap in the face? Or should they shut up and take it because if they complain they are guilty of "cultural appropriation?"

Here's another thought experiment: as one of the most well-known Pagan historians, I'm sure that you're aware that many early covens were very much about "gender polarity" and felt that homosexual members would throw off the energy.  Let's say we were able to get someone from that lineage presenting at Pantheacon and they wanted to hold an official ritual open only to heterosexuals.  We both agree this would be a perfectly reasonable request from their point of view and in keeping with their historical mission.  And I suspect we both also realize that said request would go over like the proverbial lead balloon.  (Especially if the person making the request had a record of statements about "pansies," "perverts" and the like).

More from Chas:
Z's alleged bigotry, however, is based on a perception that trans-women are attempting to get something -- the women's mysteries -- that they were not born to. Unfair? Maybe so. But it is just a form of the "cultural appropriation" argument that is so popular with many Pagans: "Why are you people trying to push your way in here and get our magic/spirituality?"

The larger context in which I see this whole dispute, however, is a sort of generational one. Let's cut Mom and Dad off at the knees.

Pagans alternate between saying "Where are the elders?" and disrepecting those elders as clueless relics. "sexist, racist Brits," and so forth.

That inability to look at people in the context of their times while racing to judge them in the context of our time is, I suggest, not healthy for the growth of the movement over time. It is hypocrisy of the most juvenile sort.
We've touched on the cultural appropriation question above. Several commenters on the original post noted the power imbalance between trans and cis women.  Suggesting that a disenfranchised and disempowered minority is "appropriating" a dominant culture by seeking to gain entry thereto is missing the point at best and apologetics for racism at worst.  (This is not to say that Z and her followers don't have the right to accept or reject any supplicants they see fit. But accusing trans people of "cultural appropriation" in this situation is rather like a country club accusing a Jewish applicant of seeking to "appropriate" WASP culture). 

As far as some of our elders being "clueless relics:" I challenge you to read Dion Fortune's lines about "the primitive 'Juju' of the Negroes" without rolling your eyes in embarrassment.  When you're done with that, you can check out Crowley's lines about a "nigger tent revival" in the preface to 777.  As Lupa pointed out, Crowley and Gardner (and Fortune, whom she missed) contributed a great deal to contemporary occultism and contemporary society.  They also had the blind spots you would expect from people growing up in their time and place.

Crowley, Gardner and Fortune had the good fortune to die before their more offensive ideas became entirely unfashionable. We have the luxury today of looking at their failings through the misty lens of history.  Budapest, to her good or bad fortune, has lived to see her ideas about trans women become unpopular.  Had she died 20 years ago, when transgender questions were barely a blip on the radar, she might be admired for her accomplishments and patted on the head for her quaint miunderstandings. As it is today, she gets to own both her achievements and her shortcomings for so long as she remains an active participant in the community.