Saturday, July 14, 2012

Dialogue and Armistice: more for Byron and Diotima

 Commenting on my earlier post, Byron Ballard said:
I will address this in some depth a little later, if I may. But I think you are not really hearing (or in this case, reading) what I am saying. My blog post is the first of three and I intend to go into (what I hope will be) a more thoughtful analysis of the larger situation in the larger community. By raising the issue in the Buncombe county schools, you are inadvertently clarifying my own point--the ways in which different groups experience coming to womanhood is not an either/or. Just as the school situation--which is far more complex than you can be expected to ken as an outsider to it--is not either/or. So many paths and possibilities--I believe it is our duty to the community as it is now and to our world as it will be that we at least become familiar with all the possibilities. Engaging the community in strength and love and responsibility is my goal in this discussion. And avoiding being short-sighted, mean-spirited and unhelpful is something that is an important part of my own Dianic priestesshood (goodness, what an awkward phrase). Neither of these issues--separation of church and state, and the paths into Women's Mysteries--is simple. We do all of the community an honor when we engage the discussion with mutual respect and at least an attempt at empathy. 
This could well be.  What I'm reading is that you're holding those who protested Z Budapest's ritual and those who protested Buncombe County's Bible distribution to different standards.  Quoting from your blog:
Sometimes women need to be in ritual with other women because they don't feel safe with men--even men who are transitioning to being women. This may also be true of men, but that is not my experience. Not only do they not share with transgendered Pagans the experience of having grown up--as women and girls--within this culture, but they simply don't feel safe. I am appalled that so few people seem to get that. They don't feel safe. At a gathering of this size, are you seriously suggesting that women's safety within sacred space doesn't have to be a consideration? 
That's short-sighted, mean-spirited and unhelpful, in my opinion. 
Here's the analogy I've used with some people--suppose a group of African-Americans wanted to be in sacred circle together, to explore healing through their African spiritual roots. They choose not to be in circle with people of European ancestry because they cannot safely explore the full repercussions of having been enslaved--they cannot safely explore that--with white people present. But then I carefully explain--as though they may not quite comprehend how behind the times they are--that all humans originally came from Africa and so I have a right to be there. 
That's short-sighted, mean-spirited and unhelpful, too.
In other words, we should respect the rights of Z & Co. to feel "safe" in space which excludes trans women.  After all, as you helpfully pointed out, "At this year's conference, there were other rituals that welcomed all who self-identified as women."  Those trans women and allies who fussed and protested until they got their way and forced Pantheacon to adopt a policy which prohibits trans exclusion in public rituals were being "short-sighted, mean-spirited and unhelpful." 

Yet when Ginger Strivelli and her comrades fussed and protested until such time as they get their way and force the Buncombe County school board to adopt a policy which prohibits distribution of Bibles on school property, you seem to think they were heroic and courageous. You did not invite them to consider the feelings of parents who have suffered years of economic losses, parents who have found their city invaded by newcomers who hate Christ and hate their Christian way of life, parents whose tax dollars pay for that school, parents who once again feel they are being disempowered and bullied by a wealthier and more educated class of Unbelievers.  You did not suggest that they examine "all the possibilities" -- including the possibility of laying low and staying quiet -- or to give the Evangelical Christians the "mutual respect" of letting them distribute their holy book.  

I also note that you're using a lot of abstract words here, with little in the way of concrete suggestions as to where that dialogue should begin.   Z Budapest and many other Dianics and second wave feminists do not recognize trans women as women. Full stop.  What exactly do trans women gain from showing "empathy" to people who see them as a patriarchal plot, a mutilated man, or a psychopathology? Why should they "dialogue" with people who refuse to acknowledge their existence or identity? Why is acquiescing to trans exclusion more broad-sighted and kind-spirited than asserting one's rights through tools like protest and legal actions?

Meanwhile Diotima, who seems to have missed my use of irony, went on at length:
Kenaz, dismissing and denigrating Byron’s and Ginger Strivelli’s efforts to see that the First Amendment is respected in the schools of Western NC does nothing to advance your argument regarding exclusionary ritual.
My argument concerned appropriate and inappropriate responses to oppression.  I'd also quote once again my final paragraph, with boldface for emphasis: you can hit ctrl+ if you want bigger text.
I'd also add that in both cases there was a lot more at stake than just taking a damn book or letting a few Dianics have their ritual. Bible distribution in a public school affirms that the school/county is Christian territory and that everyone else is an outsider who is deluded at best and actively evil at worst. Hateful rhetoric about "mutilated men" and "transies" cheapens the lives of trans women and dehumanizes them. Standing up for your self-interest is not short-sighted, no matter how uncomfortable it might make those who would rather you sit down and shut up. There are times when silence is merely assent to oppression.
Back to Diotima:
You seem to feel that we should do our best to make sure that the Evangelicals who want to establish Christianity in the schools while excluding other religions feel safe enough to do so. We should not create anything messy or divisive and certainly not do anything that might negatively impact Pagan/Christian relations. 
When you've had Christians vandalize your outdoor altar, break up your public rituals with threats and weapons, had abusive children, parents and school staff drive your 14-year-old child out of school because of her religious beliefs, or come home to find that someone has brutally killed your cat and hung it in your door because you are trying to keep town meetings religiously neutral, you may find you are not as inclined to "Just throw the damned book in the trash" so that Pagan/Christian relations won't be adversely affected. When things like that happen you take it to the courts and the media and thank all the gods that we still have a First Amendment and not the theocracy that many evangelical Christians want. You stand up for your Constitutional rights.
Of course. I think that's perfectly good and noble behavior, whether it's done by Ginger Strivelli or by Thorn Coyle.  More on your experiences later:
 As a new parent, I expect you may see the importance of these women’s' efforts more clearly in another decade or so. Children in middle school are quite susceptible to pressure from adults and peers, and even if a child is raised well at home, having the school system support and promote a religion that preaches against gays and tells your child she is going to burn in hell because she is Pagan is something that will affect her school experience no matter what you do or say to her at home. The only way to change that is to stand up for your Constitutional rights. Again. And again. And yet again. Which is something that Byron has been doing here for decades, along with her long-standing and very successful interfaith and community-building work.
If you came to me as a client and told me your husband was vandalizing your religious items, threatening you with weapons, terrorizing your 14 year-old child and killing your pets, I would tell you to pack your things, take your daughter and get to the nearest women's shelter as quickly as you can.  And yet you stay in an area where these events appear to be regular occurrences.  Speaking for myself, my responsibility to my daughter's physical and emotional well-being outweighs my need to make a political point.  I wouldn't risk Annamaria's safety over somebody praising Jesus at a town meeting: neither would I stay in an area with so many toxic and threatening neighbors.
What the Gideons did by distributing Bibles in public schools is in direct contradiction to the First Amendment, and despite being previously shot down in the courts, they are still trying to do it. This should tell you something. Staying aware of and fighting the repeated efforts to "establish" the Christian religion at the expense of other religions in schools and other government entities is important work if we want to practice our Pagan religions without fear of reprisals. 
Byron’s and Ginger’s work in this area has been difficult, dangerous (yes, there were death threats) and time-consuming. But they did it to protect the Pagan children of Buncombe County from institutionalized discrimination against their religions. Personally, I think they deserve our thanks and respect.
Again, fighting for one's rights (or for the rights of others) is a good thing.  Unfortunately, this sometimes means people feel hurt, angry, even unsafe.  Dialogue and healing are wonderful things, but they can only happen once an injustice has been rectified.  And sometimes they can't happen at all. I doubt very much that Buncombe County's Evangelicals are going to someday realize en masse that Wicca is a great religion, that global warming is a reality, and that Obama deserves a second term.  And I doubt very much that many of the people on Radfemhub or in the Susan B Anthony Coven are going to reject their loony conspiracy theories about trans people.

In that case, we rely not on dialogue but on armistice.  We set up clear boundaries: we affirm the rights of those groups to practice as they see fit in their private ceremonies. But we also watch them vigiliantly to make sure their hateful agenda doesn't infiltrate other groups, through nonviolent but highly effective tools like protest, boycott, shunning and court actions.  In time, when those boundaries are established and we've both  established spaces where we can be safe from each other, we can start working toward dialogue.  But for now I really am not sure we have a whole lot to talk about.