Friday, July 13, 2012

From Pantheacon to Buncombe County: for Byron Ballard

In her Witches & Pagans blog, Byron Ballard posted her thoughts on the 2011 Pantheacon controversy over "women born women" rituals.  Byron seems to feel, based on her blog entry, that the trans women and allies who are pushing for inclusion (or, more precisely, pushing Pantheacon to refrain from putting "women-born-women-only" rituals on the public calendar) are being "short-sighted, mean-spirited and unhelpful." In response I might point Byron in the direction of an incident which she knows very well - Ginger Strivelli's efforts to stop Bible distribution in Buncombe County, North Carolina

Does Byron feel that Ms. Strivelli was being "short-sighted, mean-spirited and unhelpful" in going against the express wishes of many, perhaps most, Buncombe County residents? Do the feelings of those parents who (as one blogger put it) "were crying tears (literally, not kidding!) that Jesus would be removed from their kids’ lives" count for anything?  Thanks to Ms. Strivelli's crusade, they feel that their schools are no longer safe places for their children.  They feel that their way of life is under attack -- and since they live in the Asheville area, where many locals have been priced out of the real estate market by the hippies, New Agers, and general freaks who want to turn the place into Sedona East, it's not hard to see where those fears are coming from.

The Buncombe County affair reinforced the Evangelical narrative that they are a victimized group set upon by a hostile confederation of secularists and devil-worshippers. It provided a flash point for their hostility and gave local demagogues a convenient issue with which to rile up their congregations.  In short, it was a messy, divisive event which did nothing to improve Pagan/Christian relations. And it all happened because one woman's daughter couldn't just take a damn book and throw it in the trash when she got home. 

I don't want to put words in Byron's mouth, so I'll leave it to her to comment on these thoughts.  Speaking for myself, I might note that this was a situation where the interests of the minority were upheld at the expense of the majority's interest.   Ginger Strivelli's daughter need no longer be ostracized when Bibles are distributed at her school: meanwhile, Christian students and staff who once could uphold the tenets of their religion and "share the Good News" no longer feel quite so comfortable, quite so... safe ... doing so.

Of course, I would also observe that nobody is stopping the majority from practicing their religion. Nor is anyone stopping students from praying in school.  All that has happened is that Buncombe County School District is no longer allowed to endorse (or to give the appearance of endorsing) one religion over another.  And I would note that a similar situation prevails at Pantheacon.  Dianics who want to exclude trans women from their rituals can do so at their own festivals or in their own homes. They can even hold these rits at Pantheacon in a private room or suite. They have not been silenced: they have merely been told that P'con's public ritual space cannot be used for trans-exclusionary rituals.

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.