Pagan transphobia – no, you can’t pretend it’s hip anymore

I think this has been a kinda heady week on the Pagan blogosphere if you’re interested in LGBT issues.

The Wild Hunt blog reported a controversy at PantheaCon this year. This revolved around a ritual dedicated to Lilith, which due to miscommunication was not advertised as exclusive to women, and further more to “ciswomen” (women who identify as female and were born with a female body). Subsequently people lined up and waited for the ritual, but some men and a number of transwomen were turned away at the door. It was the exclusion of transwomen from what the organisers intended as a women’s ritual that cut deep here.

This led to subsequent discussion and work on these issues by CAYA coven who held the event, and others including trans-advocates. CAYA coven do not sound like terrible girls and boys, they sound like they really want to be inclusive and more than respectful of diversity. They actually sound like they are doing some amazing work there, and in a subsequent communique they apologized and took responsibility for the miscommunication. Kudos to anyone who can own up to a mistake in public, and do something about what it might have uncovered.

This event has since spilled out into an enormous amount of discussion on the issues of transphobia and trans-representation within the Pagan community, some of which has been unpleasant, but a lot of which has been trying to hit a true note. Truthfully, I think we could do with some trouble here in any case, because there’s a lot that needs looking at, and not just getting swept back under the carpet. It seems quite fitting in a way that a ritual for Lilith should end up exploding the issue of transphobia, through a ritual that took more for granted than it realized.

Of the unpleasant contributions, one in particular seems to have galvanized engagement in this whole thing, and for very understandable reasons. Anya Kless posted on the PantheaCon events in her blog , and got the following response from someone purporting to be Dianic elder Z Budapest:

“This struggle has been going since the Women’s Mysteries first appeared. These individuals selfishly never think about the following: if women allow men to be incorporated into Dianic Mysteries,What will women own on their own? Nothing! Again! Transies who attack us only care about themselves.

We women need our own culture, our own resourcing, our own traditions.

You can tell these are men, They don’t care if women loose the Only tradition reclaimed after much research and practice ,the Dianic Tradition. Men simply want in. its their will. How dare us women not let them in and give away the ONLY spiritual home we have!

Men want to worship the Goddess? Why not put in the WORK and create your own trads. The order of ATTIS for example,(dormant since the 4rth century) used to be for trans gendered people, also the castrata, men who castrated themselves to be more like the Goddess.

Why are we the ONLY tradition they want? Go Gardnerian!Go Druid! Go Ecclectic!
Filled with women, and men. They would fit fine.

But if you claim to be one of us, you have to have sometimes in your life a womb, and overies and MOON bleed and not die.

Women are born not made by men on operating tables.”

That was on 28th February 2011, and I have neither seen nor heard of any denial or retraction from Z Budapest since.

I think a lot of people’s heads exploded when they saw this vile, bigoted drivel from someone who was meant to be some kind of respected “elder” in the neopagan movement. Even people who knew that the basic position of the rant was indeed the one favoured by ZB. To have it out there so baldly was a real lancing of the boil.

The key thing here, the very thing I’ve seen reproduced with reference to a rejection communique from the ZB Dianics to a transwoman that was in contact with our own LGBT Pagan group, is the elimination of a person’s gender, on the basis of a righteously held ideological position. They weren’t rejected as women unqualified for the cult, they were redefined as non-women, and therefore eliminated as the persons they were. I found that, just as I find this, underhanded, undermining, disingenuous and subtly chilling. Common human insight and courtesy would, you would think, preclude such calculated strategies. But apparently not when you’re dealing with a very small and seriously disempowered minority, and you define their gender.

So let’s just be very clear here: Z Budapest is a transphobe, and a committed transphobe apparently.

I know, big surprise – but how appalling is that? And why have people protected this kind of bigotry for so long? And is it not now time up for pretending that transphobia can be hip and right on?

This really should be wake up time.

Other blog contributions from Star Foster and Foxfetch.

26th February 2012: my post on the persisting issues can be found here.

“Lilith” – based on the painting by John Collier

(This post was edited at 19.44 GMT on 5th March 2011, shortly after initial publishing).



  1. I think too many are being to damned soft on Z Budapest and her ilk.

    It’s 2012 and I’m so damned tired of having these bigoted pieces of garbage around spewing this bigotry and perpetrating their hate. They are nothing less than a stain on the pagan community.

    I don’t see the point of a silent protest. We need a day of rage. They’ll never get it until they feel the full weight and fury of how angry we are at bigots who think it’s perfectly to discriminate in the name of our gods and goddesses. We need to be in their face with our displeasure about this.

    Let’s make it clear. Only one person gets to decide what gender you are and that person is you. We need to stop coddling these perpetrators of discrimination.

    I have many MtF and FtM friends. I’m sad to say that the FtM people face much the same bigotry as is inflicted by Z Budapest and her ilk.

    There have been many times where I drove home a car full of MtF people from a BDSM club. I wondered what the headlines would have been if we were to have crashed. Would have been interesting. But I did it because they were people from my community and they needed a safe way to get home. That’s what being a member of a community is about.

    People like Z Budapest who degrade and discriminate are our enemies as surely as the Christians and the Muslims are. We need to be as uncompromising with them as we are with the latter. We need to treat them no differently.

    If aware that another is wicked, say so:
    Make no truce or treaty with foes.

    You can’t have Nazism without Z.

    Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war.

    Eric Wolfsbane

    • thank you for your comment Eric. I understand your anger and frustration at the way that Budapest seemed to just get away with her behaviour. It may indeed be that more peaceful protests are needed. We certainly don’t need to tip toe round this issue or do anything that might hush it up (that is simply collusion). I think it is clarity that is important, and certainly speaking out, calling out discrimination, and acting in accordance with our convictions. Organised protest is of course an honourable option. I also feel that we must support and celebrate the change in awareness around gender that is coming, and try and speed up its fuller arrival. Culturally the Pagan community is in one of the better positions to make this happen around us.

      Z does not have to be our enemy, I am not hers, but if she acts as an enemy through acts of demonization and attack then you don’t just say it is ok. I don’t think that Christians and Muslims are my enemy either, but the same goes. I have a lot of issue with Budapest’s ideology, and the deluded disrespect that she seems to hold a great deal of the world in, but I want to remain clear about my objection in this case, that she is a transphobe, and transphobia should not be given platforms any more than committed racism should. I find it difficult to stomach the double standards, and the weasely convolutions of who can abuse who, and who can escape full censure. It doesn’t wash any more.

      What I hope will become apparent through this is that you don’t attack our transfolk and get away with it. They are not dismissable because you wrongly think they are men, or women, or “transies”, and you don’t get exonerated because you are a feminist Pagan figure. Those days are gone, and they were never right in the first place.

      best wishes


  2. Bleh, I know I won’t be popular for saying this, but as a male Witch I don’t see why Budapest doesn’t have the right to have a woman-only meeting and disallow trans women. That may be annoying to some, just as a gay-male only meeting might be annoying to some straight men. But it’s a right of the person organising the meeting, surely? To say it’s transphobic may well not actually be the case.

    I myself am of the feeling that one can’t choose one’s gender any more than one can choose one’s sexuality – it’s a bit like saying, one can choose one’s species. If I want to be a dolphin and have extensive surgery to grow fins and a blowhole does that make me really a dolphin?

    Gender is defined by the body we are born with. I accept the right of people to change that body-shape, if they so wish, and will happily have a drink or make friends with anyone who has much such a decision. But as they don’t have female reproductory organs and need pills to supply the appropriate hormones, do I see them as the opposite gender? Really? No. I see them as being uncomfortable with their true gender and needing to hide or change it for various reasons. In my mind, transgender operations – in a way – perpetuate ideas of what men are and what women are, that are dated. Why can’t one be an extremely feminine male? Or an extremely masculine female? And be proud of it?

    I feel bad saying this in a way, as I know I’ll be attacked and accused of transphobia. Anyone who knows me knows that isn’t the case. But I have to stick my head up and say that I don’t consider a transgendered male or female to be anything other than their original sex. And I respect anyone’s right to organise a meeting and bar certain groups – not with hatred, but with a care for the energy of the meeting.

    • thanks for your comment Rob, I’ll try and answer your points as clearly as I can from my own perspective and understanding, please feel free to respond or continue the dialogue.

      Neither of the Pantheacon-Budapest controversies have been about the right of a person to hold their own private meetings as they see fit. That really is a red herring (and I know it’s been thrown about a lot), and it’s acted repeatedly as a smoke screen abetting avoidance of the actual question of transphobia. While some have questioned holding exclusionary events at an open, pay for entry festival, I think it’s clear that has not driven the debate or the hurt that it has sprung from, and it’s actually entirely secondary, if even relevant at all. If it were the issue, then any number of events would have been problematic.

      What people have found truly offensive is that she requires turning women away from public events advertised as being for them, and then righteously excuses herself by redefining the gender of the women in question. Her response to this being highlighted was to rant publicly online against “transies” being men, and out to steal her religion; something for which she has seen fit to neither apologize, nor even take responsibility. Such is the arrogance she has shown, and such is the low opinion that she betrays of transfolk. It’s as if she doesn’t even think she has to acknowledge abusing a group as marginalized. That makes a lot of people mad, for obvious reasons.

      These are the problem as I see them, and they are indicative of an ideology that she is committed to. Her commitment to this righteous ideology of ignorance is such that she not only implements it within her own cult (which is the business of her and her followers), but attempts to impose it at open festivals. She apparently will not even brook the public question, the possibility, that her ideology of gender is not absolute. All she would have to do is concede that maybe she doesn’t define womanhood, that there are different kinds of women, and she is interested in one type, and the question would evaporate, because she would have learnt boundaries and tolerance. Is her commitment transphobic? Without doubt.

      Can one choose one’s gender? I don’t think so, and any transfolk I have communicated with have clearly not thought one could choose one’s gender either. Neither can you choose the body you are born with.

      Is gender defined by the body you were born with? Unless you want to follow a now outdated use of language which chooses to not know about a fuller range of human experience of gender and embodiment than that sanctioned by (say) 19th century Christianity, then I think the answer is no. It’s become quite clear that while gender identification is congruent with the sex of the birth body for the majority of people, a significant minority have a gender which is not congruent with that body. I think that gives us insight into gender, and this is why: where gender and physical sex are congruent (as with myself for example), the distinction is in a practical sense ignorable and relatively invisible. Where they are non-congruent, gender is thrown into relief by its contrast with the physical sex of the body. I think this tells us something important about the gender we all experience in one way or another, that it and the sex of the body are two different things, even when they are congruent.

      Gender is really not the same as how “masculine” or “feminine” you are. A man can be as feminine as he wants or experiences himself as, it will not make him any less a man (or boy), or any more a woman (or girl). That is not what people are talking about when they refer to gender. So my main problem with your argument is that gender is actually missing from it, by virtue of being confused with the sex of the birth-body. Neither do I believe that there are only two black or white options for gender. As I’m sure you are aware, the recognition of gender as other than body type has a precedent within various pre-monotheistic cultures (eg the “two-spirit” traditions of various Native American peoples).

  3. I guess, then, that I would question exactly why people feel the need to undergo transgender surgery. If gender is not defined alone by the body, is it not simply OK to feel oneself to be a woman in a man’s body or vice versa? and *why* do they feel themselves to be the opposite gender? I have yet to hear an argument (though I would be receptive to one) that goes beyond the stereotypical gender values that you agree with me are a throwback to the Victorian age.

    I think what has long worried me about this is the significant number of transgendered post-operative patients who feel depression and, in many cases, commit suicide, as they do not in fact feel the operation has made any real difference. In many cases they feel significantly worse than they did before – and I do speak as the son of a doctor who has dealt with a significant number of such cases. And this is not because of how others treat them but because they still do not feel how they expected to feel.

    I heard a psychologist once say that many transgender people actually identify as such thanks to being non-typical of their birth-sex, which does call into question what notions are actually driving many of them. I do not, and will not, say all, as from what I have understood from my father, yes, there are indeed cases where the actual chemistry and make-up of the human body is indeed that of the opposite birth-sex. However, those cases are few and far between. Some, of course, are extremely happy post-surgery. And I support and endorse the decisions that have brought them to that point, even if I don’t personally feel it was a rather dangerous route. And I hope society will embrace them as the unique beings they – and all of us – are.

    That aside, my feeling has long been that, rather than encourage people to mutilate themselves surgically in imitation of the opposite-sex body-type, we should be working on making such people feel happy with how they have been born – emotionally, spiritually and physically. Not allowing them to – in many cases – devastate their identity even further with irreversible surgery.

    It’s interesting that you cite North American Indian traditions of “Two-spirit” in terms of gender, as if we go down that route surely we can also go down the “two species” route. I’m not sure that would make me too popular if I went to London zoo and asked to sit in the Lion enclosure as I feel myself to be a lion in human shape. And if I feel I am a,lion, should I be encouraged to have surgery to make my body mimic one?

    I understand that if we are politically correct, we should be seen to empathise and embrace everyone with identity issues. Yet, for me, the whole transgender issue is such a delicate and thorny one that it requires a great deal of thought and extreme caution. If we go by your argument, surely any birth-male should have been able to enter Budapest’s meeting and say, “I feel I am a woman”, not just transgender male / females.

    I don’t like Budapest as she seems pro-segregation period. But that’s another issue altogether. I also don’t like her using terms like “transies”. But do I feel that she is honestly entitled to exclude transgendered folk from her meetings? Actually, I do. If she would have allowed female to male transgender in, then yes, I do. As that is not transphobia but having a very defined idea of what she is talking about when she says “women”. And surely, like her or not, that is her right?

    Phew. It is a complex subject and, as I say, I know some of my own trasngender friends disagree with my stance. Some of them, however, don’t, which I do find interesting.

    And I do sincerely apologise if my stance seems ignorant or transphobic, it does not seek to be. And I will more than happily embrace and welcome anyone who comes to my door from the transgender community as long as they don’t come looking to kill me!

    • Hi Ron, I know you are not trying to be transphobic, you are trying to be the opposite on the basis of your understanding. I might think your understanding is faulty on some issues, mine may be aswell as I am not transgendered myself, but that is part of what I really want to say; we need to listen to transfolk to understand trans-issues better. In any case, this is my reasoning:

      I think I’d pick out three questions as key to this discussion:

      1) Do transfolk exist, or are they a figment of their own imaginations (at least more than the rest of us are)?

      2) Do transfolk have rights on the basis of that, including the right to have their actual and valid existence respected, and to not be abused, insulted and excluded for what they are?

      3) Has Z Budapest attacked and sought to undermine those rights?

      As far as I can see, the answers are as follows:

      1) Yes transfolk exist, actually exist, and not just think they exist on the basis of a delusion or misunderstanding. The key thing here is an understanding of gender as distinct from biological sex. We are by no means at the end of our understanding of gender, but even so, we understand that gender is a profound experience of being a man/boy, a woman/girl, or of “intermediate” states, and that these may or may not correspond to the biological sex of the body we are born with. In the case of transfolk there is a resported mismatch or dissonance between gender and the sex of the body. People, even children whose parents would sorely not like it to be so, commonly describe this dissonance as painful and often anguished. To watch a child who shouldn’t even be having to think about these problems struggle with an awareness way beyond their years, something they just can’t avoid, really opens your eyes to this. This I would surmise is why it is not ok to be a “woman in a man’s body”. As to why they feel themselves to be the “opposite gender”, well opposite to what?They experience themselves as a gender opposite to their body’s sex (gender queer is another issue, and not one that comes into this particular discussion). So they feel they are the “opposite” *gender* because, well, they are.

      This is not the same as how “masculine” or “feminine” a person is, and I don’t think any responsible person would try to persuade or encourage someone to physically transition just to feel more comfortable being “feminine” or “masculine”, and be able to fit in to society and social relationships. No responsible surgeon would operate on such a person, and that is I am sure just one of the issues that should be screened out during counselling.

      The argument for it not being a question of adaptation to “masculine” or “feminine” characteristics is a matter of observation (which also happens to be good science). A man can be masculine or feminine, whether trans or cis, and same goes for a woman. Same way (and I’ve met people who really don’t get this, despite it being so obvious), a man can be gay, straight or bi, whether trans or cis. It’s really odd the number of people who are non-plussed by someone born with a woman’s body transitioning to being “a man” (though they were of male *gender* already) but being a *gay* man. I think this misunderstanding underlines the issues in a sense, because people still think transfolk are physically transitioning to somehow please the world or have an easier life in terms of the world’s judgements, yet everything I hear and read from transfolk points to it being about their relationship with themselves and their own bodies, and then they still have to deal with the world, and it is not necessarily easier on *that* count, but they are able to alleviate the pain of having a body that doesn’t fit their gender, and be themselves more integrally.

      Certainly I can see how someone *could* confuse their experience of masculinity or femininity with gender, and how someone could be pressurised by persecution to seeking a resolution of external or internalised social pressures, through assuming the body of the sex that their world is telling them fits them better, but I would say such people are not really trans, are not dealing with gender, but with an oppressive and stereotypically judgmental society. That is something which should be identified during counselling surely, and if it is not, then that is a failure on the part of the medical and psychological professions. The situation of transfolk, by their own accounts, are quite different.

      Transfolk exist, and they are not imagining it, or suffering delusions, though we certainly have to change a society that negatively judges and persecutes any man or woman for having what it considers the wrong gender characteristics.

      2) Yes, like any section of humanity, transfolk have rights, including the right to have their actual and valid existence respected, and to not be abused, insulted and excluded for what they are. Those are equality and human rights issues, and they have a moral and ethical basis. More especially, as a group still commonly subject to attack, persecution and discrimination on the basis of what they simply are, they should come under hate crime protection. People still wish to eliminate or destroy transfolk, subject them to attack, rape or humiliation, and a much larger group would be happy if they just didn’t exist in the first place. A larger group than that are simply confused and will stand by and just do nothing. But the fact is they are people, they exist as a recognised section of the world population, and they have rights.

      This seems to be repeatedly obfuscated by the questioning of their actual existence, as opposed to their being say deluded and in need of treatment to put them in a category that people feel more comfortable with. I think this stems from an unconscious experience of the relatioship between gender and biological sex, because as I’ve tried to say, gender is not the same as the sex of the birth body, even where it matches. If it matches, then it fits, it looks the same to us, but it’s not the same *thing*. Those of us that have a body to match our gender just get off very lightly, because the distinction is invisible, so not judgeable. I think in many ways we avoid this distinction between gender and sex (of body) culturally and individually because we can’t countenance experiencing that loss of a privilege that looks so natural to us. I think we have a moral responsibility to address that, both in terms of helping (and not hindering) transfolk actualize the positive potential of their experience of their gender (as distinct from sex of birth), including access to surgery and hormones where that’s wanted and appropriate, and in altering the cultural component of privilege which cis-folk still keep for ourselves, and actively deny them, whether out of fear, discomfort, ignorance, or conscious condemnation.

      I completely feel that the needed thing here is to *listen* to transfolk, not to look to medical models that objecitfy them (though that is historically generally a phase we go through in our cultural understanding). That is what we had when gay folks were known as “homosexuals” and treated as aberrant and in need of “cure”. Nobody in the mainstream world understood sexual orientation until they started *listening* to the experience of sexual minorities, all that was understood was a model that said sexuality was heterosexual to be normative, and reproductive in its goal and purpose. The same goes for gender now, which we are only coming to understand as people listen to gender minorities. Otherwise we think gender is the sex of the body, period. Even medical science knows better now, which is as it should be.

      3) Yes, I’d say Z Budapest has attacked and sought to undermine trans-rights. There is no question in my mind that she has a right to exclude anyone she wants from a private meeting, or from her own cult. Not the issue. But go to a public festival and say a ritual is for all people, then put “whites only” in the small print, nah, doesn’t run. Transwomen are women, not wannabe women, not fake women, not mutilated men. You want to go down the route of rituals for people of one sort only, go ahead, it’s not so difficult to advertise that neutrally and respectfully, but Budapest can’t hide her hate, and that’s the clear problem. Put hate speech up on the internet that vilifies, attacks and denies even the *valid existence* of a section of humanity (that moreover suffers immense discrimination and prejudice on that very basis), don’t address the issue, don’t apologize, then go waltzing into town playing the freedom fighter? Sorry, her moral high horse is standing in a ditch, and she keep on digging deeper and deeper. That the Pagan community continues to excuse her is to its shame.

      PS: with reference to post-transition troubles, this is not something that goes unconsidered in the transcommunity. This page (and the comments) are maybe worth looking at in this respect.

      sincere thanks for the discussion

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