You may have heard by now about the continuing, repeating controversy about PantheaCon and rituals excluding transwomen, or more specifically the one led by Z Budapest this year.
I wrote about this subject a year ago, and if you followed the subject then (involving PantheaCon again) you’ll know that it was about a lot more than rituals designed for people with specific bodies. I’m not going to requote the hurtful, insulting, deeply wounding and ideologically driven outburst of Z Budapest, which she posted in response to criticism of women being turned away at the door because they were trans. You can find it quoted on various blogs, and it was, as T Thorn Coyle described it, hate speech, an aggressive and devaluing attack against an entire group of people for what they simply are.
I can’t say that I had high expectations of Budapest, but I now realize that something in me could not quite believe that a year later she would not have retracted, acknowledged or apologized for her public attack on transwomen. Either that, or organizers of events would take on board that we really do have a moral problem here. Instead she apparently returned to PantheaCon and held a ritual for “all women present”, with the appended proviso “genetic women only”. And when you figure in that this was a return to the scene of the first controversy, and that there had been no apology for her written attack on transwomen, that’s pretty much like those charming signs they used to hang in pub windows: “no blacks, no Irish”. Inevitably it would look like: “I can do this, and I don’t even have to explain my previous behaviour”.
Inevitably people would ask: why did PantheaCon let her do this? And while running such an enormous and dynamic festival is a challenge which I’m sure the organizers do incredibly and with amazing hard work, it’s a question they will have to answer. Doing the work of making things happen is never a thankful task, and I think people should hear their story, but the talk is going to have to come and the question is serious. The talk can’t wait another year.
In addition to the questions, anger and scrutiny raised by this, I’ve heard a lot of excusing, wavering, and holding back, a lot of defending Budapest for her “right to express her beliefs”, her “freedom of religion”, the right to exclusive space etc. There were a number who felt the need to “hold neutral space” between Budapest’s ritual and those sitting in silent meditation (not even “protest”) outside, the latter led by T Thorn Coyle. I can’t help feeling that this “holding of space” was misguided. Surely it is injustice that needs healing, not the recognition of it? Inevitably these “holding neutral space” actions would look like attempts at protecting Budapest from the silent meditators, which just appears perverse and bizarre. This also seems confirmed by this account, whatever the intentions or perceptions of the “holders”.
As for the suggested defenses and justifications of Z Budapest holding her ritual in the way she did, where she did, these really miss the point, and buy into the justifications which Budapest blew pretty definitively with her all too revealing outburst last year. This wasn’t about separate space, the sanctity and autonomy of a tradition, or religious freedom. That last one particularly makes me cringe, like where have I heard religious freedom used as a justification for denying equality before? Too often is the answer. I fear there is just a little muddled thinking and moral cowardice in some of the appeals for peace and healing at the expense of the disempowered and wronged. We need to stand up for transfolk, not attempt to explain how someone with a lot of clout might have their own perspective when they act out their prejudice.
I have never been to PantheaCon and am unlikely to go anytime soon, as I am about 5,000 miles away, but these events and issues hit deeper and further than geographical location. I feel a sense of heaviness and sadness from the human failure that has been put in focus by events at PantheaCon two years running, and by Z Budapest’s abusiveness. But the fact that this has raised awareness, and produced shock and response from the international Pagan community also bears hope with it.
I know some people would find this statement melodramatic, but I feel that these events signal the end of an era, one which has dragged on too long. Equally something new has made its presence felt.
These events and personalities will pass, but dreams with a fresher sense of freedom and justice and equality have proven themselves alive.
Rosa Parks isn’t moving from the front of the bus.
[addition 26th February 2012: an open letter to PantheaCon by Jonathan Korman, which you can sign in endorsement if you agree, can be found here]
A free e-book that may be of interest: Gender and Transgender in Modern Paganism