Finding Our Space (Trans Women and Pagan Culture)

rainbow female symbol

(***Edit/Update*** MY conflict regarding ADF’s Chenille Canopy below has been resolved; it’s not only trans inclusive but trans welcoming.  All women are encouraged to join.  More detail on that in my Wellspring 2015 post.)

The reason that I’ve been absent for weeks has mainly revolved around my need to post this and the endless revisions I’ve put it through.  I’ve finally put my foot down and told my Virgo self “Good enough!” (something that I have to do all too often).

The first time I was accepted into women’s space it was in 2002, for a study group on women’s spirituality.  This was long before I came out as transgender.  This is long before anyone had anything other I than an inkling.  Yet, without me asking first I was approached by friends who were starting the group and asked to join.

What could I say?  I was still terrified of being “out” and being myself.  They only had vague reasons as to why they invited me.  “You have a feminine spirit.”  “I think that you could contribute a lot of important things.”  We had a ceremony where we each received a necklace of red beads – mine was the darkest, the color of older, drying blood.  “You have the knowledge and the experience.”  I was told.  “You’re our Crone.”

Without ever identifying myself, other spiritual-type people picked me out and came to me, knowing who was looking out from behind my eyes.  No tests or justifications were needed.  The warm spirit of sisterhood that filled that relatively short-lived group will stay with me always.  There were no divisions made based on the shape of people’s genitals.  We were all women seeking the feminine divine in our lives, our histories, and our identities.

Spirit has always pushed me forward in being true to myself.  My Matron allowed me to take my time, her only encouragements gentle and heavily laden with awareness of consent.  Frejya, on the other hand, was far more direct.  In a meditative rite to greet her as a Goddess, I saw myself as I truly am, and she was seriously no-nonesense about it.  “Yes, you’re a woman.  What did you think?”  She encouraged me to stop pretending, and taught me a way to give my heart and feelings and desires fire and strength that they had not had before.

So why is it that I feel uncomfortable in so many women’s spaces nowadays?  You might imagine that given my history I would want to embrace every women’s space that will have me (given that trans women aren’t always welcome).  It’s pretty simple: I need to justify my presence there nowadays.

When I was invited to the women’s spirituality study group, there was no question from anyone of whether or not I deserved to be there.  Now, even if the official rules of an organization and the majority of their members approve of me (or even better consider it a non-issue) there will be people there who feel that I don’t belong.  The sideways glares and stares, the whispers… all of these things that I have to put up with in public (on a bad day) in my day-to-day life … I go to special spaces to escape that sort of thing!

The reason that this is coming to a head now is that I’ve been invited to attend the Chenille Canopy event at Wellspring (one of ADF’s big festivals).  The Chenille Canopy started as an ADF women’s retreat and has since evolved into a sub-organization, open to all who identify as women.  I don’t know how I feel about it – I don’t want to venture into another women’s space and have to justify myself all over again.

Due in part to response to a very real need for women to learn to embrace their identities and their bodies and have their own space and power, Pagan culture has become very binary.  The sexual polarity embraced by Wicca and many non-Wiccan Pagan offshoots is responsible for still more of it.  Both things are signs of where we’ve come from and as such should be honored, but the social binary that they reinforce creates difficult situations for people like me.  Folks who are very much into polarity often feel the need to impose their own definitions of a person’s gender onto someone who knows better about themselves, often for reasons as (and yes, I’m woo-ier than many but still) vague as how a person’s energy feels to them.  Space for women to feel empowered based on their identity that discriminates against women like me isn’t space that’s truly inclusive.  I have body shame issues from coping with gender dysphoria as well as a dozen other factors, and I also need space where I can overcome them and start healing under sacred aegis and with community.  Between those two factors and the background radiation of patriarchal values and bone-deep misogyny that everyone in our society needs to contend with, I find myself feeling less and less welcome in spaces that accept me.

I don’t expect there to be any consensus on this.  Trans people are as varied as cisgender people.  Whatever it is that makes people trans does not seem to cluster too much around any particular set of characteristics that I can determine.  We’ll have different needs and different opinions and different levels of comfort when it comes to direct confrontation of authority.  I do want people to think about it, though, because we’re still Pagan and not going away any time soon.  As more and more people feel safe coming out and being themselves, more and more communities and spaces are going to need to find ways to integrate us respectfully.

I don’t know where to go with this, but it’s important.   I will follow up with more thoughts and potential solutions later; I needed to get this post done so that I could get it out of my head and move on to other things.  Please share this with anyone who you might think might be interested in the discussion – there are a lot of us trans pagans out there, so boosting signal strength would be helpful.

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14 thoughts on “Finding Our Space (Trans Women and Pagan Culture)

  1. I loved reading your post though i must admit that i am jealous of you. The reason that i am jealous is that for me to be invited in to a woman’s spiritual group is like a dream come true from for me……………will never happen but i wish that it would.

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      • This reminded me of when I did try that once. I’ve waited a long time for things to change. I can’t tell where I’m tolerated and where I’m celebrated yet, but I’m glad I found this article right now. I tried to co-lead such a circle, in 2000. It wasn’t just like herding kittens, it was like trying to teach kittens to waltz. Only you don’t have enough kittens, and they don’t want to learn to waltz, most of them.

        So I left the Pagan community behind, abandoned my transition, tried to focus on healing. I came out last Summer again, started estrogen again in June, my wife calls it my birthday. For me it felt like taking my finger out of a light socket it had been in for years, like last time.

        I’m trying now to come out as a Goddess-centered pagan, again. It’s unfinished business. But if you form your own Trad because none of the regular Dianics will speak to you, it’s sort of like having to invite yourself to your own party. You might as well be the only one there.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I was a Goddess centered pagan for a long time. I am still after a fashioned but I take a more polytheist approach to it and worship Goddesses and collectives of Goddesses (like the Matronae).

        There are a lot of trans inclusive Goddess groups out there; finding them is hard. I really strongly recommend you reach out to Lasara Firefox Allen regarding her “Jailbreaking the Goddess” work. She presents Goddess spirituality in a way that is not tied at all to reproductive cycles. Also Yvonne Aburrow, a blogger formerly on Patheos and who is still writing on the net, is a heavy proponent of Inclusive Wicca and works hard to fight cissexism in her adjacent trads.

        I’m glad to see this being read and responded to still!

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  2. . I was sent this article by a cis women from a pagan circle I attempt to participate in . First I loved the sentiment and perspective . I have been accepted in some circles more and others less . Luckily there was another trans person in one pagan group to help with the growth of the group .Others I have had to go it on my own . I have been in other pagan spaces where there has been some binary issues and that was difficult to deal with . It seemed to me that along with that idea came other ideas of what made one person a male or female …….And the lines were drawn …ack ….Over all I have been more welcomed then not and those times have been very near and dear to my heart . Those times when they are not are difficult to deal with seeing as they strike at the heart of loving acceptance .Well thanks again for the blog and Blessed be.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I know I am coming to this late, but keep being awesome! There are many days I am too weary to fight; luckily, I have my own groups now, and no one will be excluding or looking askance at anyone about their gender identities or imposing and enforcing any binaries on my watch…but my group is tiny, and doesn’t meet often, so having to negotiate these matters in other people’s spaces is an ongoing necessity. I hope you continue to do so with the grace and good spirits that you’ve exemplified here! 🙂

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    • Thank you! (And don’t worry about coming in late – I lurk on other people’s old blog posts all the time.)

      I actually had trouble setting up my own groups in the last place that I lived – my being trans kind of overshadowed my knowledge and skill for most of the people that came. It got frustrating for a while, but I’m in a better place.

      Part of me wants to make gender variant specific groups in response to the whole “You people have your own mysteries.” thing, but I’d rather just create inclusive groups to show people that it can be done.

      Thank you again! ❤

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      • If it’s not one thing, it’s another…all that I said above, nearly two years ago, no longer applies…and for apparently different reasons (i.e. vast theological differences…but I’m not certain that’s all which was involved)…

        The comment above about “teaching cats to waltz that don’t want to” is a very apt description, sadly.

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      • I mean, I happen to have just started Jailbreaking the Goddess. I’ll try getting in touch with the author, and with the other woman you mentioned. I’ll feel up to trying again at some point. There’s a Network for the Realization of the Goddess circle here in NYC that is inclusive. We went last month. That may be all I ever find.

        This is exhausting. It’s not supposed to be, is it? Rhetorical question. Thank you for your help.

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  4. The first trans-inclusive women’s rite I found was in ADF, at the Wellspring annual gathering, it was good. Not being so binary gendered as Wicca certainly helps.

    The first time I had a chance to go to a women’s rite was at a Wiccan fest. The question of whether a trans woman was welcome led to a half-hour discussion among the cis women, only to result in the verdict of “no trans allowed”… because ONE such woman was uncomfortable with it. You can imagine being left alone on the porch — awaiting your judgement, only to be rejected — was quite excruciating and traumatic.

    The whole dualism of Wicca left a bad taste in my mouth, and though I’m no longer in ADF, it was a very valuable time for me with wonderful people.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Why I Am Not An Heathen 2: What Can You Do? | Pagan Church Lady

  6. I think it’s awesome that you were invited to a group. I’ve never had that opportunity 🙂

    If you ever meet me at an event (I’m also ADF), I would really appreciate if you could say hi. I’ve enjoyed your blog and would love to get to know you.

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us all.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re welcome!

      I’d love to meet you! I’m always glad to get to know new people. Are you going to Wellspring? I’ll be there tomorrow.

      I’m glad that you’re enjoying my blog. Thank you!

      Like

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