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.