A very necessary conversation is starting to take place in Pagan and Wiccan communities because of an unfortunate incident of exclusion and prejudice at the most recent Pantheacon: trans women were excluded from a ritual for women. The Wild Hunt is covering the story and the resultant discussion. I’d just like to point out that this is why I wrote that gender essentialism has no place in Wicca.
Worst of all, for a religion that tells the myth of creation through the act of divine love and sexuality between God and Goddess, to say that each gender has only one kind of sexuality which is the same for everyone is to deny the beauty and wonder of what brought creation into being and breathes life into it at every moment. The relationship of God and Goddess is complex, ever-changing yet always present, and is worked out in myriad roles and situations. Claiming to have the whole truth of that mystery, and expecting others to adhere to your narrowness, is a kind of denial that verges on deliberate spiritual blindness.
As this incident demonstrates, that narrowness and the claim that you get to define other people’s identities is also painful, harmful to them, and wrong on every level from secular to sacred.
Possibly the worst comment of all was made by someone claiming to be Dianic Wiccan elder Z. Budapest, including the following: “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.”(sic)
CAYA coven has issued an apology and clarification; it seems that the specific sub-group of CAYA that held the ritual was focusing on menstrual mysteries. At least one leader of CAYA and the clergy leading the ritual has expressed that she was willing to include trans women, and that her major failing was not communicating clearly with Pantheacon organizers and attendees about the proposed limits on participation. From their statement, it seems that the sub-group is specifically focused on women’s mysteries centering on menstruation. The implication is that they want to create a safe space shared by people who menstruate (or will in the future, or have in the past?). But even this is not as simple as it seems, or as the essentialist screed above makes it sound.
What about women who have had hysterectomies? What about women who don’t menstruate, because they’re athletes, or are on continuous birth control that suppresses their periods, or have other medical reasons? What about women like me, who have had tubal ligations, and who know that their monthly blood will never be linked to birthing a child?
I understand wanting to have safe spaces. I study with a women’s spirituality group, and I have benefited tremendously from having safe spaces to explore my sex, gender, and sexuality. But it is all too easy for the claim to safe space to become a cover for unexamined assumptions. Suppose there was a women’s ritual about motherhood; because I am cisgendered, I doubt anyone would think to exclude me. But as I’ve said, I’ve never given birth, and I never will. I can and do approach the mystery of motherhood through metaphors that are valid within my own life and spirituality, but I’m not physically going to have that experience. Saying that it was technically possible for me is mincing words and drawing a fine line about medical conditions, and part of the experience of being disabled is the sure knowledge that medical conditions and my body can inform but don’t define my identity.
If a group wants to have a safe space, they need to be explicit about what it is they’re being safe from. Doing the hard work of examining what it is that is scary, difficult, and oppressive is how you figure out what it is you need to exclude, and as a result, how inclusive you can be. Saying that a ritual is for women is using an identity word, and the claim to self-defined identity, especially gender identity, is one of the hidden things wrapped up in that, and you have to be willing to unpack it to even begin to claim that you have a right to define and defend your safe space.