Before the recent community kerfuffle, I was talking about the Pagan blood libel and how that affects the experience of being Pagan and Wiccan today. I want to share a couple of my own experiences to try to convey just a bit of what it’s like.
My partner and I were at a social event with people I’ll call A and B. A has been a friend of LitSpouse for over a decade; B is A’s relatively recently-married spouse, whom we don’t know as well. LitSpouse, A, and B are all in the military.
In the course of other conversation, I mentioned how someone I love, C, had been having a hard time recently because she’s in the broom closet. In that situation, when others treat her as if she’s Christian – talking about her relationship with the Christian god and so on – it causes mixed feelings and a lot of frustration.
B started saying that the others meant well. I acknowledged that and said neither of us was anti-Christian. But some of the actions others have taken – including a Christian spontaneously laying hands on C and praying over her out loud in public without asking first – are simply insensitive and intrusive.
B proceeded to say that since most of the country is Christian, it’s “a reasonable assumption” for people to think that C’s Christian. I pointed out that regardless of reasonableness, it’s rude, and maybe they should ask. She might be umpteen things besides Christian, and no matter what she is, she might not want to be prayed over.
I pointed out that I don’t just tell people I’ll cast a spell on them (or start doing it in public!), and that all I’m asking for is the same level of regard in return. B kept defending this and started saying that we’d just have to “agree to disagree.”
I was frustrated. Finally I said that he simply doesn’t understand how hard it is to be part of a tiny minority religion. Nobody is threatening his religion, or treating him badly because of it, and that changes the context for things like this.
He really didn’t get that. Finally I gave him an example: a preacher on the religious right had recently said (again) that the practice of Witchcraft ought to be outlawed in the military.
B looked me right in the eye and said, “But you’re not in the military, so why should that bother you?”
I was speechless. I have done some martial arts, so I know what it feels like to hit the ground so hard your wind is knocked out of you. That’s exactly how I felt.
There he sat, in his uniform, with his spouse and my spouse in their uniforms, asking me why hate speech directed at my religion and at a fundamental freedom enshrined in the document that he swore to defend “bothers” me.
I was visibly furious. I explained that Christian conservatives want to make Wicca illegal entirely, and they think they can use the military as a leverage point to make that happen. (They’ve only been trying since the mid-1980s, after all.) Then I got very quiet so that I didn’t have a real outburst. I almost left, and if I hadn’t valued LitSpouse’s friendship with A so much, I probably would have.
B realized he’d screwed up and started to back and fill, saying something about how maybe he should have left the subject alone because I obviously have “a deeply held feeling” about this.
I snapped, “It’s not a deeply held feeling, it’s a Constitutional right.”
You could have heard a pin drop.
Spouse and A gradually worked on patching up the social situation by making conversation, and the party broke up shortly thereafter. When I walked out, I was still shaking.
I don’t make a habit of taking offense. But I really think there are some things that should make people stop and think. Defending hate speech is one of those things.
And yes, I think “Your religion should be illegal” is hate speech. My religion is part of my identity and my way of life; you can’t separate me from it. Especially when the people who want to ban my religion also perpetuate vicious, dangerous lies about me and my coreligionists and see excluding us from public life as only the first step to eradicating us entirely, saying that is another way of saying “People like you shouldn’t be allowed to exist.”
I’m lucky: I haven’t had to face too much crap in person about being Wiccan. I don’t have to deal with it in a lot of ways other people do. Maybe that made me overconfident that most people would be reasonably decent about this.
But these were my friends, people I thought I knew, who I thought I could trust. They knew I was recently ordained. Heck, they had been invited to my ordination party less than a month before this happened. In light of this, I guess I’m glad they hadn’t attended.
I thought they might at least try to exercise a modicum of imagination and empathy, or even begin to believe that they don’t fully understand how my experiences are different from theirs. I was so utterly unprepared for this. It took me by surprise and made it hurt a lot more than if it had come from someone else.
This is one of the hard realities of being Wiccan: You’re always at risk of friendly fire.