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Contemplating Issues of Gender/Sexual Identity: Selective Ritual Exclusion

February 27, 2011

So, something happened at Pantheacon that has created a great deal of discussion, online and off. I was not at the event in question. I have not spoken to people who were at the event in question. I did not attend the panel convened to discuss the reactions and aftermath caused by the event in question. My information is second or third hand at best.

A good summary of the situation is available in the second half of the post “PantheaCon and Gender Matters. . .” at Aedicula Antinoi, and supporting info from people involved in the post-event analysis panel is available in the linked Wild Hunt post under the subtitle “Addressing Dianic Exclusion of Transgendered Women”.

There was an event that was not marked in the informational materials as being women-only. Interested people were turned away at the door based on this previously unstated limit. Not only men were refused entry, but also transwomen. The event was intended for only “genetic women”, “cisgendered women” or “women-born-as-women” (pick your favorite term).

Event organizers who were later questioned about their apparently discriminatory behavior cited religious freedom as a valid justification for their actions.

I don’t have a polished statement of my personal reaction to this; I am “thinking out loud”, as it were.

I am not okay with turning people away based on criteria that were not stated in the promotional materials.

I am not okay with transpeople being told that their strongly-felt gender/sexual identity suddenly doesn’t count as legitimate because they weren’t born that way.

I honestly haven’t previously cared for my own part whether events are held where participation is limited on the basis of gender/sexual identity. I’ve done a few women-only events, and that modality didn’t work for me. I respect that it might for others. If there are male-only or queer-only or trans-only or poly-only or bi-only events that I would be barred from attending given my gender/sexuality, I’ve been okay with that idea. I still generally feel okay about it. Am I wrong? When is it not okay? Perhaps not as a public event at a conference that anyone can attend. Some groups held private events in their suites; is that okay?

Whatever other grounds may be presented, I don’t think events that are clearly marked as being for people of a specific gender/sexual identity can really be defended primarily on the grounds of religious freedom.

I’ve been wondering if the bounds of religious freedom as currently practiced and cited in the US are really justifiable. I don’t have an alternative proposal.

I would like to say that if I had been in attendance at the event and I found out that transwomen were being turned away that I would have left. I wasn’t there, so I can’t know. I have the suspicion that I very likely would not have thought to ask about that when entering myself, and that if it happened out of my immediate awareness – after I had been admitted into the room and was out of earshot – I’d never have known. I have the luxury of obliviousness because I’m not in the group being discriminated against; how much is my sympathy and support worth if I need to be prompted in it, if I’m not on the alert for discrimination all the time?

I’m disquieted by this event. Is that just “heteronormative guilt”? Do I get a voice in the discussion of these matters? Do I get a voice only when defending minority gender/sexual identity rights among other heteronormative people? Am I supposed to sit down and shut up when I’m with a group of people with alternative gender/sexual identities because I don’t really get it, because I don’t have a stake in these issues, because I’m (at least) of a subgroup of the oppressors? Even if not asked to do so, should I hold my tongue out of mindfulness and respect?

ETA: Excellent post and comment thread on this at Anya Kless’ blog, under “In Response to the Lilith Rite at Pantheacon”. Since initially linking it here the discussion has become very impassioned on both sides, just to give fair warning. . .

7 Comments leave one →
  1. February 28, 2011 10:14 PM

    I’m glad to hear your voice on this. I’m thinking that this would have been okay in a private suite or hotel room (then they could’ve invited just who they wanted) at the Con but at a public event it is just a whole different case.

    • February 28, 2011 11:07 PM

      I’m not sure that there was a good solution possible in the moment. Obviously choosing to exclude transwomen based on an unpublished but assumed-by-the-organizers attendee profile (probably assumed by some portion of the attendees) was an unpopular decision. That Bay Area Dianic events may have this unwritten understanding doesn’t justify it; while Pantheacon *is* in the Bay Area, it’s the biggest event of its kind in the US, and organizers have to expect folks from all over could be interested and show up, and plan and prepare for that.

      Would it have been fair in the moment for the doorkeepers to have said, “Um, we meant women-born-as-women only, but we didn’t say so, and we understand you’re interested; please come in”? Not fair for any interested men, that’s for sure, and not fair for any of the attendees who came with the expectation there would only be genetic women. As many have pointed out, a desire for safe ritual space is entirely reasonable, and boundaries have to be drawn on what safe means.

      IMO, the best recovery would have been the doorkeepers asking the transwomen to hold on a moment, then going into the ritual space, saying that they hadn’t foreseen the possibility of transwomen wanting to attend, but given the openness of the event description they could not in fairness be turned away. That would allow genetic women who would not be okay with their inclusion to make an informed decision and excuse themselves if they felt it necessary. (Doesn’t help the men in this case. . . but then, I’m not hearing any piping up that they feel marginalized too, so let’s address the population that feels most injured here).

      Of course, we’re not unbiased commentators. We’re both coming at this not from a Dianic spiritual perspective, but as Northern European reconstructionists. Hospitality trumps gender consideration, no question. Finding you’ve offered more hospitality than you thought means you follow through on the more generous option, no question. The question wasn’t posed to us, however, and expecting another spiritual tradition to support our POV in their affairs is in its own way unfair.

      Private events held in the hotel during the span of time that coincides with Pantheacon are a legitimate option. They happen a fair amount, and I’ve been involved in some, and it worked well. I really don’t have an issue with limited-audience events also being held as public offerings at Pantheacon, but IMO it must be made very clear what the limits are beforehand, or else the limits do not effectively exist.

      I agree with the assessment that this situation was caused not by ill intent but by faulty communications. The silver lining is that it’s being openly discussed now rather than being an invisible assumption, and such communication faults as caused it may be corrected for in future years. I just hope that the silver lining ultimately provides compensation enough for the hurt feelings and anger and hostility the conversation is provoking in some quarters.

      • March 1, 2011 3:03 AM

        That recovery method would still be painful but a vast improvement on the total train wreck that occurred. We are not Dianics but I think as this was at a public convention it affects u all, and that it cuts particularly close to the Ekklesia. Interesting thoughts about hospitality cultures.

        The person who said something about this being known (and implying acceptance) in the Bay Area probably is not actually from here. At any rate in San Francisco, this excluding of a subset of women probably wold result in a protest.

  2. Raven permalink
    March 1, 2011 4:12 AM

    I think it’s fair to have a voice, but to keep in mind that one shouldn’t use it to silence or deny the experiences of those more directly affected than one’s self. So, I certainly don’t expect straight people to shut up in discussions about discrimination based on sexual orientation, but I do think that they shouldn’t be dismissive of queer people’s experiences of the same because they usually don’t have the relevant life experiences. I go back and forth on where I sit on these, whether I’m on the side of the privileged or not. When I am, I think much of being a good ally is listening to people hit hardest, and supporting them in general forums or taking on the 101 work of helping to educate other privileged people. When I’m not, I appreciate the people who help me and have my back. I learn a lot by shutting up and listening, but so much of it seems to be managing the people who aren’t fair-minded enough to try to give the most relevant-experience people room to speak.

  3. Rowan permalink
    March 2, 2011 6:48 PM

    I would like to post for your consideration, CAYA’s apology and statement about what happened:
    CAYA Coven encourages respectful dialogue on gender and ritual. Please read our views here:
    Thank you.

    • March 2, 2011 8:49 PM

      Hi, Rowan.

      Thank you for taking the time to come to my blog and pass that information along; I know there are many places on the internet where this subject has been under discussion, and that mine is likely one of the more obscure.

      I read the apology and statement as linked on The Wild Hunt earlier today, and just read it again from your link. It strikes me as both sincere and well-crafted. While I wish it might have been released earlier – the delay seemed to make more space for the discussion to become quite heated – I understand that to genuinely engage in constructing a comprehensive statement from such a diverse organization takes time.

      I feel that my concern regarding the the difference between the hospitality apparently offered and the limits on it that occurred without notice during the admission to the event has been addressed. CAYA’s actions to acknowledge the issues raised by the situation and give them the attention and consideration they merit has seemed to me respectful, thorough and appropriate. I find it personally reassuring to learn that the Grove of Artemis, as another branch of CAYA, is inclusive of both ciswomen and transwomen. As a ciswoman myself, however, I would defer to my transwomen sisters on the question of whether the apology and statement of good faith intentions for the future is sufficient. I imagine that there will not be a basis for a firm judgment on that point for at least a few more years.


  1. …And More PantheaCon Aftermaths… « Aedicula Antinoi: A Small Shrine of Antinous

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