A few weeks ago, I had occasion to stop by the home of my colleague and (almost) neighbor, Victoria Slind-for, and we sat for a few moments in her garden discussing our upcoming Solstice rituals. My purpose in swinging by was to pick up a box of buttons that say, "I stand with the Sisters," referring to the Vatican's recent censure of American Catholic nuns due to the nuns' stubborn persistence in providing for the greater good rather than cowering before papal decrees around reproduction, homosexuality, and the male hierarchy within the church. We waxed nostalgic over the nuns of our respective youths, individuals who we knew without a doubt to be tirelessly working for the greatest good they could see possible in this world despite little support from their church and a level of need far greater than they could resolve. Women who represented the Goddess in our lives at that time, given our circumstances. We both felt sad at the fact that we have noticed many of our pagan sisters turning up their noses or sniffing with derision as the sisters' current plight. "Well, they should just leave the church and follow the Goddess! Then they wouldn't have these problems!"
Well, yes. I cannot deny that my heart would flood with joy if American nuns went so rogue as to become Goddess women. But that is not likely to happen any time soon, because that is not what they believe in. And despite what we might think about their religion, their church and/or its history, no one can really deny that feeding the poor, educating children, and providing affordable healthcare are dearly-needed actions in our contemporary society, even- yes, even- if they come with a religious agenda and sales pitch. Discernment is up to each individual, after all. So much so, in fact, that the sisters themselves have chosen to exercise some discernment relative to the efficacy of their work- namely, challenging canonical rules that simply do not fly with their communities. The sisters do their good deeds on the terms that work for their service consumers, their neighbors, the now. They are being told they should not do that, that their good deeds are somehow wrong. And they are fighting back. I stand with them. I stand with all women in revolution at this time, regardless of their revolution, because my actual ultimate concern is that women, in our great variety, all feel empowered within ourselves for the sake of attaining the critical mass to balance the mechanism of power on this planet and coax a greater wholeness into being. We do not all have to agree with each other in order for this to happen. And once this has happened at the level of global simultaneous actualization, a great diversity of opinions, ways of being and practices will remain in place as they are now. There will still be disagreements. That's OK with me. I do not seek utopia. I only seek a full-circle balance of power and the freedom/opportunity for each individual to discern and make choices for her/himself.
We all wake up to our own battles in our own ways. Who am I to demean what might be a step in a promising evolution of empowered female presence within the Catholic church? Wouldn't it be a promising step if they won this battle? I don't necessarily need them to change everything. One step would be enough for now. Because small-scale empowerment is the gateway drug to larger empowerment. It has taken the Catholic church two thousand years to get where it is, and patriarchy has been at it for far longer than that. I am not naive enough to think it will radically change overnight. But one significant change that allows more autonomy for sisters to do their holy work would be a great next step.
Our visit is at an end and I thank Victoria for the box of buttons. In the lavender twilight of the garden, leaning on her cane with her white hair floating about her face, Victoria says to me, "We cannot pin the Goddess down to any single way of being. The Goddess is not static. She is action and change, as they are happening." I know this to be true, once again from her lips, as I have known it to be true in countless other conversations and moments of pure awareness.
Thinking about this set me to musing further about sisterhood, the nature of the Goddess, and the recent developments in the Cis-gender/Trans-gender debate in the pagan community. This debate has been a hidden stream of conflict, questions, and personal discernment in the feminist movement for more than 40 years in this country, and a much longer overall theme throughout history. It came to a blistering head in the pagan/Goddess community in the past two years. Last week, at PSG, an incredibly brave and kind transgender woman named Melissa Murry stood forth and spoke her truth about her experience being excluded from a cis-gender women-only-ritual led by Ruth Barrett. The conversation that ensued between Melissa, Ruth, and Selena Fox (host of PSG), is reported here.
I readily admit that, two years ago, I started out in this debate on the side of radical feminists who insisted that a womb makes a woman. But over several months' time, and with education, soul-searching, and discernment, I came to the inevitable conclusion that, actually, inclusion of transgender women is the most radical feminism of all, and that I stand firmly with ALL of my sisters, regardless of how we came to the sisterhood. Hello, gnosis. Nice to see you again. Thanks for coming.
At that time (March of this year), my sisterhood (the Bloodroot Honey Priestesses) and I decided to step away from the Dianic Tradition and form, in concert with our allies The Living Temple of Diana, Katie Berger-Tremaine, and Claire Medeiros, a Pan-Dianic movement designed to be a bridge between the cis-gender and trans-gender communities, inclusive of all men as well as all women, for the sake of elevating Goddess consciousness in the minds, lives, and hearts of all who love Her.
So, our Pan-Dianic elves (very fashionable elves, by the way) have been working away in our secret lair, fomenting revolution. Our crack team of cis-and trans- witches have been building a body of work that we are going to be making available, completely free of charge, in an online forum as of this coming Samhain. Our mission in this work is to provide a free website where individuals of all backgrounds may submit and publish their own, uniquely-designed altar workings, experience-specific rites of passage, general ritual outlines, spells, and other magical expressions in honor of the Great Goddess (who is whole and complete unto Herself). I am glad to say that Melissa Murry, our shero from PSG, has also been introduced to our team of ritual writers this week.
The "Goddess Without Borders," project will be located at PanDianic.org by Samhain. In planning this project it was crucial to us that we make everything on the site completely free of charge. We are well aware that many pagan men and women, both cis- and trans-, struggle to gain access to the financial resources required to attend large festivals and conferences. By posting our rites online, allowing others to share their own, and making it all free, we intend to ensure that everyone has access to these documents. There is also the matter of transparency and representation. Much trust has been lost in this period of conflict. In order to establish good faith, we are committed that no single individual or group becomes "the voice" of this movement. So much around this issue has to do with language, words, and personal expression. We feel it crucial to maintain a forum where all are completely free to bring their own voices.
Right now, we are working on building the site itself. We are using a MediaWiki format that will allow for multiple users, for individuals to build out entire bodies of work from a single account or topic, and create comprehensive cross-referencing. Oh yeah, and it has to beee beayouuuutiful, because, well, that is very important. Once Samhain approaches, we will open the site and begin to accept juried submissions to create the first wave of offerings (we'll put out a call with specific guidelines in August; we are jurying the first wave to ensure a very wide diversity of voices, rather than having any concentration of single experience at the outset). When these first entries are in place and there is enough content to form a solid foundation, we will open it up to whoever wants to participate. It is our hope to time that large-scale launch with Imbolc of 2013, a season for initiating new projects, and the anniversary of the PantheaCon where this topic erupted full force in the pagan community. We are planning to propose a variety of different rites from our lexicon to the PCon Programming Committee, and trust that they will select the one(s) (if any) they think are the best fit for their event. We hope to also turn in some proposals of our rituals to PSG for next year's event as well.
On the work of figuring out how to go forward together, when there was once animosity or fear or anger or aversion: this work is gentle work. It is patient work. It is a work of transformation within and without. It is a work of laughter and tense moments and talking it out and taking up the charge. It is the work of "we" over "me," yet where "me" is still important. It is work that demands the utmost honesty and integrity in communications. It is work that says, "Wait, back up. Try that again." It is work that says, "Huh...we really have a LOT in common." It is work that says, "Love and trust first. Assume the best first."
As I have been pursuing sisterhood, working relationships, and magical correspondences with the members of the project, I have called to mind again and again a poem that I read in my women's studies undergrad classes. It was written by Pat Parker and published in 1978 in her book Movement in Black. Then, as now, the feminist movement was undergoing a sea-change (because the Goddess is not static. She is dynamic. She is change.) regarding the treatment of women of color, lesbians, and other marginalized women. Tentative alliances were being built, and many wounds were still raw from the enactments and legacies of racism, heterosexism, ableism...wounds that we still see scarred and also freshly appearing today, even though there has been much improvement. Our vigilance about high standards of self-examination, commitment to grace and patience, and willingness to ceaselessly learn, is crucial.
Then, as now, women of privilege were waking up to the fact that many women do not share their same privileges, and that we all fall short in possessing the same privileges of men (who also have challenging hierarchies of privilege in their own ranks.) Then, as now, women of privilege decided to take up the mantle of responsibility for destabilizing a grossly inadequate structure of power within their movement, with an eye toward destabilizing the hierarchy of power overall. Then, as now, women of privilege were often surprised that their announcements of gnosis and evolution were met with some suspicion rather than open arms by those whom they had formerly persecuted. The question is, what do we do when cis-women assume that trans women have all the privilege because they were born with a phallus? When trans women assume that cis-women have all the privilege because they were born with a yoni? Where, truly, IS this privilege? Who's got the privilege? And is that even the right question to be asking?
Pat Parker's poem basically sums up the challenging points of cross-cultural alliance, sharing, learning, responsibility, legacy, and the earning of trust in this matter. I have read and re-read it, internalizing and adapting the truth of its core meaning to various situations where this wisdom is applicable. I highly recommend that my sisters, ALL of my sisters who are seeking alliances, who are in their process of discernment about how to take next steps toward collective empowerment, read this and try to connect with its core meaning: Be real. Be sensitive, and be real.
For the white person who wants to know how to be my friend
The first thing you do is to forget i'm Black.
Second, you must never forget that i'm Black.
You should be able to dig Aretha,
but don't play her every time i come over.
And if you decide to play Beethoven - don't tell me
his life story. They made us take music appreciation too.
Eat soul food if you like it, but don't expect me
to locate your restaurants
or cook it for you.
And if some Black person insults you,
mugs you, rapes your sister, rapes you,
rips your house or is just being an ass-
please, do not apologize to me
for wanting to do them bodily harm.
It makes me wonder if you're foolish.
And even if you really believe Blacks are better lovers than
whites- don't tell me. I start thinking of charging stud fees.
In other words - if you really want to be my friend - DON'T
make a labor of it. I'm lazy. Remember.