23 February 2012

Commentary on my open letter to PantheaCon

I have reserved this page for comments on my long open letter to PantheaCon so that the comment thread there can be a place for people to co-sign the letter if they wish. I invite comment here, and if commentators have posts elsewhere — in praise, comment, or criticism — they can email me and I will linkback to their comments on this page.

Twitter references to the letter.

Included on a link roundup on The Wild Hunt

Linked from Cheryl's Mewsings

Tony Mierzwicki at The Emerald Tablet links the letter in his long post about the events, PantheaCon 2012 part 2 of 2: Healing our Community

Yeshe Rabbit links the letter in a comment on her own blog post Reaction, response, and resolution: on PantheaCon & protests.

Lucy at Fifteen Minutes to Fame has a long post The Power of Cis-Only Rituals? which uses the letter as a jumping-off point for a critique of assumptions underlying exclusive cis rituals:

So, when cis women talk about the power and importance of cis women-only spaces, I tend to be very suspicious because excluding trans people doesn’t actually do what they think it does .... what it does is reinforce cultural transphobia and cissexism because the cis women can see the power of their experiences while claiming that excluding trans women let them have it .... They experience confirmation bias when they have cis-only rituals because they know that only cis people are there .... This leads them to declare that they require cis-only spaces even as they have no idea if this is actually true.

The Bad Witch refers to the letter as “a not rhetorically uncharged eye-witness report” in the post D is for Dianic, Diversity, Discrimination, and DNA

Morag Spinner kindly refers to the letter as “one of the best links” in the post Discrimination.

I received this comment by email:

Pantheacon is never going to be “all events are open to all members.” Never. There will be, at the very least, age-restricted rituals (much of which I think is ridiculous; why have a PG-13 ritual limited to 21 and over only?), and there will almost certainly be number restrictions (“only 15 people at the build-your-mask workshop because that's all I have supplies for”).

There are many other types of restrictions. Aside from the men-only/women-only rituals, there are “must wear white” rituals, and “must be able to dance” rituals, and so on. I don't think anyone wants to insist on an end to those.

I believe Miniver's right: P'con needs a *policy* for restrictions, not an end to them. It needs to clarify what kinds of restrictions are allowed, and how identity with the restricted group can be challenged, and whether a presenter needs to provide an explanation/justification for the restriction.

In this particular case, the problem wasn't a cis-women-only ritual that wasn't reasonably labeled; it's that the ritual claimed to honor “all feminine beauty,” and then insisted that some women are not feminine enough to attend. The problem wasn't the restriction per se, but the “all” part of the description.


PantheaCon has published a policy on exclusive events.

PantheaCon will adhere to state and federal laws which require age limitations and non-discrimination on the basis of age, race, national origin or gender. We also affirm the importance of safe space and will continue to schedule presentations that limit attendance to specific groups of individuals. All workshops or rituals that say “Women Only” or “Men Only” will be open to all who self-identify as such.

PantheaCon cannot police all boundaries. One thing has become evident, simply seeking to make restrictions on gender unambiguous is not sufficient. Prospective presenters applying to make group-specific presentations should be clear in their language about limitations and observe these guidelines. Private rooms, including Hospitality Suites, at the DoubleTree are not subject to this policy. In the past, groups have held invitation-only events and skyclad rituals in private rooms, and PantheaCon will not interfere in these private arrangements.

PantheaCon aims to provide a safe environment for all of its attendees to enjoy their diverse paths. As we evolve, this policy may be subject to some nuanced changes in the future. We welcome any and all comments on this policy.


Jen said...

I have to say as a "cis" woman who lives in the SF Bay area. A week ago was the first time I have ever heard of this language and use. So you can't blame them for not knowing. I think of myself a bit more worldly than most and I just learned of it. Now that you have educated Pantheacon and others about it, yes they should use it.

As a woman, I understand the want and thought of "need" of a cis woman event and ritual. I agree we need more rituals that include transgender folks which ever way they identify. But this event shouldn't be removed completely.

Z has a reputation in my circles of being a bit of a man hater. If people don't want to support her views whatever they are, they shouldn't go to the ritual. I know I wouldn't attend her rituals only because her vibe doesn't work with mine. I would attend a cis woman only ritual perhaps run by someone else.

I didn't have the good fortune this year to attend PantheaCon. I didn't see the protest or even hear of it from those that did go. I am sad people had their feelings hurt. I don't believe forcing or strong arming someone to apologize is going to work. Let their rituals peter out on their own. Karma has a way of setting things right. Just not always according to our time frame.

J'Carlin said...

As one with no dog in this fight, but one who has been in many similar dogfights, I must commend you on a reasonable response, suggesting all the right things without the inflammatory rhetoric usually associated with these discussions.

Jonathan Korman said...

Jen, it's entirely fair that you would not have heard of the term "cis". But Budapest and the PantheaCon organization are leaders, directly concerned with this question. They have a responsibility to have done the homework necessary to have known about this language.

I believe an apology is necessary because PantheaCon needs to clearly signal to trans women that they are welcome in our community.

Shawn M. said...

I don't post to discussions very often, and I'm sticking my toe in here with significant trepidation. But I have to ask a question (or raise an issue) I haven't seen raised yet.

In your blog post you said:

"But in at least one way trans people have spoken unambiguously: if you want to demonstrate respect toward trans people, when you describe people as not-trans, you refer to them as “cis”. Cis men. Cis women. Cis people."

Many people posting on this controversy clearly find nothing wrong with that statement. But.

I absolutely agree that members of oppressed groups (or any group, really) have the right to say "this is what we want you to call us if you want to show us respect."

But I don't understand how one group can say to another group "this is what we want you to call *yourselves* if you want to show us respect."

No analogy is perfect, but the one that comes to mind is African-Americans. How African-Americans prefer to label themselves as a group has changed over the years, but the onus is appropriately on Caucasians and others to avoid the use of outdated or offensive terms for blacks. In much the same way, if I want to show respect to trans-women I will refer to them as such.

But saying that, as a condition of respect or good faith, a non-transgendered woman must refer to herself as a cis-woman seems akin to African-Americans insisting that a Caucasian refer to herself as a non-black.

I believe it is entirely possible to respect trans-gendered people while declining to embrace the cis-gender/woman/man terminology. I may be wrong, and if I am would welcome an explanation of why I'm wrong.

Oriana said...

@Shawn I think the basis of the desire to have the CIS description used is because trans women feel that they ARE women. So when a program says that a ritual is closed to only women this would imply that a trans woman is included. What other word would you use that might not be perceived as an insult? It pleases me that my sisters have found a way to describe me in a way that does not insult me in any way - I am a cis woman and when I was born I related to the genitals I had and felt comfortable with them.

To be more clear in our wording seems to me to be a small step toward making our trans sisters feel welcome. Is it that difficult write a description that uses a term that our sisters have come up with that helps them wade through complexities they may find at large events such as PantheaCon - and perhaps in the community at large?

I hope for the day when such distinctions are no longer necessary...but we still live in a world that describes men/women by the color of their skin. We have a lot of growing yet to do.

Jonathan Korman said...

Thanks for raising that, Shawn. I confess that it gave me pause, too.

The situation is a little unique, because it's characteristic of the particular ways in which trans people have been marginalized that there isn't a natural, obvious, neutral term for not-trans. If someone says they're a woman, we commonly just assume they are a not-trans woman.

Many of the terms commonly proposed by not-trans people for naming “not-trans” carry ideas implicitly within them that either don't bear examination closely, or are transphobic, or both. In my letter I linked Charlie Glickman talking about these problems in the context of this situation, though you could easily have missed the link. I strongly recommend checking it out; Charlie does a better job of exploring this question than I can.

Historically, the trans community eventually got tired of waiting around for not-trans people to come up with a term that wasn't offensive, and came up with one of their own. It's admittedly a little awkward, though its roots have a certain etymologically nerdy cleverness, if you're into that sort of thing. And once you get used to it, I promise that it starts to feel more natural.

If you really cannot abide “cis”, then I have a simple solution. Simple, but not easy, that is. Come up with a better term and persuade the trans community that it respect them.

Until then, it costs very little to say, and is a big signal of respect to trans people when you do. And respect is the point.

Anonymous said...

"Dividing the Ummah"

Well Jonathan, seeing as it would nearly break tradition were I not to quibble with you...

a) What constitutes an "acceptable" apology, and by whos metric? Z already seems to think she HAS apologized. Pcon seems to find her general attitude toward Trans folk, (and for that matter men) acceptable (at least enough to allow her to present there); so when she offers another one of her non-apologies, and they accept it, then what?
b) You would have my support calling for an outright end to segregated rituals. I think the time for that has come. It is well, good and valuable for people to have them, but not in public events. It is no harder on the staff of con to enforce non-segregation policy than segregation policy. In fact, I think the former would be much easier. Just don't allow it in the programming.

Let them have their segregation rituals in their own room, or better at another venue. Z, or whoever, ought to be creative enough to create content that is consumable by all in just the same way that the Feri trad seems capable (ok, largely) of having public gatherings without revealing exclusive mysteries (or the myriad other mystery trads for that matter) .

3) In Islam, there is one great sin; dividing the Ummah. The Ummah is "greater Islam" it is the social construct that is all of Muslims. Creating strife between Sunni and Shia is an example of dividing the Ummah. Personally I don't think that Z's real crime is that she failed to use correct terminology. I certainly have a hard time keeping up myself, and honestly, I think that people that insist on shifting their terms every 5 years ought to expect people to not keep up with their "inside baseball".

Z's real crime is "dividing the Ummah"; taking her incendiary rhetoric to a place of community unity and using her own personal agenda to incite conflict, in a venue that is intended to encourage "togetherness" and unity.

That is what she should apologize for, more than omitting the latest in PC vocabulary. Its also what the P-con staff should make policy.

In public venues, there should be no "dividing the Ummah".

Lastly, I think you are right (gasp!) the people that truly owe the trans community an apology for this one are not Z. Z is Z. The people that need to apologize for the slight most are the Pcon folks who allowed this obviously divisive content into the programming.

All nit-pics aside, thats an admirable undertaking you've endeavored towards. I too find the whole thing completely unacceptable.
-S. Moore

Calla said...

In covering this story (or assisting in covering this story) I have noted two things that I disagree with your blog post about:

1. There are people calling for either a ban specifically on cisgender rituals and/or on rituals that discriminate for any reason at all. That all rituals and workshops at Conferences and Festivals should be all-inclusive or they should not be allowed. I can link to many, many comments that state this specific POV.
(David Salisbury, in his original call to Boycott PCon - which he has evolved his opinion on - articulated this as did Mrs. B. I can link to many comments with this sentiment, but reading the comments section of most posts will give you a list)

2. The term Cis is not in common usage. That is one of the top questions on blog posts covering this issue. We can say that someone should know this term because they are a leader, but that's expecting our leaders to know everything. That's an unrealistic expectation. Even in the transgender community, as I've been told by transgender women in social media conversations, the use of the word cis is not uniformly accepted. They reject both trans and cis as false terms of separation.

Cara Schulz

Anonymous said...

And I would add;

You're absolutely right, this needs to be addressed. I find it rather disappointing, and feel it reflects rather poorly on our tradition(s) that once again, Pantheacon ends with everything taking a back seat to the community having another Row that leaves us "navel gazing" only about a foot lower.

Rhett Aultman said...


In response to your comment of:

"We can say that someone should know this term because they are a leader, but that's expecting our leaders to know everything. That's an unrealistic expectation. Even in the transgender community, as I've been told by transgender women in social media conversations, the use of the word cis is not uniformly accepted. They reject both trans and cis as false terms of separation."

I wish to respond:

I think it's perfectly fine for a leader to not know something. What I think is at issue is that, after the events of last year, failure to look into better terminology is viewed as a willful lack of progress. It takes very little effort to say "Whoa...we screwed up on this, and we'll not do that any longer."

It's true that the "cis-" and "trans-" prefixes aren't completely, unanimously accepted, but they are certainly a going terminology. Within sexual minority circles, there are always groups that reject dominant terminology, either seeking it to replace it with terminology they see as superior or seeking to replace it with nothing. There are many people generally called "bisexual" who resist the term and prefer "pansexual," but this doesn't mean that the term "bisexual" is suddenly invalid. Pansexuals may grit their teeth, but they generally still understand that the term "LGBT," which describes a community containing them, is a useful thing in public discourse.

Even as there are some struggles over the "cis/trans" prefix, opting to adopt the terminology does represent a strong practical step in the right direction.

Jonathan Korman said...

Cara, I am aware that many people advocate an end to exclusive rituals at PantheaCon, and in general. But not everyone, probably not even most people, who had serious concerns with the Z Budapest ritual on Sunday subscribes to that point of view. I was looking to disentangle the one issue from the other.

Jonathan Korman said...

Mr Moore, your provocations are a pleasure as usual.

Apologies can be a tricky business, but the three basic elements are pretty clear: one expresses an understanding of one's error, admits one's own wrongdoing, and expresses contrition. The trickiness comes when a skeptic calls the apologizer's understanding incorrect and their contrition insufficiently sincere. I'm inclined to set the bar pretty low in this case — the point is really to show the community standing up for its trans members. So far, Budapest has offered not even one of these elements in her “apology”.

I don't think it's clear whether the PantheaCon organization is or is not satisfied with Budapest's attitude. I think we will be finding out soon, though. If they accept a weak apology, then I expect there will be more criticism.

Joseph Max said...

It may be that ending exclusionary public rituals is the simplest and most effective solution. It isn't perfect, but there is no perfect solution that will make all sides happy.

Here's the example that illustrates the situation: if a Norse traditionalist group wanted to hold a blot to Thor and bill it as "whites only", would the convention allow it? If not, explain why not, and explain why the restriction placed by Budapest on her ritual is any different.

The whole idea of an event like Pantheacon is for the greater magical/pagan community to gather in one place and learn about each other, for the exchange leads to comfort with each other and respect for our various paths. So all events should be created with this attitude in mind. It is a showcase for the community, not an extension of your own group's sacred and "hermetically sealed" ritual space.

Of course there is a "need" for such ritual works. But here's an angle that bothers me. As a convention goer, my registration fees pay the "rent" for all the spaces used for presentations. If I am excluded from any of them, I am paying to support an event that I cannot partake of. Of course there are an abundance of other events available, and my fractional contribution is small, but that doesn't negate the point. On this "philosophical" basis I conclude that exclusionary presentations in the public spaces of Pantheacon are inappropriate and unfair.

However, if a group feels strongly enough about providing for what they perceive as a genuine need during Pantheacon, they can acquire a suite (several people can share sleeping in a suite, so it isn't any more expensive for a group than a few regular rooms) and hold their intimate, exclusive rituals there, in perfect privacy with every right and privilege to exclude anyone they wish, because they are paying for the space.

All suite organizers are asked to submit a description to be included in the official program. A note that there will be some times set aside for exclusive meetings and events will ensure that convention goers will know about it, and no one has any just cause to complain - the group is paying for the space and can do with it as they will.

I think this could be a workable compromise that will go as far as possible to satisfy as many as possible.

Kate LBT said...

I don't necessarily agree with the idea that the solution is to never hold official rituals at P-Con again that don't include 100% of the community - that seems a combination of throwing out the baby with the bathwater, and spackling over the problem rather than dealing with it constructively.

The problem is setting a restriction of "you are not X enough to come" where X is the particular portion of the community being served.

The ideology of "womyn born womyn" is based partially on the idea that untransitioned trans girls/women experience male privilege. If that's true, however, then closeted gay kids experience and benefit from straight privilege.

Joseph Max said...

@Kate: I realize that indeed, the problem is ""you are not X enough to come" where X is the particular portion of the community being served."

But how do we preserve these exclusionary events by forcing the presenters to use definitions imposed by the convention? This seems to me to violate a group's freedom of association. Take the example of racial or ethnic definitions: do we encourage "whites only" ritual space? Do we encourage "blacks only" spaces? Then it becomes "how white" or "how black"? How much African or European ancestry qualifies? Do we administer genetic tests at the entrance?

My solution is to move the exclusionary events to private suites. This doesn't throw the baby out with the bathwater, it takes the baby out and puts it in a different washtub, and then dumps the dirty bathwater out.

Anonymous said...

I feel I need to drop a thought into this discussion.

Over the last year, since the now "infamous" Lilith ritual, several people have met and mediated with Z around the event and her language. So you can't actually say that Z hasn't heard the term 'cis' before. She had it drummed into her ears all year by tactful, articulate, caring people. She spent months arguing about terminology with these people. I was NOT one of them (thank whomever), so this is not from first hand experience. However I did a great deal of care taking for others who were mediating and the resistance that was demonstrated to accepting that she made a mistake and needed to make changes was real.

Now reality check: I certainly can understand that resistance. Screwing up in such a public way and then being called on it by a number of community members is humilating. Z's most recent mistake I believe came not from malice, but from attempting to save face without 'caving in' to perceived pressure. Z tried to adapt without conforming and by doing so she missed the point and ended up making things worse. I have both done this same thing and experienced others doing it.

A major issue lies with the fact that Z is a community leader. As such she has a responsibility to our community to step up when mistakes are made. And she did try. However she did it without recognizing that her resistance to the change requested of her would escalate the situation.

I am not an exclusionist person. I understand that others are and I don't feel the need to request that they change their behaviour as long as they are not causing harm to others. Hate language causes harm. An unwillingness to recognize privlege causes harm. This is the beginning of a discussion that I suspect will be unsettling for many, and is overdue.

Thank you for articulating this so well, Jonathon. You did a fine job teasing out the priority issues that need to be addressed for us to move forward.

lee gilmore said...


I have two issues I feel I need to address. First, I’ve sat with this for a couple days now and find I remain uncomfortable with fully endorsing your request for an apology from the Pantheacon organizers, although I did sign on to your letter in support of your overall intentions to facilitate dialogue and lay out a hopeful path to reconciliation. And I do fully concur with your call for them to develop a set of clear guidelines about exclusive spaces and the language used to describes such events (and others).

But I remain unconvinced that the onus of apology is upon the Pantheacon’s decision makers. While they certainly make choices about what is and what is not included in the program, to my knowledge they have never previously seen it as their role to edit or suggest changes to program descriptions. In fact, I seem to recall when I presented last year that the policy was clear that, once one was selected, the language of one’s announcement would be cut and pasted verbatim, and thus any mistakes and typos were the presenters’ own problem. (I could be misremembering that, and my record of that correspondence remains on an old computer, so forgive me for not checking) But I believe that it is the responsibility of presenters to articulate their intentions with compassion and respect, not on Pantheacon to alter their words.

Further, given the history of Z’s contributions and leadership, as you outlined in your post, I also think it was not unreasonable to include Z in the program, though I do concur that, given this latest incident, inviting her in the future, without a clear and honest apology on her part, would be inappropriate. Perhaps given the last year’s hubbub, PCon might have better anticipated this controversy by pre-emptively laying out policies akin to those you now suggest they adopt. (and I do think your suggestions there are good ones) But my own reading of the program was such that in putting the Mama Bear & Z rituals at the same time on the program, the intention was to provide spaces that would serve both the community that wants exclusive space for ciswomen (and they did not see it as their role call on Z to use that language for the reason I explain above), as well as those who wanted a non-exclusive rite, also in the Dianic tradition. And thus, walk their “unity in diversity” talk.

So, there’s my quibble with your otherwise very well-reasoned and thoughtful suggestions. I have a second point as well, but since blogger thinks I’m too long-winded (oops), I’ll post that separately.

Respectfully & in friendship,


lee gilmore said...

My second point is not a quibble with this post per se, but with the general energy surrounding this incident that I want to speak publicly about, and I hope you don't mind me using your comments field to slip it out there.

I concur with Shannon above who speaks of the danger of “dividing the Umma.” While I absolutely agree that some movement toward healing and reconciliation is necessary for the internal health of our communities, and that dialogues such as this are critical in achieving that, I chafe at the extent to which this issue has come to dominate the conversation. Admittedly, I speak as cisgendered (and white, middle-class, heteronormative woman) and so I must acknowledge that position of relative privilege doubtless colors my perspective here. But I hope that this topic does not become the only thing our communities can talk about for the next year.

I’m thinking of a Media panel I attended on Sunday afternoon-- featuring Jason Pitzl-Waters, Margot Adler, Yeshe Rabbit and Storm Faerywolf, moderated by Devin Hunter. I’m not exactly sure how the decision to change the topic at the last minute was made, but the questions posed to the panelists had *nothing* to do with Pagans in the media. Rather, they were asked to speak to various permutations of the gender controversy.

Thinking of Jason & Margot in particular, they can certainly be seen as “Pagan Leaders,” but they are *not* known for their special expertise on gender issues, and I felt somewhat embarrassed for them that they were being asked to speak authoritatively on this topic, instead of being given the opportunity promised in the program description to speak to their decided expertise and leadership on Paganism and the media. Again, this perspective is rooted in my personal priorities-- I want Paganism to become better understood by the broader public, and I work to seed and grow Pagan values more broadly since I believe we have many many insights that can be a benefit well beyond our own spheres and communities.

Talking with various friends and colleagues during the con, there was a sense that Paganism is at an exciting moment in which our influence is beginning to crest. Let us not get bogged down in our own tempests in teapots, but rather do the healing work (such as you suggest) and empower all our communities to move forward and dream big.

Joseph Max said...

I realize that if I'm going to propose a framework for presentations at P-Con, I should offer an example of how it works.

My own group, the Open Source Order of the Golden Dawn, offered a Prosperity ritual, based on what we call the "Z Formula" (aka "The Formula of the Magic of Light"), which is also the basis of our most revered and important ritual, the Hall of the Neophytes (0=0).

Since this ritual, which we hold sacred, was being presented to the general public, some things were "edited". In the past, the 0=0 initiation rite was veiled in hermetic secrecy. Only those whom had already received the initiation could witness it, and the aspirant was sworn to the strictest secrecy with powerful oaths, backed with dire consequences for violators.

We are an Open Source group and all of our ritual corpus is available to anyone who wishes to study it. So in that sense we do not conform to the old ways. But there are still some private things in our practice which we hold sacrosanct and do not share with outsiders. So how does a group such as our GD Order go about holding a public ritual?

We modify the ritual to allow us to share our practice with the public.

We did not use the usual entrance of the congregants, where grips, signs and passwords are given, and we refrained from wearing our ceremonial sashes, upon which our individual Grades are displayed, because these things are personal, private and yes, not for outsiders.

We did this because we felt that "profaning" our own ritual (so to speak) served the greater good, both of sharing with the community to promote Unity, and (hopefully) working our Magic to help those in the greater community who are in need.

In a like manner, Z. Budapest could have modified her ritual and presented it to the whole community in the spirit of Unity. Yes, it would have been different than her tradition normally performed it. But it would have been an offer to share what was important to her spiritual path with outsiders to promote unity and understanding.

I am not familiar with the ritual she presented, but I'm certain that an experienced and talented ritualist such as herself could have risen to the challenge. Or if it was impossible to modify the ritual without ruining it, a different ritual could have been presented, or a new one created, which could be inclusionary. When our Order performed the 0=0 ritual, the congregants in the room were for the most part passive observers, but we quickly instructed them at the start in some simple parts they could participate in.

So Budapest could have come up with a ritual to celebrate the sacred feminine so important to her tradition. It would mean some compromises, like being robed instead of skyclad, and refraining from (I'm sure) certain other secret operations.

Instead, she blew a perfect opportunity to show the community why these things are so important to her and her followers, and share just a small taste of what makes her path so appealing to others. She could have left the public with greater understanding and, yes, sympathy for why she insists on only "moon blood women". Instead she wasted the chance for this, and squandered it instead on a selfish declaration of arrogant exclusion.

Ambar said...

I'm largely in agreement with Lee, which is why I did not sign on to the letter. I'm not convinced that P-con organizers should be required to apologize for publishing Z's (inflammatory and infuriating) wording.

I went back, after the vigil, to express my appreciation to Jamie (co-head of programming) for how gracefully she had handled a difficult situation. I made a wry joke about the joy of con ops (not knowing her position), and she corrected me. "No, I'm Programming. This is all my fault."

I thought for a moment, and shook my head. "Nah." The proper metaphor came to me later: even if Mrs O'Leary's cow did kick over the lantern[1] that started the Great Chicago Fire, it was not not Mrs O'Leary's fault that Chicago in 1871 was largely built of wood.

[1] Yes, the bovine origin of the fire is fictional: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Chicago_Fire

Jonathan Korman said...

Lee and Anbar:

I read you both as saying that PantheaCon has not acted irresponsibly, instead having shown goodwill and good faith, and therefore need not apologize. I agree about the goodwill and good faith, but not about your conclusions.

One can have responsibility for an error without having acted irresponsibly. Fault and responsibility are not quite the same thing.

If PantheaCon had handed me a program guide which contained a typo about one of the event times, or lacked a page because of a glitch at the printer, one could easily say that PantheaCon wasn't really at fault. Producing a program guide for a complex event facing last minute changes et cetera presents challenges that make occasional errors inevitable. But delivering an accurate program guide remains one of the essential responsibilities of running a conference, so I would expect PantheaCon to apologize, saying “sorry we goofed up there.”

Instead, PantheaCon gave me a program guide which contained an insult to members of the Pagan community. I would call not insulting conference attendees another one of the basic responsibilities of a conference organizer. PantheaCon did not meet that responsibility.

Not only does this error have higher stakes than a typo, it represents a greater failure in the organization's duties. If PantheaCon has a policy of not reviewing the event descriptions of even headline presenters, then they have a responsibility to only choose presenters trustworthy in writing appropriate event descriptions. If you know the cow kicks, you shouldn't set a lantern in range of its hoof.

I suspect that Jamie — one of the unsung heroes of this misadventure, demonstrating in countless instances extraordinary grace under pressure — had this principle in mind when claiming responsibility.

I want to underline my conviction that PantheaCon acted in good faith, and worked hard to avoid exactly this outcome. That in fact underlies my call for an apology. One demands recompense for harm suffered from malice or negligence. Trusted friends who make an honest mistake — elders to whom one owes a debt — need only make an apology.

Jonathan Korman said...

As for “dividing the Ummah”, I admit that I find it troubling to make this modestly confrontational stance which threatens to consume energies I would rather see directed in other ways. But I cannot shrink from the question. To borrow from the words of a great American social justice advocate :

.... a great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is the moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes they can set the timetable for another person's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises to wait for a “more convenient season” ....

This conversation is already long overdue. I'm not walking away from it now that it's here.

Anonymous said...

No, actually, Jonathan, men don't need to be demanding ANYTHING from Z. They need to step the fuck away. WOMEN (of all sorts) need to talk with (not at) each other and work it out.

Z has been doing her thing for 30+ years in the same way. It's only now that anyone is acting surprised because it is the fashion. Not every door has something behind it for everyone.

This protest feels like a complete publicity scam by Thorn for her Solar whateveritis, and nothing to do with her 'heart' which has NO peace in it..only conflict.

Don't pick on an old lady, because she's not going to change her mind...grow your own events. Nothing wrong with women only, men only, PoC only, trans only, public spaces... all are sacred. All are needed.

Sharon Knight said...

Well, I guess it's time for me to weigh in. There is another piece of this that I haven’t seen discussed much – abuse. Many so-called cis women turn to “cis women only” space because they have suffered abuse at the hands of men, and they simply don’t feel safe sitting in a circle, particularly a skyclad circle, in the presence of male bodies. As unfair as this may seem, this is a visceral response, not an intellectual decision to exclude, and these women deserve to have space and time to heal from these wounds. Because it is about feeling safe, I don’t feel the “whites only at a Norse ritual” analogy applies. “Whites only” is synonymous with “We feel superior”, and that is not what we are talking about here. The way this situation was handled by Z was insensitive to be sure. But it is equally insensitive to ask cis-women abuse survivors to “just get over it”.

An example, from the comments on http://mullenkamp.wordpress.com/2011/03/01/truly-inclusive-gender-based-mysteries/ -

“They have every right to have it, but label it as such (can you imagine a sign: “Ciswomen with Victim Complexes only, all others will be considered MALE!”)”

Is this any less trivializing?

Understanding and compassion are needed on both sides.

sharon knight said...

I'd like to add, I appreciate the distinction you've made, that the protest was not about cis-women having a private space, but about a culmination of things. I appreciate this distinction and feel is is an important one. I have not seen this distinction made in several other places on the web where this discussion is taking place, and it saddens me how quickly folks are willing to demonize each other. An abuse survivor is not a bigot. Do we really need to throw that word around so carelessly?

Anonymous said...

thank you, Sharon. i thought those comparisons didn't quite wash, and you articulated my unease.

maybe these women have been thru some things. i know Z sure has... WWII in Eastern Europe anyone?
but even if they haven't been through anything other than the usual daily grind, they CAN and WILL gather together on their own.

there seems to be 2 main questions:
1. Logistics of an exclusive event and possible new PCon policy around it.
2. What is a 'woman'?

the first question can be decided by PCon organizers after they process all the feedback.

the second question will be decided by all those who identify as women... and no one else.

you are welcome to register your opinions if it makes you feel better, but women will be self-defined. you are in no position to make demands or do anything but watch, listen, and support where you can. but don't demand.

Anonymous said...

oh, also, i have never been asked to call myself any particular thing by any of my many trans and genderqueer loved ones. they tell me how they want to be addressed, and i do so... end of story.

i'm not letting some supposed moral authority tell me what to call myself.

this climate of reactivity is rising from constantly checking in with each other online. it has nothing to do with self or spirit or magick or love.

lee gilmore said...

I appreciate your underscoring your belief that Pantheacon acted with good will and in good faith. Thinking about your points further, I do hear what you are saying. There is just something in the nature of the *demand* for an apology that feels a bit harsh.

I suppose that in some ways it’s similar to the situation Burning Man found itself in recently (yes, leave it to me to draw a connection between the two). When the “ticket fiasco” unfolded a few weeks ago, the organizers were initially pretty mum and chilly about it all, which only fed the rumors and overall sense of distrust and dis-ease. Once the gravity of the situation became clear, they finally stepped up and offered a humble and sincere apology for the outcome and ensuing angst. And it went a long way toward healing the organization’s relationship with their participants. Here’s hoping a similar “come-to-Jesus” is possible in this situation as well.

As to the question of dividing, or at least distracting, the Ummah, I agree that this is a conversation we cannot walk away from. But, I also don’t think that we should allow it to derail or displace other vital conversations we must also have. (And, again this is not in any way directed at you, your post, or your actions, and I am grateful that you indulge my using this forum as space to express, and if I read you correctly, share that parallel concern.)

Jonathan Korman said...

I share the hope that if PantheaCon apologizes for this error, it will actually leave the Pagan community stronger than it had been before. We would have an explicit and positive affirmation that trans Pagans are welcomed and valued, which would benefit all of us.

I must protest, a bit, at the characterization that the letter makes “demands.” I deliberately avoided the word “demand”, because that did seem a bit too harsh. Instead, the letter speaks in a persuasive mode, calling for certain actions after having explained why they are necessary. It says what I think should be done, after explaining why, without making any threat beyond my disappointment.

Joseph Max said...

@Sharon Knight: As unfair as this may seem, this is a visceral response, not an intellectual decision to exclude, and these women deserve to have space and time to heal from these wounds. Because it is about feeling safe, I don’t feel the “whites only at a Norse ritual” analogy applies. “Whites only” is synonymous with “We feel superior”, and that is not what we are talking about here.

I understand that the motives behind that particular ritual are surely benevolent, something you can't say about a Klan rally.

But I don't think the analogy is too far off, when applied to this case.

Z. Budapest certainly does believe in a kind of superiority, even if it isn't couched in such blatant terms. She's a Dianic fundamentalist, and her statements aren't only about abused women needing a healing space, but more emphatically about how trans-women are really just men maliciously trying to invade the space of "real women." She clearly advocates that cis-women are the only REAL women, and "real" as opposed to "fake" inherently implies superiority (and if she doesn't realize this she's a lot less intelligent than I think she is.)

Could women with psychological damage from patriarchal abuse profit from a space to feel safe and empowered? Of course, not a single person in this discussion would deny this. The question is this: Is a public event at Pantheacon the proper venue for it?

(I'd also say that women with such painful issues in their lives probably need more help and healing than a single P-Con event is going to provide. I've never believed in Magic as a substitute for psychological counseling and therapy. In fact, it's usually not a good idea.)

People keep confusing this issue. Just because I think that cis-gendered ritual work, or any kind of exclusionary ritual work, is inappropriate in the public spaces at Pantheacon doesn't mean I think it's ALWAYS inappropriate. For one thing, I believe strongly in freedom of speech and freedom of association. That's why I proposed limiting exclusionary events to private suites. What ZB or anyone does in their own private spaces is none of my business, or anyone's.

However, if ZB or anyone speaks out in public to promote a religious practice of exclusion the way she has done, she cannot expect to be free of criticism in response. This is not a matter of "attacking her religious freedom", anymore than people criticizing the Catholic Church for it's anti-contraception stance is.

No one is going to tell her "the members of your private coven must be FORCED to circle with people they don't want to." Who is in her private circle and what they do there is nobody else's business. But if you are a public figure that takes a public controversial stance, you have to expect criticism.

DCKitty said...

As a non-pagan trans-woman, I thank you for writing this letter. Though, as I said, I'm not a pagan, it's good to know that I have a community that accepts me beyond my typical little bubble of atheists (who don't intrinsically accept me, anyway... lots of transphobic atheists...)

Unknown said...

I am a cis woman, and my dearest friend in a trans-woman. I have been with her through several surgeries and have nursed her back to health when she was attacked and beaten for being trans. And so it is with extreme regret that I post my opinion on this matter. I feel that I have experienced things that are unique to biological women, and those things separate me from my trans-women friends. These things are painful and sometimes humiliating, but they are exclusive to biological women. The way our bodies are affected by pregnancies, for one thing. I've had 4 live birth children. My spinal cord is pressed upon by painful scarring from shots during childbirth. I got hemorrhoids with the first pregnancy with increasing painfulness and bleeding by the time the 4th pregnancy was over. I have stretch marks and stretched skin that affect what I can wear now. I have nursed four children for at least six months and oh! the experiences I could write about just with regard to that is immense, and each of those experiences has affected me as a woman. There is more I could say but what I have said is the basic idea, that physical differences between cis women and trans women are deep and profound, and to say my trans woman best friend is just the same as me is to take away from what both of us are. So I DO think there should be circles exclusive to cis women only, circles exclusive to trans women only, and circles exclusive to both. That's the only way to make it really fair.