Archives For Gender and Transgender in Modern Paganism

The Fleshiness of PantheaCon

Teo Bishop —  February 15, 2013 — 8 Comments

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PantheaCon is a conference for Pagans, Heathens, Indigenous Non-European and many of diverse beliefs that occurs annually over President’s Day weekend in San Jose, California. Well over 2000 people attend more than 200 presentations that range from rituals to workshops and from classes to concerts.

This post is one of a series on the meaning and relevance of PantheaCon to The Wild Hunt’s authors.

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“I’m buzzing. Vibrating. I know that sounds New Age-y, but that’s really what it feels like to be in my body at this moment.

I’m sitting in the lobby of the San Jose DoubleTree Hotel, and PantheaCon is exploding all around me. There are men in skirts, women in top hats, people whose gender is a complete mystery, elders, newbies (like me), and a general spirit of something happening.

This is the place to be, and I’m here.

*grin*

Oh, and did I mention that there is a strong corseted faction? Because there is, and it’s amazing.

I’m overwhelmed, really. I didn’t know it would feel quite so exhilarating to be near this many strange, and delightfully decorated people. It’s as though my books have been made flesh.

For real.”

Photo by Alex Mar

Teo and Jason | Photo by Alex Mar

This was what PantheaCon was for me in 2012. Today marks the beginning of the 2013 PantheaCon extravaganza, the start of my Year 2, and I’m approaching this conference with a very different perspective.

I’m excited, don’t get me wrong. My excitement is just a little more tempered than it was before. After a full year of blogging, writing posts about the questionable act of public circle casting, the need for a liturgical practice for solitary Druids, and the truth about pop stars (or semi-pop stars), I feel like I have a different understanding about who the Pagan community is, and who I am in relationship to it. To write is to be known, and I certainly feel known in a way that I didn’t during my first go around.

I took advantage of that anonymity last year, but I also came away from PantheaCon with a completely new context for my identity. “Teo Bishop” is a name I chose for myself, a name I used to gingerly navigate the unknown territory of Paganism. I wrestled for a good while about what it meant to use this different name, and what reason I might have to bring my two names (and their corresponding parts) into greater alignment with one another. This dialogue continued after PantheaCon 2012, but it was forever changed by the weekend.

I went home from PantheaCon and decided that the person I am — the person who writes these posts, who considers the needs of solitaries, who asks uncomfortable questions, and who has compassion for this community in all of its diversity and complexity — is a person I love to be. It is the person who I have, in some ways, always been. And so, on account of the new awareness prompted by this transformative experience of community, I decided that this name I’d chosen would be the name I took for keeps.

There were other unexpected awarenesses, too. I wrote,

“PantheaCon … affirmed for me a number of things, not the least of which is that I have no qualms about identifying as a Pagan anymore. The discussion about that word, while fascinating for a time, is much less important to me than it was just a few months ago. Not only am I comfortable using the term “Pagan” to broadly identify what I do, I make the distinction that what I do is not all of who I am.”

Click picture to see larger image.

Click picture to see larger image.

Since last year we have witnessed a flurry of posts about the p-word. Each time the discussion resurfaces, tempers flare and new voices emerge to stand in support of or in objection to the Pagan umbrella. Jonathan Korman compiled a list of the most recent articles on the subject, and I’m sure there have been (and will be) more.

Identity politics drives traffic to blogs and makes for a dynamic, sometimes heated conference. It took the fleshiness of PantheaCon, the tactile goodness of being crammed into rooms with other thoughtful, inquisitive people for me to free up space for these new understandings about identity. But it was the fleshiness of Others, and the discordance between that soft fleshiness and the hard rigidity of doctrine and theology that inspired such controversy last year.

I wrote an account of the silent protest, and I watched during the following months as people hashed through their feelings about gender and identity. When my genderqueer kid underwent top-surgery last summer I thought back to the trans activists and allies at PantheaCon 2012. Their witness to the need for greater acceptance and understanding stayed with me during that challenging time. They were a reminder that the flesh is real, and that the flesh is sacred, and that there is no one correct way to be embodied.

One of the challenges I face as a blogger, and that I think we all face when we choose to engage with one another in threaded comments and on forums, is that my embodiment — my own fleshiness — is easily ignored or overlooked. When we write online, we are no longer a complex mush of human parts and emotions, deserving of patience and understanding: we are just text. And as text, you and I can be taken apart, dissected with a quickness. Our fullness is reduced in proportion to our ability to articulate clearly our ideas, and if we fall short of eloquence — watch out. Somebody’s got a red pen, and they are willing to make marks all over your homework.

It’s good to provide ourselves with reminders that we are more than the words we write. We are more than our ideas, and I think we are deserving of more kindness and compassion than we sometimes give to one another. PantheaCon reminded me of that.

Flag me down in the hallways of the DoubleTree, and you could have one of these!

Flag me down in the hallways of the DoubleTree, and you could have one of these!

So I move forward into this conference with a remembrance of the sacred, messy, beautiful nature of the flesh. I will watch for the ways that our ideas become manifest, and I anticipate neither harmony nor discord. There is simply no way to know what will come of this conference, or what will be born from its discussions.

One can hope that the conference will foster, along with the debates and discussions, a new awareness in the hearts of its attendants (and those following blogs like this). Perhaps we might all walk away from the weekend with a new love of the flesh, and a new respect for the fleshiness of Others.