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TWH – Over the past year, issues related to transgender rights have crested in mainstream social discourse. The most recent national debate has centered around the passage of North Carolina’s Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act (also known as House Bill 2 or HB2) that, among other things, “blocks local governments from allowing transgender persons to use bathrooms that do not match the biological sex.”

The collective Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, as diverse microcosms of the greater whole, are not free from similar debates, discussions and, at times, serious conflicts on the subject of transgender inclusion. While never fully disappearing from the culture’s meta-dialog, there are times when a particular event or action rekindles the conversation with renewed fervor, pushing it to the forefront of communication.

And that is exactly what has happened over the past month, reaching a fever pitch last week. Transgender inclusion became a focused topic in a conversation at the Pagan Unity Festival (PUF) in Tennessee and, similarly, the subject became the focus of online protests due to a newly proposed anthology edited by musician, author and priestess Ruth Barrett.

While some of the dialog was offline, most of it appeared in digital forums. Those people who do not use social media regularly or not all, may have seen or heard only bits and pieces of the conversation. Through interviews and public postings, The Wild Hunt has put together a look at just what happened and why.

“I guess this all started three weeks ago at Pagan Unity Festival. I was a VIP and sat on a panel to discuss topics of Paganism on Thursday afternoon,” explained Heathen author and craftswoman Gypsey Teague in a message to The Wild Hunt.

“When my turn came I called out some of our female elders in the Pagan community for being sexist and exclusionary due to their philosophy of gender versus sex. I stated that it was insane to tie someone’s religious following to what does or doesn’t appear between your legs or in your genetic DNA. Unfortunately there are still some women out there that not only believe that but force it on their line and their ilk that follow her.”

After that event, Teague was interviewed by  the hosts of the Tree of Life Hour at Pagans Tonight Radio Network. As advertised, the two-part radio show was focused on the “transgender issues that are coming up again and again in our community and how we as a community should respond to folks who have a different gender expression than the binary male/female cisgender.”

Teague said, “By the end of the event it seemed like everyone was talking about transgender exclusion and how I was ‘pissed’ at the discussion; which was not true. What I believe is that if you tie your religion to a penis or a vagina you don’t deserve to be in the religion. We have too many examples of gender fluidity in our paths to still believe or accept this.”

Around that same time, author, musician, witch and Dianic priestess Ruth Barrett was launching an IndieGoGo campaign to raise funds for her new anthology titled Female Erasure. Barrett explained to The Wild Hunt, “Female Erasure is an anthology that celebrates female embodiment, while exposing the current trend of gender-identity politics as a continuation of female erasure as old as patriarchy itself […] Female erasure is being enacted through changing laws that have provided sex-based protections.” The unedited interview in its entirety is available here.

The IndieGoGo campaign was launched June 4 with a goal of raising $25,000 toward editing, design, legal and technical fees. After only eight days, the campaign has reached 50 percent of its goal. Barrett said, “Our contributors want radical societal change – freedom from oppressive gender roles, not from our sex. We want a world free of the so-called gender stereotypes of ‘femininity’ and ‘masculinity.’ We want a world where the ideal of diversity is not abused to oppress and erase 51 percent of humanity. We want a world in which everyone’s biological reality is honored, our sacred bodies are celebrated, and where sex-based violence and enforced gender roles become obsolete.”

Despite Barrett being the editor, the anthology is not a Pagan-specific project. Its projected audience is far broader and most of its contributors do not fall under the Pagan, Heathen or polytheist umbrella. With that said, the project does include several Pagan voices, such as Ava Park and Luisah Teish, and essays that discuss the proposed issues from a Pagan perspective. One of Barrett’s own offerings is titled, “The Attack On Female Sovereign Space In Pagan Community.”

For Barrett, the project is linked to spirituality in that she has been “assisting women in the often painful process of coming into awareness about how male-centered cultural and religious views and institutions have been foundational in their very personal sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, and how patriarchal socialization powerfully influences their self-perception.”

While a few of the unpublished anthology’s essay titles evoke what some might consider a feminist spirit consistent with many Pagan practices, other titles raised immediate concerns, resulting in a fierce wave of backlash. Along with that spirit, there is also an expression of what is being called “transgender exclusion” and “transphobia.” In our interview, Barrett said that “transgender politics dismisses biological sex differences as irrelevant, while suppressing critical conceptual examinations of gender itself, ignoring the history of female class oppression, enforcement, male domination, sexual violence, personal suffering, and social and economic inequality.”

The first protest came in the way of a June 5 call-to-action blog post by activist and author David Salisbury. He wrote in part, “As a leader of the largest witchcraft tradition in Washington DC, I refuse to sit in silence. As an author and teacher of Goddess spirituality, I refuse to sit in silence. As a queer person, I refuse to sit in silence.” After Salisbury, the online, written protests only grew in number through both the blogosphere and social media, including posts from Peter Dybing, Vanessa Blackwood, Estara T’Shirai, Yvonne Aburrow, and Susan Harper.

After reading the funding campaign explanation and exploring the work of various authors, Pagan transgender activist and vice president of STRIVE Rev. Katherine A. Jones said, “I find it disheartening that so many women are so mired in a combination of transphobia and internalized misogyny that they are willing to blatantly attack their fellow women in the name of this exclusionary false feminism they have created […]The obsession with so called ‘biological sex’ is an indicator of women who see themselves as nothing more than vaginas. Just like the patriarchal men who oppress them. Unfortunately it seems to be common even within the Pagan community.”

Barrett said that she fully expected the backlash. When asked specifically about transgender exclusion and the erasure of the transgender identity within the scope of the book, she said, “While it is well-documented that physical and sexual violence against women and girls is on the rise globally, so-called progressives and the transgender lobbyists are acting to silence, disrupt, and legislate against our ability to name, gather and address the issues of our own oppression. This is female erasure.”

She added that the anthology addresses “concerns about a very profitable and growing transgender medical industry targeting well meaning parents, vulnerable children and adolescents, with no other options discussed other than transitioning that results in sterilization and a lifetime of dependence on pharmaceuticals and with no long-term studies of the health impact, are silenced. In this industry young lesbians and gay boys can be “normalized” by transitioning them. The possibility that homophobia is playing out in this issue seems to be too taboo to discuss.”

Arguably the most public outcry came from activist and writer Alley Valkyrie via Facebook.* On June 7, Valkyrie posted an “Open Letter to the Pagan Community,” which was shared over 250 times in that forum alone. The letter read in part, “As a pagan and a cis woman, I cannot and I will not remain silent on this matter, and I will not stand by in the face of violent targeting that is being enacted in my name.”

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Valkyrie clarified later that, while she does not support the anthology or Barrett’s work, her letter was actually aimed at attacks reportedly being launched at some of the bloggers who had previously spoken out against Barrett’s anthology. In the letter she said, “I also recognize that by posting this, I will also likely become a target.”

Shortly after the publication of her open letter, the post was removed along with other similar ones. Then she was locked out of her Facebook account for 24 hours. Other Pagans were reporting similar occurrences around that time. Valkyrie’s letter can be found in its entirety here.

Valkyrie and others have accused Barrett of being “complicit in this violence” due to her close association with those suspected of enacting what is being labeled as “doxing.” Barrett said she knows nothing of these attacks and hasn’t been following the online backlash.

But that is not where the story ends; it is where it gets more complicated. In her open letter, Valkyrie addressed Cherry Hill Seminary (CHS) due to its continued relationship with Barrett. The letter reads, “I am calling on Cherry Hill Seminary to publicly disassociate with Ruth Barrett immediately.”

Within twenty-four hours of hearing about letter, Barrett resigned saying, “I believe very strongly in the mission of Cherry Hill Seminary and their academic commitment to diversity in their faculty and the free exchange of ideas. Rather than let my participation endanger the future of Cherry Hill Seminary, it made the most sense for me to respectfully remove myself. While some doors have closed to me, I will continue to teach as I have been doing all along.”

In an interview CHS director Holli Emore told The Wild Hunt that Barrett tried to resign last fall when similar issues rose the surface, but the CHS governing board would not accept the resignation. Emore explained, “The work of a seminary is to prepare people to facilitate healing and build bridges. The work of higher education is to expose students to as many ideas as possible and to develop critical thinking skills.”

At the time, the seminary stood behind its commitment to academic freedom. However, Barrett did cancel her fall rituals course and, as has been revealed, hasn’t taught any class at CHS for four years even though she is listed as faculty.

This time around, the school accepted the resignation.

“Cherry Hill Seminary has never and would never condone violence against anyone and most certainly supports the full rights of transgender individuals,” said Emore. “The kind of attacks of unbridled animosity against Pagans on issues like this is indicative of a deeper need. It is clear to me that CHS is needed more than ever.”

CHS President Jeffrey Albaugh took to Facebook, saying, “Although I find the events disheartening and depressing, I keep returning to a single question: what do I have to offer that can aid in the process of resolution? The answers were simple. I can listen. I can enter into dialogue. We can have a discussion on the matter. This ability to enter into dialogue is, in my opinion, one of the hallmarks of leadership.”

Albaugh added that, since the issues came to light, nobody had reached out to him personally and that “demands have been posted on the Internet, strewn across Face Book and re-blogged ad infinitum.” He said, “No wonder this is off the rails. Everyone is shouting and no one is listening. So this, then, becomes my invitation. Contact me.”

While issues, reports of attacks, and conversations continued to circulate online, Witch and blogger Pat Mosley took a different approach to action in support of transgender rights. Like Barrett, Mosley is now spearheading an anthology project, but this one gives voice specifically to “Queer, Trans, and Intersex Witches.” The proposed book Arcane Perfection, was first imagined as a coven-based “zine” but, as Mosley explained, “recent events” have changed its direction.


“HB2 was probably the biggest one. We really snapped into this mindset of needing to be there for one another — a lot of us can’t be out to our families or at work, so our coven is really our sanctuary,” explained Mosley. “Hearing that a Pagan community leader was editing a new anthology which, in part, appears to be discussing trans civil rights as an attack on women’s rights inspired our decision too. Both of those things affect more than just our coven.”

Mosley went on to say that many “Queer, Trans, and Intersex people find power in Witchcraft” and that will hopefully serve as a point of solidarity “regardless of specific tradition, and regardless of the geographic distance between us.” Another objective, as Mosley described, is to address “the way Wiccans talk about gender.”

“We want to see that [discussion] evolve,” Mosley said, “Most Wiccans and other Pagans these days seem to want LGBT+ people to feel included. Often that looks like adapting a hetero-centric framework to accommodate other perspectives. Our intention with this zine and now the book is to have Queer, Trans, and Intersex people define and talk about Wicca, Paganism, Witchcraft, etc, rather than positioning cis/het Pagans as the owners of traditions with the authority to include or exclude us.” The deadline for Mosley’s new anthology is set at Aug. 1.

Neither Mosley’s or Barrett’s anthology have a set delivery date yet. However,  they are both in production and moving forward.

Returning to Barrett, in reaction to what has happened this week, she added, “Everyone is entitled to their sense of identity. What often goes unexamined at a deeper level is the contextual influences and cultural norms (including enforced gender stereotypes) that informs consciously or unconsciously how a person arrives at their identity. This is explored within the anthology in many ways. ”

The current debates, arguments and the reported attacks may not yet be over. Time will tell.

But the subject is certainly one that will persist, as it always has, into the future at both public gatherings, like PUF, and online through blogs and social media.

Looking over the entire situation from beginning to end, Emore said, “When respectful dialog is silenced by threats, we are all diminished.”

In a blog post, author Yvonne Aburrow offered a different type of community call-to-action, saying, “Gender essentialism and separatism is the mirror image of patriarchy. We reject the patriarchy and the kyriarchy. […] Let us magnify and glorify the images of divinity within ourselves and each other. Show forth love and beauty and creativity; celebrate the radiance of the many-hued multiplicity of gender expression, sexuality, and the human body.”

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* [Editorial Note: The Wild Hunt always aims for balanced news reporting. However, as a community-based source, there are times when our writers are affiliated, in some way, with aspects of a story. In those instances, we make a decision on how to ethically handle the story. Today’s article was such a case. Our managing editor currently teaches a class at Cherry Hill Seminary, and one of those quoted above is a Wild Hunt columnist. Our editorial team reviewed this article carefully to ensure a clear presentation of the issues.]

RALEIGH, NC — On Mar 23 North Carolina’s governor signed into law the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act. The bill is primarily known for its measures, which block local governments from allowing transgender persons to use bathrooms that do not match the biological sex as recorded on their birth certificates. The Wild Hunt takes a close look at the bill and gets reactions from Pagans living in North Carolina.

[Photo Credit: Mr.TinDC / Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Mr.TinDC / Flickr]

Overview of Bill

The Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act was created in response to the expansion of the city of Charlotte’s nondiscrimination ordinance, which includes protections for marital and familial status, sexual orientation, gender expression and gender identity. State Republican lawmakers said that Charlotte’s new ordinance would give men access to women’s bathrooms and locker rooms. Supporters of Charlotte’s nondiscrimination ordinance said it provided much needed civil protects for vulnerable minorities.

The new ordinance was set to take effect on April 1.

The Public Facilities bill, which was passed during a Special Session, requires multi-stall bathrooms and locker rooms in public schools and government buildings to be used by people according to the sex recorded on their birth certificate. The bill does not apply to privately-owned buildings, businesses, or single stall bathrooms.

While the sections affecting bathroom use are the most discussed, there are other provisions in the bill. It bars cities from raising the minimum wage higher than what the state has set. It also sets a statewide nondiscrimination policy for privately-owned business open to the public, but limits that policy to discrimination against employees based on race, religion, color, national origin and biological sex.

Another provision to the bill eliminates the wrongful discharge/public policy cause of action in Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) discrimination cases. Previously, a person could sue in state court if they felt they were wrongfully terminated due to race, religion, color, national origin, or sex. There are benefits to suing in state court, rather than filing a federal discrimination claim under Title VII. One of the strongest of these benefits include a longer window of time to file the suit.

Under the new Public Facilities Act, if an employee believes they have been discriminated against based on a protected class status, they have to go through the federal process or lose the claim.

Local reactions

Star Bustamonte, Pagan, Near Asheville, North Carolina

“The recent bill Gov. McCory signed into law is a travesty of justice and typical of the kind manipulative legislation that has been getting passed since McCory took office. Being a Pagan, I can certainly see how HB 2 might impact the Pagan community if it is allowed to stand, but it goes far beyond that.

Star Bustamonte

Star Bustamonte

“My personal belief is the Transgender aspect of the law was merely window dressing that panders to the conservative right-wing. Mind you, I am in no way discounting the impact it will have on Transgendered people. It has the potential to be a disaster. The other impact of the law is the stuff that nightmares are made of. Preventing anyone from filing a job discrimination lawsuit at the state level is a huge and terrible idea. The NC legislature also seems bound & determined to wrest away any and all control municipalities have on pretty much anything, and doubly so if there is money involved. Charlotte’s ordinance on bathroom use was a just a very convenient way for Raleigh to impose more oppressive and regressive influence and ideology.

“This is nothing new as of late. And other states need to be paying attention because if they can make it stick here, it will be happening in other states very soon. Raleigh has taken control of airports and water departments all over the state to get their greedy little paws on the revenue. If you look at the things Duke Power has gotten away with when it comes to polluting environment, you begin to get a clue about the direction things are going. In less than a decade, NC has gone from being progressive and exhibiting excellence in education to being regressive and at the bottom of the heap. So if you think this law was about anything other than controlling people and money, you are dead wrong. And if you think it can’t happen in your state, you better think again. People need to wake up.”

 *   *   *

Byron Ballard, Goddess-focused Wiccan Trad, Asheville, North Carolina

“The bathroom issue is the tip of a very toxic iceberg, one that North Carolinians have been dealing with since the Republicans took over the legislature and the governorship. In no way is HB 2 good for NC and it is indicative of where we are here that the general assembly snuck this through with such speed and so little effort.  

Byron Ballard

Byron Ballard

“NC does not have ‘home rule’–every municipality serves at the pleasure of the General Assembly. The GA has-again and again–taken advantage of this to basically steal airports (Charlotte, Asheville), water systems (Asheville and several others) and to throw its collective muscle around. The state is heavily gerrymandered so elections are no guarantee that we can actually make change through the voting booth. So, no home rule, gerrymandered voting districts, a General Assembly and Governor who are nearly lock-step in their vision for the state.

“The Dems were in charge for a century and a half and didn’t change either of those things because they served them, too. Now, the Dems are in disarray–like deer in the headlights–and the government is run by people who have a fat ALEC checklist and are systematically checking things off.  

“HB2 is devastating for the LGBTQ community (specifically the trans community, of course) but it is so much more far-reaching than that. They have demolished Title IX protections, rolled back protections for civil rights. Women, of course, have no protection–NC has some of the harshest restrictions on abortion in the nation. As a Pagan and an American, I have no idea what can be done that will have any really effect. We don’t have any procedure for recalling the governor and impeachment (again) is at the whim of the legislature.”

 *   *   *

Laura LaVoie, Hellenic Polytheist, Asheville, North Carolina

“To put it mildly, HB2 is a legislative disgrace and its long term implications, which reach way beyond which bathroom someone should be using, are troubling at best. Not only does this law, under the guise of protecting women and children, place trans people directly in harm’s way, but it also restricts municipalities from creating any law to protect the people who live in their cities. This includes the possibility of raising the minimum wage above that of the state, which in a city like Asheville where the housing crisis is spiraling out of control, will never give the city government a way to provide better opportunities for members of our community.

Laura LaVoie

Laura LaVoie

“While I identify as a Hellenic Polytheist, my outrage at the passing of HB2 is rooted firmly in my belief that all human beings are complete human beings. My religious practices strongly hinge on integrity, reason, and good character. The values presented as those of North Carolina in HB2 are not consistent with my personal values.

“That this bill has so publicly declared that transgendered citizens of North Carolina are not worth of the same rights and protections as everyone else is, in my mind, a human tragedy.

“This bill passed because North Carolina has been systematically rejecting anything within its state borders that does not comply what the highest levels of state government say is ‘right.’ This began with a measure passed by the City of Charlotte. The state has proven time and time again that it is anti-city, and even though our state is not Home Rule, they still felt the need to send a clear message about this specific matter. Rather than simply striking down Charlotte’s ordinance, they were very calculated in their response.

“There is nothing right or just in denying our neighbors dignity and compassion. And disguising it under the mantle of protection for only certain, chosen, demographics of North Carolinians is sickening.

“On the other hand, I am proud of the way my city has chosen to respond to this law and we will, in every way possible, continue to work toward being a place that is welcoming and compassionate. And without that, I have real concern for our humanity.”

 *   *   *

The Wild Hunt did speak to a few Pagans who supported the bill, but they refused to go on record due to fears of ostracization.

Future of the Public Facilities Privacy & Securities Act
Even as the bill draws fire from other parts of the country, including travel bans for government employees from San Francisco, Seattle, New York City, and New York state, the Bill appears to be on safe ground legislatively. Republicans, who championed the bill, are expected to maintain control of the state House and Senate past the next election.

However, the bill is currently being challenged in the courts. On Mar 28, the ACLU of North Carolina, Lambda Legal, and Equality North Carolina filed a joint federal lawsuit looking to overturn the bill. In a press release, the groups alledged that the Public Facilities Act “…sends a purposeful message that LGBT people are second-class citizens who are undeserving of the privacy, respect, and protections afforded others in the state.” The complaint goes on to say that the bill is unconstitutional because it violates the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, and because it discriminates based on sex and Title IX by discriminating against students and school employees on the basis of sex.

Now that the season has turned and we are nearing the end of the 2015, we look back, one last time, to review the year. What happened? What didn’t happen? What events shaped our thoughts or guided our actions? In our collective worlds, both big and small, what were the major discussions? How did Pagans and Heathens specifically face world issues and local crisis? What were the high points and low?

[Public Domain Image / Pixabay]

[Public Domain Image / Pixabay]

As the light began to return, the world faced, almost immediately, the reality of global terrorism. On Jan. 7, the home offices of France’s satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were attacked. This event seemed to set a tone for the remainder of the year, as the world faced additional attacks, the growing influence of Daesh, the Yezidi genocide, institutional sex slavery, the current refugee crisis and the painful reality of Islamaphobia. Who are these are these people and what do we call them? How do we stop them? And, what is their relationship to Islam?

The year also began with another unresolved struggle. The U.S. was grappling with the deep social justice issues brought to light after the shocking events in Ferguson, Missouri in November 2014. Related conversations concerning race and diversity increasingly punctuated Pagan and Heathen communities. Some Pagan activists joined community protests and action throughout the year. Many organizations developed diversity statements and policies. Unfortunately for the Covenant of the Goddess, its own effort fell flat, causing internal strife and eventually serious public scrutiny. However, by the summer, the 40-year-old Wiccan and Witchcraft organization did apologize and make significant changes.

Social justice themes permeated the February PantheaCon conference, culminating in a special session after a satirical pamphlet, called PantyCon, offended a large number of attendees. The conversations concerning race and ethnic diversity continued to run concurrent with other narratives throughout the coming year, sometimes with celebration and sometimes not.

As if those two realities weren’t enough to begin 2015, another issue was already brewing internal to the collective U.S. Pagan community. A group of witches were attempting to rebirth the American Council of Witches. Bathed in secrecy, the group of founders would not reveal any details, causing community confusion, frustration, anger, backlash and eventually the demise of the project.

While the year may have begun with a bang or better yet a very difficult sigh, there was also much to celebrate in those early months. Many Pagans and Heathens applauded the presidential veto of the Keystone XL Pipeline and the exoneration of #Flood11 protestors. Iceland would soon see its first official Asatru temple. The UK marked its first legal same-sex Pagan marriage. Northern Ireland saw the acceptance of the first Pagan priest. And Manannan mac Lir, who had been stolen in January, was found only a month later.

In March, Paganicon attendees even learned how to calm their inner dragons.

[ © Copyright Mat Tuck / CC lic.]

[ © Copyright Mat Tuck / CC lic.]

Then, spring rounded the corner and religious freedom took center stage. The Aquarian Tabernacle Church spoke out publicly against RFRAs, attracting significant mainstream media attention. In Iowa, Wiccan Priestess Deborah Maynard offered the opening invocation before the state legislature, drawing protests and walk-outs. The Open Halls project had to renew its efforts to have Asatru and Heathenism placed on the Army’s list of accepted faith group codes. And, in his first column for The Wild Hunt, Dr. Manny Tejeda-Moreno discussed Religious Discrimination in the Workplace.

Then, as the Beltane fires were lit and festival season was underway, the U.S. faced a brand new round of social struggle and violence. In late April, residents of Baltimore experienced both peaceful protests and a devastating violent riot after the weekend funeral of Freddie Gray. Two months later, Charleston’s historic Mother Emmanuel Church was shocked by a hate-driven terror attack, leaving nine dead.

But time marched on and, as the summer approached, nature seemed to be making itself felt in the most extreme forms. Nepal was hit with a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in April, and the California drought only continued to worsen.

Pagan communities began to directly feel the sting of these natural disasters. In June, Pagan Spirit Gathering was flooded, causing it to close for the first time in 35 years. The Alaska Pagan Community Center was completely destroyed by the Sockeye Wildfire. Later in the year, the Bay Area community witnessed the destruction of its beloved Harbin Hot Springs by the Valley Fire.

As many were coming to terms with the reality of such extreme weather conditions, climate change became an international “buzzword.” In May, a large group of Pagans published the Pagan Community Statement on the Environment that has since garnered 6,860 signatures. Then in June, the world finally was presented with the long awaited Pope’s Encyclical on the environment.

In that very same week, the U.S. also witnessed another landmark moment. The Supreme Court of the United States ruled in the Obergefell v. Hodges case, making same sex marriage legal in all 50 states.


Celebrations outside courthouse June 26 2015 [Courtesy D. Salisbury]

For many, the summer months continued on with festival season in full swing. Early August saw the premier of Many Gods West, and Heathen Chinese shared his thoughts on this new event in his first column for The Wild Hunt. The summer conference raised the volume on an ongoing conversation about Polytheism as a definitive practice, which had been previously addressed by guest writer Anomolous Thracian in his Polytheist Primer.

The summer also brought with it some obstacles in the digital world. Etsy changed its policies on the selling of charms and spells. Instagram banned the hashtag #goddess, and a popular Witchcraft Facebook page was hacked.

Then, violence hit the U.S. again. In July, Chattanooga, Tennessee became the next town victimized by a terror attack. In October, a man opened fired at a college in Roseburg, Oregon. Then, in December, terrorism hit San Bernardino, California. In these latter two cases, a member of the local Pagan community was killed in the attacks. Both Kim Dietz and Daniel Kaufman, were reportedly shot, while trying to save the lives of others.

As the temperature cooled and the leaves began to fall, the mainstream news predictably began to ring the doorsteps of Witches, for better or worse. Additionally, stories with even the tiniest link to Witchcraft made headline news. In early August, a Florida sheriff prematurely ascribed a triple homicide to Witchcraft, igniting protest. Then, just days before Halloween, the sheriff announced an arrest. October also saw a public controversy over Pagan Libertarian candidate Augustus Sol Invictus. And, on the day before Halloween, local Massachusetts news decided to cover a minor legal battle between two well-known Salem Witches. And, at the same time, Heathens were also grappling with their own media issues.

The month also saw the publication of Alex Mar’s Witchcraft in America, which generated a string of publicity and reactions.

October 2015 also hosted something entirely different: The Parliament of the World’s Religions. In record numbers, Pagans and Heathens arrived in Salt Lake City to experience a unique event and to share their own perspectives with others, as both presenters and performers.

Autumn brings with it an end to the festival season, culminating in the well-known celebration of Samhain or Halloween. But there are other Pagan and Heathen holidays observed at the time. For example, this year the small Pennsylvania-based Urglaawe community shared its celebration of Allelieweziel.

Throughout the entire year, The Wild Hunt spotlights unique Pagan and Heathen practices and communities, like the Urglaawe. This year alone we shared stories from Thailand, Finland, India, Costa Rica, South Africa, and Norway. We covered Pagan news from Iceland and Italy. And with the help of our three international contributing writers, we were able talk Canadian politics, discuss religious freedom issues in Australia and celebrating the winter solstice on a hill in the UK.

Shamans hold their drums over the Holy Fire in order to warm them and obtain a clearer sound whiel drumming.

Shamans hold their drums over the Holy Fire in order to warm them and obtain a clearer sound whiel drumming. [Photo Credit: Linnea Nordström]

Outside of the festivities and cultural hullabaloo that occurs around Halloween, these days also have a sobering effect as we mark the passing of our loved ones. The Wild Hunt Samhain post honored the following people: Deborah Ann Light, James Bianchi, Kim Saltmarsh Deitz, Barbara Doyle, Thor von Reichmuth, Michael Howard, Lola Moffat, Brandie Gramling, Max G. Beauvoir, Keith James Campbell, Lord Shawnus, Brother Flint, Heather Carr, Terry Pratchett, Andy Paik, Mary Kay Lundmark, Brian Golec, Maureen Wheeler and Pete Pathfinder. Since we published that list, we have also lost Marc Pourner, Richard Reidy, Carl Llewellyn Weschcke, Morgan McFarland, Scott Walters and L. Daniel Kaufman.

In addition, this year marked the end of two beloved Pagan media outlets: Circle Magazine and ACTION.

As cold winds creep in and November changes to December, the U.S. honored Transgender Awareness month, which was particularly poignant this year after Caitlyn Jenner had previously generated mainstream visibility. Within the Pagan world, conversations on the subject became heated in November, leading up to the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Then, the holiday season arrived in all its warmth, glitter and commercialism. As Americans were preparing for Thanksgiving, terror struck the world again. Both Paris and Beirut were hit by multiple attacks. Due to anger and fear, Islamaphobia has now reached all time highs, and anything with the name Isis could become a target, as discovered by a metaphysical bookstore in Denver.

And so, while much has happened in the story of 2015, the year seems to have come full circle from Paris to Paris.

Despite all the struggles that we have seen this year, hope still remains alive for many in Pagan and Heathen communities, especially with those involved in progressive interfaith work. This Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, CBS will air a United Religions Initiative “groundbreaking interfaith” special called, “May Peace Prevail on Earth.” Several Pagans are prominent and longtime members of this grassroots organization, and will be appearing in the show.

Above are only some of the many stories, reports and events that touched our lives over the past year. There are so many others – ones that we reported on and even more that we didn’t. Here is the best of the best from each of our regular, current contributing writers:

Promoting Healing and Justice for Change by Crystal Blanton
Imbolc’s Invitation by Erick DuPree
Women, Witchcraft and the Struggle Against Abuse by Heather Greene
UK Pagan Community Confronts Child Abuse by Christina Oakley Harrington
The Fire is Here by Heathen Chinese
Canadian Truth and Reconciliation by Dodie Graham McKay
Australia’s Pagan Festivals by Cosette Paneque
Improving Access to Death by Lisa Roling
Building Pagan Temples and Infrastructes part one by Cara Schulz
Iceland’s Temple on the Hill by Eric O. Scott
Terpsichorean Powers by Manny Tejeda-Moreno
Fear of a Blue Sky by Alley Valkyrie
Treating Depression in a Pagan Context by Terence P. Ward
Tomb and the Atheist by Rhyd Wildermuth

Bring on 2016!

MT. HOREB, Wis. — The Mt. Horeb Primary Center, a public elementary school, had scheduled a reading of the children’s book, I am Jazz, in an effort to foster compassion and understanding for transgender students. On Nov 19, they sent a letter home to parents informing them of this special school assembly. In less than 24 hours, complaints began to surface. In fact, the very next day, Mt. Horeb School Board President Mary Seidl received a letter from the Liberty Counsel regarding, the “Inappropriate discussion of gender confusion and sexuality with primary school students.” As news quickly spread, Mt. Horeb Primary Center decided to cancel the book reading.

Author Alex Bledsoe lives in Mt. Horeb and his son attends the school. He heard about the reading and controversy first through other parents. He explained, “Originally only one floor of the school, the students who’d have direct contact with the transgender girl, were notified.”

Mt. Horeb Primary Center has a transgender child, whose name has been purposefully kept out of the news, in one of its 3rd-floor first grade classes. As noted in the parent letter, the school had been working with this child and her parents to provide a safe learning environment within the school. The letter reads:

We believe all students deserve respect and support regardless of their gender identity and expression, and the best way to foster that respect and support is through educating students about the issue of being transgender.

After hearing about the book, Bledsoe purchased a copy and read it to his own children. Written by young transactivist Jazz Jennings and co-author Jessica Herthel, I am Jazz shares the real-life experiences of transgender child. Bledsoe said, “

I discussed it with my son, and we read the book, which is entirely age-appropriate. He’s seven; he’s fine with it. If a child wants to dress a certain way and use a different name, it doesn’t bother him at all. From what I’ve observed, none of the children had any issues; only the adults.”

Author Alex Bledsoe reading "I am Jazz" to his daughter [Courtesy Photo]

Author Alex Bledsoe reading “I am Jazz” to his daughter [Courtesy Photo]

This isn’t the first time that the book has created controversy. For example, in April, it elicited parental protests at a Maine elementary school, after guidance counselors read it allowed without first informing parents. After a wave of backlash, Mitchell Primary School in Kittery apologized for not notifying parents of the reading first, in order to give them a chance to opt out. However, the school stood by its decision to read the book, saying, “The Kittery School District embraces diversity and is committed to creating an atmosphere of respect and tolerance for all people…”

As in that example, some parents in the Mt. Horeb districts did not agree with the school’s decision to read I am Jazz. However, Mt. Horeb did give advanced notice, which caused a near-immediate response. As reported by The Capital Times, “concerned parents” contacted the Liberty Counsel, a Florida-based group that describes itself as a “Christian Ministry” and “international nonprofit litigation, education, and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family since 1989.” The Southern Poverty Law Center classifies the group as an “extremist” group and “anti-LGBT.”

Already engaged in litigation regarding transgender bathroom usage in a Virginia public school system, the Liberty Counsel quickly emailed an official letter to the Mt. Horeb School Board. It reads in part:

The decision [to read the book] ignores the District’s obligation to support the vast majority of students who are not gender-confused, and creates the potential of gender confusion and resulting harms in these other students, who are currently happily living as normal, well-adjusted First, Second, and Third Graders.

The Counsel also states that the school has “violate[d] parental constitutional rights to direct the upbringing of their children,” and requested a cancellation of the reading with the threat of a federal lawsuit.

Under pressure and with the Thanksgiving holiday only days away, the school backed down and cancelled the assembly. In a statement to local radio station WORT, Mount Horeb Area School District Director of Student Services Theresa Daane said that “the school is providing additional time for parents to review the material.” In a later statement, Daane said, “Please know that our continuing goal is to protect all students from any bullying, harassing or intimidating behavior at school so that all of our students may learn together in a safe and caring environment.”

When author Jazz Jennings learned of the cancellation, she simply stated on Facebook, “Meanies”

Then, all went mostly quiet during the four day holiday break, but the controversy picked back up as children returned to class the following Monday. It was over that long weekend that Bledsoe finally heard the entire story, which also began to attract national attention. He said, “First, I went to the school principal and expressed my disappointment with the decision. She was sympathetic, but of course couldn’t really say or do anything until the school board made a decision. Then I contacted a member of the board and discussed it with her.


[Courtesy A. Bledsoe]

In response, the Mt. Horeb High School Sexuality and Gender Alliance (SAGA) group produced and uploaded a support video and staged a public reading of the book. Before school on Wed, Dec 2, SAGA students and 200 community members gathered at the school’s flagpole to hear a reading of the book. Bledsoe said, “To get that many people outside on a Wisconsin winter morning is something.

In addition, Bledsoe and several fellow community members organized an evening reading at the local Mt. Horeb library on the same day. Bledsoe said, “I contacted Jessica Herthel, co-author of I am Jazz and helped arrange for her appearance. We also had Welcoming Schools, a project of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, send a representative.” The event attracted far more than the 80 chairs allowed. Local news sources reported anywhere from 500 to 700 people showed up for the reading. After the event, Herthel herself stated on Facebook that she was thankful for being asked to participate, adding “I [am] astounded by the magnitude of support for both the book itself, and for the 1st grade transkid at the heart of it all. Your actions are not going unnoticed by the world!”

Bledsoe was pleased with the turnout, but not surprised by the support. He described the Mt. Horeb community as “accepting” and “very open.” Bledsoe said, “We have a number of churches, primarily Lutheran. This is anecdotal, but I know that some of the most vocal opponents either homeschool their children, or have no children currently in the school system […] these people are definitely in the minority, which is something I think we showed rather clearly.”

He added, “I think the vast turnout for the library event really put the exclamation point to Mt. Horeb’s willingness to accept this little girl.” There were no reported protests or backlash directed at either event.

[Courtesy A. Bledsoe]

[Courtesy A. Bledsoe]

Then, this past Monday, the Mt. Horeb School Board addressed the issue, which resulted in the Board “unanimously passing an Equal Education Opportunity policy that supports measures to protect the rights of transgender children. As published in a post-meeting eblast, the district policy clearly states:

It is the policy of the Mount Horeb Area School District to provide equal educational opportunity for all students, regardless of sex, race, religion, national origin, ancestry, creed, color, pregnancy, marital or parental status, sexual orientation, transgender status (including gender expression, gender identity and gender nonconformity), or physical, mental, emotional, or learning disability.

This new policy clarifies that a transgender student should be allowed to participate in sports and in-school physical education programs that are “consistent with the gender identity.” They should also be permitted to use the restrooms “consistent with the gender identity.”

A number of people spoke out during the meeting, including several opponents who predominantly identified with the Liberty Counsel position. However, as Bledsoe already noted, these people are in the minority. To demonstrate his point, he added, “The last parent who spoke at the school board meeting, in fact, stressed that Christianity was not monolithic, and that she as a Christian wanted to welcome and accept this student.”

Board president Mary Seidl told The Wild Hunt that a video of the meeting and the minutes will be available online in the coming weeks.

I am Jazz and other children’s books teaching or addressing difference do regularly run into entanglements within school systems. This includes books regarding minority religions, sexuality, gender, race, ethnicity and more. Each school administration handles the policies toward the reading and availability of these books differently. As we have reported in the past, these type of books are key components to building and supporting a healthy diversity in communities as well as teaching tolerance and change.

Bledsoe, as an author himself and a parent agreed, saying, “History had shown that banning books never works. I guarantee that more children have now read I am Jazz than ever would have, had the school not been threatened. The world is changing, and people who were once forced by societal norms to deny their true natures are now able to be open about who they truly are. I want my kids to be aware of that, and accepting of it.  And I’m really glad my community feels the same way.”

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans and Heathens out there, sometimes more than our team can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

Byron Ballard

Byron Ballard

This month, author and Witch Byron Ballard found herself the center piece of a mainstream news story titled, “Meet the Appalachian spell-catcher.” Local journalist Dale Neal published his article in Asheville’s Citizen-Times, the main paper for the region.

Neal wrote, “In her travels, Ballard found many people put off at first by the idea of a pagan priestess … But when she started talking about folk remedies, or bringing out Mason jars of rabbit tobacco or mica pieces, they recognized a common spirit. ‘Oh my grandmother used to do that,’ was a common theme.”

The article focuses on Ballard’s practice, her research and her new book Asfidity and Mad-Stones: A Further Ramble through Hillfolks’ Hoodoo. It captures her love of folk magic, the region and, what Neal called, “an overlooked piece of homegrown culture.”

In Other News…

  • Also making it into the media was our own writer Terence P. Ward, who was quoted by NPR in its own discussion about the use of Daesh and other names within media. He told NPR, “as a reporter covering the ‘Pagan, Heathen, and polytheist communities, I am privy to reports of people being questioned by law enforcement due to being known worshipers of the goddess Isis.’ “
  • In another mainstream story involving Pagans, The Guardian picked up on the brewing controversy over Alex Mar’s book Witches in America.The article titled, “Serious researcher or ‘Spiritual Tourist: How Alex Mar riled American pagans’ quotes a number of Pagan bloggers and points to various posts about the book. The writer also interviewed Alex Mar about the controversy and includes some of her reactions. We will have more on this story in the coming days.
  • And in another mainstream article examining the greater Pagan community, writer Jaya Saxena discusses the problem of sexism within Witchcraft practice. In the article titled “There’s a Sexism Problem in the Modern Witchcraft Community,” Saxena wrote, “low-level misogyny can still be a problem in these circles, in largely the same unconscious ways it exists in the rest of society.” Quoting from a number of practicing Witches both male and female, Saxena notes a number of places where problems can arise and how that is handled. She also mentions the issues that can arise for transgender Witches, saying that some groups are now “challenging the gender binary” constructions in terms of religious practice.
  • Speaking of the transgender community, in a story out of Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin, a local elementary school banned the reading and discussion of a children’s book called I am Jazz.The book tells the story of a transgender child and is written by transgender teen Jazz Jennings. The facility, Mt. Horeb Primary Center, cancelled the reading after The Liberty Council, a Christian legal advocacy group, threatened a lawsuit. Author Alex Bledsoe‘s son attends the school, and he has been indirectly involved in the situation. Bledsoe said, “As a writer, I’m bothered when any book is censored. The list of historically censored books is also a list of some of our greatest literature. As a parent, I have no issue with allowing other parents to opt out their children, but don’t try to force your beliefs on the rest of us. A concerned parent has the right to say, ‘My child won’t,’ but not to say, ‘Your child won’t.’ That’s simply bullying, and any school system that gives into it loses the moral right to tell its students that bullying is wrong.” There will be a scheduled reading and discussion of the book at the local library today.


  • In Tennessee, a Wiccan mother is claiming that her children are not being allowed to practice Wicca while in foster care. Anna Wood said her two children, each in a different home, are being forced to practice Christianity and denied the right to learn Wicca.  She claimed that her daughter was even baptized without her knowledge and her son’s books have been destroyed. According to the article, the Department of Child Services has denied any evidence of discrimination. Wood said that she is “seriously considering a lawsuit.”
  • Moving over to Australia, Victoria’s local news source The Age reported that Robin Fletcher, who “claimed his [Wiccan] religion endorses sex between children and adults,” was denied his request for more relaxed supervision. The judge said that Fletcher still poses a “unacceptable risk of committing a relevant offence.” This was based on letters found to men in Ghana describing what he was planning to do upon being released next summer and his desire to initiate young children into his religious practice. The Department of Justice is currently deciding whether it will extend its request for Fletcher’s supervision past the current end date June 2016.
  • Back in the Unites States, New York’s Rockland County Sheriff’s Department has said that a “suspicious,” “ritualistic,” package was left at the County Courthouse on the day before Thanksgiving. According to local media reports, “The bomb squad did rule that the package was a likely Santeria artifact and it was knowingly left at the building to create panic and fear.” But, in the end, there was no disruption to the court schedule. No further reports or corrections were available.

And one final note… 


Today marks the 16th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. People across the world will be holding various events and vigils, remembering those people who have been lost due to transgender violence. It is a powerful day that is a part of a larger month long awareness campaign.

Transgender Day of Remembrance is held every November, marking the death of Rita Hester, who was murdered in her Boston apartment in 1998. A year after that death, which still remains unsolved, writer Gwendolyn Ann Smith held a vigil in San Francisco to honor Hester’s life and bring awareness to the issues faced by Transgender people. The 1999 vigil became the first Transgender Day of Remembrance, which also launched the website “Remembering Our Dead” and several other awareness campaigns and movements.

Now, every November, a growing number of activities are held during the month, culminating in the Day of Remembrance. The main site for the campaign lists activities across the globe.

[From Allies&Angels; used for a vigil being held in Syracuse, NY]

[From Allies&Angels; used for a vigil being held in Syracuse, NY]

We reached out to several Transgender Pagans for their thoughts. Asking only a very few questions, we allowed them to have the stage, so to speak, and tell us more about living transgender and what this specific day means to them. Our interviewees included, Luke Babb, Elain Corrine Moria and Rev. Katharine A. Jones. Babb is a transmasculine Pagan living in Chicago with an English degree from Truman State University. Pagan Elain Corrine Moria is a transgender woman living in Washtington State. Rev. Katharine A. Jones is a transgender woman of mixed racial heritage living in Florida. She is a Neo-Hellenic Priestess, minster of Fire Dance Church of Wicca and transgender activist.

We welcome our speakers.

The first question asked was whether they have seen or felt any noticeable change in awareness in the mainstream public’s understanding of transgender struggles or issues. Last June saw the very publicized “Caitlyn Jenner” story, which brought very mixed reviews from the transgender community. Has there been a growth in awareness and, if so, has it been positive?

Babb: I haven’t really been out in the community long enough to see any real societal shifts. Right now, people have access to information about trans issues. They’re able to see trans folks- real live people- living and talking and being regular folks. I was lucky enough to come out at a time and in a place where many of the people I know had already been exposed to the idea of trans identity. I’m profoundly grateful for that, and the relative comfort I live in because of it.

But I know that a lot of my experience is a byproduct of my privilege. I work in a large, fairly progressive city, and I surround myself with educated people who both have access to all of this information and the impetus to go and find it. The fact that at least sixteen trans people have been murdered in the US this year means that we cannot make any sort of claim about our society as a whole having a trend toward trans acceptance. Trans Day of Remembrance is not a time for us to talk about how far we’ve come-  if anything, that’s the Trans Day of Visibility, on March 31st. Today is about recognizing how far we have to go, how many people we have lost along the way, and how hard we must work to fight against losing any more of our brothers and sisters to hatred and bigotry.

Morria: In just the last few months I have seen a change within certain areas of society. Some good, and some not so good. Within society in general there has been a marked improvement in tolerance, acceptance and understanding for and toward transgender people. However, in some other segments of society, the hatred for us has grown and become more rabid. They use lies and demonstrable falsehoods to defeat LGBT protections, in particular, to defeat protections for transgender people. Their hatred, malice and rage all too frequently gives some of them an excuse to murder us simply for trying to be true to ourselves.

Jones: Particularly in the last year, there has been an increase in transgender visibility. This has made it easier to educate those who are willing to learn. Many who once regarded trans people with confusion and discomfort now understand who we are, and that being transgender is perfectly normal. Our number of supporters has increased, but so has the hatred we face. Some of the people who once paid us no attention now seek to attack us. This year sets the record for homicide and hate crimes against the transgender community. This year we have seen a number of attempts by bigoted politicians to pass legislation specifically against us.

In 2013, Jones organized the first Transgender Day of Remembrance vigil in Pensacola. The following year, she setup the transgender advocacy group STRIVE of which she is currently the Vice President. This year, along with Debra Dubose of Safe Port Counseling Center, she is hosting a two day remembrance event, during which they expect over 50 people. 

11947460_634898819947050_4134799355407870099_nFor the next discussion, we wondered what the biggest threat to the community’s safety was. This is a difficult question, but we asked our interviewees, if they could wave a wand to change one thing that would make the biggest impact, what would that one thing be?

Babb: I strongly believe that the single biggest threat to acceptance is ignorance – and I don’t know how to explain that in a way that doesn’t sound cliched. I have a lot of conflicted feelings about Harvey Milk’s call to come out of the closet.  I don’t like the way it can be used to vilify people for keeping themselves safe in often dangerous environments. But I think the idea behind it is solid. Society will only really change when people realize that their loved ones, friends, and coworkers are trans.

If I could wave a hand and change one thing, I would make everyone realize that trans issues are not an academic interest – they affect the people you know and love. And it’s true – the current best guess is that 0.3% of the population is transgender, and the data is so hard to get that the real number is probably much higher. The odds are excellent that someone you know identifies on the trans spectrum. It’s easy to vilify a population if you think they are different from you- we see this all the time. But I have seen such change, and such love, from people who educate themselves because they know someone who is trans.The only thing I can think to wish is that more people start down that road.

Morria: I believe the single greatest threat to acceptance is conservative religious ideology, regardless of the religion it is from. We suffer from it within the Pagan community as well. A community formed on and growing around the idea of acceptance and inclusiveness. Sadly, this hatred seems to be growing and too many people who should know better, have fallen under the spell of conservative hatred.

Jones:  It is very difficult to say specifically what is the single greatest obstacle we face. I find myself struggling with this question in large part because I’m sure if you asked a hundred trans people this question you would get a hundred different answers. … In a general sense ignorance is the root of all our problems. If accurate, well-articulated information was made available to the general public, and became common knowledge, most of our problems would be solved. 

More specifically, the lack of knowledge in the medical community is a problem. If I had a magic wand that could change just one aspect of the world, I’d probably make a complete education on transgender healthcare (provided by a transgender teacher) a prerequisite for a medical degree. Too often I talk to doctors and mental health specialists who won’t take transgender patients because they don’t know how to treat us. I feel like if the medical community was educated, their influence would also effect politicians and employers.  Conversely, it is my personal opinion (though some disagree with me) that employment discrimination is the biggest problem we face. Many trans people can’t get to a doctor (or even find a place to live) to begin with because they have no job and therefore no money.

With that in mind, the third question asked was how can non-trans people can be the best allies? What should cisgender people do or not do to help raise awareness, support their friends and eliminate the barriers discussed above? 

Babb:  Educate yourself. I can’t emphasize this enough. Educate yourself. Struggle with your internalized transphobia- seek it out, own up to it, struggle to overcome it. Speak up when your privilege gives you an opportunity to defend trans lives, but let trans people speak for themselves, with their own voices, whenever possible. There are a million articles on the internet that answer this question in depth, with examples. Read them.

And accept the responsibility for your own allyship. Trans people do not owe you anything. They do not owe you their thanks for being a decent person. They do not owe you the time or effort that it would take to educate you. Trans people are incredibly busy trying to exist  in a society that tells them that they can’t, or shouldn’t. If you are going to help them, it is going to be uncomfortable. It’s going to be work. But it’s not going to approach the level of discomfort and work they go through, every day.

This is what I tell myself in my efforts to be an ally. It’s a hard thing to accept, a harder thing to internalize, and I have to keep reminding myself that the times I feel classist, ageist, racist- those are the times when I’m challenging my comfort zones, and growing. It is not up to my friends to make me a better person, or reward me for becoming one. It is up to me to make their lives better, any way I can.

Morria: Cisgender people can be awesome allies if they do three things … 1. Educate themselves about what being transgender IS … 2. Be polite, but firm in not allowing [other] people to misgender us, paint us as child molesters or deviants. Refuse to allow [the] mistreatment of us stand without a (legal) fight. 3. Promote and support legislation that protects our rights. Fight legislation that tries to deny us basic human dignity and rights (bathroom laws come to mind, we after all, #OnlyWantToPee).

Jones: Without a doubt the best thing you can do as an ally to the transgender community, is listen. If there is someone in your life who is transgender, whether they are family, friend, co-worker, or anything else, ask them what you can do to make their life easier, and do that. What each person needs will be different, so I can’t give you a one-size-fits-all answer.

As to how you can make a real difference on the larger scale, give trans people the stage. People don’t listen to us. Whether it’s because they think we’re mentally or spiritually ill, or just make them uncomfortable, most people want us to be quiet. The ones who do want to help often try to speak for us, which is almost as bad. If you have a microphone in your hand, pass it to someone who’s transgender. If you have an audience for a TV show, a blog, a newspaper, or an event, ask them to listen and let them hear a transgender voice. We are here, we are just like you, and we are already speaking, but many don’t hear us.

Transgender people are speaking out. This is a 2013 video by Pagan activist, author and artist Elena Rose. The video is from Girl Talk, “a critically acclaimed multi-media performance show promoting dialogue about relationships of all kinds between queer transgender women, queer cisgender women, and genderqueer people.”

Elena Rose [Still from Girl Talk Video]

Elena Rose [Still from Girl Talk Video.]

For our fourth question, we asked for words of hope. Often when talking about marginalized, oppressed, and silenced populations, we focus on the struggle, violence and pain. So, we asked them to take a moment to share something beautiful about the transgender community or about being transgender: a story or even a moment?

Babb: The problem with talking about the joy of oppressed peoples is that you’re talking about the joy of living, for a group of people who have that basic level of existence threatened every day. The stories of joy that I have are the quiet moments of being myself, and being seen as myself, being surrounded by people who love me. They don’t lend themselves well to my method of storytelling – there’s nothing exciting about them, no build up to a climax of realization. They’re the moments when I look in the mirror and recognize the person looking back. When my partner puts her arm around me and calls me by my name, holding me in myself on a level so basic that most people don’t question it. When I meet someone, and we talk together, and what we say is Yes, and Me too, and it feels vanishingly rare and extraordinarily valuable.

Then I talk to  other trans people, we share stories that are painful – moments when we were threatened, moments when we were scared, moments when someone threatened the truth of who and what we are. We share those stories and we laugh, because for a moment we are in a place where everyone knows the truth, and anyone who would argue with it is wrong to the point of being absurd. The best thing I can compare it to is the joy of ritual – being surrounded by people who are joined with you on sending out positive energy against a negative world. That sort of community, wherever it is found, is beautiful. I’m very lucky to have found other gender rebels to share it with.

The joy of being trans is the joy of being yourself, and valued, and happy. It’s no more unusual or special than the joy of being anyone else. What makes it hard to talk about, what makes it seem so strange, is that it is a joy we are told we aren’t qualified to have, and don’t deserve. When we dare to have it anyway, it is a joy that is taken from us by force.

Morria: On May 5 of this year, I felt terribly alone, terribly isolated and felt myself to be a pariah. I attempted and very nearly succeeded in commiting suicide … Three communities stood by my side. The Pagan community, who threw out a lot of energy to help me stay here. The Transgender community, who were terrified that they had lost yet another sister. And the Christian community who also prayed very hard for me and did everything they could to help me through it. All three communities, disparate as they are, rallied around one goal. Making sure I felt loved and accepted, and making sure there was a lifeline for me to find my way back.

To me this is beautiful because it shows that when we want to, we can ALL get along and work for a mutual goal. Since those 10 days I was in the hospital, all my friends, be they Pagan, Christian, Transgender, etc have shown me an amazing amount of love and support. I don’t feel nearly as alone and isolated as I did, and though I still feel somewhat like a pariah … I find that I care more about being who I am, as best I can, than the opinions or thoughts of people who have never walked a fraction of my journey …

Jones: Mostly, the pain, violence, and struggle is what needs to be talked about, but there is beauty too, and there is love. I like to say, family is the people who love the real you and are there when you need them, everything else is relatives. Most trans people have, to varying degrees, lost family because of who they are. I come from a big family. My childhood memories are punctuated by the presence of twenty to a hundred people who I saw two to three times a year on special occasions. Out of all those people, I only talk to five now. Some of us have no one at all, so we make new families– families of the heart, people who know us and love us as we are.

My transgender family is closer, more loving, and more devoted than I think any other could be, because we picked each other. When one of us needs something, we all pitch in to make it happen. When one of us couldn’t afford a medical bill a few months ago, the rest of us raised the money in less than a day. When some of us had nowhere to go for the holidays, several different people opened their homes and held potluck parties for ANYONE who wanted to come. We throw parties just because every couple of months, so we’ll have an excuse to gather and enjoy each other’s company.

Living with my blood family, I could go a day and a half without seeing people who lived in the same house with me. Now, I rarely go that long without an impromptu visit from someone who “just happened to be in the area”. I call them my people, because we are like a tribe. We take care of each other, because no one else is doing so.

cropped-tdor1_zpsd6602842As Babb mentioned earlier, Transgender Day of Remebrance (TDOR) “is not a time for us to talk about how far we’ve come” … It is “about recognizing how far we have to go.” Every year, the TDOR website includes a list of names of those people known “to have died because of anti-transgender violence.”  To end our interviews, we asked our interviewees what the day means to them.

Babb: Transgender Day of Remembrance is important because it’s our opportunity to mourn the ones we’ve lost. So many trans people are cast out of their birth families- we say their names so that someone will, because they are valuable, because they are our family and we have to mourn them

Morria: Trans Remembrance day is exceedingly important for me because it reminds me of all my transgender brothers and sisters whose lives were ended for no other reason than they were trying to live true to themselves. It reminds me that to some groups of people, my life is utterly worthless and killing me in their minds, is a service to whatever it is they believe in. It also reminds me that, while we have managed to come a long way quickly where Transgender rights and equality is concerned, we have a long way to go, and each life it costs, is a price too great and too painful to have to pay.

It makes me ask the question every time I am out. “Will I be the next statistic? The next victim? The next one whose loss is mourned by my family, loved ones and transgender brothers and sisters?” It also reminds me that our murderers are rarely ever apprehended, because our lives don’t seem to matter to investigators, and our murderers when caught, are rarely ever given sentences that match the crime. We are maligned. Hated. Lied about and treated as fifth class humans unworthy of the same protections others have and take as a given. It reminds me that society, while imroving, still sees my life as less valuable because I am Transgender … It reminds me that the fight MUST continue.

Jones: Since 1998, the Transgender Day of Remembrance has honored the victims of transphobic violence. We light candles, and we say their names, to show that they have not been forgotten or ignored. The vigil is usually followed by advocacy and activism discussions geared toward reducing violence against the trans community and moving media and law enforcement toward handling the murders correctly. They often go unreported, and law enforcement fails to investigate fully more often than not. 

The Day of Remembrance gives trans people a chance to express the heavy emotions which come from living our lives in this kind of danger and oppression, and it reminds us of what we are fighting to change. It also increases our visibility and encourages others to educate themselves, or even join our fight for equality. Last year, one of the names we read was an eight year old girl named Alex Medeiros beaten to death by her own father, for refusing to cut her hair, liking women’s clothes, and dancing. The moment I read that aloud was the last time there was a dry eye in the gathering until we came to the end.

This year it’s more important than ever, because we’ve had more violence than ever. There are approximately 27 victims right now, but different sources give different numbers because the deaths are not correctly reported and because there are no government statistics. The average homicide rate of trans people is about 1 in 12, as opposed to roughly 4.7 in 100,000 for the general population. That’s higher than any other demographic except sufferers of certain life threatening illnesses. I am currently running a petition to have the TDoR declared a national holiday … We need this event to raise awareness of these terrifying statistics. I’m more likely to die going to the grocery store than you are in a plane crash. I want this to be the last year that my identity is life threatening.

  *   *   *

For those people who are attending organized vigils today or would like to participate in their own way privately or with their own groups, we have attached here the TDoR list of 2015 victims of anti-transgender violence. There are many resources on the issues discussed above, as well as resources for both trans people and allies. GLAAD provides a short list of legal resources and other support. Now celebrating its first anniversary, the Trans Lifeline is available nationally. It helps “empower Trans people to help other Trans people in the darkest moments of their lives.” 

The Wild Hunt thanks all three of our interviewees for their time and willingness to share their thoughts.

There are lots of articles and news of interest to modern Pagans out there – more than our team can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

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The Supreme Court

The Supreme Court

In EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has issued yet another opinion supporting the protection of an individual’s religious rights. On Monday, SCOTUS reversed the decision of the Tenth Circuit court, which ruled in favor of the retailer. It stated that the lower court, “misinterpreted Title VII’s requirements in granting summary judgment.”

In 2008, Samantha Elauf, a devout Muslim, interviewed for a job with Abercrombie & Fitch. As reported on the SCOTUSblog, when Elauf wasn’t hired, “a company employee indicated that the rejection was attributable to the headscarf.”  She turned to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), who filed a lawsuit on her behalf, stating that the company violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The case reached SCOTUS, who ruled this past Monday in favor of Elauf. The opinion reads, in part, “Title VII does not demand mere neutrality with regard to religious practices—that they be treated no worse than other practices. Rather, it gives them favored treatment, affirmatively obligating employers not “to fail or refuse to hire or discharge any individual . . . because of such individual’s ‘religious observance and practice.’ …Title VII requires otherwise-neutral policies to give way to the need for an accommodation.”  For a full discussion of the ruling, go to Amy Howe’s report on the SCOTUSblog

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real black history challengeWild Hunt columnist and author Crystal Blanton has recently launched her third annual “30 Days of Real Black History Challenge.” The project was born in 2013 in response to a conversation that Blanton had about “the Black experience in America.”  She said, “I challenged myself to post 3-5 facts, stories, and bits of information on my facebook for 30 days. After several days I realized how much I was learning and growing in the process, and how many people were engaging in these incredible topics about the underbelly of Black history and the Black Experience.”

Using the hashtag #30DayRBHC2015, Blanton continues with the challenge all month. On the Facebook page, there are already a number of articles, reports, and discussions on various topics related to this year’s theme of “Perserverence, Understanding and Healing.”  Blanton said that the posts will be “exploring racism, history, slavery, jim crow, systemic and institutionalized racism, transgenerational and historic trauma, cognitive dissonance, privilege, disparity and challenges that have impacted African Americans and their stories from the moment we touched the shores.” She hopes that her work will educate, inform and inspire.

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  • On June 1, Pew Forum published a report on the treatment of gay marriage around the world. The article offers a list of the twenty countries in which same-sex marriage is legal and also highlights the processes by which the legalizations came to be. Additionally, the article profiles Mexico and the United States, where gay marriage is “legal in some jurisdictions.”
  • While on the subject…Religion Clause has labeled Alabama as “‘ground zero’ for opposition to same-sex marriage. Why? As the media outlet reports, a Unitarian minister has recently pleaded guilty to “disorderly conduct” after attempting to marry a lesbian couple in a probate office. When she refused to leave, she was arrested. The local Montgomery Advertiser has the details in that case. In addition to that case, the Alabama state senate has just approved SB 377 that will end the issuance of marriage licenses altogether. As noted by Religion Clause, if the bill is approved,”this procedure eliminates the issue of whether a probate court employee who objects to same-sex marriage must issue a license to a same-sex couple.” In place of licenses, the state will grant marriage contracts, but only at the discretion of the local probate court.
  • In world news, Tanzania’s Deputy Home Affairs Minister, Pereira Silima, admitted that there is a link between the country’s politicians and the attacks on the its Albino population. As we have noted in the past, Tanzania’s Albinos live in fear as “Witch Doctors,” who use their body parts to perform magic. These killings have increased in recent years, and are reportedly worse during elections. As reported by Reuters , Deputy Silima said, “I want to assure my fellow politicians that there won’t be any parliamentary seat that will be won as a result of using albino body parts.” Silima urged the members of Tanzania’s parliament to steer clear of witchcraft.
  • Now, moving from reality to fiction, Hollywood has released a trailer for the latest Witch-inspired film. The Last Witch Hunter, starring Vin Diesel, is conveniently due out October 23. From the trailer it appears that the film’s narrative pits “our world” against the “next” with Vin Diesel as the “last hope” for humanity. Visually “our world” is defined by Christian imagery (e.g.,Michael Caine’s collar), wealth and an Excalibur-like sword. “The next” is defined by the natural world (e.g., a large tree, butterflies, snow), fire, and a pentacle. How the film’s story will actually play out remains to be seen. What is the “next” world exactly? Is it the land of the dead with zombies and white walkers? Or is it a mystical realm? Or could it be a post-apocalyptic film that imagines a post-Christian world? There are many questions left unanswered. The Wild Hunt will have a review after its release.

  • Also in film, the Austin Chronicle reports that two film series will be showing at the Alamo Ritz during the first beginning of June. The first is called, “Pastoral Nights & Pagan Rites” and the second is “Black Sabbats & Blood Rites.” According to the Chronicle, “[the series] reflect two very different sides of British culture.” The article then quotes Alamo Ritz booker Tommy Swenson saying, “The two series are unified, I think, by an engagement with a sort of mythic history of England. The folk horror films all deal with the return of elements from pre-Christian life and folklore – witchcraft, paganism, and especially sacrifice. They share a sense of rural menace and the anxiety of a haunted landscape. The Archers’ movies are also totally interested in people’s relationship with nature, with the mysterious and magical qualities of the Earth. There’s a similar sense of tension between old ways and new, but they’re coming at it through a very different lens.” The film series runs now with June 14.
  • Continuing our look at the occult in film, John Morehead of TheoFantastique recently discovered an article that discusses the esoteric qualities of the famous silent horror film Nosferatu. Morehead writes, “The May 2015 issue of Fortean Times caught my eye when I was in the bookstore on Friday. On the cover was Max Shrek made up as Count Orlok in the silent horror film classic Nosferatu as the illustration for a story by Brian Robb titled ‘Nosferatu: The Vampire and the Occultist.‘” He goes on to discuss Robb’s essay, which details how film studio owner and occultist Albin Grau influenced the production of the famous silent film.
  • Now for something totally different. Artist and Activist Jenny Kendler, co-founder of The Endangered Species Print Project, has developed a new program for the National Resources Defense Council and its efforts to save the Monarch butterfly. According to a recent article, Kendler is the Council’s artist-in-residence. Most of her projects aim at “reconnecting urban-dwellers with the natural world.” In her new program, Kendler releases biodegradable balloons filled with milkweed seeds. During a presentation, she talks about the relationship between Milkweed and Monarchs, and gives out pins displaying images of butterfly wings.
  • Lastly, on June 1, Vanity Fair released its July 2015 cover that introduces the world to Caitlyn Jenner. In her very first tweet, Jenner said, “I’m so happy after such a long struggle to be living my true self. Welcome to the world Caitlyn. Can’t wait for you to get to know her/me.” While many acknowledge Jenner’s bravery and have supported her process, the transgender community has had some mixed reactions, reminding people that Jenner’s story is not a common one. As noted in Ms. Magazine, “There are countless unnamed transgender women who will never have their portraits taken by Annie Leibovitz and will never make their transitions from the heights of race and class privilege Jenner enjoys.” The July magazine, which contains the article detailing Jenner’s transition, will be released later this month. The conversations are only just beginning.

That is it for now. Have a great day.

LINCOLN, NEBRASKA — Harold Wilson and Gracy Sedlak want the same right that so many others are fighting for in the United States today, the right to marry whoever they choose. The reason they are not able to legally marry each other is because Sedlak is a transgender person in transition from male to female. Therefore, their union is legally considered a violation of Nebraska’s constitution, amended in 2000 to allow marriage only between a man and a woman.

marriage equality

After losing two of their own lawsuits challenging that amendment, Wilson and Sedlak have asked permission to be added as plaintiffs to a similar case being brought by the ACLU. For this particular couple, the stakes in this marriage equality fight go beyond the obvious. Wilson is serving a decades-long sentence for attempted murder and other crimes. Without marrying him, Sedlak is barred from visiting her partner because she was herself an inmate within the past three years.

Like many of the battles in the war over marriage equality, each of these cases has a history. Nebraska amended its constitution by ballot initiative to define marriage as between a man and a woman. That move prompted the ACLU and other groups to sue. The case made history in 2005 when U.S. District Judge Joseph Bataillon became the first to overturn a state marriage law. In 2006, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit overruled Bataillon, handing same-sex marriage its only significant judicial defeat prior to the Supreme Court weakening the Defense of Marriage Act last year.

Since that time, a growing consensus among courts has said denying lesbian and gay couples the freedom to marry has no legitimate basis. — ACLU Nebraska spokesman Tyler Richard

Only one federal circuit — the sixth, covering Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee — has upheld such a ban since the Supreme Court’s ruling, setting the stage for revisiting the Nebraska measure. In preparation for this lawsuit, Nebraska’s ACLU carefully vetted a group of seven couples from among the many which volunteered to participate.

According to the Lincoln Journal Star, “Six of the couples are legally married in other states. Four have children. One has been together for three decades; another nearly that long. They include a therapist, a lawyer, a CPA, a doctor, four consultants, a disabled veteran and an advocate for families with disabled children.” The group was selected to send a message that there is nothing dangerous to society about allowing same-sex couples to wed.

Wilson is in the midst of a 56 to 170 year sentence for attempted murder, kidnapping and sexual assault in Dawson County. He’s been in prison since Sedlak, born John Jirovsky, was two years old. The only way to get around the state rule keeping former inmates from visiting prisons is through marriage, a route barred to the couple as long as they are both legally considered male.

Wilson and Sedlak sought to marry under the care of the Lincoln Monthly Meeting of conservative Quakers, where Sedlak, a Wiccan, attends worship. However, the prison blocked the attempt. They were further denied a marriage license twice, and then sought relief in both state and federal courts.In 2013, both cases were denied. The federal case was barred by a settlement in another matter, and the state case — which alternatively asked for Sedlak to be legally recognized as a woman — was denied because the couple failed to pay the necessary filling fees.

After the ACLU case was filed in November, Wilson and Sedlak made a motion to be added as plaintiffs. Attempts to reach Sedlak for comment were unsuccessful.

In their motion against the couple, ACLU lawyers have argued that adding additional plaintiffs now would create an unnecessary delay in the case. According to an AP report, Wilson and Sedlak “have not demonstrated or alleged that the seven Nebraska couples already in the suit do not adequately represent the couple’s interests.”

Judge Bataillon, who originally overturned Nebraska’s constitutional amendment in 2003, will be making the final decision on the ACLU case, including the current motion to include Wilson and Sedlack  No date has been publicly announced for a hearing on the motion to be added, which will be decided before the larger case moves forward.

The English language is in the midst of a gender revolution – one that began the first time someone questioned why the default state of every noun and pronoun was masculine. Since that point, “humankind” has gradually replaced “mankind,” and the male-centric generic “his” has given way to “hers or his” or (the still grammatically incorrect) “theirs.” Gradually, the language has moved toward treating both genders equitably.

Wordle: Pronouns

However, the preceding statement presumes that there are only two genders, and highlights a very real gender gap remaining in the language: the presumption that gender has only two variants, and thus requires two, or perhaps three, pronouns to reflect reality. Like the generic “he,” the use of these gendered pronouns is so commonplace that it’s all but invisible, except to the people who don’t fit either one and their allies. These people have chosen a more suitable set of pronouns, either based on existing words or new ones that have been invented for the purpose.

Perhaps it makes more sense to call it an evolution than a revolution, since it has been in-progress for decades and isn’t likely to be settled in the near future. To get a sense of what the language might look like once the question of pronoun use is settled, The Wild Hunt asked a number of Pagans and polytheists about their own use of, and attitudes about, pronouns in English. Because the Polytheist and Pagan communities are generally more supportive of transgender people, than what is seen in the overculture, it is possible to speak to a selection of people who have, at least, a passing familiarity with the issues involved.

Generally, it’s considered polite to ask a trans* person what pronoun e prefers. E, em, and eir comprise one set, the old Spivak pronouns, which have the advantage of sounding similar to common English pronouns, unlike zie and hir, which are also deemed too feminine-sounding by some. On the other end of the spectrum is the use of the word “one” to denote a person without referencing gender. While this has been argued as perfectly practical, no one interviewed for this article uses that form. There are those who use “they,” despite the fact that it sounds incorrect to many a grammarian’s ear, and others think “it” is the most appropriate descriptor.

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

While seemingly inconsequential to the cisgendered, binary-gender pronouns have a very real impact on those who don’t identify as one, or the other. P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, a metagender person, said that the simple act of filling out an online form can be incredibly frustrating. E explained:

[A]ny online form that forces me to choose either male/man or female/woman for a gender, and does not allow me to proceed without making that choice, isn’t something I can fill out … I do not mark them on forms at doctor’s offices and such any longer, either.  Any online forum, survey, or anything else which requires it isn’t something I can participate in. This is what kept me from joining the Polytheism Without Borders project last year when it started; when I raised this point with the creator of the group, I was told, ‘Can’t you just pick one for convenience?’ Nope.

To take this trend to its natural conclusion, the expectation would be that all people have the right to choose the pronouns that are most suitable, and the assumption that the preference is “he” or “she” unless otherwise stated would have to fall away. Is that a realistic or practical outcome?

Melissa ra Karit, a genderqueer priest/ess in CAYA Coven’s Wildflower tradition, said:

Personally, I would love to see preferred pronouns becoming an automatic part of introductions. ‘Hi, I’m Mary, I use she/her pronouns,’ and, ‘I’m John, I use e/eir pronouns’ seem simple enough to add. I don’t actually think remembering someone’s pronouns would be much if a stretch once we got beyond the assumption that someone who appears female uses female pronouns and someone who appears male uses male pronouns. (What do we mean by “appears female/male” anyway?) We routinely remember all sorts of information about people, such as jobs, their families, their food allergies, their birthdays, and so on. For those who tend to forget such details, I imagine they would use the same sorts of memory aids, such a cell phones and calendar reminders, that they do for everything else. (Can you imagine if your phone popped up a message that said ‘John, e/eir, is texting you?’ I can!)

While zir may feel that learning preferred pronouns is simple, not everyone agrees. Autumn Pulstar, who identifies as a cisgender woman, admits, “I find it hard to use the nonstandard pronouns, even when referring to someone who prefers them. Being in my 50s, old habits die hard. I’m not trying to be disrespectful, but it is something that does not come naturally … and the awkward pause is often more unsettling than saying what comes natural. Fortunately, I have very cool friends.”

Shauna Aura Knight

Shauna Aura Knight

Speaker and ritualist Shauna Aura Knight, a ciswoman, also admitted that she finds the various pronouns confusing. She added, “One piece of advice I was given by a genderqueer activist was to just use people’s names.” That advice is helpful, but Knight has other limitations that reduce its usefulness: she’s not terribly good remembering names. And while she didn’t say so, avoiding all pronouns in lieu of a person’s name can lead to speech or writing that feels clunky or contrived.

Lupus recalled a relationship that went south over eir desire to use Spivak pronouns to describe emself. It was a surprising case, e said, involving “a trans*woman, who was also not going to go through with any surgical interventions or procedures, who said that I confused her and that the mental gymnastics required to conceptualize my gender as non-binary were not of enough interest to her to do to make any effort toward, and therefore she’d just consider me however she wanted to despite my asking otherwise.”

Diane Verocchi, a cisgender woman, does make sure she uses pronouns of choice, although some of them feel more awkward to her than others. “I don’t know if ‘hir’ would stand out less to me if it were in common use,” she wrote. “I encounter zie/zir online a lot, so they don’t particularly jump out at me. Hir looks like a typo for either him or her and sounds closer to her, so I find it puzzling that some prefer it, but if I know that is their preference, that is what I’ll use.”

Familiarity breeds comfort to ciswoman and writer Jolene Poseidonae, who acknowledges that she doesn’t have much occasion to become familiar with alternative pronouns. She said:

If they were more widely used, I certainly believe that gender-neutral pronouns would be easier for me to see and use and not feel like I’m making up words. If they were something that were more widely used just in my own life, it would be easier — but again, it’s not a huge issue. I won’t say that most of my friends are cisgendered, but those who are not have expressed the desire to be referred to by one of the two gender specific pronouns. That very well may be because those are what’s available, but I couldn’t say for sure.

Jaina Bee, a metagender priest/ess of the CAYA Wildflower tradition, added, “If we really care about each other, we will pay attention to the things that matter to each individual, whether it be a religious observation, a dietary restriction, a differently-abled physical or mental condition, or a set of pronouns. This is not inconvenience, this is common courtesy.”

Wordle: pronouns

An alternative to personalizing pronoun choice is to adopt a more inclusive set, one that either ignores or more fully embraces gender variation. Given that the spectrum of gender includes metagender, intersex, feminine cismales and masculine cisfemales, androgynes, genderqueers, and gender-fluid people, among others, a theoretical group of pronouns that acknowledged all possible genders may be too large to be manageable. Pronouns that do not acknowledge gender at all can also be used if the gender of the person is not known or is irrelevant, but that doesn’t mean there is anything like a consensus to adopt that particular standard. And which ones should become the norm?

“When I look at myself in the mirror and think of what I’d most like to be, I don’t see ‘he’ or ‘she,'” said Lupus, “nor do I see ‘ze/sie,’ I see ‘e.'” Others, however, “prefer the plural-as-singular, which actually has Victorian precedents. Still others I know prefer to be called ‘it,’ since that is a de facto neutral pronoun.”

Hearthstone, a ciswoman writer, remarked, “You’d think it would be possible to adopt a neutral pronoun since English uses natural gender rather than grammatical gender.” She added that she would be fine with being addressed using a neutral pronoun, “if it was a pronoun understood to mean a human being. I would feel dehumanized if someone called me ‘it,’ but that’s because “it” is so strongly contextualized as non-human.” Pulstar also said she would be offended if someone were to call her “it.”

Poseidonae was mindful that, as part of the cisgendered majority, she has choices others do not. She said:

In theory, I’m not sure that I would care if someone referred to me with a gender-neutral pronoun. As much as I’m cisgendered, it is mostly something I’m not overly attached to — which I understand is part and parcel of the privilege of being cisgendered. I wouldn’t hate for us to be more gender neutral when talking about people we don’t know well, but that’s me wanting more of a clear delineation between the public and private realms in our lives than what society currently tolerates.

Verocchi said that her reaction would “depend entirely on situation and context.”  She said:

If they didn’t know which pronouns I prefer, then it I think it would be no different than correcting the pronunciation of my last name (something I do all the time) to respond to that, if I even felt it was worth doing so.  If they knew that I am a cisgender female who prefers feminine pronouns and were using neutral pronouns with the intent of misgendering me, I’d be annoyed or possibly offended.  In either case, I don’t think I’d be as offended” as transgender people have told her they feel when others misgender them, out of disinterest or malice, “probably because I don’t experience it on a regular basis.

A cisgender woman who identified herself as Juni also didn’t want to be misgendered, saying, “I would be fine with it if someone used [a neutral pronoun] to refer to me, though it would probably feel a little odd; I think the only pronoun that would actually make me uncomfortable would be he/his. I would be perfectly comfortable with gender-free pronouns as a general rule.”

Knight agreed that context is important in accepting someone’s use of a gender-free pronoun for herself. She said:

For instance, when I’ve gone to a store or answered the phone and been referred to as ‘sir,’ I’ve been offended. I don’t think I particularly look male, but I’m pretty tall and I have a deeper voice. In retrospect, I’m aware that that has much more to do with my body image issues around weight/attractiveness to men. It was a hit to my self esteem since it told me, in a nutshell, that I was obviously not attractive (as a woman) to these men.

If I were at a Pagan, spiritual, or activist event and I were referred to by gender-free pronouns, I probably wouldn’t necessarily have any negative feelings around it, since it doesn’t really impact my identity in that context. I grew up in a gender binary environment so using the gender-free pronouns might itch a little. That’s the best word I can use to describe it.  It’s not me being offended so much as me not being used to something.  It’s like moving into a new house and I’m not sure where things are and I have to think about everything more.

Knight also said that she wrestles with how to incorporate gendered language into ritual. “There’s a general axiom that multi-syllable words that come from a Latin root tend to have a more clinical sound than the more onomatopoetic words that come from the Germanic,” she explained. “The problem is that Latin has better gender neutral words.” The Germanic words are more primal, and help participants get out of “thinky headspace” but are less inclusive. She cited examples such as “parent” instead of “mother” or “father,” and “siblings” as a more clinical but also more inclusive substitute for “brothers and sisters.”

CAYA Coven Wildflower initiate Verity Blue said:

I would love to see us collectively move to a inclusive/neutral set of pronouns. I think the hard part would be changing habits, but we aren’t really getting any useful info out of she/he her/him. Gender is not the physical sex of a person, it is not the chromosomal sex of a person, it is a complexly layered part of identity that is often beyond describing. Basically our current system is ones and zeros when what we need is more a robust, elegant language. Personally, I enjoy what I call ‘zednouns.’ Zie walked down the street singing zir favorite song quietly to zirself. In my understanding it is the evolution of creating pronouns that start with xy, like the human sex chromosomes. Zie is the collective of all gender expression.

Others are not so sure that separating gender from pronouns is preferable, much less possible. “As for moving the language toward an all-inclusive, neutral-gender pronoun system, there are many considerations that lead me to think this goal is not only improbable, it is also undesirable for many reasons,” said Bee.  “As we’ve seen in recent public discussions of racial issues … [there has been] essentially a denial of the distinctions between people, their diverse concerns and needs, and tends, in practice, to lead to a default that erases those who don’t fit into the conventional definition.”

Ruadhán J McElroy

Ruadhán J McElroy

Trans*man Ruadhán J McElroy also isn’t sold on divorcing gender from pronouns.

Every language [that] I have some familiarity with acknowledges gender, and most societies pre-Christianity, in some way, recognise more than two genders. Ergo, it really upsets me when I see others, especially my fellow trans people, talk about abolishing gender from society. While different cultures recognise a different range of non-cis genders, and hold different standards for all genders recognised, one thing is clear: human beings are a gendered species …

Furthermore, it strikes me as highly dismissive of the issues faced by people based on gender, and the suggestion to ‘abolish gender’ as little more than a cop-out to justify doing nothing; it’s ridiculous and potentially evidence of deep internalised transphobia coming from other trans and non-binary people, and infuriating coming from cis people — the former people are saying that gender for non-cis people only makes life harder, potentially to the point that giving up on a central aspect of a person seems preferable to the headache it causes, but the latter group is basically saying that the former group’s concerns aren’t worth addressing in any way, much less a productive one.

Like the use of preferred pronouns, adopting a set that does not take gender into consideration would require buy-in from the cisgendered majority to gain traction. Hearthstone pointed out, “There needs first to be willingness on the part of cis-folks to use nongendered pronouns and so forth for ourselves, I think, rather than only using them for non-binary folks. Otherwise, it’s still exclusionary.”

Karit agreed, saying that even zir idea of introductions that include pronoun preference that ze imagines needs a generic option. “I see the second part of such a system as moving to a gender-neutral set of pronouns to describe anyone whose pronouns we don’t know. That, I think, would take a big cultural shift. I think anything like that is a ways off in the future.”

Knight looks to altering the entrenched rules of accepted sentence construction. She said:

I think that one part is doing whatever is necessary to change the rules of grammar that say that his/her is appropriate and ‘their’ is not. Going further, if we’re going to use gender neutral pronouns, I really feel that there needs to be a consensus on which ones.  I see ‘hir’ with some frequency, probably because it’s the most [common], but that doesn’t bear up in speech because hir and her are virtually indistinguishable. I kind of like the old Spivak ones because they sound like ‘their,’ but without the consonant. Speaking as a language nerd, the lack of initial consonant makes it a little more difficult for English speakers, or more specifically, it’ll sound like we’re mispronouncing him/her, etc. However, to my eye they look and sound good.

High-school English teacher and ciswoman Robin Ward resists the idea that “their” can or should be used as a singular pronoun, but pointed out the important role teachers play in any change in the language. “People didn’t start accepting ‘his or her’ in place of ‘his’ until teachers started expecting it,” she said. “I’ve thought about introducing my students to alternative pronouns, but to be honest I’m worried about pushback from the parents.”

Changing language changes how the speakers of that language think. Whether those thoughts are guided by an implicit assumption that individuals get to control what pronouns are associated with em, a widespread agreement to adopt one set of pronouns over all others, or a combination of these approaches, it seems apparent that such change will only occur when the cisgendered majority adopts it with intent. So long as these alternatives are only utilized by transgender people and a few allies when referring to those trans* people, it will not be a movement, but the quirk of a small subculture.

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. Our hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

Blake Kirk

Blake Kirk

On Thursday Nov 6, Wiccan Priest Blake Kirk returned to the Huntsville Alabama City Council chambers to deliver the pre-meeting invocation. As we reported last June, Kirk had been removed from the schedule due to complaints by various citizens. After that news was made public, the Huntsville city council opted to continue opening meetings with invocations that reflect the city’s religious diversity.

Kirk was placed back on the schedule and, last week, delivered the prayer before the council meeting. He opened with, “Let us pray. O gentle Goddess and loving God, we thank You for the beauties and the wonders of the day that You have given to us, and for the opportunity we have this evening to assemble here and work together to make Huntsville a better city for all of its residents. We ask that You grant to the councilors and other officials present here tonight the wisdom they will need to make the best decisions that they may for the governance of our city.” 

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tumblr_inline_nesrz38fU31rvkvdhFrom Nov. 12 to Nov. 20, a “group of radical trans activists and spirit workers” will be holding a nine-day ritual to honor beloved transgender dead. Others are welcome to participate. Organizers say “Our dead deserve to be remembered and elevated, and we are humbled by and grateful for the encouragement we have received so far.” They have set up a tumbr blog with specifics and suggestions for participation. They also welcome questions and submissions of photos and prayers.

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Pantheon FoundationThe Pantheon Foundation has made two new announcements regarding its upcoming online activist Conference, PACO. The weekend event now “includes an Earth Activism panel, to be held on Friday, Nov. 21.” This bonus panel will include Celia Alario, Andy Conn, Laurie Lovekraft and Starhawk.

Organizers have also decided to cut the conference ticket price. In a statement, they said, “We’ve had a few sensitive queries about the ticket cost of PACO … A few folks have let us know that this cost is just too far outside the means of an activist’s budget for their comfort … We have decided to cut the ticket cost for this event dramatically, to allow more people to attend. Starting today, tickets for the entire event will be $40 instead of $100, with individual panel tickets being $10 instead of $20.” PACO 2014 will be held the weekend of Nov 21-23, completely online. More detail on the new panel and the ticket price change can be found on Pantheon’s website

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operation circle care

Tomorrow is Veterans Day in the U.S. and Circle Sanctuary has launched its annual Operation Circle Care program. In a recent release, the Circle organizers state, “For the eighth year in a row Circle Sanctuary will be sending Yuletide gift packages, including pentacles, CDs, crystals, copies of CIRCLE Magazine and other items, as spiritual support to Wiccan, Heathen, Druidic, and other Pagans on active duty in the US Military who are stationed overseas and on deployment.

They are currently calling for donations of both funds and items to support the yearly Yuletide care packages. However, a more urgent need is the contact details for Pagans serving overseas or on deployment. To ensure a Yuletide delivery, organizers have asked that this information be sent by Nov. 29. Further details and instructions are listed on the OCC website. 

In Other News:

That is all for now.  Have a nice day.