“If that’s being queer, then we could do with a bit more queerness in these parts.”
― J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
In the alphabet soup of inclusion that has become the LGBTTQQIAAP movement – or LGBT+, for short – a common criticism is that the (constantly evolving) term is ugly and difficult to remember. What we have gained in terms of inclusion and numbers, we have lost in terms of a feeling of solidarity and community. Besides being difficult to remember (I’m sorry, I can never remember all the letters, and what order is preferred again?), the long initialism lacks a sense of poetry or cohesion, and therefore – magically speaking — it’s a poor thing indeed. This leaves us with a movement with no name, and as appealing that may be to some, it just doesn’t sit well with my Witch’s magical mind. To this, I feel there has been a poetic, if somewhat jarring, answer to this criticism that deserves another serious look: that is, the word “queer.”Many people within the LGBT+ movement are understandably uncomfortable with the word “queer,” as it has been used as a slur against our people for generations. When I was a boy in grade school, the other boys would play a game they called “smear the queer,” in which the person who had the ball would be chased and then tackled by the other boys. There may or may not have been more to it; not being athletic in the slightest, and being a “weird” child to boot, I was never asked to play, much to my delicate-and-dandy-souled relief. I was too young to know what “queer” meant, but I knew that whatever it was, it wasn’t good, not something that I wanted to be. Something down deep in me, though, knew that it was something I already was.
Along with “faggot,” “dyke,” and “fairy,” “queer” is a word dripping with power, so much so that entire generations of LGBT+ people have done everything they could to avoid having such titles attached to their being. How much better would it be to strip it of its power to harm by using it as our shield? In the immortal words of Tyrion Lannister from George R. R. Martins’ Game of Thrones, “Let me give you some advice, bastard. Never forget what you are. The rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor, and it can never be used to hurt you.”
Last month I briefly touched on the importance of using this word as a means to harness its power and remind ourselves of how the outside world sees us, lest our complacency sabotage our efforts. This month I want to revisit the word “queer,” not only in the secular sense as a social and political act of defiance against a government which is increasingly antagonistic toward our people, but also as a magical spell of inclusion to help us come together to bolster our strength when we need each other the most.
It may or may not come as a surprise to many that Paganism is not the utopia of liberal philosophies that many (such as myself) had previously believed. We have consistently shown ourselves to be pretty much what every other group of humans are: diverse in our beliefs, practices, ethnicities, and political leanings. While the common perception has been that Paganism consists entirely of leftist liberal weirdos (and speaking as a leftist liberal weirdo myself, I can attest that this is usually what I see, as well) there have been conservative voices who have been getting louder, and with the election of Donald Trump to the Oval Office, these voices have been emboldened to share their brands of religious conservatism with the rest of the world. One can’t put this all at the feet of Trump, though, as it has been a growing problem for some time.
The tactics used by certain segments of the Pagan community against the full inclusion of trans people are strikingly similar to those used by Evangelical Christians against homosexuality; namely, to attack, then immediately claim to be persecuted when called out for their bigoted behavior. This is something that I think we should pay attention to, especially when we see the very same seeds of division, exclusion, and dehumanization being used in our own communities.
As bisexual, gay, and lesbian people have crept ever toward the finish-line of equality, always, it seems, with still so much farther to go, it is understandable that some of us would love to just “blend in”. How nice it might be to live under the radar, without needing to draw attention to one’s self. Certainly, in some areas of the country this might be the safest choice, where attitudes are less enlightened than those in which there is more prominent LGBT+ visibility. But when the desire to shield oneself from the world includes repressing others to conform to their views we must all draw the line. In the case of trans people, the B’s, G’s, and L’s owe them, well, everything.
Stonewall. 1969. Pressure had been building over police raids of gay establishments and arrests. Finally, the downtrodden sexual and gender minorities had enough. The riots that resulted lasted for three days and were a watershed moment in what became the LGBT+ rights movement, the singular event that brought us together and galvanized us. The movement largely exists because of the actions of Latina and black trans protesters like Marsha P. Johnson, Miss Major Griffin-Gracie, and Sylvia Rivera. In a very substantial way it is because of their actions that night that we have the rights that we enjoy today. For any of our community who would then turn their backs on them or try to exclude them from the victories we have won or the spaces we have shaped together is both narcissistic and disgraceful.
Case in point, the “Pussy Church of Modern Witchcraft,” a recently incorporated church that is open only to cis women and whose leadership is restricted only to lesbians, has made their stance on transgenderism very clear:
We expressly reject the concepts of gender identity, transgenderism, and gender as being meaningful to defining what a Woman or Girl is.
They and other radical lesbian separatists argue that they only want to create a safe space for themselves, and on this point it should be clear that this is certainly their right. (These kinds of safe spaces are, I think, a necessityfor many people; some people simply cannot let down their shields in the presence of others they perceive as being “different.” Instead of attacking these people, we should be finding ways to help them heal.) This statement, however, goes so much farther than that. In addition to exclusion from their ranks, the philosophies and language the church uses points toward their true goal quite clearly, which is to prevent transgender individuals from being able to define themselves; in other words, to strip trans persons of their agency and dignity.
Insisting that trans women are actually “men in dresses,” trying to infiltrate women’s spaces and passionately rallying against the use of established scientific terms (such as with the term “cis,” a legitimate academic, if somewhat poetically flat, term meaning the opposite of “trans”) is one clear sign of a mindset rooted in ignorance and fear. Just recently, a member of the above-mentioned church accused me of using “hate speech” because I used the term “cis women” to refer to non-trans women. All I can say is that – as a gay cis male — I also once felt the strangeness of that word when I first encountered it. That is, until I learned its proper use and definition, and then I accepted it because I’m capable of learning facts and then reshaping my opinions based on new evidence. Is this really too much to ask of my fellow Pagans?
I don’t want Paganism to become a safe space for bigots, no matter the stripe. One of the things that was really empowering for me, and for a lot of people I know, is that Paganism was a place in which we could all come together and celebrate our differences. The Paganism that I came to was a safe haven for the weird kids who would then grow into weird adults. We were all “queer” in our own ways. If anyone should be able to move beyond outdated cultural norms, it should be the people who are praying to strange spirits, dancing naked around bonfires, shaping their lives on their own terms.
We have a problem in Pagandom, a decidedly human one. Prejudices die hard, and often it is very difficult to see one’s own biases. I have no doubt that at least some members of the “Pussy Church” legitimately believe that they are not attacking the dignity of trans women when they insist that trans women are actually men. This in much the same way that an Evangelical Christian detects no sense of irony when they attack homosexual people and then try to hide behind their religious beliefs, as if those beliefs are a sort of “get out of jail free” card.
The Pride Flag, with its rainbow motif, can be a reminder that we are all different, but also that we are all in this together. We are all unique, with different life experiences. Pretending that we are all the same isn’t the point, but neither is it to isolate ourselves from anyone else who may have different life experiences than we do. If we play that game, we have already lost. We need to honor our differences, celebrate them, and still find a way to come together.
We are finding ourselves in the middle of a culture war, and I’m not using that term lightly. There is an actual war going on, right now, and there are real causalities. Real people are dying in record numbers, but because the victims are often seen as “undesirable” it goes largely unnoticed. In 2017, the Human Rights Campaign, in conjunction with the Trans People of Color Coalition, issued a joint report on trans violence and deaths in which they asserted that “transgender women are estimated to face more than four times the risk of becoming homicide victims than the general population of all women.”
Instead of engaging in debates on who is or is not a “real” man or “real” woman, we need to be doing what we can to support an especially vulnerable segment of our shared queer community. If we are ever going to be able to form a sustainable community that is capable of actually supporting its members, then we need to be able to reject the old fears and prejudices of the past and be open to learning something new. It is absolutely inappropriate and, yes, bigoted, to assert that trans women are actually men. That view is an offense to the human dignity not only of trans people, but of all people’s right to self-definition.
No one is saying that private groups cannot discriminate in any way they wish. That is their right. Collectively, however, we decide what we consider to be acceptable, and I am proud to say that the next generation has resoundingly said that they reject transphobia, homophobia, misogyny, and racism. The Pussy Church might be new, but it follows in the footsteps of the same old dinosaurs that have been preaching hate and division since the beginning of time.
To all of this I feel that what we need is a magical response to help us align our energies together in a sense of diversity, communal harmony, and right action. Since a good part of most magic involves a practice of shifting one’s consciousness in alignment with a goal, I offer the following simple prayer-spell of inclusion, diversity, and strength for everyone in the LGBTTQQIAAP movement – which going forward I will call “queer,” as a poetic umbrella term to cover them all.
Queer Rainbow Prayer
To be spoken while looking at any rainbow.
Through the prism
Light is broken
Bands of color
Shine now brightly
Shine as one.
Kiss the palm of your right hand and then put your palm over your heart. Imagine the rainbow shining with you as you contemplate what it means to be different and yet, together.
Regardless of how we may feel about the word “queer,” and regardless of our individual sexual identities, genders, preferences or persuasions, we are all “queer” in some form. We are beautiful in our individual identities, and stronger when we come together as a community. We need to form a community. When we are divided we fall, and we really need some solidarity right now. I’m open to another term coming forward that people feel would better represent us, but LGBTTQQIAAP (or even LGBT+) hasn’t exactly done the trick, and I think we’ve given it enough time. So I will use “queer.” In that, I have come full circle.
Revere the queer!
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The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.