Earning vs. Deserving Respect

Shortly before the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR), I shared an article by my friend and mentor, Rev. Gina Pond, on Facebook about who should be considered elders in the Pagan community, which I prefaced with the following comment:

Age is not entirely relevant here.” AMEN! Elders do not deserve respect simply because they are elders. That respect needs to be earned. I do not reflexively respect my elders just as I do not expect to be respected by those who are younger than me.

Hayden Reynolds (also known as Sister Hera Sees Candy), whom I met at the “Yes They Are!” ritual at PantheaCon 2014, wrote the following in a TDoR-themed post:

I have read over the past couple weeks an idea that I disagree with:

People have to earn respect.

Mostly I’ve seen it in regards to elders and their foibles as of late. There is something so inherently selfish about that statement. It says, “I am the judge and jury about whether you deserve respect.” That’s fucked up. I’m sorry. It is.

Everyone deserves unearned respect. EVERYONE. Respect can be lost. It is not infinite. But it must be given. And I have to think that folks that murdered our loved ones probably didn’t believe they deserved respect.

They do.

After reading the above admonition, I feel I should clarify my position.

Like Pond, I also believe “that it’s appropriate to respect our elders in the general sense,” and since I also agree with Reynolds we could replace the word “elders” with the word “people.” However, there are different levels of respect that I still at this time think are appropriate.

All persons deserve the respect that any being deserves. I do not challenge this. The elders of the Pagan community, or any community for that matter, have indeed done a lot of work and they deserve that additional acknowledgement. But what happens when they subsequently alienate those who have come after them? Persons like me are routinely denied involvement in various Pagan communities because of our gender identities. There are elders and their supporters who do this, in addition to forcefully enforcing the concept of the gender binary. What then? Should we accept this exclusion without critique?

For instance, there was a time when I considered myself to be a cross-dresser rather than a trans woman. In Susan Stryer’s book Transgender History, I read about Virginia Prince and the Society of the Second Self. This was a group designed to support heterosexual cross-dressers. Though I was married at the time, I identified as bisexual and not as heterosexual. The more I learned about Prince’s ideas, the more I began to think that this person couldn’t be a role model for me. That said, the work that Prince and Tri-Ess did can be viewed as work that did indeed help me to an extent even if that wasn’t their intention.

Though I don’t know Reynolds as closely as I know Pond, I don’t think Reynolds had suggested that we accept exclusion without critique. Rather, the message is more like be respectful with our critiques. I am a Christo-Pagan, a Christian-Wiccan. It would be a violation of the Golden Rule, the second half of the Great Commandment, and the Wiccan Rede to not follow Reynolds’ advice, not to mention just being do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do. And I’m going to take seriously the Open Source Alexandrian Tradition’s concept of radical inclusion, I need to be mindful of how I phrase my critiques. I’m a high priest and teacher of this tradition. I must embody the tradition’s teaching if I want to be worthy of this title and position.

To label these elders as bigots, or at least as being bigoted, still seems to be a fair accusation. I reiterate that I don’t expect Generation-Y and the Millennials to reflexively respect me as an elder, especially if I falter in living radical inclusion. I will have to live with being excluded by these elders, acknowledging their positions as elders, while at the same time respectfully disagreeing with them. This is very possible.

I can respect these persons while speaking out against their ideas of exclusion.