PantheaCon 2019: Healing the Community

Here’s my take on the four Healing the Community sessions at PantheaCon 2019.

Here’s my take on the four Healing the Community sessions at PantheaCon 2019.

Part 1 (Friday)

Most of this was talking about what the sessions would be talking about, with the intent that Monday’s session would be when the issues would actually be discussed. While the word “racism” was mentioned, the phrase “trans antagonism” was used instead of “cissexism” or even “transphobia.” To me, this felt like minimizing the reality of cissexism and cis supremacy, and when Glenn Turner would say “cis” it was as if she found the word completely distasteful. But, I also got the impression she didn’t want to say “cis” for fear of upsetting those who erroneously claim cis is a slur.

Glenn wanted us to ask ourselves why we come to PantheaCon. I’ll address that later.

The idea seemed to be for this session to build a framework to allow the actual discussion. One person wanted to know why we were supposed to use “I” statement. The need for inclusivity was stressed, and I had to wonder why in the Names of the Gods I would consider being inclusive toward cissexists. There were breathing exercises so we could be in our bodies. For me, being aware of my body means being aware of my transness and being aware of how unsafe I am at the con.

At one point, it was asked who didn’t feel safe at the con, and Glenn seemed surprised by the number of people who raised their hands.

Starhawk was there, and she said she had a “community letter” for Glenn. The content or authors of this letter were not discussed, and it seemed to me this was a private thing for Glenn in spite of how it pertained to the community.

One person asked what the focus of these healing sessions was, as he seemed completely unaware of Max Dashu and Witchdoctor Utu. He thought the sessions were more about healing in the global sense, which speaks to how little detail was put in the program about what had been actually going on.

The session ended with a call-and-response chant of, “Black lives matter,” “Trans lives matter,” and “Show me what community looks like! This is what community looks like!”

Part 2 (Saturday)

This session was really about the dialog technique, what Crystal Blanton called “stacking,” that would be used during these sessions. The importance of eye contact was stressed, and this made me uncomfortable. I get this probably wasn’t her intent, but direct eye contact when there are power differences among everyone gathered can allow for microaggressions. Accommodating hearing challenges was discussed, but not other possible challenges (learning disabilities, speech impediments which prevent me from being able to speak clearly on demand). And since I can’t speak clearly on demand, the discussion moved on before I could get any words out.

Part of the defense of the idea of stacking was to prioritize marginalized voices while “stacking” them above those who had won the “genetic lottery.” This, again, reminded me of my transness. My height, weight, short haircut, lack of secondary female sex characteristics, these things got me read as male quite a lot over the weekend. Although, Crystal said to me she didn’t read me as male at all.

Toward the end of this session, Naomi CopperJet seemed to say inclusive policies can be oppressive as they don’t allow for rituals or workshops to be intended for specific groups. I think she was trying to dance around explicitly saying trans women need to be kept out of women’s spaces, but she also seemed to defend those who feel this way.

Part 3 (Sunday)

It took half an hour just to decide if we were going to break into affinity groups or have one great big group discussion. It seemed like there were folks who were unwilling to admit how much privilege they had by self-selecting their affinity groups. Finally, a compromise was reached with me, Crystal, and Hassan going outside for a trans and POC affinity group. Crystal was very clear that she felt what Pagans of Color were experiencing was very much like what trans/gender-diverse Pagans were experiencing. All in all, I think the three of us had a great discussion, and I began to learn just how deeply racism runs in the con.

When we rejoined the group, Glenn expressed sadness that she had to disinvite a friend.

Naomi CopperJet wanted to add, “Women’s lives matter,” to our end-of-session chant this time. But due to time constraints, we only did the “community” chant. Naomi also said directly to me that she feels trans women are indeed women and do indeed feel we belong in women’s only space. But (you knew it was coming), she has friends who disagree and now they won’t come back to the con because they don’t feel safe.

Lon Sarver came up to me and apologized for putting me on the spot by pushing the affinity group idea. I assured him it wasn’t a problem because I knew I’d have a much better chance of being heard in a small group.

Part 4 (Monday)

Mother of Mithras!

Glenn said the sit-ins and protests should not have been allowed, and if she could go back in time she wouldn’t have let them happen She said they were harassing Z. Budapest over something “silly” (yes, Glenn said “silly”) that had been posted on social media. Chuck Fry called Glenn out on this, noting that isn’t wasn’t merely a Facebook post. It was something on Z’s personal blog as well, and that her position regarding trans persons in general and trans women in particular is well known for its complete and utter contemptuousness.

Lon said the protests were indeed harassment, but they needed to be in order to be effective. Crystal said, looking directly at Glenn, that calling the protests of marginalized persons “harassment” was a form of violence.

Glenn said that people should present at the con so long as they don’t present anything exclusionary, that the exclusionary politics and philosophies of presenters’ lives outside the con shouldn’t be held against them in the con. And yet, no such “courtesy” was extended to Witchdoctor Utu. To me, the message was that if men outside the con did anything remotely out of line, they should be banned from presenting. But if women, even if they literally are calling for the deaths of trans people, are bigoted outside the con they should still have a place in the con. To me, this is a double standard, plain and simple.

Deborah Bender said that greater diversity means more opportunities for division. It seemed she said the hospitality suites should be for the margins and they Big Name Pagans should get the big rooms. This is where I’m a little uncertain. I think Chuck heard this differently. I might have been too pissed off to listen rationally at that point.

Naomi CopperJet wanted to know how TERFs (though she didn’t actually say that word) can be safe to attend and present at the con.

I looked Glenn in the eye when I told her there were people who not only didn’t want me in their rituals or at the con, they didn’t want me on the planet. This was after she’d said that Pcon is a reflection the world we want to live in and that we need to try to have dialog. How can I have dialog with those who want me dead? Crystal backed me up on this, saying that the dialog can only happen if all parties concerned want to work together and oppressors (racist, cissexist) rarely want to work with the oppressed (people of color, trans/gender-diverse persons).

Oscar challenged Glenn, saying there wasn’t enough Pagans of Color presenting. A story was told of how a group from India tried to use Pcon as a platform to spread ideas that seemed too conservative. She literally brushed him off with this thing from the past, not addressing in any way who Pagans of Color in general and Asian Pagans in particular could be welcome.

The woman next to me, whose badge I couldn’t see, told me quite angrily that trans men need more support because every one of them used to be little girls and they know about the problems Glenn, Deborah, and CopperJet were talking about. Many, if not most, of the trans men I know personally would say they were NEVER little girls. To me, this woman’s comments reinforced the push back against trans women has little to do with us being transgender but has everything to do with Penis.

My Take

In my best Alan Rickman/Serverus Snape voice, “I may vomit.”

To me, the “healing” was intended to make PantheaCon a safe space for Glenn’s friends, even or especially if they hate trans people. There could be no other interpretation for me. All four sessions tested my spirit past the breaking point. It was only by my gods and guiding spirits that I was able to endure the abuse of those four 1.5 hour sessions.

I knew better than to start crying. Crying in the midst of social justice activists is a bad idea. They start talking about “tears” and fragility and gaslight the living daylights out of those who are truly suffering. I think that Lon and Crystal wouldn’t have let that happen. They really seemed like they were on my side.

In the first “healing” session, Glenn asked why we come to PantheaCon. For me, it’s a way to have a long weekend with Circle of Cerridwen. That’s my primary reason. Being in the suite to provide solidarity for trans/gender-diverse persons. I used to like going to learn and explore new ideas, but I’m struggling to be able to learn in a setting that’s so hostile.

I fear for my safety and sanity at PantheaCon. There are many there who literally want me dead and there are those who aren’t willing to fight for us based on the “good work” of people like Dashu, Budapest, and Starhawk. What would American witchcraft be without them? A lot less incendiary and a lot more inclusive! And if American witchcraft wouldn’t exist without the work these bigots had done, well maybe that’s a good thing.

In Perfect Love and in Perfect Trust,

Constance Antinoë Magdalene McEntee