An open letter to all pagans, and particularly the Pantheacon organizers (Pantheacon 2011)

To Whom It May Concern:

Paganism, as currently wonderfully practiced, is comprised of a multitude of living, breathing, evolving traditions that all empower their practitioners to enact their Will, bringing love and life and knowledge to all.

At least, that is what we’d like to think. The reality isn’t quite so rosy.

In practice, we are all human, striving to do the best we can, though inevitably messing up here and there, learning from our mistakes, and doing it better next time. By this process, society evolves, typically in the direction of improved human rights and the enaction of mutually beneficial social change. Paganism does not stand separately from society – it is immanent, rather than transcendent. Consequentially, to stay relevant, paganism must also evolve, and it will do well to accommodate the best practices that social progress gives us. In recent years, increasing awareness of the effects of unrecognized personal privilege on less-privileged others has perhaps been more effective than anything else in catalyzing positive change.

I am a witch and a ceremonial magician. I co-lead a coven in the Alexandrian tradition, and am also an initiate of the Golden Dawn tradition, with a particular specialism in magickal toolmaking, theurgy and goety. I also happen to be a transsexual woman. It feels very strange to write that, because I happen to regard it as probably the least interesting thing that anyone might know about me, because it simply doesn’t concern anyone but myself and perhaps my partners. It’s certainly not anyone else’s business beyond that very small group.

It is my not so humble opinion that a lot of nonsense is talked about gender in magick. Some people say that women can (or should) only deal with female deity, and that men can only deal with male deity. Some, including many from other branches of my own tradition, say that only through the interplay of male and female energies can magick be enacted. Some claim that gay people can not perform magick. Some say that transsexual and transgendered people are similarly disconnected from the current. Personal experience, and that of many people I’ve worked with, illustrates that this simply isn’t so. It’s just so much superstitious nonsense.

Of course, gender or sexual energy absolutely can be used, and to great effect, in magick. But, magick is no respecter of people’s petty bigotries. All prejudice can do is restrict your own magick – it has no effect whatsoever on that of me or mine.

Bigotry, as an act of Will, however, is an incredibly damaging curse. A killing curse. To be on the receiving end of such energies, consistently, throughout one’s life, requires incredible strength of Will in order to survive. I am, as it turns out, the second transsexual woman in my family. My first cousin committed suicide about 20 years ago as a direct reaction to the negative responses of my own family to her coming out as transsexual. My family’s response to her death was to remain absolutely silent – I didn’t find out for many years what had really happened. Her death, and the guilt that it incubated in my family, meant that I had a slightly easier time – all they did was disown me.

Some people say that transsexual women possess male privilege, and that they seek to use that privilege, consciously or otherwise, to oppress other women or to gain access to women’s space. Some say that transsexual women aren’t women at all, twisting the argument into one over the mere definition of a word, rather than honestly owning up to their bigotry.

I can say, quite categorically, that transsexual women do not have privilege over other women. In practice, I have found that, when someone doesn’t know that I’m transsexual, I’m discriminated against just like any other woman. When they know, or suspect, that I’m also transsexual, this typically causes further discrimination. I’ve been thrown off a D.Phil programme at Oxford University, survived a violent attempted murder that was ignored by the police, been fired from several jobs, denied many job interviews, been paid less than my male (and cis-female) counterparts, all specifically because people knew I was transsexual. I’m lucky. I have a bitter privilege that was denied my cousin:

I’m alive.

I support the Will of all witches and magicians to choose with whom they practice their Art. I, however, charge anyone making such decisions to ask themselves why: are they exercising their right of choice, or are they excluding someone because of their prejudice, and to be honest, with themselves and others, about their reasons. If the reason is too embarrassing to talk about, it’s probably morally wrong.

I charge the organizers of Pantheacon to enact a nondiscrimination policy from future events that will protect participants from the consequences of such bigotry, and that presenters planning future events should be prepared to leave such baggage behind.

Pantheacon should be a safe space for all of its participants.

By Hekate, by Geburah, by the Great President Buer and by all the power that is mine to command, I so charge you.

So mote it be. Sarah Thompson