Breaking the Walls of Gender (Pantheacon 2011)

Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope… and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.  ~Robert F. Kennedy
This weekend at Pantheacon, Sarah and I set out to protest gender discrimination in the pagan community, specifically pointing out transgender discrimination at the con itself. The plan was to do a ritual and discussion in the main lobby of the hotel on Sunday during lunch. We would say what we came to say, then see what would happen. We thought, worst case, we would get kicked out of the hotel and/or the con. At best, it would lead to more discussions and at least get this issue out into the open.
We started Friday night by distributing an essay written by Sarah about her life and experiences (soon to be linked from here). We put the essay everywhere we could, hoping that maybe one person would pick it up and read it. We also left out flyers for the ritual/discussion on Sunday.
By Saturday afternoon, we had heard some reports from people that the essay was being read and discussed by various groups. Some of the feedback was humbling, especially since we weren’t sure how many people had really picked it up. We did notice that all the essays that we put out were gone by the time we came down for breakfast. We set out more flyers and essays during the day and evening, and we also were telling everyone to spread the word about it. Our other covenmates were also putting out flyers and spreading the word. The rest of Saturday was spent having dinner in our room, confirming plans and ritual with covenmates, seeing Wendy Rule, and then attempting to get some sleep.
Sunday morning, Sarah went to a workshop, and I got ready for the rituals (I was being Crow, so I was painting my face as Crow) along with our covenmates. We would meet around 12:15 in front of the fireplace.
To say we were nervous was an understatement. We had no idea what was going to happen. By now we had heard of a few more reports of people reading Sarah’s essay and having open discussions about gender and transgender discrimination. It was pretty amazing, and awe inspiring, that what we were doing was really starting to make things move, to catalyze discussion. That was definitely one of the outcomes we were looking for. I figured that if all we did was make people think then we’ve done something.
We were getting ready to start the ritual, and I took a moment to get into Crow space. I had my back to the lobby when I felt an energy shift. I turned around and saw that two P-con programming organizers were there talking to Sarah and the rest of the group that had gathered with us. I took me a few minutes to figure out what was going on, but basically they told us that we couldn’t do the ritual in the lobby, but did we want to have the discussion in the Fir ballroom at 11 am on Monday?
Of course, we said yes.
They also said that they were going to put a non-discrimination policy together for the con, and that they were going to include that policy in with their presentation submission guidelines for next year.
We were flabbergasted. We had won without even engaging the “battle”. Suddenly, we were now presenters and having to organize a very difficult discussion in one of the big presentation rooms in an afternoon. There were official con things we had to do. We had to make a flyer, get copies and post them. We had to figure out how we were going to do the ritual now that the original one that was written wouldn’t do. The official con stuff and flyers were done by dinner, but the discussions and writing were done during the evening. We spent most of the night in the OSOGD suite, which was full of amazing conversation with many people, and I did the ritual writing there as well. We eventually made our way back to our room to talk some more and again attempt to get some sleep.
We did find out second-hand on Sunday that at a particular ritual on Saturday (that had not been billed as a cis-gendered women only ritual in the program) several transgendered women and a man were asked to leave by the organizers of the event. Another woman went to complain to the con-ops about it, and this group was then told that for their next event, they had to allow anyone who identifies as a woman in. We weren’t sure what sparked it, but it was another act by individuals that really just made us feel awed and amazed.
This morning, we packed up our room, stored our luggage, and had a really hearty breakfast. We took our time, spent a little time in the dealer’s room, and then made our way to the ballroom to set up. I was going to be Crow, but this time as the one holding the sacred space for honest discussion (with the help of our friends). Sarah was the moderator, and our other covenmates were to pass the talking stick and keep track of time.
I opened by calling the quarters and calling on the gods, goddesses, spirits, and daemons to help us in the discussion. We did have two notable Elders from the Dianic Tradition in attendance: Ruth Barrett and Wendy Griffin. We were glad they came, because we wanted ALL sides of the debate there to have a chance to speak. Sarah read her essay, and then we began the discussion.
I don’t remember all of what was discussed as I was holding the energy for the space. It was a very emotional, inspiring, intense, and, I think, at the very least, it made people think about how they treat others and the language that they use. We made sure, by using the talking stick format, that everyone was able to talk and not be interrupted. There were points where all of us were crying, sometimes laughing, and sometimes a bit of yelling, but it brought it out in the open.
I can tell you that the energy in the room was really high, but everyone, even when angry, was respectful of each other. It made me want to cry at the end because, even if we didn’t change anyone’s minds, we at least created a space where all the participants could share their stories, and both sides could see, hear, and feel each other’s emotions. Each side wasn’t a faceless “them” anymore, they were people with stories and experiences that the other side hadn’t know they had.
I was honored to bear witness to this beginning and hold the sacred space for it.
I’m still in awe of this weekend’s whole experience, and I know I’ll write more later. I will also post links to the Pagan Newsline Collective and to Sarah’s essay when these pieces are available online.