Over the past couple of years, there has been a lot of controversy within the Pagan community over the role of gender (and, specifically, the occasional exclusion of transgender women) in certain groups and rituals at Pagan gatherings.
I should probably back up and explain, as briefly as possible. I am a Pagan. Pagans are a very diverse group, and contemporary Paganism itself is very difficult to define. People tend to picture anything from people in Renaissance Fair cloaks to palm-reading psychics. Both of those can be accurate, but are probably not overall representative of Pagans. Some people picture maniacal figures in basements with skulls and goats’ blood. That is much, much less accurate. Pagans are often, but not always, polytheistic. Pagans revere the divine within Nature, including that which is within humankind. Contemporary Pagans often attempt to reach back and reclaim the religious heritage of their (often) pre-Christian ancestors (as humans; this is not usually limited to the person’s ethnic background), and to do so in a way that makes sense in the modern world.
Large Pagan gatherings can be outdoors or indoors, and can vary from resembling Comic Con or a business lunch to a hippie festival (it’s worth noting that a number of outdoor Pagan gatherings began in the 1960s, and so this resemblance is no coincidence). Different people will gather for different religious and spiritual rituals. There are a number of potentially contentious issues in these.
Dianic practitioners are Goddess-centered in their worship. There are some small Dianic rituals that are women-only. Though …
… Pagans tend to be very egalitarian among the sexes, this sort of thing is to be expected. Women gather to participate in rituals that commemorates their shared experiences as women.
What would never have occurred to me (because I too easily place myself in what I call: “bubbles of assumption”) is that some of these groups would exclude women who are not anatomical females. I have a lot to say about excluding transgender women because they were born with (and may still have) a penis, but I do not wish to use that many expletives. I believe that Star Foster (a Pagan blogger at Patheos, if any of you are familiar with that plural religious blogging community) said it more politely:
“. . . the language being used to exclude transgender women implies that women are all about their anatomy. If you don’t bleed monthly, give birth or go through menopause, are you any less of a woman? It seems to me feminism was meant to free us from being typecast by our anatomy, yet some of the language is confining us by that anatomy.”
(This was back in March 1, 2011. You can read Star’s full entry here - I promise you that not all of the individuals quoted in her post are representative of the best that the Pagan community has to offer. I suppose that all religions have similar problems, however.)
Discrimination based upon sex is not unique to any religion. The first example that comes to my mind is the division within Roman Catholicism that priests, bishops, cardinals, and popes have with nuns. But I think that this kind of, to my mind, senseless discrimination came as a much greater surprise to me because it was within my own religion.
I would be misleading you if I said that this was standard for Pagan gatherings. Like other members of the LGBTQ community, transgender Pagans are usually right at home (in my experience) in any Pagan group. There are groups for Pagan women that care more about the female gender, spirit, and experience than about what a woman’s sex organs happen to look like.
What about you guys? I’m not asking if you think that discrimination is okay, but do you think that sex and gender should play meaningful roles in religious gatherings and in religious stations?