If you are interested in my interview with Ruth, you may read it here. The commentary however is telling of a wider dialogue. One that our community needs to have. One I tried to facilitate unsuccessfully.
Seems there’s a bit of a nontroveresy over this, which would be apparent by simply reading the whole of an article, as opposed to taking the word of an infantilizing self-appointed propagandist and failed “cult leader”, who need not be named.
This is my final word on the matter, as I have already stated on the FB companion page, if the only way I can keep this philosophy relevant is by creating shit to stir, then I have failed this philosophy, Eros Himself, and my own life. I actually feel really bad for people so consumed by their own quest for a need to have power over a small, and notably shrinking circle of yes-men that they can only feign contentment by creating a bizarre and contradictory “Us or Them” party line whilst obstinately accusing others of the same, regardless of the evidence.
Putting any more thought into this matter, in any way, is contradictory to the pursuit of life’s pleasures.
Today, I played a new game, I had ice cream, sold a hundred buttons to the burger place up the street, ordered a personal-size pizza, played with a rat I’m fostering, wrote new songs, recorded myself singing on the street-corner by the Dairy Queen and posted it to Patreon, really took in how my legs feel in velveteen yoga pants, and talked to Eros about where this should all be going. Over this last week, I struck a deal with Erato and Euterpe that if I practice and start recording on my harmonium, They could help with my data recovery. Right now, I’m going to have that jar of raspberry sorbet that is crowding up my freezer, and later this weekend, I’m getting an antique 1930s cast iron floor lamp for my birthday from my friends at the antique store.
Life without pleasure is drudgery and torture, and a life with the willing engagement of pain is even worse.
Engage whatever pleasures made available to us, avoid all pains we possibly can. This is the first lesson of Erotic Hedonism.
When first published in 1968, The UK’s Gay Times reviewed the first memoir of Quentin Crisp, The Naked Civil Servant, their reviewer scathingly citing Crisp as a “bad example”, stating the book “should have been published posthumously”.
He was a high femme gender-bender.
When the UK’s Stonewall group launched in the 1980s, Derek Jarman had some words about its organisers and supporters, folks like Ian McKellan, who kept their sexuality closeted until it couldn’t hurt their careers (I imagine he, like myself, would have made more than a few words about George Takei’s opportunistic reinvention of himself as THE Gay of B-list celebs at a time when it actually could, and did, give his career a boost). In fact, I’ll reprint some:
THE PEACE OF ANONYMITY – STONEWALL WAS A RIOT
The queers of the sixties, like those since, have connived with their repression under a veneer of respectability. Good mannered city queers in suits and pinstripes, so busy establishing themselves, were useless at changing anything.
To be Queer was never respectable – even though you wore a suit. The more conventional, the more desperate the hidden life. Pushed to the fringes, our world existed in the twilight of Heterosoc1reality. and if anyone raised their voice in protest they were accused of endangering the peace of anonymity. A demonstration was likely to frighten the closeted, their inactivity reproached.
Stonewall was a RIOT which occurred in the summer of 1969 in Christopher Street, New York, outside a bar of the same name. For the first time Queers fought back with bricks and bottles and empty beer glasses and burned cars. The best fighters were the trannies2 – a dress was a badge of courage. The riot sparked a revolution in our consciousness. A community of interest was established and a debate was entered. The harder it was fought the more our case was furthered.
Everything that made our world visible reproached the closeted. One day it might be as silly as moaning about Quentin Crisp’s blue rinse as a BAD ROLE MODEL, or, on another, complaining of a rowdy Gay Liberation Front meeting. For them, we were not them. They took everything and did nothing, sat in their interior decoration, attended the opera and did fuck all to help change; their minds as starched as their shirts.
Twenty years later, Stonewall – the self-elected and self-congratulating parliamentary lobbying group – have made more than enough compromise with convention. Did those who rioted at the Stonewall bar fightso that we could so easily be co-opted by a gay establishment? Do they represent our best interests in Heterosoc?
Do they represent us?
Why did one man go to Downing Street to put our case? Why were there no women? Weren’t the rest of us acceptable? It was as if no Queer had ever been in number 10 before, the fuss everyone made.
Part of the con was to steal the name Stonewall and turn our riot into their tea party. We are now integrated into the worst form of British hetero politic – the closed room, the gentlemen’s club – where decisions are made undemocratically for an ignorant population which enjoys emasculation.
So they 0 Stonewall – won’t acknowledge this criticism. They’ll pretend there isn’t a debate. The only way that they can succeed in their politics is through the myth of homogenity and the ‘gay community’. But our lives are plural. They always have been – sexuality is a diversity. Every orgasm brings its own liberty.
— Derek Jarman, At Your Own Rish: A Saint’s Testament, 1992
By forcing a homogenous narrative onto the trans community —by insisting that there’s no difference between us and cis people, by discouraging a plurality of thoughts and experiences and ideas of individual trans people— we are expecting anti-radicalism of the worst kind in our community. By telling us, explicitly or even implicitly, that those of us who are simultaneously a binary and non-binary gender that we’re somehow only really the latter is to throw us under the bus for the sake of respectability.
Furthermore, believe it or not, it is entirely possible to say “we have a fundamentally unique experience of our genders as trans women and trans men from that of cis people, but that does not automatically exclude us from deserving the same rights to space.
Sexuality is a plurality, and so is gender. Equal rights and equal access does not and should not erase differences for an assimilationist narrative of trans experience.
I’m really tired of white cis people cissplaining my transgender politics to me. This is something I have been working on within myself, constantly evaluating and re-assessing, exploring, debating, and meditating on for going on twenty years!
The fact of the matter is, TERFs are the ones who’ve perverted our celebration of our differences for their own despicable purposes, as an act of terrorism against trans people, effectively forcing an anti-Queer assimilationist narrative onto the “Voices” of trans justice. I’m sorry-not-sorry, but I’m not going to sit on my hands and let those thumping an assimilationist party line at me, be they other trans people or (ostensibly well-meaning) cis people who want an ally badge, scare me into erasing my differences because Ruth Barrett and others can’t handle the existence of a paradox and the simple scientific fact that paradoxes are a part of nature.
1: Heterosexual society
2: At the time Derek Jarman wrote this, “tranny” was an acceptable term in the queer community as a term of camaraderie and empowerment amongst trans folk and gender-bending gays. This is not a slurred usage, this is historical.
Nature is not perfect. This may seem absurd to your average pagan, but bear with me:
Consider the design of human beings is really inefficient. Compared to other mammals close to our size, or even in our genus, our infants are born especially helpless and underdeveloped. Plus, our backs aren’t very well-suited for walking upright without assistance — not in the long term; we can manage it when very young, but after the age of thirty, a Posture Pal can’t really help us (fun fact for goths, though: The best period in human posture was the era of the corsets — a majority of men wore them, too, until the Edwardian). I know my friend Scott and others with a background in biology have discussed this in greater detail. As a “finished product”, human beings are very poorly designed, we may not even be good enough to submit as a working prototype, by some standards. Hell, if I was a television, I would’ve been replaced at the age of 24 due to all the design flaws being too much to take — and I’d only been put on the shelf at age 19! Definitely not one of those heavy-duty 1950s sets that took about two months to build, and will still work, today. Any design that takes as long to reach an ideal state as my own physical body, but is barely functioning five years later doesn’t stay in production for long.
And pandas have the internal biology for an obligate carnivore, but their diet is 90%+ vegetarian — the mother’s milk is so lacking in vital nutrients that they have the highest infant mortality rate of large mammals.
Even plants, while certainly better-designed than large, multicellular animals, there are certainly a lot of issues that can appear, when you really know what you’re looking at. Many plants native to the same places and the same habitats — some will need significantly more water or sunshine, others won’t. Laurel and rosemary are very well-adapted to periodic droughts of their native Mediterranean, but oregano and sage, also native to Greece, need water, daily, and more than you’d probably think. Part of this may be due to cultivation by humans, but not all of it, since humans have been messing around with the genetics of plants since the dawn of agriculture, and will generally aim for two goals: 1) How do we make this thing more-edible, and 2) how do we make it hardier, so it can put up with us? I mean, do you know how easy it is to drown rosemary? Easier than underwatering sage, I’ll say that much.
There’s even an ancient truism about the olive tree: An olive tree can shed and disperse a thousand seeds a year for a thousand years, and maybe only a dozen trees will come of it; true, not every tree can survive, but for such a “perfect” creation to spread so many imperfect seeds suggests an internal flaw, as mortals understand “perfection”, which is all we can really understand. It just doesn’t speak to a “perfect” design, is speaks to Someone being stubborn and saying “nope, it’s mine and I’ll fix it on my terms — in the meantime, I’ll get back to smiting those people for that clockwork horror in the 1982 Clash of the Titans.”
The Gods have their own ideas about what to do with things here on Earth, and are constantly tinkering around. “Perfect” is for New Age Christianity — it’s generally unattainable on the mortal level, in all areas. Our realm definitely hosts things that are very impressive, but the Gods Who concern Themselves with our physical world are the artists Who’re never fully satisfied with what turns out, so when They think of improvements, They go and adjust. That’s kind of antithesis to “perfection”, perfect works need no improvements, they’re already perfect. There may be a method to the madness, but it’s definitely far from perfect.
I realise the very slight relative privilege I have in this as a transsexual male (even a transvestive one), and most (though certainly not all) of the people I’ve noticed doing this in the last twenty years have been trans female or otherwise on the MTF spectrum, but it’s something I feel needs to be said:
Stop appropriating other cultures’ traditions of gender-variance.
This isn’t just a matter of white trans women calling themselves “hijra” when they are not even converts to Hinduism. Nor is this just a matter of white trans men calling themselves “Two Spirits” because they went to a sham sweatlodge at Burning Man.
This is also a matter about re-writing deities and Their ancient priesthood traditions to suit your modern agenda.
While it may be easy to work out one’s pet theories onto ancient traditions, the fact of the matter is, no-one alive today is really a part of those pre-Christian cultures, not even Western pagans and polytheists who can, at best, approximate this in a merely semi-removed subculture. We aren’t talking to these people to judge whether or not our experiences are close enough to claim we’re part of the same tradition. Just because ancient, pre-Christian Greece is different enough from modern Greece that it may seem easy to argue that the cultures are two different things doesn’t make the culture up for grabs to appropriate and repurpose for our own agendas.
The second we arbitrarily give a pass to the appropriation of one culture, for whatever reason, we open the floodgates.
After all, many Lakota are Christians, now, and their traditional culture infamously suppressed, so does that make their Two Spirit traditions up for grabs? I mean, if you want to get technical, “two spirit” probably isn’t even a real thing, you know? It’s just the English-language umbrella term that encompasses a wide variety of gender-variant roles amongst dozens of Indigenous American tribes, right?
If you can argue that ancient gallai are up for grabs to appropriate and re-write their traditions and mythos for your own agenda, then why?
Broken traditions are up for grabs? I think you’ll get some side-eye from MANY groups of indigenous people who’ve had to reclaim and relearn their traditions from historic record. Hell, why not just tell the Cornish speakers of the world that their traditional language is up to redefine and appropriate because linguists insist that it’s a broken tradition when it’s not, really —take it from someone whose grandfather’s native language was a pidgin of English and Kernewek.
This is why polytheism without engaging the native cultures of our pantheons on some meaningful level is problematic, at its very best, and unfortunately, the slippery-slope, in this instance, is not a fallacy — it’s a legitimate grievance I have with other transgender people, especially in polytheist and pagan communities. By assuming it’s OK to appropriate from cultures that we’re not a part of, for any reason, we’re sending out a signal that we think it’s OK, and that any other indigenous culture is up for grabs, next, at our whims.
But hey, I get it —this helps you feel like you’re a part of something ancient, and therefore like it gives you and your gender/s an air of legitimacy, so it’s all good, right?
Yeah, it doesn’t work that way.
While true that trans people have always existed, we have to look at the root for what that even means:
“Trans”, Latin for “on the other side of” or, to be more specific, on the side away from Rome, which in ancient Roman times, Rome was the default of all that was “good” and “civilized”. At its root, to be transgender is to live a gendered experience away from what mainstream society would consider the default.
That’s all we have evidence of, prior the suppression of gender-variance by Christianity — “trans people” whose experience of gender was away from the default experience of their gender assignment. We have little real evidence of ancient people who were at all like the modern notion of trans women and trans men, and that which does exist was written by outsiders to the experience (even the case of Emperor Elagabalus needs to be taken with a grain of salt, as the only claim that he sought a surgeon who could transform his body into a woman’s was written after he’d died, and by one of his staunchest critics, meaning there’s just as much likelihood, if not more, that it was a political smear).
The biological etiology of trans people is irrelevant. Not only do we lack any cadavers to afford us the most compelling evidences, the arguments from HBSers and their ilk to stress the importance of finding what they’d consider “biological legitimacy” ignore a very basic fact of medical biology: There is never just one potential cause for a condition. While there were certainly trans people whose biologies bore many of the same traits as many trans people, today, we simply cannot say how many shared those biological traits, nor can we say how many chose, say, the path of the gallae in lieu of modern medical technology and how many others simply chose a different path.
It’s nigh impossible to make an accurate comparison of modern trans people to ancient gender-variant paths. To even plant a suggestion that the two pages in history are making the same statements is absurdly appropriative, because the first page only survives in a few small fragments.
I find it highly telling that pretty much every trans person, trans woman or otherwise, I’ve seen make this appropriative claims to traditions it is impossible for them to be a part of, is white or white-passing. It’s not at all uncommon for white people to see a thing that they have no right to, and claim it as something they can use for their own purposes. Maybe they’re even doing what they feel is “sufficient research”, but then again, so are a lot of white people who are running illegitimate sweat lodges. You can’t research your way into a tradition — you are only initiated into them by another!
By appropriating ancient traditions for a socio-political agenda, one sets a bad precedent, and sends out a strong message to indigenous people: You’re next. Maybe not today, tomorrow, next week, or next year, but rest assured, you’re next. As soon as I decide I haven’t heard much about your people are doing with your traditions of gender variance, I will arbitrarily decide how much is “enough research” to appropriate your traditions, so you’re next.
Please think about this.
— Ruadhán Jarman-McElroy
PS: I was really disappointed to see such an appropriative person is writing here, because since last I checked, the core team of Gods & Radicals are very much against such a thing as racism, but I’ve also noted that another recent piece there was little more than a thesis against modernity which, as per Rhyd’s controversial page (and pretty much the same words from Amy Hale and likewise parroted by other fans of hers) is one of the checkpoints for fascist vulnerabilities (if not outright fascism). I guess I’m saying that I’m no longer sure what purpose G&R is serving, as we see post after post from Rhyd (on G&R, his personal blog, and on FaceBook) and others in the core staff about the relationship between overt racism and the actions of racist society that those with racial privilege, even without overtly racist beliefs, are at risk of committing, and Capitalism — but this is given a pass, unchecked, when they’re a staff writer. We also see similar, in post after post, about how Fascism is a byproduct of Capitalism, and these warning signs of fascist potential need to be addressed and scrutinized — but this, too, is given a pass, when the writer is working for G&R. I mean, I like Rhyd, as a person, but I’m getting increasingly confused about what his vision for this webzine even is.
(The following is modified from the letter sent by Lupa Greenwolf, which she has given others permission to C&P into the CHS contact form, if they feel it was adequately descriptive of their own feelings.)
To whom it may concern,
I am appalled that vocal transphobe Ruth Barrett is still a faculty member at Cherry Hill Seminary, but as a trans person, I cannot say that I’m surprised, as my experiences in the pagan community is that many will turn a blind eye to transphobia because “religious freedom!” — ironically unaware of the fact that this is the same claim made by Christians who wish to discriminate others based on sex / gender or sexual orientation, or simply persecute pagan and polytheist religions. As you may be aware, already, via social media circulations or other sources, Ms Barrett is currently at work compiling an anthology of essays that promote gender essentialism; more information is available at http://www.femaleerasure.com/. Choice titles from some of these essays include:
“Transgender Rights: The Elimination of the Human Rights of Women”
“In The Absence Of The Sacred: The Marketing of Medical Transgenderism and The Survival Of The Natural Child”
“Transparent: Spitting On Michfest’s Grave”
“Destruction Of A Marriage: My Husband’s Descent Into Transgenderism”
This book is also set to feature work by none other than Cathy Brennan, a notorious transphobe who has a long and verifiable history of doxing and otherwise harassing women, both trans AND cisgender, for the apparent “thought-crime” of advocating for trans rights in a manner that involves arguing with her online. Brennan also has made friends with the Religious Right, who make no secret of their hatred of the pagan and polytheist communities, making this collaboration a potential danger to not just trans CHS students, but also CHS itself. (Also, I want the record to show that Cathy Brennan is a fake Goth.)
Ruth Barrett has been exceptionally vocal in calling for transgender women to be excluded from women’s spiritual spaces. This anthology only reinforces the idea that women’s spirituality and the pagan community are not trans-friendly. As a trans male (FTM spectrum) and gender anti-conforming male-gendered person, I feel I can safely assert that my experiences in the pagan and polytheist community have not always been the most pleasant — ranging from having my very identity questioned for simply the gods I’ve devoted significant worship to, to being casually outed to several email lists (when people still used Yahoo Groups) and active harassment from other polytheists and pagans. The experiences of trans women, especially in the Goddess / women’s spirituality community, are often reported by trans women as being objectively harsher than my own; many trans women view the Goddess worship and women’s spirituality communities as actively hostile toward trans women, even communities with no clear or even vague ties to (the other notorious pagan transphobe) Zsuzsanna Budapet’s Dianic lineage.
In Barrett’s email call for support for a crowdfunding campaign for this anthology, she made the ludicrous decision to open with the line “In response to the horrendous bullying I survived last year by transgender activists, I was compelled to organize and publish a pioneering anthology to raise greater public awareness about how gender identity politics and ideology affects us all”. (A screen shot is available upon request.) What she really seems to mean is “I don’t like transgender women telling me what I’m doing hurts them, so I’m going to organize other people who support my bigotry to produce more anti-trans material”; as fashionable as it has become to cry “bullying!” in order to silence one’s opponent, the fact of the matter is, it is VERY easy to observe evidence of the fact that Barrett simply was never bullied — her opinions were challenged with facts, and now she’s using her position to lend her fallacious ideas legitimacy in spite of growing scientific studies that the “opinions” being presented in her anthology are highly unqualified and divorced from reality, to put it gently.
By keeping her on as faculty, CHS certainly appears to support her message. Furthermore, with her presence CHS alienates transgender pagans, as well as those of our cisgender allies. Higher education is a place for learning and, yes, debate, but faculty are also expected to not be open bigots. I feel it safe to assume, to say the least, that you wouldn’t have an open white supremacist on your faculty, yet you have a loud and proud transphobe there. I feel it safe to assume that you would not approve of active and explicit homophobes on the faculty. Your director was, according to her CHS profile, “proud to have been present in July when the Battle Flag of the Confederacy was removed permanently from the S.C. State House grounds”, so why is she tolerating the presence of another sort of bigotry in her own educational institution? My experience has a trans person has taught me that it is most likely grave indifference to the trans community, and I would really like to be proved wrong on this.
It’s not hard to see why the Ornithine and certain Ikhthuine races of this world are of Eros. Men who fail to express beauty, rather than just appreciate it, and women who fail to express strength, rather than simply recognise it, have failed Eros’ Hedonism. This is not for those content with conformity; if you want that, please go back to Epicurus. Those who will learn life from Erotic Hedonism must go against the expectations of their gender, not just in principle, but in practise; philosophy, literally “love of wisdom”, is for living, not for merely talking and thinking, and any teacher or student of philosophy who fails to live it, has failed not only their school, but they have failed philosophy’s primary goal: Life.
Nine years, stuck on my eyes. (Dead? No, madam. Not dead the way you know it. He is with us always. Not dead the way you know it. He is with us always.) Less than nine, if we shall get technically correct —it is, indeed, the only correct.
Pleasure can only be sought and found by those who can’t be bothered with what is “normal”. Sure, maybe you’re not overly concerned with normality, but you just *are*, right? This is not your path, it will only lead you to contentedness, not pleasure as we know it, there is absolutely nothing we can offer you, and that you will actually put to use, that cannot be found in a nice cup of tea. Not everything needs to be about you — indeed, not everything needs to be open to you. You are not entitled to tattoo your hands, neck, or face unless you are already adequately tattooed on enough other bodily areas, which is the decision for a scrupulous artist, not for you, to make. Eros has no need for you people in His Hedonism — He does not, now, nor will He, in nine years, what a surprise. (Dead? No, madam. Not dead the way you know it. He is with us always. Not dead the way you know it. He is with us always.)
Usually Deep Dream decides that pictures need dog faces all over. This is the first time I’ve seen it decide on birds all over — which is interesting, as this is a religious tattoo, and I’d considered elevating it to the symbol of Erotic Hedonism (Eros = arrow; Moirai = Thread, Nyx & Psykhe = luna moth)
While I wouldn’t go as far as saying he’d converted to Hindu (simply don’t have enough evidence of that to build on), a LOT of his work from the 1980s and early ’90s always struck me as more “freeform Gnostic” than traditionally Christian. Though it would be ludicrous to say the Jehovah’s Witnesses had no impact on his last years, I think his adoption of Hindu-influenced icons and imagery from approximately the LotusFlow3r album to the end is enough to suggest that he’d been quietly distancing himself from that path as he found himself back on the one he’d already been treading.
This has been a hard year on me. Another tattoo will come after the luna moth is coloured in. This is another that’s been a long time coming, but with another addition.