Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Pantheacon: Evolving Perceptions and Strategy

As a professional activist, I know that the information you receive (and perceive) can make or break a campaign. Having information that is skewed or outdated can cause one to turn to avenues of activism that that are less effective and possibly even retrograde in their effectiveness. Further, understanding that there is often more going on behind the scenes that one can see is an important factor that an activist must constantly weigh and struggle with. The great Pantheacon debate is one such struggle for me.

In the past week, thousands of people have viewed my call for a national boycott until they produce a written nondiscrimination policy that protects transgender attendees. I got some great support and praise for it. I also got oodles of hate mail and even a couple threats. The call for the attention I intended, but way more than I could have ever imagined. I really underestimated the reach of my voice in this case. For an advocacy campaign, this is terrific. But in this case, it meant that many of my words and intentions got warped and misplaced. That's ok, that happens in situations like this. I decided to lay law for a few days until cooler heads prevailed. That was until yesterday afternoon.

Without getting into the specifics of things, it came to my attention that there was indeed more going on behind the scenes with Pantheacon organizers than I knew. The hardworking Glenn Turner and her crew of organizers weren't ignoring me, they just weren't ready to make big public decisions in time for this Con. In their case, it just wasn't a priority to call this crazy radical activist. I understand that. My main call for boycott came out of frustration from a lack of actual change. A year of discussion to only have the same thing happen again was deeply disturbing to me. With my brain working as an advocate's does, the next steps seemed obvious. When an entity is allowing something bad to happen, you attempt to enter a negotiation. If negotiation either goes nowhere or is ignored, then protest and boycott are considered the logical next steps. In this case, I didn't want to organize protests as I thought them inappropriate for this and did not want organizers to feel singled out or attacked. It turns out that result came about anyways and for that I am sorry.

With the new information and viewpoints I was given, I no longer think it an appropriate or effective advocacy strategy to continue a full-on boycott of PantheaCon 2013. If there's anything I've learned from my years in working at advocacy organizations, its that a campaign must be willing to be fluid and flexible to achieve victory. In this case, the prize of victory would be the validation of transgender individuals as having the gender they identify with. It seems there is actual progress towards this goal. Progress I do not want to hinder. Further, as the organization and community engages in the specific discussion regarding the status of exclusive rituals, I want to make sure I'm in a place to be able to contribute to that discussion. I do have a lot of things to offer in this and I want to make sure I can be of service in every possible way.

Do I still hold the same goals for the transgender community at the Con? Yes. I still would like to see cisgender-only rituals eliminated from programming and for there to be specific nondiscrimination clauses written into the event bylaws. I still would like for folks to send polite comments to PantheaCon organizers asking them to do this. However, I no longer think it necessary or effective to engage in boycott when things are in such a fluxed and progressive state. There were powerful and moving actions that are moving this community towards full equality. Devin Hunter and others 'Rite of the Bear Mother' was from what I heard, nothing less than life-changing. I like the way my teacher T. Thorn Coyle said it:
"The more we gather with open hearts and minds, the more we are able to disagree with fierce compassion, the better able we will be to grow together as a community, welcoming those who have never before joined us, and welcoming back those whom we know well."

As a side note, please check out the postings of my friends PeterDevin, and Cara. With their council and work, I've been able to shift my way of thinking into a place that is certainly more productive and focused than it was before. Their coverage and comments on the Con are vital in moving this subject forward and keeping it on the table.

What brought me to consider new information, ideals and views did not come from bullying or flamewar pressure from the blogosphere. It came from trusted elders and friends in this community picking up the phone and choosing to verbally discuses with me in partnership and respect. I'm really seeing power in that. In the age of heated internet discussion, let us never forget that there are real human brings on the end. And sometimes humans just understand each other best by hearing real voices. Together we can bring true change to the community. I believe that with all my heart, perhaps more now than ever before.

May it be so.


  1. Strong leadership in the face of change!

  2. Thank the Gods! I was hoping you would come to this.

  3. Blessings for evolving perceptions and the ability to grow from one another. I have grown from your post. Thank you for showing true leadership.

  4. 'Standing your ground' is often (and rightly) seen as a valued character trait. Unfortunately, evolving your view isn't praised as much. That's a shame because it would make our culture so much better. Thank you for modeling that. For being wise and brave and honest enough to model that incredibly valuable trait. I can't wait to see you at PSG. I'll even make something vegan for you.


  5. David, can you be a bit more specific about the developments that led you to change your tack on this? As a personal observation, I am more than willing to give organizers an opportunity to revise how they deal with this issue. I certainly would not call for a boycott of the 2013 event - that's a year away, and it should give them plenty of time to make some headway. Of course, that's what I thought about the previous year (as you did). The issue of respect for minorities is fundamental for me, and I'm not going to go cursing or shaking my fist at people in an attempt to change things. It's not my style. However, if I see hypocrisy or injustice, I'm not going to ignore that, either. I'm going to point it out. It would help me, personally, to know a little more about the direction and progress they're making on this issue. I respect you as an advocate and am reassured by your words. Nevertheless, "behind the scenes" can be a polite synonym for "smokescreen" (not on your part). I believe full disclosure is always the best course, and I don't think you're a crazy activist at all. I think you're someone who shared a legitimate concern and deserved a response from the PCon folks. The fact that they failed to respond to you on such an important issue over the course of an entire year isn't easily explained away for me by the excuse that they were just too busy. I think they dropped the ball. That said, I will reiterate what I said before - they have ample opportunity to address this issue before next February. I sincerely hope that they do so.

  6. I hope to make one small point, without drawing another flame war.

    While I agree that many people have had their feelings hurt by all the controversy and poor choices of words, I do see the possibility of value in exclusive rituals and presentations.

    Please consider: a ciswomen only ritual specifically for women who've had a miscarriage. I had one about ten years ago, and I didn't truly understand my SIL's experience of hers five years prior to that until I'd been through it myself.

    Another possible reason for exclusivity: Cesarian delivery of a child. My oldest son was delivered in a "crash" C-section (medical term for a situation much more serious than an "emergency" C/S, which is any C/S that wasn't scheduled before labor began) and it was the most frightening, traumatic, and disempowering experience I've ever been through. I didn't truly begin to heal from the trauma, and didn't fully recover from the physical complications until my second child was born in VBAC delivery five years later. A woman (tran or cis) who hadn't been through that wouldn't be able to understand it, I believe. Women who have had a planned and scheduled C/S wouldn't be highly unlikely to understand my experience either.

    I'm not saying that these are valid reasons for the exclusivity at this years's PantheaCon, or last year's either. I don't know the intentions or purposes of the organizers of either of those rituals, and I didn't attend them. What I am saying is that they felt the need for their exclusivity, just as I would feel a need for exclusivity in a miscarriage or C/S ritual.

    I believe the organizer and programming staff intended to give women who felt a need, a place where they could have their sacred space, and share it with others who felt the same need. I found it very interesting and potentially enlightening that the schedule included another ritual at the same time which was inclusive of everyone who self-identified as a woman. I also noticed that the ciswomen ritual was in one of the smaller spaces, and the open-to-all ritual was in a large room. To me, this indicates a goal of the conference to make everyone feel welcomed and included - even the ones who weren't being open and welcoming to their trans-sisters.

  7. Steve, still trying to get back to you, but I want to develop my facts a little more so I'm not misinforming anyone.

    Sue- thanks for sharing! I actually never took a position on exclusive rituals themselves, nor do I want to throw my hat into the debate on that. The PantheaCon issue is multi-layered with exclusionary ritual just being one layer, so I can see how it looks like I would have an opinion on that. My layer that I want to focus on is the language surrounding gender and who is considered the "real gender" they identify with. Having any type of programming (ritual or not) that dehumanizes trans people as being some type of strange "other" gender is what I take issue with.

  8. Fair enough. I was responding to one specific phrase from above: " I still would like to see cisgender-only rituals eliminated from programming and " - not even a full sentence.

    I do feel that my examples, miscarriage and cesarian section, might be valid *at* *PantheaCon* for the simple reason that not many women in any local Pagan community have those experiences. Most of the time, there just aren't enough of "us" for a meaningful gathering. At a large gathering of many tribes from all over the country and the world, there would be enough people with the same experience to gather together and share.

    However, I'm not ever going to be the one proposing either of the examples as presentations. A) I'm not much of a ritualist, and if I attempted it, it would probably be pretty lame. B) Both my traumatic experiences were long ago, and I'm long healed from them. C) I'm wa-a-a-ay too busy. On Sunday evening at P'Con I spent six hours setting up and running sound for three different presentations.

    For the record, if someone else ever presented a "healing from ..." or "moving on after ..." ritual at P'Con, I would make every possible effort to attend, in the hope that I could help other women, even one other woman, gain some healing and/or perspective on what she'd been through.

  9. Yes, your examples would be very valid. I can see supporting rituals of that nature for sure. Helping people deal from trauma should be a high priority in some way for the healing community in particular. It would be interesting to see how that could be organized at something like Pcon.

  10. David, I've sent a letter to the PantheaCon organizers, as you suggested. In composing it, I had an epiphany. The core of this difficulty may lie in the incompatibility of private rituals and a public setting. Those who conduct private rituals should be able to do so in private, and those who expect an open, public forum should feel comfortable that they won't be excluded from events held under such auspices. A lot of Pagans have been excluded all their lives and are very sensitive to this. I hope the organizers of PantheaCon take this into consideration.

  11. That's definitely a possible solution. I've heard a few views on that going around so I also hope that will be looped into the organizations considerations as they move forward in the decision-making process.

  12. David, I thought you might be interested in an approach being taken by a Dianic group that has chosen to part ways with Z Budapest's tradition. I thought this was a very thoughtful, sensitive and even-handed approach.