|Melissa Murry at PSG Press Conference|
photo: Bob Paxton / Circle Sanctuary
Imagine my surprise when I looked at the PSG 2012 program book to discover that the main women's ritual was for "women who bleed" (cis-women) only. The description was available online for many weeks leading up to the festival but I never thought to check it. It never crossed my mind to think that such a thing would happen at an event sponsored by Circle Sanctuary, one of the leading Pagan organizations to have a big hand in advancing queer rights among the Pagan community. I wasn't sure what to do expect so I took a breath and talked it out with the wonderful people I was surrounded by.
It wasn't until the afternoon before the gender rituals that discussion started to become more frequent and people were getting a little more nervous. As someone who was part of the Pagan media at the festival, I found myself getting anxious about the "outside world" getting chatty and creating unnecessary drama. After all, there wasn't much drama to be had. While discussions were being held, people were still going to workshops, concerts and enjoying themselves fully. I know I was! Although I wasn't at Pantheacon these past couple of years while they had their gender controversy, it did seem as though things were much different, more calm.
When Selena Fox jumped into discussion with Melissa Murry (the trans woman who was excluded from ritual) and Ruth Barrett (the Dianic priestess who lead the ritual), I became increasingly curious to see how things would turn out. All the conversations I had around it were outside of the main sphere, as I was simply covering things as media. My conversations with Selena, Ruth, and Melissa were mostly from a media perspective. However, that doesn't mean I wasn't talking and assisting once my press badge left my neck at the end of each day.
Seeing Selena listen and help with facilitation was so inspiring, I don't think I can possibly respect a leader more than I do now of Selena. Not only did Selena have all of this to worry about, but she was also running the whole festival with places to be pretty much every minute of the day. Seeing her zip and zoom around the grounds in her golf cart while still seeing a bright and cheerful smile on her face was simply amazing. I would have been pulling my hair out.
Speaking with Melissa and Ruth surprised me too. These are not hostile women ready to draw the battle axe for their communities. No, these were women of great strength and wisdom who were genuinely trying to work together for the best possible outcome for all involved.
Towards the end of the week I attended Melissa's workshop on trans education and language which culminated in a ritual to heal and birth a new reality, literally! Together we bound each other in a long red cord as we shouted out the cries of birth pain, a ritual feature I found very clever and moving.
The result? The possibility of working towards having the two main gender rituals (one for women and one for men) be open to all who self-identify as such (the men's ritual already did this, although I didn't attend because I'm not really into the he-man warrior thing). Although I heard some misguided suggestions of "just let the trans women have their own special ritual" (not a good solution folks! Separate-but-equal is not the way!), I think they were among the minority and died out as discussion and education progressed.
Besides Selena, Ruth, and Melissa working together, there was some unsung heroes who wove the web of connection necessary to spark the most effective dialog. You might know some of them, while others you likely won't know much about at all. The point is, many people from BNP to newbie festival-goer had a hand at trying to work all this out and make PSG a template for the rest of the country to follow. Would I personally like to see all cis-only rituals eventually abolished from the public arena? Of course, I will always think that. But I do feel hope and excitement for what is to come within our communities. From this. After all, it took PSG three days to do what Pantheacon took two years to do. If Paganism is ahead of its time to the rest of the world, then PSG is ahead of its time to the rest of the festival community.
What do we do now? We continue to move forward with talk and action. We make commitments to advance equality and we hold each other to them. When we slack, give us a kick in the butt. When we advance, give us a pat on the back or a kiss. Earth expands our ability to listen as air meets it with the ability to speak the truth. Fire gifts us the potential for change as water meets it to coagulate a new beginning. In spirit, we emerge connected.
Tomorrow I fly out to Salem Massachusetts where that community will hold its first pride festival. Here is a city stepped in Paganism that will experience a covering in LGBT issues likes its never seen before. In a way, this to me seem symbolic of where we are going. Many communities mixing together to create a melting pot for something greater. We find the cauldron of change bubbling around us, but it is also within. The ingredients we add depend on our lives and the choices we make. May they always be in process towards the highest good.