I arrive to find a lower bunk in a cabin conveniently near an outhouse. So far, so good.
There is an opening ritual to which we are asked to bring something. I have nothing tangible with me so when the time comes for me to contribute, I step forward to the bonfire and declare, "I bring an open mind and an open heart." I know this is a risky thing to do.
I don't feel especially safe, nor do I feel unsafe. I simply feel something of a stranger, since there are very few people there I know. I'm glad my old friend Grove Harris is sharing our cabin. I know the big topic du jour is some kind of explicit mention of transgender people in the Principles of Unity. I have no preconceived notions about how that would come about, but I am open to exploring the possibility. I do not feel as well informed as I like to be when considering such changes. I consider that one reason for my being there is to learn. So -- I cast this spell by opening up my mind and heart at the opening ritual, hoping that my approach will serve me and everyone else well.
In the middle of my first night there I awake with a migraine. I never in my life experienced migraines until I went through the change, and that was years ago. I occasionally get one, maybe once or twice a year, for reasons I'm now beginning to consider being related to stress. I know I'm going to heave so I stumble out of the cabin searching for the nearby privy. It's wet and foggy and I cannot find my way. My gorge is up and I can hold it no longer, so I hike up my nightgown to avoid soiling it and barf in the dewy meadow. That affords some relief. I stumble back into the cabin and flop on the bunk.
The next day those who are aware of my episode are kind to me. A couple of people look in on me, offer me Reiki, and generally make me feel not neglected. Besides, I'm in the First Aid cabin with two nurses. Nevertheless, when these migraines happen I lose at least a day to recovery. So I miss the first day of meetings, which isn't such a big deal because it's not the weekend yet, when more people are expected to arrive.
There are several people there who are obviously transgendered and reveling in their freedom to express their uniqueness in that setting. They strut around in as little clothing as possible. "Cool," says I to myself, even though I'm not exactly sure with each individual to which end of the gender spectrum they're headed and from which one they come. I don't know which pronoun each prefers, since I can't really be certain which gender they wish to express.
We gather for a big meeting. It turns out to be a six-hour marathon on gender.
About two-thirds of the way through, when I feel the discussion has grown very confusing, I ask a question: "Can you tell me, is there anyone here who is not here as the result of the union of an ovum and a sperm?" Impertinent of me, I guess, because I am initially met with silence. Then one of the transgender activists says to me, in an overtly condescending tone, "You do know there's a difference between sex and gender, don't you?" This person's remarks are met with loud hissing. I answer that yes, I do.
The meeting drones on. Towards the end, the facilitator says, "Now, let's all close our eyes and take a deep breath. Look inside and see what you're feeling." Well, this is not my style. It's kind newageish and over-sharing for my taste. I'm fine with doing this kind of thing with trusted intimates, but not with a bunch of people I barely know. Nonetheless, this seems the time to express my feelings, and I'm there with serious intent to being involved in my community and trad as well as I can, so I say, "I'm feeling a lot of hostility." A collective gasp arises. "Oh, no, Macha! We love you!" followed by an explanation of the cultural meaning of hissing at someone's comments. I am told they come from the Radical Faerie community -- I have been told that many times by many people, most of whom are not connected with Reclaiming -- and that they mean approval, we love what you're saying. Well, the people eliciting the hissing are those who were talking down to me! There was no hissing at anything I said. This proves my point: I was being treated with hostility.
During all this, not one person calls any hissers on their overt disrespect. No one! I would not allow such behavior to be directed towards anyone! This is not a question of disrespecting an elder; it's one of rudeness. It doesn't matter who's being dissed. It's simply nasty. And for a community that stresses good process, it's counterproductive.
The next day's meeting is more of same. I dread going, but I do. A couple people comment to me during non-meeting times about how brave I am and how well I hold my center. But the fact remains that no one in the meetings criticizes the hissers or calls for them to cease.
This is bullying, folks! (More about bullish behavior in Reclaiming culture in a future blog. For now, this is one blatant example.) A less stubborn person than I would probably run away in tears. I do not. Besides, I am here for the duration whether I like it or not. I have no way to leave and nowhere to go. I have a plane ticket home on Sunday.
Not soon enough for me, the weekend is over and I can go home. When I get home and begin reflecting on my experiences, I feel battered. I truly do. I don't really know how to process it. During the following months I do tell some of my Reclaiming colleagues who weren't there about my experience. I vow never to go again.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
I know other things happened in these meetings. I know others will have experienced them differently. This all happened two years ago, and in something of a haze. And a trauma. What I'm trying to relate is my own personal experience.
* Spider is supposedly Reclaiming teachers and organizers, although there seem to be others working in other capacities who are also subscribed.