Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Back Story, One of Several

Dandelion Gathering 4, in the forests of Missouri, 2010

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.

17 comments:

Clare Slaney said...

For what it's worth, Aline, I'm surrounding you in protection and love.

Anonymous said...

Kathleen here:

When I first read it, I thought you were referring to this recent event, not one 2 years ago. I'll be watching this space for further updates. It does fill in details from our conversation at Summerland. I'll likely try and reach you by phone, since email is terrible at nuance and I find my writing pedantic and boring.

Phaedra Bonewits said...

I think it was from Rosemary Radford Ruether that I first learned the concept of "lateral oppression." You don't need a hierarchy to oppress.

VikingRunner said...

Wow. The part about the hissing kinda blows my mind. If your personal group is going to decide that a gesture with a long and deeply embedded cultural meaning is now going to mean the EXACT OPPOSITE for your group... you ONLY use it within your group. You don't use it when there are people present who did not decide to subscribe to your weirdness, and then react with astonishment when they assume the standard cultural meaning.

I'm always both surprised and not surprised when I hear about people doing things like that... Surprised, because I think something like "don't hiss at people in general and expect it to be taken as a compliment" is common sense; not surprised because, well, as people we're not always real big on common sense. :-/

Baruch said...

I've been thinking about what happens when an oppressed/repressed group embarks on the journey of liberation. It is often not pretty. People operating out of pressure, internal and/or external, (this is not criticism but observation) are often less mature than they might like to be. Often the way of the person pushing through a membrane can seem aggressive, rude, even unfriendly. I am not making an excuse for anyone, but noting that, if I assume perfect love and perfect trust, then the hissing and the other rudeness you encountered were expressions by people who didn't have the mature tools to meet you in a different way. Trans folk are really on the growing edge. Gay and lesbian...not so radical anymore. Women's movement, though the issues still exist, not new. Etc. But the trans folk are the latest to push their way out of the closet and there is a developmental process involved. That being said, the tyranny of the minority is something that groups can fall prey to and which may be playing a part in the process leading to the revision of the Reclaiming PoU, and that can really suck.

How do we balance understanding and compassion for people who are working their way out of a box with the need for community to function well for all members? I don't have an answer, and I think it's a valid question.

Lately in my life I am working on not personalizing as much as I can, on viewing problems as process/system issues more than as personnel issues. I also think about family systems and roles we play in our families, and how family dynamics are also present in our chosen families and communities.

All that being said, I don't go to meetings anymore because I know I am likely to yell at people who piss me off if they piss me off enough, because some of my filters are damaged and I know that about myself. I give you kudos for having gone to these things.

Gwion Raven said...

Perhaps a worthwhile interjection -

This event happened two years ago, not at the most recent Dandelion gathering a week ago.

Macha, as far as I know, has stated several times publicly that she is not in any way transphobic.

I believe that Macha is saying that SOME folks who attended ONE meeting of many at D4 were rude to her. Their rudeness, as she describes it, was based upon the way she perceived them to have treated her. They were not rude to her BECAUSE they were transgendered.

The D5 discussions and changes to the POU were not because a "few uppity trans folks" felt excluded. This has been a long conversation, held throughout the Reclaiming Community and much of the Pagan Community at large. The participants at the D5 POU meeting came from diverse gender backgrounds and, in many cases, were empowered by their home communities to take the opinions, wishes, hopes, etc to this meeting to make sure that their voices were heard in the discussion.

Macha - A question for you - I know this has been a decision you've been contemplating for quite some time - we've talked about it. The timing of your resignation appears to point to the fact that changes in the POU were the straw that broke the camels back. Is that accurate? If so why? You mentioned several aspects of the tradition that, in your opinion, seem to be devolving or, at the least sloppy, but didn't cite any examples or give any context what you've observed. Is that part of the "coming soon" posts?

Love to you - Gwion

Broomstick Chronicles said...

Gwion, i don't know why they were rude. You'll have to ask them. Some were transgendered and some (well, at least one) were not. The shocking thing to me is that neither the facilitator nor anyone else in that room called for more respectful civil dialogue.

No, the change to the PoU was not the straw that broke the camel's back. I'll get to that in another post. I had made my final decision, sadly and reluctantly, some hours before the PoU discussion had concluded.

At that time I found the two people who planned to ride back to the Bay Area with me and asked them if they could find another way home because I wanted to leave asap. I assured them I wouldn't leave them there. They did find someone else with whom to ride, but not until the evening, and Corby didn't want me to leave at night for that long 13-hour drive, so I left first thing in the morning.

Yes, I do intend to explore several dissatisfactions over the course of the next weeks and months, and I welcome dialogue about them here. Not just from those who agree with me, either.

Thanks to all of you who have commented.

Star Foster said...

I am astounded that people would be allowed to be so rude without being called on it. I am so sorry that happened to you, Macha.

Hanah Bjorklund said...

Macha, I came across your blog and wanted to thank you. This may have happened two years ago but I find it to be quite timely. I am grateful for your willingness to speak out in public on these issues.
The expression “Tyranny of the minority” goes a long way to describe the general vibe in the larger pagan community these days. The hissing as a complement is a great example of narcissism disguised as spiritual tradition.
Should all people be treaded with respect; of course. The pagan community does more than many other religions to support equality, and I am proud of that fact.
I think, however, we would do well as a spiritual tradition to focus more on being earth based as it is the primary concept on which paganism is founded.

Pitch313 said...

Some Craft Trads, I think, have allowed what is central in the lives of some practitioners to displace the Center of and for All.

Politics, I mean to say, is not the same as magic or the doing of magic. I am a Witch and do Craft because of and to grow close to the Magic.

On a different and more personal note, I find that, as I age, I cannot deal so well with groups or with group dynamics. I keep looking for the heartfelt consensus rather than the tacit acceptance of views required to belong.

Aisling the Bard said...

Macha/Aline, my friend;

You are an Elder in every positive sense of the word, and as such, you have a right to a certain level of consideration and respect from those of us who have benefited from your work and your teaching--and in my opinion, that includes the entire Pagan community. Where would we all be without COG, without Reclaiming, without the strong voices such as your own, Starhawk's, Alison Harlow's, Amber K and Azrael's...this entire thing ought never to have happened, regardless of the discussion's focus, in the realm of simple human respect and consideration. I am terribly sorry you had to endure this, even at a distance of two years, and do tell you from my heart that the community you have helped to nourish and sustain through your example and teachings, world-wide, does indeed support your decisions, your words, and your marvelous Spirit. Thank you, from uncounted hundreds of us.

Aisling, always your friend and supporter.

V.V.F. said...

For future reference, if one is ever unsure of a person's gender identity, it's always okay to ask, "What pronouns are you using?" You don't have to be psychic. :)

It's strange to me that, having been around for roughly the same amount of time, that Reclaimers and Radical Faeries seem to know so little about each other. That's really too bad.

Madelon said...

Macha-

Thank you for this blog. It has awakened some memories that I would mostly like to forget, but it also opens a dialog that I think is badly needed.

I am 6 years post-Reclaiming, a Midwesterner, and "only" a camper, so I'm at the bottom of the hierarchy that supposedly does not exist in Reclaiming. But I will speak from my experience.

I got the Mother of all Migraines at the first Midwest Witchcamp I attended (2001), so your story reminded me of the incredibly abusive and pointless "ritual" that brought on the migraine. In this "ritual," we were cast as either protesters or police. In the "ritual," the "police" went around beating people on the head and shoulders with rolled-up newspapers.

Now, this was a long time ago and so I no longer remember exactly what the point of this "ritual" was. And I was so new to and enchanted by the wildness of Reclaiming that I even though I thought this abuse within sacred space was wrong and twisted, I continued to go to Midwest Witch Camp and Winter Witch Camp for several years.

At the last camp I attended in Missouri, two other people and I walked out of an equally abusive and senseless "ritual." It was the third highly emotional and badly crafted ritual in a row at that camp and I could not take the intense attack on my sense of safety and integrity any longer. I may be slow on the uptake, but I finally realized at that camp that what Reclaiming does is manipulate people's emotions and people confuse that emotional froth with spirituality or raising energy.

I spoke up about the inappropriateness of manipulating and traumatizing people in a space in which no safety net existed. I believe that many wounded people are attracted to paganism, and I find it disturbing that the people planning and teaching at these camps have so little concern about playing out traumatizing events in sacred space.

As a result of my candor in speaking out, I lost friendships and left the tradition forever. I have a lot to say about the inappropriate and unchecked behavior that I have observed in Reclaiming and its offshoot, Feri, but perhaps that is best saved for another response to another of your posts.

Broomstick Chronicles said...

Thanks for your comments, all, and now especially, Madelon. I look forward to any comments you may make in the future, because I know that silence is complicity. I have been complicit, albeit from the periphery and not in the case of WitchCamps, where I have been prevented from teaching (another story for another post).

I have heard stories similar to yours (and worse), but since I was prevented from participating in WitchCamps, which is the venue where Reclaiming culture was developing after it left the SF Bay Area, there was nothing I could do about it.

Please check back for future posts on the many reasons for my leaving. It's validating to learn of others' struggles within the trad, while at the same time it makes me feel all the more stupid for my blindness to what was going on in front of me. Idealism, I guess.

deborah oak said...

Madelon,
Your stories and experience I would love to hear more of. I have been thinking of how so many of us allow our good sense and better judgement to leave the room in order to keep being part of "community"... We lose our wits to keep our friends! I am going to be writing more on that at brenchesup.blogspot.com. Feel free to chime in...I want to hear your story and have been a long time voice against the hanging on meat hook rituals....and have know a couple of people who were actually bruised up in the non violence workings!!l

Christopher Bass said...

Macha,

I read this post of yours on my iPhone on the first night of my first witchcamp this past summer, and you have no idea how much it calmed and comforted me during a truly awful experience that I had out there. Thank you for sharing your experience, because it's informed me that I wasn't crazy.

I recently had my first experience with the Reclaiming community at the 2013 witchcamp in Portland.

The moment I pulled into the camp, I felt incredibly unwelcome and uncomfortable. I waved as I pulled in-- people simply glared at me and ignored the sentiment. Most of the attendees and organizers were overtly rude to me for absolutely no justifiable reason.

I'm transgendered friendly and I'm gay, and I am a witch in my own right, but it felt like I wasn't queer enough, or organic enough, or feminine enough, for the community. It was heartbreaking, because this was the place that I thought I would actually fit in! Instead, it was a camp snobs, queer or otherwise.

On the day that I arrived, one person wouldn't move their car off the single lane dirt road so that I could drive by and pitch my tent. They told me to go around, which turned out to be 'barely' accessible trail with large boulders and creeping trees. They claimed--in a monotone voice that suggested boredom and a complete lack of interest in even trying to sound genuine-- that they didn't have the keys to move the car that was in front of theirs. (Later that night, I found that car moved, but the one belonging to the person I spoke to remained. It seemed that they just didn't want to move it for me. It was moved the following day when most of the other campers were arriving.)

People would literally avoid coming near me, or talking to me, or shaking my hand. They would be smiling and laughing with a friend (during the spiral dance) but when I would look at them and smile, they would immediately stop dancing and smiling, and turn their faces away from me.

People near me in the meal line would turn their heads when I would turn to them and try to say hello and introduce myself.

Those serving meals (to which I contributed both funds and food, and only ate once in my two days there, because I brought personal food) seemed really hesitant to serve me anything. One of the people literally stared at me when I stopped to be served an item, as if to say "You've had enough. This isn't your food." (I had two small tin, 2 inch tall camping plates. I wasn't exactly seeking a Thanksgiving feast. One of those plates was loose salad.)

One person would literally leave the smoking area every time that I would arrive, and interrupt me introducing myself to their friends to tell those friends to leave with them (literally in the middle of me telling a person what my name was).

Groups of people would immediately become quiet and raise their eyebrows at one another (but never looking at or making eye contact with me) when they heard me accidentally use a gender pronoun. (A few very roughly scolded me for doing so. This was my first experience with Reclaiming-- I didn't know it's culture!)

I wasn't rude to anyone, or stare at anyone, or avoid speaking to those in between or beyond the two gender roles. There was no reason for this. It was hostility and it was abuse. They made me feel like I was an ugly, disgusting, intolerable piece of vermin that they couldn't even stand to look at. It was awful, and I am very certain that I wasn't projecting insecurities on anyone.

I left the second day of the witchcamp, at 5am after sleeping in my car, because I wanted to leave quietly right after the sun rose and
not make a scene. (I got more and more uncomfortable the longer I stayed, so I grabbed my sleeping bag and walked out of the camp to my car the night prior so I could be in a place that felt safe and familiar. I had a TERRIBLE time sleeping.)

Christopher Bass said...

(CONTINUED)

The only person awake that morning was the organizer that I met on my arrival (who very noticeably hesitated to give me 'the welcome hug' and seemed very, very unauthentic about " how glad thay were that I was there.") They asked if I was leaving, and I said yes, and apologized for wasting someone else's spot. With an expression-less, slightly puckered face, they said, "That's okay... Whatever you have to do."

While packing up my camp as quick as I could, as people were beginning to wake up, the person that wouldn't move there car the day that I arrived approached me and "noticed what I was doing and (suddenly) wanted to offer their support."

I declined, and explained that I was leaving because everyone at the camp was being so incredibly rude and I didn't feel comfortable, and then insisted that Reclaiming needs to seriously remember its own principles, and that it's community is supposed to be open to ALL peoples... Even those that aren't gay enough, or gender-bending enough, or "minority-enough."

The person replied, "Well maybe we need to be more selective about those that we invite here. Not everyone is ready (or "can handle") that magic that we do here."

I insisted that nay, it wasn't because of the magic. That's why I went-- I went for the ritual, and the spiritual challenge, and the community, and the principles. I did not, however, go to be bullied.

The best I had felt in 2 and a half days was when I finally pulled out of the camp and around the corner that morning. I took a deep breath and was able to smile again. The sun was rising and I felt free. I went to witchcamp to be empowered, and I found only disempowerment and the pressure to stifle my identity, my personality, and my presence. I didn't feel empowered until I said, "Fuuuuuck thiiiiis." ;)

A few people WERE genuinely kind to me, but I can count them on one hand. And when they treated me with just a little bit of kindness, after a day of isolation and bullying, I would almost burst out in tears at the question "how are you?" I'm not emotionally unstable-- I've just never felt that unwelcome, unsafe, and uncomfortable.

But other than these few people, everyone else made me feel afraid to speak up and defend myself. If I had criticized or disagreed with anything that was happening, I was afraid that I would be fulfilling the role of the "patriarchal white man," regardless of my sexuality. And frankly, I felt pretty defeated after the first night, so it was easy "to try" to make myself small (as impossible as that is), so as to appear unthreatening.

I still don't understand why. I wasn't dirty or stinky, although that doesn't seem to be a problem at these camps, because most of the people there carried the pungent smell of decade-old body order.

Was it my clothing? My body? My gender? My penis? Most of the witchcamp was endeavoring to obtain one, so that can't be it, can it? (I have no problem with genderal transitioning-- I love my penis, so I can understand why someone wants one.)

I was treated like this for no rational, justifiable reason-- besides, perhaps, that I allowed it to continue for too long and didnt raise my voice at the injustice (the "tyranny of the minority," and I'm saying that as a liberal gay activist) out of fear of abusing someone. I jumped through hoops to avoid "abusing" someone else by using a gender pronoun, and was publicly scolded for an accidentally "hey guys,", yet the entire witchcamp was publicly treating me like shit and it seemed like a conventional, socially acceptable act.

This was in late Summer 2013, and months later, I still get angry when I think about it.