The Power of Cis-Only Rituals?

I don’t talk about it lots but I am a pagan.  And trans.  And while pagan spaces tend to be some of the least transphobic, most trans-inclusive spaces that exist outside of spaces created by trans people, there are problems as well.  Which has been shown in the continuing problems of PantheaCon with scheduling a Dianic, cis women-only ritual led by Z Budapest.  It also shows the lack of analysis of sex/gender in the pagan community.

Dianic Wicca or Dianism is a women’s Goddess mystery religion, specifically Blood Mysteries.  To skip getting academic and too long, the idea is that menarche is a powerful mystery, an experience that gives those who experience it powerful magic.  Further mysteries are pregnancy and childbirth.

Which is fine.  Mystery religions have been around a long time (and some people even point out that some forms of Christianity include mysteries, transubstantiation being inevitably mentioned) and there is a lot to be said for the idea that certain experiences give you power and knowledge that can not be gained any other way.  For a more secular example, ‘virginity’ and heterosexual sex is treated this way in Western culture.  And also in Paganism.

The problem comes about in the way that some Dianics, especially Z Budapest, the most famous Dianic Priestess treat trans women.  I’ll be kind and just say they’re virulently transmisogynist, echoing the hateful words and ideas of Mary Daly and Janice G Raymond.  Which makes sense as Dianic Wicca came out of feminism in the 1970s.  Sadly, their rhetoric and thinking has remained there ever since.

Which brings us back to cis-only rituals.  I was reading Miniver Cheevy’s open letter to the Pantheacon organisation detailing how Z Budapest has again held a cis women-only ritual at Pantheacon when I ran across this:

And in this conversation I think we have also seen the awesome power which rituals and other spaces exclusive to cis women can have. I cannot imagine how anyone could hear the stories that cis women have told about the importance of these spaces without feeling profoundly moved. And the depth of these spaces’ significance goes beyond what I can ever fully appreciate having lived the life of a cis man.

Which pretty much pissed me off immediately as a trans person (although I am not a woman).  Implicit in that is the idea that trans people take away from these spaces for cis women and that cis women find excluding trans people to be very important.  Which brings me back to the lack of sex/gender analysis and how we’re talking about Blood Mystery.

What unites cis people?  They’re not trans.  Nothing else unites them.  However, because cis people tend to suck at sex/gender analysis, they assume certain things even as they know they’re not true.  They assume, to use an on-topic example, that all (cis) women undergo menarche and bleed monthly (unless they’re pregnant).  Which is demonstrably untrue.  In fact, based on my experiences, there are a fair number of cis women out there who have more than one period of bleeding a month, or don’t bleed for months at a time (which is why birth control pills are used for so much more than preventing pregnancy).  And there are a small number of cis women who never underwent menarche.  But cis people paper this over and ignore it using various excuses (of which my favourite is that all cis people are ‘supposed to’ have these experiences and that they don’t is misfortune;  the people who claim that almost inevitably describe trans people as evil, scheming fakes).  Instead, they maintain the fiction that all cis people have these experiences and exclude trans people on the basis that they don’t.

So, when cis women talk about the power and importance of cis women-only spaces, I tend to be very suspicious because excluding trans people doesn’t actually do what they think it does.  It does not include only those who have undergone the same experiences.  It still includes those whose experiences fall outside what they define as normal, what Dianics base their mysteries upon.  Instead, what it does is reinforce cultural transphobia and cissexism because the cis women can see the power of their experiences while claiming that excluding trans women let them have it.  And, speaking from personal experience, I can assure you that when cis people know someone is trans, they assume plenty like how trans women are ‘really’ men (as Z Budapest and others do), have ‘male energy’, and so on.  When they don’t know a trans woman is trans, they can’t always tell even though they claim that what ‘gives away’ a trans woman is her maleness, male energy, etc, they really don’t because that relies upon fables of what trans people are like.

This is what I mean about the lack of sex/gender analysis.  Cis people inevitably *assume* instead of thinking.  They experience confirmation bias when they have cis-only rituals because they know that only cis people are there.  They assume they can identify all trans people even though they can’t and still manage to be wrong about even the trans people they do identify because they won’t let go of their assumptions to find out what those people are really like.  This leads them to declare that they require cis-only spaces even as they have no idea if this is actually true.

Look, I have no problem with rituals built upon mysteries.  But do them right.  Declare not that a ritual is for ‘genetic women only’ but for ‘women who bleed monthly’ or ‘women who have been pregnant’ or ‘women who have given birth’ or whatever and mean it.  Stop the sloppy thinking and reinforcement of cissexism and transphobia.  People may still be upset but at least you can claim consistency.

Also, if I may offer some advice, only restrict rituals to those that really are about mysteries.  It’s bigoted to declare a ritual cis-only and then do something like a self-blessing that trans pagans have done.  I don’t expect transphobic pagans to take this advice, but if you’re a cis pagan and trying to improve things?  I hope you do.  Also, I haven’t mentioned non-binary gender or non-binary sex in this although I am both of those things.  Considering those would be even better so I and others stop having to wonder where we fit in a pagan world that sometimes seems as embedded with the gender binary as any patriarchal religion.

ETA: I have not talked about cis men-only rituals not because I don’t care about them but because I lack knowledge about them.