Today’s latest: a noted pagan blogger, who shall remain nameless due to the inflammatory nature of the remark, commented on a post on another site that one chooses, among other things, one’s gender identity. My reply to the repost on Facebook was that the remark was on a level with saying that people choose their sexual orientation…and she said that there was “no good answer” to whether sexual orientation was inborn. Without knowing more about her personally, I can’t say for sure that she is straight and cisgendered, but I can’t imagine hearing something like this from someone who knows what it’s like to live outside the binary norms of gender and sexuality. She went on to say that even those who “say [they] were born” LGBT choose whether or not to identify as such. I’m really bothered by this. One of my best friends, whom we will call Linda to protect her identity (and because the name means “pretty” in Spanish, and she’s beyond adorable), is a transgender woman. She didn’t choose to live with the kind of stigma that is put on people who don’t fit the binary gender mold. She simply is who she is, and to live otherwise would be a lie, aside from the deep level of emotional strain it put on her when she used to look in the mirror and see a face and body that didn’t match who she is. I remember watching her suffer in those days, and I know that hurt a much as it’s possible for a cisgender person to know (which means, I will never fully know, but I’ve seen it in action, up close and personal, and gotten in fights to protect her from those whose bigotry turned them violent towards her). Linda didn’t choose to be born in the wrong body. I have thoughts relevant to the sexual orientation topic, too, but I haven’t unraveled past my initial “oh fuck no” enough to put them into words. But I’m about ready to say, if this is the way the pagan community is, then who needs community?
On another topic, there is something my readers need to understand. When I talk about having Native roots, I’m not talking about some nineteenth-century ancestor, or even earlier. I’m talking about Big Grandma, who, according to my dad, had a hand in helping to raise him. And I don’t say that to make myself look “special.” I say that because issues relating to white American imperialism are personal to me, and this is why. I remember, as a kid, listening to her daughter (whom I knew as Grandma Willis) tell about how the bigotry against Native Americans at that time caused her mother to falsify census records, claiming to be half black in North Carolina during the Jim Crow era, so that her children would not be faced with the stigma attached to being of Native origin. These are real people to me, with whom I connect on a personal level because I knew Grandma Willis and her sister Nellie. I take the issues that have affected my family, as opposed to my Honored Dead whom I respect but didn’t know in life, rather personally. This is not me trying to be a special little snowflake. This is part of my family’s collective memory, and as such it colors my perception.
The New Apostolic Reformation, an evangelical group connected with Texas governor Rick Perry (who, coincidentally, is rumored to be planning a bid for the White House), has launched a campaign called 40 Days of Light over DC, referred to as DC40 for short. In this campaign, they promise to “lay spiritual siege” to our nation’s capital, renaming it the “District of Christ.” This is disturbing at best, even without the possibility of Perry as a presidential candidate.
There’s been a reaction from certain highly visible members of the Pagan community, calling for counter measures, the elevation of George Washington and other national heroes to hero-cult status, and perhaps most offensively, the veneration of Columbia as a national patron goddess.
Now, I don’t know about you guys, but having Cherokee roots myself, Columbia’s certainly not a patron goddess who’s blessed my family. (Trail of Tears, anyone?) The Columbia mythos is caught up in the ideas of manifest destiny and of the divine right of the white man to subjugate the Americas and all their inhabitants. Paintings show “Columbia leading settlers west” into land previously inhabited freely by Native groups, and the poem “To His Excellency, George Washington,” which many who are advocating her worship are quoting, was written by a slave poet for whom the concept of liberty must have been a bit of painful irony.
I’m as opposed to the idea of the NAR and their DC40 event as anyone. I think it’s presumptuous to assume that such Dominionist principles are not only acceptable but healthy for a nation in which the separation of church and state has long been one of the major pillars of our government system. But you’re not going to see me lighting candles to Columbia anytime soon.
I took the little guy to the vet today to get his health certificate to fly back to the states. (Long, depressing story. Short version: I came down here on a job transfer that didn’t go through, and wasn’t able to get another job before the money ran out.) I meant to take the bus that stops right outside the vet’s office, but the VITran schedule is all messed up. The schedule said that bus would pass at 9:45, and my vet appointment was a little after 10, so it would have worked out great. I got there at 9:20, just to be safe, and found out that it had left at 9. So I took the bus as far as Pueblo and walked the half mile or so to Five Corners, where the vet’s office is. Then after the appointment, once I walked back up to Pueblo, I was hot, exhausted, and though I didn’t realize it until I got home, sunburned. So I went to hang out at the office with Nick while Imbas and I cooled off. Naturally, as soon as he heard Nick, Imbas started meowing to be let out of the carrier. He was less than thrilled, though, when Nick turned him around so that I could get a picture of the two of them.
It has come to my attention this week that I’m not capable of sitting quietly and watching a movie or TV show that is based on true events. I’ve suspected this in the past; when Indiana Jones used the thighbone of a thousand-year-old skeleton, wrapped in tatters of its shroud, as a torch, I admit that I cringed a bit at the idea of an archaeologist destroying an important piece of history that way, because it just didn’t ring true. This week, though, I attempted to watch The Tudors on Netflix, and I found that I just couldn’t do it. I sat through the conflation of Henry VIII’s sisters into one character (whom they named Margaret but showed doing all the things his younger sister Mary actually did, such as marrying a king and then later Charles Brandon–but the real one married the king of France, not Portugal, and he was 52, not 80ish) and the portrayal of Catherine of Aragon as a brunette, even though period portraits show her as a fair-skinned blonde. I even sat through the portrayal of the Duke of Buckingham’s daughter as Brandon’s mistress, though the female relative who actually played a part in the story was one of his sisters (either Elizabeth or Anne Hastings), and her affair was actually with the king. But when Catherine of Aragon, a Spanish princess who married an English queen, spoke such broken Spanish, I got annoyed. And when they showed Henry Fitzroy dying at the age of six from sweating sickness, when in reality he was 17 and had been married for 3 years by the time he died, I gave up.
Then on to the following evening, when I watched Funny Girl, the musical based on the life of singer/comedian Fanny Brice. Now, being a bit of a theater geek, I knew a bit about the life of Fanny Brice. The movie calls her mother “Mrs. Brice,” when Fanny Brice was a stage name, and shows her mother as a woman of fairly modest means, when really her parents were reasonably well-off and their saloon was by most reports pretty successful. It portrays Fanny as a virgin and a newcomer to the theater scene when she met Julius “Nicky” Arnstein; she had actually been previously married to a man she’d met on tour. It portrays Arnstein as a good guy who turned to crime when he couldn’t handle being financially dependent on his wife, even though he’d done a stint in Sing Sing before the two were married. It shows Brice pushing Arnstein for marriage soon after they met, when the two lived together for years prior to actually getting married, and Arnstein pleading guilty to the charges brought against him, when actually he fought the charges for four years on his wife’s money, costing her a fortune. It also cuts the length of his prison term in half and completely ignores the existence of their younger son. Seriously, people? I know it’s a musical and all, but geez, how hard is it to get the facts somewhere close to right, especially in a film adapted from a Broadway show about a Broadway legend?
And don’t even get me started on Braveheart–the clothes were from the wrong century (the kilt didn’t come into usage until the 1800s, and even the belted plaid, which came before, didn’t originate until at least the 1500s, two whole centuries after William Wallace died), there is little to no evidence that the decree of the right of the first night ever existed, Isabella was never Princess of Wales (she married Edward after he was king) and never met William Wallace, because she didn’t marry Edward until after Wallace was dead because she was a SMALL CHILD at the time Wallace died…OK, I’ll stop now.
I guess I really shouldn’t watch historical movies if I know anything about the subject. I’m too much of a stickler for detail for it to work, and the inaccurate details (or in some cases, major plot points that don’t line up with history) just make my brain hurt. From here, I only watch fiction that’s been made up from whole cloth, because I can’t enjoy it if I know it’s bad history.
I was reading a post over at Peter Dybing’s Pagan in Paradise blog, in which he sharply criticized elders in the Pagan community for not being more willing to build bridges and make peace among groups that have traditionally not gotten along. I took issue with a comment he made: “As a community we honor Maiden, Mother, and Crone, as it should be,” and see part of the problem he’s addressing within his own words. The maiden-mother-crone model is only applicable to certain Wicca-derived paths, and is not a part of the ritual experience to most pagan religions.
Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t think that all the infighting that takes place in Pagan circles is about the MMC mythos. I do, however, think that a lot of it could be averted if there were more respect and recognition for our differences. To say or even to imply, “This is what we as a community believe,” marginalizes those who believe differently. Rather than uniting, it divides. Instead of trying to speak for the community as a whole, the interests of dialogue would be better served by saying, “This is what my tradition teaches.”
When I pointed this out to Mr. Dybing, he called my issue “off subject” and told me that he spoke for “the majority.” This seems like a very dangerous attitude for a member of a minority religion to take, especially one seeking to unite us and make peace within the Pagan community and with other religions. This is the issue. I welcome Mr. Dybing’s point of view as a Wiccan; I have been informed by it, as the Wiccan faith is outside my experience. However, to be told that the pagan community believes something, when really it’s a primarily Wiccan concept, implies that somehow this one religion owns the umbrella under which all our faiths are sheltered. Divisive remarks and talk of what the “majority” believes do nothing to unite us. Looking for common ground is important; assuming common ground leads to issues of identity erasure, which can foster the same resentment with which Mr. Dybing takes issue. I think that before “indicting” anyone for carrying old wounds around, it is important to ask why those wounds exist in the first place. Before criticizing people, it may help to ask oneself, Am I part of the solution, or part of the problem?
Part of the problem may be that we have forgotten that the Pagan community is an interfaith group, in and of itself. We are not one religion; we are hundreds. Here in the Virgin Islands, it’s common to see upscale condo complexes right across the street from public housing projects; however, that doesn’t mean that the upper-middle-class bachelor in the penthouse is going to see the world the same way as the single mom in the government apartment, just because they live nearby. Similarly, our different faiths give us different perspectives, and we will never be able to speak with one voice until we recognize and celebrate our differences, rather than deciding arbitrarily that we’re all the same.