Missing the Freakin Point! Same-Sex Boundaries and Sexual Abuse Survivors

Apparently, at a recent Pantheacon, there was a scuffle between trans activists and women who want to have a women’s skyclad (nude) ritual without penises and testicles. The theoretical  penis and testicles in question that so many people were up in arms about women excluding from pagan ritual would belong to a transwoman who had not yet (or did not intend to) have them altered.  I don’t know if an actual transwoman was excluded from ritual, or just the idea that some poor penis-enhanced and vagina-challenged woman would be excluded from a ritual by feminists that got people’s knicker in a twist.

I think this is very much a sexual abuse survivor issue. The vast majority, although of course not all, of us were sexually assaulted by people with penises, who had more power than us not only because they were adults, but because they had male privilege.

There need to be sacred places where naked penises are not welcome.  There need to be places I can be energetically open without my inner survivor child freezing and fearful. I needed that a lot more when I was younger than I do now, but it’s still very healing. I’m not saying that a transexual woman who has fully transitioned (hormones, genital surgery) should not come to a skyclad women’s only ritual. Personally, I think she’s very welcome.

Below is the full comment I wrote on a pagan blog about this issue. The character limit cut me off so I only posted the first part. Here is the rest.

I want to add some perspective here. The first time I was raped by a person with a penis, I was five years old. Over a decade of my childhood, I’ve been raped several more times, always by a person with a penis, who had male socialization and attitudes, and believed he was allowed to rape me because he was a man. The culture around us permitted and condoned his ongoing rape of me implicitly because of his status as a male.  As a young woman, I had my body violated by grabbing, leering, rape threats and unwelcome comments several times, all of which by someone with a penis who had male privilege, and who got away with it because of that.

I am very concerned that tearing down women’s healing places comes from a place of mysogyny and discounting women’s actual reality under sexism. I have seen this process in effect with rape survivors and the battle to end rape is not over.  I am not a victim. I am strong, but I needed women’s space, completely and utterly free from penises and internalized male sexism, to heal. Feminism has been very important to me, and so has spaces that feel safe because I cannot be raped there. The Goddess has healed me, and I could not have experienced that healing without women’s mystery ritual. 3 out of 5 women are sexually violated by the time they are 18. We don’t talk about it much in public, and  we can’t enter into arguments like these without exposing something painful, private and often misunderstood, often to a culture that discounts the importance of what we have experienced. This is not right or fair.

A woman would understand the fear, and the need for body safety at a skyclad ritual. A woman with a penis should also understand this and respect this. If she doesn’t, she misses an key part of the experience of being a woman, and until she gains it she will likely not be experienced as an an ally of women like me who have survived rape.

No, I don’t even remotely think all men are rapists or potential rapists, or that men are evil. In Canada, where I live, a person needs to have bottom surgery to legally change their sex to female on their birth certificate and drivers licence. I think this is a good and clear boundary. I’d like to see pagans holding an equivalent of menarche rituals for transwomen who have taken this step, and the reverse for transmen who had completed physical transition. Once a person had had this ritual they would be considered their target sex and would be welcome in same-sex ritual of their target sex only after that.

The tool of air is discernment and boundaries, as represented by the knife that cuts the circle, so that some are in and some are out. There needs to be a place to draw a line and I don’t think a person’s declaration that they think of themselves as female alone, followed up with nothing permanent, is enough of a commitment to justify the harms to sacred healing space women like me would experience.

  • What about people who do not think of themselves as either female or male? Should they be in the boundary of a ritual designed for women if they do not even include themselves there?
  • If a trans-specific ritual were held, could ciswomen and cismen crash it?
  • If a person of colour specific ritual were held, could a white person with a black ancestor ten generations back crash it?
  • If specific ritual was held to connect with biological ancestors and gods from a particular pagan tradition practiced in a particular place and time, would that be racist? (Eg: a ritual to the Greek gods open only to people of Greek heritage?

Rather than attack women creating spaces for ourselves, can we please attack rapists, mysogynists and pedophiles and their apologists? Once those are gone, we will have no need for this debate.

I was at a first nations gathering where there was a moon lodge (a secluded space for women who are currently menstruating, where they are tended by other women. Menstruating women are regarded as being too energetically powerful to include in co-ed rituals, so at large gatherings, a moon lodge is built for them to do menstrual time specific ritual together instead.). The tradition held that the only people allowed to build or enter the moon lodge were women who had already menstruated or who were menstruating. I was honoured to be invited (as a white person) to help build the lodge. There was another white person who was transgendered (but not transexual by hir own report- more of a stone butch) who frequently would wear a penis prosthesis under hir pants. The elder crone in charge of the moon lodge said this person, who menstruated, was welcome to help build the lodge provided they did not wear the prosthesis, considered themself a woman and participated as a woman. This person agreed, respecting the culture and it’s gatekeeper. I do not think the elder would have permitted a naked person with a penis and testicles in the moon lodge. I do not believe it is possible to participate in a women’s mystery skyclad ritual with a penis and testicles, and not change it to co-ed ritual energetically. If a transwoman has had bottom surgery, that demonstrates commitment to being a woman, and I believe she should be included.

Feminists are easy targets in a culture that already hates women. Would we be so judgemental about a men’s ritual that excluded a female-bodied transmen who had had no hormone treatment or breast reduction? The reason this doesn’t happen is that a transman in such a situation would run a great risk of violence in participating and probably wouldn’t risk participating until he passed. Women like Z are used as the straw feminist to attack, so that women like me, who are wanting to have a reasoned dialogue about the actual impacts of including people with penises in women’s intimate spaces are silenced. I am beginning to very much resent it.


NOTE: By the way, before commenting on this post, please read the comments already posted. Reasoned and nuanced discussion of ideas are welcome.