Transphobia Not Welcome at Neo-Pagan Conference

A handful of activists have ensured that Max Dashu, now known as someone who holds certain transphobic views, has been disinvited as a PantheaCon presenter. And I’m glad.

Here’s why.

Here’s a bit of the background.


From PantheaCon Website

“Theme for 2019: Unity, Respect for our Diversity, and Connecting Webs to Heal the Earth What are we doing to heal our mother, our selves? What are we Willing to do for the Earth and for our Community?

This year we especially want to emphasize that PantheaCon is a Safe Space for all. We tolerate no harassment of anyone by others. This is called Pax Templi where differences of opinion are set aside for the duration of the Sacred Space.”


Community/Activist Repsonse

When events and organizations make statements about safety and inclusion it is reasonable to take them at their word. So, when a few people spotted this problematic speaker on the program, they protested on behalf of their communities.

(By the way, “TERF” means “trans-exclusionary radical feminist,” in case you don’t know. I’ll be using the term below.)

One of the activists who alerted the conference to the problematic speaker is Colin Davis, who blogs at Patheos. I have their permission to quote from their statement posted on Facebook.

“…a laurel: the PantheaCon staff with whom I’ve interacted around this issue have been absolutely spectacular, supportive, and committed to the kind of inclusion and acceptance that this community has every right to expect. They have been incredible allies for the trans community, and continue to do so. I am honored, humbled, and proud to be able to say I stand with them.

In closing, I want to point out that standing up for my trans and nonbinary siblings is not misogyny, no matter how often some say it is, and that stating safety concerns is not libel… especially given the outcome. If we are to have a truly safe and inclusive environment, we cannot give any platform or discursive space to the voices that call for exclusion and hatred based on identity.”

Davis’s last point about the importance of not giving a “platform or discursive space” to exclusionary speakers is another key point. Please hold onto it.

Regarding the Ousted Speaker

I mostly want to focus on actions and statements in this post, not personalities. Others have covered the qualifications, merits, and deficits of Max Dashu and have tracked her comments, positions, and noted her associations with others who take TERF-type positions. But in case anyone is wondering if her TERF reputation is deserved, here is a quote from Dashu, which I have lifted from the comments section attached to “So-Called Predators in the Bathroom… Again,” Lady Idos, May 3, 2016, Ms. Blog. There are many problems with her assertions below. Trigger warning… transphobic vitriol.


Max Dashu says:
May 6, 2016 at 10:11 am
When are people (feminists, yet!) going to get that the main issue for women is not that trans women are sexual predators, which the vast majority are not, but that the laws are being rewritten in an all-encompassing way that allows male predators into women’s spaces? As if no issue of female safety exists, as if only trans women face an issue of safety. When under these new rules, just by pretending to be women, dressing in female guise, saying they are women, *any* man can gain entry into bathrooms, locker rooms, saunas or whatever, and perv on the women in those spaces. When did feminists forget that straight men like to transgress and violate female boundaries, put cameras under stalls and up women’s skirts? that they do commit rapes in bathrooms? Yet all over the place, we see this reality being denied, by feminists! in the name of defending trans women. Looking fixedly past the reality of male violence, denying that any problem exists in the rush to make new laws: what kind of feminism is this? Safety in bathrooms is a female issue, not just an issue for trans women. (And sex and gender are not the same thing.) So incidents like the guy in Seattle who came into the women’s room and took off his shirt, and when challenged, told the pool officials, “The law has changed, and i have a right to be here.” He didn’t claim to be a woman, nor dress as one, he just wanted to intrude because he could. Male entitlement is bottomless, don’t think this won’t be a problem.


Please see this page on Transgender People and Bathroom Access if you are even half-tempted to consider Dashu’s position as reasonable. Plus, there are already laws to protect people from sexual assaults and other crimes. The Seattle guy? He’s an outlier and a kook (see section below). It would be just as ridiculous to base local, state, and federal public policy on the Seattle example as it would be to base policies on the fact that a man I dated once (sadly) followed me into a community college bathroom to scream at me for not wanting to date him a second time.

I first learned of the PantheaCon’s issue yesterday, in an esoteric social media group. There was a vigorous conversation in the thread and I threw myself into it with my usual polite passion. I tend to include links and sources when in this mode. I was particularly keen to address points made in one person’s “I can see all sides of this” posts, which seemed to focus on click-bait about men “pretending” to be women to game the system for perks, as if these kinds of outlier incidents justified TERF attitudes about transgender and gender variant rights.

I added the following links to the thread: United Nations Foundation statement on trans rights, and the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey. I also posted the Transgender Day of Remembrance website so that people could understand the kind of violence that many trans people face. I asked people reading and posting in the thread to educate themselves about trans issues using this material. (I think this request actually came before the other poster added click bait.)

I am Wondering About Knee-Jerk Reactions and Weaponized “Fears”

I woke up this morning with this thought. There’s something about the way that TERFs react that reminds me of how some racist white women (and a few men) have been captured on camera, weaponizing their “fears and discomfort” by calling 911 on people of color doing ordinary things. (Here is a good post about why we should not give the racist 911 callers cute nicknames.)

By broaching this subject, I am emphatically NOT comparing the experiences of POC in the U.S. with that of trans and gender diverse people in the U.S. (though many people are both). I DO  want to examine similarities between the knee-jerk responses of TERFs and the white 911 callers. I think there are some. And there are differences too, of course.

In the last year especially we’ve seen a lot of viral videos of white women calling police on black people and other POC for having barbecues, waiting for AAA, trying to get into their own apartment complex, babysitting, etc. We can easily see how distorted and ugly these actions are. We can see the racism. We can see the over-reactions. We can see that the automatic assumption of criminality is unfair and unwarranted.

We can also see how wrong and dangerous it is to call in authorities with guns–because “we” (meaning white people here–people of color have always known) now also have a greater awareness that police often shoot black people, often for no reason. For no damned reason. (Black people shot by police in 2018.) And there’s now some discussion on the internet of how white women (in particular) absolutely have to manage their own “discomfort” and fears instead of calling the cops. Read “White Women Weaponize Their Fears and Femininity to Assert Their Power Over POC,” Cameron Glover, May 18, 2018, Afropunk.

What’s less visible are the very real dangers to trans people when inflammatory public figures and scholars also “call 911” by whipping up public fears and resentments. Brutal people, criminals, and even everyday bullies use the inflammatory statements to justify their right to do very bad things to anyone who does not conform to their notions of “proper” gender presentation. The Transgender Day of Remembrance documents this very thing in stark terms that we should all be able to understand. But there are also other forms of violence, of micro-aggressions, and these do damage too.

(I want to note there that people with intersex variations are also at risk here.)

The most unreasonable of the TERFs persist in denying all reality of trans and other gender experiences. To them, a trans woman is always going to be an entitled man in disguise, a “perv” as Dashu says, someone presumed to be dangerous and/or criminal. I wish someone would write an article called “Radical Feminists Weaponize Their Fears and Femininity to Assert Their Power Over Trans People.” We must see that the automatic assumption of criminality–especially as it impacts trans women–is unfair and unwarranted.

TERFs seem to refuse the opportunity to examine their own “discomfort” and “fears” with regard to trans people and their own intersections of cis-privilege and female oppression (intersectionality is a term invented by black scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw). The “privilege” of using one’s own discomfort and fears to affect public opinion, discourse, and policy must be examined. Academics have an even greater responsibility to do this, frankly, as they have educational privilege and supposedly also have critical thinking skills.

Some of what’s needed are facts, the ability to understand those facts, a dollop of empathy, a desire to become better educated about issues, some self-knowledge, and tools to manage our raging sympathetic nervous systems.

However, because TERF reactions to a trans presence are generally distorted, we can’t count on them doing much of the above. So to deny them platforms, then, is perfectly appropriate as they have not “done the work” IN THIS AREA to make them fit to speak to a wider public, like Panthea.Com. (I put that in caps because, yeah, some have done other kinds of work elsewhere.)

Please note similarities to our seemingly national “discomfort” with immigrants, Muslims, you name it–and to our dangerous, knee-jerk reactions to these “threats.” We ALL need to learn to manage feelings of “discomfort,” fear, and perceptions of threats where none exist. We really, really do. And when we’ve got histories of abuse ourselves, and are likely to be triggered, the necessity for self-awareness in this area even more crucial.

We must realize that the automatic assumption of criminality is unfair and unwarranted, no matter what our nervous systems are screaming. React to real dangers, yes, but not to imaginary ones.

Outliers, Con-Artists, and Kooks

Finally, here is my response to the person (sadly, an academic) who posted the three “click bait” news articles in the thread (for reasons which remained largely murky for most of the duration). One had to do with a trans woman who assaulted fellow inmates; one was a screenshot of some fool who wanted to know if he could qualify for a STEM scholarship by pretending to be female; and the third had to do with someone who changed the gender of his driver’s license to get a cheaper car insurance rate.

I said:

“Hey, are there jerks, con artists, and abusers in every subgroup imaginable? You betcha. White cis female imposters like Rachel Dolezal pretended to be black in order to game the system. White cis female Andrea Smith pretended to be Cherokee and boosted her academic career until exposed. But no one who is reasonable uses these examples to argue against affirmative action in universities, or against welfare. TERFs, however, inflate stories like the above to justify their ‘fears’ and ‘discomfort’ and then promote and inflame these fears in others. The result is violence and social and economic injustice against trans and gender variant people. However I’ll take your sparse selection of outlier examples and raise you with all the names of all the dead on the TDOR site–people who have been shot, stabbed, mutilated, you name it–often for being in the ‘wrong’ place. I do not believe that posting what is essentially click bait advances this discussion. A much more robustly insightful examination of prejudice and entrenched systems of oppression is in order.”

There is so much more to say on this topic. But at the moment, I’m spent.


Disclosure: I am a 64-year old white, cis-het woman with a hidden disability. I am the mother of two adult children. One is trans. As a sexologist and writer I have been vocal in support for trans and intersex rights. My pronouns are “she/her” but gender neutral would be fine as well. To borrow a phrase from a friend and colleague, “I am reluctantly gendered” as female. I’ve also experienced sexual assault and coercion as well as physical violence, and have sometimes been afraid as a result. For most of my life I’ve identified as a feminist (of sorts) but certainly NOT a “radical feminist.” 


 

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What Came First? The Magic or the Book?

1-dire_francesco_del_cossa_010As I’ve written elsewhere, I’ve had a lifelong interest in the occult and some very odd experiences too, but I didn’t start studying Western magic and witchcraft until I started writing this fantasy novel on Nov. 1, 2016. The plot required my characters to learn from Western magical traditions and so I figured I had to research this as well. What I didn’t realize was that this study would prove as important and life-changing as any of my other major epiphanies (and I’ve had a few).

The Dire Deeds of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits, now completed, is many things to me. It was my salvation during a very difficult time of loneliness and social anxiety. It was my way of creating community (though imaginary) in the aftermath of a divorce, in a time and place where friendships and family were proving unreliable. And it was my love letter and good-bye to Hawai’i nei (beloved Hawai’i). Dire Deeds is also my social commentary on forms of settler-colonialism peculiar to the Puna District (Hawai’i Island’s “Lower East Side”). Other themes include aging, LGBTQIA etc. struggles, white privilege, and more. But this description makes the book sound far too serious. I assure you, the “tone” is often playful, comic, and sweetly sardonic, even though these topics–and events in the book–are “dire.”

Best_small_ Buffalmacco,_trionfo_della_morte,_eremiti_02 copyNow I begin the second book in what will be a trilogy: The Witching Work of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits. Spoiler alert – it takes place in Lake County, California, where I now live. All the previous characters will continue in this second volume, and a few new ones will be added–notably the charismatic “drifter,” Lucky LaFey.

The third book will take place in England, and will be called The Perilous Past of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits.

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) was the vehicle for jumpstarting and continuing Dire Deeds, and I am going to begin The Witching Work during this year’s NaNoWriMo contest, which starts (as always) on Nov. 1st (my birthday). I expect to have no problem achieving the 50,000 word count which is the goal of the contest. Even so, please wish me luck. And it would please me too if you went to my book website and read some of the excerpts and blog posts.

Thank you!

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Lucky LaFey and the Ornamental Hermits

Yes! Here is the first character sketch for “Lucky LaFey.” Readers of this blog might see someone they know…

Lucky is joining my cast of characters in The Witching Work of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits, which is my second book in The Guild of Ornamental Hermits series. (First book: The Dire Deeds of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits). 

I am so excited about adding this handsome drifter to my tales of mid-life magic! Trouble is sure to ensue!

tumblr_m4qng4hFaK1qcogpco1_250
Urnes Snake. Scandinavian. Source: http://lokeanwelcomingcommittee.tumblr.com/

 

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Slut Shaming in the Lokasenna

I have to admit, I have struggled with the Lokasenna, an Old Norse poem in the Poetic Edda, sometimes known as “Loki’s Flyting” (or “truth telling”) delivered as an exchange of insults with the rest of the Aesir deities.

Le_fête_d'Aegir_(1861)
1861 Painting, Le fete d’Aegir. Artist unknown. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Dr. Jackson Crawford’s video on the Lokasenna is quite helpful in explaining the content and some of the cultural underpinnings. Dagulf Loptson’s explanation of Lokasenna, in the chapter segment called “Loki’s Battle Rap,” is also key to my understanding (pp. 164-167). He cites Karen Swenson’s Performing Definitions: Two Genres of Insult in Old Norse Literature (Camden House Inc., SC, 1991, pp. 58-59). What I’ve gleaned so far is that the Lokasenna is an account of Loki’s ritual battle of wits and words designed to win back his place in Aesir society by exposing hypocrisy, “pointing out that the gods are guilty of the same crimes that make Loki an outcast,” thereby “resetting the social standard” (Loptson, p. 166). It should be noted that none of the gods or goddesses deny Loki’s claims.

It’s an incredibly bitter exchange, no matter which translation you read. I have Lee M. Hollander’s 1988 version, but plan on ordering Dr. Jackson Crawford’s translation of the Poetic Edda in the near future. For me the most disturbing element in Lokasenna is Loki’s slut-shaming of the goddesses, some of whom were his own clandestine lovers. And if some goddesses weren’t actually his lovers, he exposes their other private love affairs (often with relatives) or ridicules their exchanges of sexual favors for jewelry or property.

If I get the gist correctly (using Hollander’s version),  Loki indirectly outs Freya as one of his ex-lovers when he says that “all Aesir and alfs within this hall, thou has lured to love with thee.” Since Loki is among the Aesir in the hall, I assume he’s counting himself too. Loki says Tyr’s unnamed wife, plus Sif and Skathi, have also been his lovers. Loki does not name the goddesses Ithun (Idun), Gefjon, Frigg, and Beyla as his conquests, but he shames them for other illicit sexual activities. (However in his video, Dr. Crawford remarks that it sounds like all the goddesses have been with Loki at some point, but I haven’t read his translation.)

To be fair, Loki also “slut-shames” Frey and Njorth’s for incest with their sisters.

Now I know it’s ridiculous to attempt to graft 21st century feminist standards or moral interpretations on a poem produced in a “hyper-masculine” culture (Dr. Crawford’s word for Old Norse society) and written in either the late 10th (Hollander) or 12th century (Crawford). However, because I am a mortal cis-gal of this era and Loki is my “most trusted one” in my polytheistic practice, I still have to make my own peace with this content (along with the homophobic elements–ack!) and I’m not sure I can.

Except to try to understand this ritualized “truth-telling” in the context of Loptson’s interpretation.

And also, perhaps in a more emotionally personal way, by trying to imagine the frustration and anger of a god who is not just rejected by friends (such as Odin) but also by former lovers, not one of whom puts in a good word for him (even though the sex must have been fantastic!). Sif’s cowardly offer of mead in exchange for Loki’s silence must have been the last straw–rather than being proud of their liaison, or even just honestly admitting to it, she begs to be excluded from his flyting. Loki’s not having any of it. He exposes Sif just as he’s exposed all the rest. And so the Aesir circle their wagons against Loki and he can only hurl himself against their collective hypocrisy. Still, Loki might have won the ritual “battle rap” if Thor hadn’t shown up to spoil the party by threats of force. Loki flees but is captured. This stamp from the Faroe Islands illustrates the rest of the story.

Faroe_stamp_498_Djurhuus_poems_-_Loki_Laufey's_Son
Stamp from the Faroe Islands, 2004, showing Loki bound and Sigyn holding the bowl to catch snake venom.

Loptson says “Loki is a very modern-minded god” (p. 8) and these days many artists enjoy rendering Loki in hipster garb. I like to think Loki’s au courant with more than fashion. For one thing, he’s become a favorite god of people who are diverse in gender and sexuality, so how did he mutate from pre-12th century slut-shamer to 21st century sexual and gender human rights ally?

In a purely intellectual exercise (not to be confused with UPG), I like to imagine that the Western world’s sexual revolution of the 1960s-1970s might have shattered the last remnants of Loki’s Old Norse misogyny. After all, slut-shaming is itself a despicable form of hypocrisy and I feel Loki has enough self-honesty to realize this, once his anger cools.

I like to imagine him wandering through the “Swinging London” of the 1960s. New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco too! I can imagine him getting drunk with Janis Joplin on one memorable evening, and as she pours out painful tales of her Port Arthur adolescence, how she was called “pig” and “whore” and “the ugliest man on campus,” Loki begins to understand his own marginalization and sexual complexities through the lens of her passion and despair. And perhaps while staggering down Haight Street at 2 AM, sobered by the brisk wind and fog of the “cool grey city of love,” he reflects on his famous “flyting”–perhaps wishing a few things unsaid. Unfortunately, by the time he calls Janis back for another tryst, she’s no longer alive in Midgard. But Loki doesn’t forget.

I can imagine Loki’s intellectual and sexual encounters with an array of 20th and 21st century change-makers. I see him spending a few nights with gay filmmaker Kenneth Anger, after attending a private screening of Kustom Kar Kommandos. He has tea with Quentin Crisp and parties with David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed. He’s been known to leave flowers on the graves of Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, and  Pete Burns and to watch the sunset from Stinson Beach, thinking of Janis’s ashes scattered off-shore. He’s visited Alan Turing’s memorial and whispered greetings from Christopher. I can imagine Loki trading Anais Nin stories with Henry Miller after attending one of Nin’s feminist lectures. I can imagine Loki shapeshifted into an ordinary 1970s housewife, attending her first “consciousness raising” group, or volunteering on a rape crisis hotline. He’s been at the side of a gay-bashed teenager, offering solace. He inspired Robert Mapplethorpe to take up photography. He’s cheering, not booing, Sylvia Rivera’s speech. Later, he attends Pride Marches all over the world and donates to the UnSlut Project. He has read every name on the Transgender Day of Remembrance website. Twice.

He gets it. And we love him for it.

After all, what’s the point of being an ancient primordial being–part wave, part particle, part cosmic force, part sugar dandy–if you can’t partake a bit of the life and times of the mortal morsels in Midgard? I imagine immortality could be awfully dull, otherwise.

I like to imagine that Loki knows now how easily the human spirit can be broken by sexual and gender shaming, that among humans it has become a fascist technique for control, and that he and the rest of the gods could set a better example by not going there, even in their own present and future conflicts. 

In other words, I like to feel that Loki continues to evolve, as we all should, and that as Worldbreaker he also challenges himself to break his own prejudices and conditioning.

It’s only that very last sentence, above, that I might claim as a “UPG.” And maybe that’s how I make my peace with the content of Lokasenna.

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Standing Against Bigotry and Hate

Even in some pagan and heathen circles, Lokeans are said to be “outcasts”–partly because our gender-bending, trickster deity has a bad reputation as spun in Christianized lore–and perhaps also because Lokeans themselves tend to be a diverse bunch. While this may limit our social acceptance overall, it also makes our god, Loki, less likely to be co-opted by Neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups. As a shape-shifter, Loki has been a salmon, a mare, and who knows what else. He’s fathered and mothered children. In humanoid shape, I assume he’s not limited to a white skin or “Nordic” features*, though he’s mostly depicted that way. In other words, he is just too fey, too queer, and not close enough to the butch, cis, heteronormative, patriarchal stereotype that’s so very dear to the Neo-Nazi/white supremacist heart.

This “Pride Loki” artwork (based on “Marvel Loki”) by DKettchen conveys so much to me. Here’s the link to DKettchen’s Tumblr post. (There is a statement on the post that seems to indicate it is okay to use this image.)

40119779_10214041457843100_6617463899170013184_n

Now in the last few weeks (when I wasn’t worried about my house burning up in CA’s Ranch Fire), I’ve been basking in just this kind of rainbow-colored bliss of devotional adoration, getting to know this newest addition to my eclectic, polytheistic “family.” However yesterday I stumbled across this August 17, 2017 blog by Lokavinr. It’s called What the Heathen Community Needs to Know. Lokavinr concludes:


“So you want to worship the heathen gods and not be a racist? Don’t spread the idea that white culture is endangered. Don’t act like heritage should be instantly divorced from the hate it fed for centuries. Don’t put frith over calling out goddamn Nazis. And think real hard about the groups, people, and beliefs you are standing beside. Because even if you aren’t out there driving your car into protesters or using a religion to actively recruit people to the racist far-right, if you look the other way, if you care more about the heathen community’s reputation or your right to wear a symbol without “being mistaken as a Nazi” than the real, tangible oppression PoC, Jewish people, Muslims, and the LGBT community face in this country, then there’s blood on your hands, too.”


It’s not like I haven’t been aware of these complexities. Years ago I read The Well of Remembrance by Ralph Metzner and felt attracted to “something” about Northern mysticism, but I still couldn’t approach Norse/Germanic deities and lore as a spiritual path because of the Nazi and Neo-Nazi use of some of these same traditions and symbols. (And it’s only gotten worse in this country since November 2016.) It wasn’t until last year, when I also began to work on ancestral lineage healing via Daniel Foor’s work (author of Ancestral Medicine), that I found I could begin working with Frey, Freya, and Gerda. (Loki is a recent arrival in my life and for some reason is much more “present” and compelling.)

These days, Daniel Foor’s work is key for me. As a teacher and ritualist, his purpose is entwined with activism for social and earth justice, and his humility and integrity have been evident in every communication I’ve ever experienced, whether in his book, online class, or Facebook posts. He directly addresses issues of settler colonialism, racism, transphobia, sexism, and more. Here is a page with some of his online interviews and talks. Check out “The Role of the Ancestors in Social and Earth Justice, November 2017.” You’ll see what I mean.

I’ve never been interested in “navel gazing.” For me, there has to be engagement with both “spiritual pursuits” and outer activism. For me, each feeds the other. I was involved with environmental health activism at the same time I was engaged with anthroposophy. I tried to bring greater social justice awareness to the tantra organization I was associated with (and eventually left). And I tried to be a decent “ally/accomplice” for the causes of sovereignty and the preservation of Mauna Kea and other sacred spaces from 2002-2017, while heavily engaged in learning about Hawaiian culture (and trying to avoid cultural appropriation). Admittedly, I’ve been more focused lately on inner work, as I’m still healing from some pretty hefty crises and major life changes in the last three years. (And, as always, I deal with the health and logistical challenges that arise from multiple chemical sensitivities and chronic fatigue.) But, Lokavinr’s blog is a call to action for anyone who is casting runes, worshipping a Northern deity, or possibly even doing Thor cosplay!

So I gladly make space in this blog for discussions, resources, and also for centering the voices of people of color on topics of race, hate, transphobia, homophobia, misogyny, spiritual colonization, etc., especially as these issues pertain to paganism and Northern European traditions. And of course, I will make sure that my Lokabrenna “tiny temple” is blatantly inclusive and emphatically anti-hate.

These are good first steps, but it’s clear I must take others.

Expect this list of resources and organizations to grow, as I will add to them as I find them.


U.S. Resources

• Anti-Defamation League Hate Symbols Database.

• Anti-Defamation League Runic Writing (racist). Many people use and study Norse runes who are not associated with hate groups. If you see Loki’s name spelled out in runes (below) be not alarmed. It is highly unlikely that this would be used for hateful purposes. Quite the contrary, due to Loki’s association with people who are queer and/or are of varied genders.

Cropped Loki RunePainting copy

Another article on runes and other white supremacist hate symbols.

Southern Poverty Law Center Hate Map.

Inclusive Heathen and Northern Tradition Organizations/Websites

Declaration 127 – International denuciation of Asatru Folk Assembly (AFA) as racist, etc. Quote from website:

“The AFA’s views do not represent our communities. We hereby declare that we do not condone hatred or discrimination carried out in the name of our religion, and will no longer associate with those who do. We will not grant the tacit approval of silence in the name of frið, to those who would use our traditions to justify prejudice on the basis of race, nationality, orientation, or gender identity.”

The Troth – an “inclusive heathenry” organization with stated policies against racism and other forms of discrimination. From their website:

“The Troth is open to all who seek to know and to honor the Gods, ancestors, and values of the Germanic Heathen traditions, regardless of gender, race, nationality, or sexual orientation. The Troth stands against any use of Germanic religion and culture to advance causes of racism, sexism, homophobia, white supremacy, or any other form of prejudice.”

Heathens Against Hate – Part of The Troth. From the page.

“Heathens Against Hate functions under the Public Relations Team, with officers appointed by the Rede from among the Heathens Against Hate membership. The group Heathens Against Hate will serve the broader Heathen community under Troth sponsorship to build cooperation amongst inclusive Heathen groups, to counter the misuse of our faith, its gods, symbols, or lore to promote racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia or any other form of willful hatred against identifiable minorities in our society.”

Hrafnar – Northern CA inclusive heathenry group founded by Diana L. Paxson. Here is their “Declaration of Support for Inclusive Heathenry.” Here is their “Statement in Support of Solidarity with Black Pagans and Heathens.”

Vendors Who Do Not Support Hate

[To come]

International

• “As Neo-Nazism, White Supremacy Spread, People Must Unite to Prevent Normalization of Hate”–UN Secretary‑General António Guterres’ remarks at a ceremony marking the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust, in New York, Jan. 31, 2018.

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*[Apparently the image I used in this blog post was an anti-Semitic attempt by the artist to make Loki–as the “Norse Satan”– look Jewish. I need to do more research on that, and quote a reputable source. I originally used the painting because it was in the public domain. Such portrayals are probably the topic of a whole other blog.]

The Museum of John

John must have been only thirteen when he designed and made a beautiful maroon velvet dress for his girlfriend, Betsy. Betsy had been diagnosed with a form of kidney disease and either the disease or the treatment or both had made her bloat and swell. She no longer recognized her face in the mirror. She “felt ugly” (as teen girls do sometimes). So John made her a dress so that she could feel beautiful. He was going steady with Betsy when I first met him, a fellow student at our hippie free school.

JohnEmpathy and kindness, and awareness of the healing power of beauty: that’s very essence of John, a bright being whose corpse was lifted from the floor of a canyon in San Diego, so very long ago. Always, his impulse was toward beauty and charm, but also toward secrecy. I believe he had to learn stealth, just as he had to learn the art of theft, in order to survive his mother. Though we shared so much, in many ways he was still so secret with me. Like sleeping with me the night before he walked over to that canyon with a water jug and pills, and left my life forever.

I left him sleeping that morning, leaving a note before I left for work, “John, please feed the cats.” I probably added “love you” but I don’t remember for sure. I came home to find no John, but catfood spilled all around the bowl, as if he’d fed them with great agitation. This was one of his last actions before he propelled himself into the arms of death, at the age of nineteen. There was no note left for me.

As I mentioned in my previous blog about John, I was seventeen and he was fifteen (just about to turn sixteen) when our romance began. Our official anniversary day was March 13. Now that I am letting myself remember, the memories are cascading. I have to write them down. I am well on my way now to becoming an old woman and his life has got to count for something beyond what I remember. I write now so that you can remember too, even if you never knew him.

Imagine two teenagers in thrift store glam, as well dressed as their poverty will allow, hitchhiking to Fashion Valley in the heart of one of San Diego’s main transportation corridors, to do what many teens do–hang out at the mall. f77baea5685918596162655b517780b8However, we were haunting the stores which sold Irish Beleek china and Waterford crystal, as well as the trendy boutiques. I still have a delicate Beleek shell teacup and saucer, a present from John (not stolen, as so many of his gifts to me were). I think we went to these stores so often because he was longing for his maternal grandparents back in Ireland, and their home apparently had a few such treasures. Those good people probably never realized the extent to which their grandson was tortured by his mother. I think that when he acquired such things for himself, or gave them to me, he was attempting to create a zone of psychic safety for himself, as well as beauty. So today my cup and saucer will go on an altar, as I light my candle for John.

So many stories are embedded in objects, and I still have many that are associated with John. There are those rose petals thrown from Mick Jagger during a concert John and I attended together. I was in a long, pink satin, bias-cut dress from the thirties (very Jean Harlow) and John lifted me onto his shoulders so I could see better. Mick pointed at me from the stage, knowing of course that he was just creating a vivid, life long memory for a fan. Later, he threw a huge bowl of rose petals, and John and I scooped them up. I still have them, in a tube.

And a lock of John’s hair. And beads and beaded handbags…And somewhere, a copy of his death certificate pasted into a scrapbook, because I could still scarcely believe in the reality of his death.

And yet I will confess, when I first understood (after the coroner’s visit) that he was really and truly gone, I felt relief as well as sorrow. All those years of repeated suicide attempts and mental ward stays, and all the other traumatic episodes–like the time I rescued him from a giant man who evidently meant him harm, by pretending that my father was dying and we had to go now!–or the time he crawled into the attic of the house we shared with one other person, and we didn’t know where he was, and perhaps he was trying to kill himself then among the spiders and rodent droppings, but then emerged a couple of days later, dusty and ashamed–those days were over now.

In my earliest twenties by then, I’d been trying to launch myself as an adult–going to nursing school, working as a sample librarian at an interior design studio–but the constant chaos of John meant that I could seldom concentrate long enough or ever be at peace. I couldn’t know my own mind or chart my hopes and life trajectory without knowing that sooner rather than later, another John crisis would erupt. I ended up dropping out of nursing school. I couldn’t handle all that time spent in hospitals during training, not when I’d just been with John in E.R. or the mental ward the night before. He was even in a coma once–and that thought that I, his girlfriend, had absolutely no say over what happened to him, but that his cruel mother did, nearly drove me insane with frustration and grief. Fortunately, he did awake after several days.

He punished his body and his mind wobbled even more. He told me once he was seeing little red demons, chanting “bones and blood, bones and blood.” The drano he drank ate holes in his esophagus. He ate a lot of ice cream for nourishment, as a result. He fell asleep on a couch with a cigarette and the apartment he shared with a lover was severely damaged. I often wondered if that was an accident or another attempt on his own life. By the time he ended his life, he was sharing an apartment with “an old queen” (John’s words) who was pestering him for sex but who approved of me because I used a “Diamond Deb” nail file.

But we shared dreams together in a warm bed on his last night on earth. And I never knew ’til later.

John, you left behind your cat Bernard. You left me behind, and many other grieving friends. Your little sister even took your name for awhile. And I believe you left behind a mother who was quite mad, and became even more so after your death. There are very few people I’ve ever wished would rot in hell, but I confess, she is the one.

The oddest part about this story is how I later drew upon the construction of our “second childhood” when I began to have children of my own, how I created fantasy magic and made stories for my children, as well as love. How they had a rich diet of books and beauty and food that was nourishing and outings in parks and museums. But behind each childish request for a treat from my own children, there was always the echo of John’s wistful request one day for pistachio pudding (the cheap kind, from a box)–a request I never had a chance to fulfill. I made some and ate it once, as a kind of penance.

It didn’t taste of ashes, but of synthetic mockery. And yet that taste had held pleasant significance for him.

Whatever karma brought us together, John, I hope it was completed in our lifetime. I am not sure I could bear a repeat of all this, much as I love you still.

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An Easter card to John from me.

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All My Sorrows: RIP John Suter

September 1st marks the anniversary of the day a San Diego coroner showed up at my door, bearing an ornate gold ring and the news that a body had been found in a canyon not far from my Hillcrest apartment.

This was 1975 (or was it 1976?). These days, it’s getting hard to remember the year, though I’ll never forget the circumstances. My “childhood sweetheart,” John Albert Brennan Suter, who had disappeared a couple of weeks earlier, was that body.

John A. Suter-3

Look at him. He should still be alive, and still be my friend. In an alternative universe far kinder to queer and gender variant kids than ours, he would be. He’d probably be married to some delicious older man, pursuing his considerable artistic talents, including a gift for spontaneous storytelling. The illegitimate son of an abusive, Irish Catholic mother and an Arab university student who probably never knew of this child, from a young age John had been regularly locked out of his house and forced to shoplift just to get back in the door. I heard so many stories of corrosion and cruelty.

And since his mother had kicked him out of the house for six months at age thirteen, and again at fifteen, John had done what homeless teenagers do in order to survive. He was well acquainted with sex work by the time we fell in love. I was older–seventeen–with a couple of boyfriends in my past. John had just broken up with a girlfriend (or she’d broken up with him) who had a mother who had also looked after John, knitting him socks and providing food (and probably a place to stay).

Then John came courting me. We were both students at a hippie “free school” called Paideia, and hitchhiked to parks and various teacher homes for classes. He’d been a friend of one of my brothers first, and I remember my mom always remarking how effeminate John seemed. (Grrrr…) That was probably one of the reasons his mother had kicked him out too. But he came over with his hand stuck in a jar (really!) and wanted me to help him get it out. I am serious. That is how it started. He later told me it had been a ploy. He was fifteen and was homeless at the time. (That meant he’d been tricking for a few months again, but I didn’t know that.)

Whether John was really “more gay,” or actually bisexual, or possibly more truly asexual, I will never know. He never had a chance to grow into and understand his own sexuality without it being a bargaining chip for food, money, or a couch (or bed) to sleep on.

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Both boys are in my clothes. John on the right.

I got him a job at a local free clinic, paid for by a government program that provided jobs and training for disadvantaged kids. (I was also in that category.) Our combined income of $380 a month gave us enough for an apartment in Ocean Beach and barely enough for food. John stole furnishings off front porches. I didn’t want him to, but I couldn’t stop him–by this point, it was part of what empowered him. There were times, later on, when he also stole from me.

Drugs were not a problem, though. Just in case you were wondering.

At first we created a marvelous “second childhood” together, which is why I refer to him as my childhood sweetheart. Every month we had an “anniversary” which was an occasion for handmade cards (we both drew and tried to outdo each other with how beautiful and clever our cards were) and other small treats. John’s imagination was rich with Babar elephants, talking birds, Jean Harlow, and creatures of fey realms. I wrote stories for him. He told stories to me. He also upped my glamour, choosing my clothes for me. He had amazing taste.

And then one day we were walking down the street and passed a grown-up couple–a woman with long red hair (very Irish) and a darker man, Hispanic. They didn’t acknowledge us. We didn’t acknowledge them. I thought they were strangers but after they passed, John whispered, “That’s my mom and her boyfriend, Johnny.”

John told me once he ate ground glass, “just to see what would happen.” I was shocked. It wasn’t until later that I realized he was telling me the story of one of his first suicide attempts. Our relationship soon devolved from our idealistic beginnings (pretending we were married) to a desperate struggle. Our government funded jobs were defunded. I can’t even get into everything that happened next, except that John started tricking again. Sometimes we lived together (we shared several apartments over the course of our time together), sometimes not. Sometimes we had other relationships, sometimes not. And the suicide attempts were suddenly more serious and right out in the open.

After the first couple of hospitalizations in the mental wards of San Diego, John got SSI. But there was very little therapeautic help for him beyond a diagnosis of borderline schizophrenia and an array of medications which never seemed to help much. Remember too that those were the days when being gay or lesbian was considered a mental illness in and of itself.

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One of John’s cards to me.
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One of my drawings for John–Valentine’s Day elephants, his favorite animal.

Yes. Things deteriorated. He was raped (probably more than once). He drank drano. He could be found in the infamous “circle” in Balboa Park, a famous trysting spot for gay men. He pushed me into a fishtank during an argument–it shattered and I have a scar on my wrist from that event. He got arrested for breaking into a posh eyewear store (for Christian Dior sunglasses). Even so, we went out dancing, had cats, and continued something that felt like love, though it was usually (and had always been) rather chaste. He started beauty college through some kind of rehabilitation program.

One of his fellow students sold him 100 barbituates that he would take into that canyon, along with a water bottle from my fridge. One of his fellow students saw the ornate gold ring on television, posted on the news by police anxious to find something about the identity of the corpse that had been stinking up the neighborhood a few blocks away. Whoever that student was, he knew John well enough to direct the police to my house. I suspect it was the man who had sold John the pills.

The coroner left with a photo of John, smiling, so that it could be compared to the body’s teeth. It took his mother two weeks to claim the corpse and arrange for burial, far away. Without a car in those days, I could never go visit the grave. I never have. John wanted to be cremated, but no, he had as close to a Catholic burial as his mom could arrange. John wanted his favorite childhood toy back too (his Steiff teddybear) but his mom never gave him that either.

John & Amy-2So, at age 22 I was effectively widowed even though I’d never been married. The coroner just couldn’t help telling me some of the grosser details of the condition of the body, which made for nightmares for years. And so this haunting has continued, though I’ve done all kinds of things to try to stop it or soften it–even “reading to the dead” as per anthroposophical recommendations. (That helped a little.)

My own children were born on dates within a week of each other, and these dates happen to flank this anniversary of Sept. 1st. I’ve always considered that a mercy. For years I could distract myself from mourning by planning birthday parties and focusing on my kids. Now that both are very much grown, I am once more confronted by the stark meaning that this day has always held for me.

But this year may be different in that I now have my pagan devotions–and my gods and guides and ancestors and wights to support me. So I will light a candle in John’s honor and wish him well. We always say “rest in peace” for the dead, but for those who survive the suicide (or other violent deaths of loved ones), there is never any peace at all.

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